Reader Question: Is it easy to start a business in Fiji?
I get many emails each week from readers of Me and Fiji asking questions about expat life in Fiji and holidaying in Fiji. I am more than happy to answer them as they come in because when I wanted to move to Fiji, I couldn't find much helpful information out in the world wide web about it.
A common question I get asked is about starting a business in Fiji.
"HOW EASY IS IT TO START A BUSINESS IN FIJI?"
My opinion is that investing in Fiji by starting your own business is a good pathway to achieve your goal of living in Fiji. If you are seriously considering moving to Fiji, you will likely have researched your legal visa requirements, and if you need to earn a living in Fiji, there are two way you can do this.
First one being obtaining legal employment here (Work Permit) and the second one investing in Fiji (starting a new business, or purchasing an existing business).
This article is discussing option two - Investing in Fiji by starting a new business in Fiji. I cannot comment on purchasing an existing business as I have no experience in this. But if you fancy yourself as a Resort Owner... could it get any better than this view each day? This resort is for sale here.
Before I go into detail, please understand that I am answering this question based only on my experience. Others experiences may be different, and I would recommend doing thorough research. I write from my own experience and hence all answers are based on personal opinion and do not constitute or replace professional legal advice.
IS IT HARD TO START A BUSINESS IN FIJI?
My simple answer is NO! It is not hard to start a business in Fiji.
When we first decided we wanted to, we listened to a lot of advice of people who had already done it or were in the process of it. We also took advice from a Solicitor.
Unfortunately, a lot of that advice was negative and it scared us off doing anything for at least a year. It sounded difficult, expensive and time-consuming.
When we finally built up the courage and funds to go for it, what we discovered was the actual opposite, apart from the time-consuming part (remember we are talking about Fiji, so 'Fiji-time' always plays a role!). We did it ourselves with the help of Investment Fiji.
Once you've decided what business you would like to undertake, it is very important to check that it is an 'allowed' activity. In Fiji, certain business activities are reserved for locals to undertake only. Some of these include running a café, or fishing related activities. And some activities are restricted.
There is certain criteria you must meet if your business idea falls into the restricted activities list, so before you commence anything, please check, double check, then check again.
If you have go ahead, your next steps to being legally allowed to operate in Fiji will go something like this:
2) Ensure you meet all the requirements of your desired business activity
3) Once Investment Fiji has given you conditional approval, you submit an application to them which includes paying an application fee
4) Once your application is approved, you will have a list of requirements to meet, eg. Council Licences, Business Premises, Business Name etc and if you meet these, you will be able to apply for a Investor Permit from the Immigration department to enable you to work in the country
5) Once this is approved, you are good to go!
Obviously this is just a very basic list of steps to undertake, and the way I have written it seems very simplistic in it's execution.
My experience was fairly simple for my specific business activity, and I imagine for a more complicated business there may be additional steps and requirements, so please take that on board.
There will be certain things popping up with each step, probably that you didn't expect or wouldn't seem like sense to you, however if you just take them as they come, you will come out the other end relatively unscathed.
And if you can do that in this process, you will gain good practice for dealing with a new business and all the little nuances you will come across that you won't be expecting in your new life as business operator in Fiji.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I operated a manufacturing/wholesale business and an events business for one short year only. I know the two are glaringly different, but I had extra time once I had set up the manufacturing one, and I have had good experience in the past in Australia running events. It cost me around $5000 to start up, not including the start up costs of the actual business, and the process took me around 8 weeks all up before I was legally a business owner in Fiji. Why did we stop? Blog post for another time.
MY 3 TOP TIPS TO RUNNING A NEW BUSINESS IN FIJI
Tip 1: "FIJI TIME"
Remember you are in Fiji, which first and foremost means "Fiji Time". It will permeate your whole life - from getting eggs and a loaf of bread for brekky, to running an International Event at Vodafone Arena. Things will take time! More time than you will have a conscious understanding of.
Aside from my overarching "Life Tip to Living Happily in Fiji as an Expat" - Getting on board with Fiji Time. PS. Do this as fast as you can because you will never be able to change it (despite your best intentions when you first arrive as an expat in Fiji - don't shake your head reading this, I promise you will try!).
My best tip for running a business in Fiji with regards to 'Fiji Time" would be to not leave anything down 'to the wire'. If you are relying on someone completing something important for you for a launch event for example, tell them a deadline 2 weeks prior. This way you have lee-way, and an event won't be ruined.
Okay now I am going to completely contradict what I've just said, but stay with me. There is an exception to Fiji Time. When you 'know someone' who 'knows someone', Fiji is the best place to get anything done.
We once left buying a Prize Trophy for an event to the last minute because each of us thought the other had done it. Two days prior to the event, we were racing around trying to find a particular traditional Fijian weapon to be engraved. We were getting no where fast, until I recalled a guy I met two years earlier down at the Suva Handicraft markets.
I hailed a taxi fast and although I didn't recall this man's face or name, when I walked through the market hoping to recognize someone, a voice said "Bula Ma'Am, how have you been?". I found him! Or he found me! I have previously written how great Fijians are at remembering phone numbers and faces. This is a classic example. This generous guy listened to my woeful tale, and promised to help. By that afternoon he buzzed me - my traditional weapon was being engraved by his 'cousin brother' up the road. I had it in my hands the very next day.
That, my friends, is the beautiful contradiction of Fiji Time when living as an expat in Fiji! This contradiction works when needing an electrician or plumber too, by the way. (NB. By 'buzzed' I mean he rang my phone twice and then hung up - this means that he doesn't have any phone credit left and I should call him back! Happens all the time in Fiji!)
Tip 2: SYSTEMS & PROCEDURES
For the most part, I was very good at rolling with things as they happened, like my sewing lady changing the pattern of my most popular selling pants because she 'thought it would look nicer'. My lack of having Systems & Procedures in place meant I didn't find out about this change until 500 pairs were made and ready to be distributed.
So my tip here would be to make your systems fool-proof. Have checkpoints at each stage, regardless of whether you believe it to be necessary. It will be necessary, trust me. Write rules and expectations that you don't think bear saying out loud. They do, trust me. I never thought I would need to stipulate that you don't change a pattern. Clearly I was wrong! I know this to be true because a few months later a dress pattern got altered without me knowing, this time I had 280 dresses that were too long and were not the design which was ordered by my customer. Luckily it was only a matter of shortening the dresses, but that took time and it affected my delivery, not to mention cost me in fabric and labour costs. After this, I made sure it was written clearly on each work order. Do Not Change Pattern In Any Way. Hahaha (now!)- but not at the time, I certainly wasn't laughing.
Tip 3: FIJIAN CULTURE
Make sure you gain a good understanding of Fijian culture before you start your business. You will be relying on, and working together with local Fijians. It is in your best interest not to do things which are not conducive to a good relationship. Remember you are in their country. Be mindful of, and show consideration to their practices and beliefs.
* Don't schedule a team meeting on a Sunday - it's Church!
* Understand that Friday afternoons likely mean it's Kava Time. Perhaps join in and get to know the beautiful Fijians you are working with. Kava is the best way to do this!
* Don't design uniforms that are against the cultural appropriateness - we made this mistake! We didn't understand why one girl was not wearing her uniform on the way to work and home - from our point of view it made our brand look messy. But when we took the time to ask her why, she explained her elders in the Village didn't think she should be wearing shorts. We then got some longer pants and a skirt made for her in alignment with our branding, and problem solved for us and for her!!
My point is that you need to make decisions that will align with the Fijian culture, otherwise you may run in to some problems.
There will be frustrating things in your journey, but they won't be the type of frustrating thing that you are used to dealing with in your home country. You should try to remember that and instead of letting them get to you, just understand that this is Fiji. The things that you will be frustrated in your home country, won't happen in Fiji and vice-versa. So take the best of the situation and run with it!
Running a business was a fun and exciting time in our lives living as Australians in Fiji.
GO FOR IT! What have you got to lose? Your home country will still be there if you need to go back.
I began my start-up relatively inexpensively and it wasn't life and death for us if it failed. The good people at Investment Fiji are there to guide you and help you every step of the way.
This post has had me reminiscing today, so I scrolled through my Instagram and found these memories of my manufacturing business. I met so many great people right across Fiji. This gang were instrumental in my first wholesale order getting out. Vinaka Sigatokians! And the following pic was a set of my clothing in Tappoo, a major department and tourist store.
Have you run a business in Fiji? or thinking about investing in Fiji? Have any advice or funny stories for the readers? Please scroll down just a bit and leave me a comment. I love reading your thoughts. You can also do me a huge favour by sharing this post by clicking the facebook button below.
Good luck, have a great day, and Moce friend,
Other posts about working in Fiji: