Bookshop For Sale; Foreigners Welcomed
July 24, 2014 5:38 PM   Subscribe

How realistic and/or easy is it to buy and run a physical bookshop in a foreign country?

I've just finished reading the novel "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers" by Tom Rachman, and one of the plot point is that an American is able to use her savings to purchase a physical bookshop in a little village in Wales, and proceed to move over and live in the bookshop.

How realistic is this? Is the UK this welcoming of individual foreigner buying local shop space and moving in? Is this also realistic in other countries around the world?

Yes, I am extremely tempted to save up and buy a bookshop when I retire. :-)
posted by applesurf to Law & Government (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Many (if not most?) countries have something like an investor visa. Anyone with enough money can take up residence and tend to their investment. I believe it is called EntrePass in Singapore and E-2-Visa in the US. Most countries expect the investment to be "substantial", not sure if a little bookshop out in the country would be enough, but maybe it would.

The second thing is running a bookshop. How profitable would it be in times of Amazon & co? Plus, different countries have different challenges (I am thinking about the fixed-price laws for books in Germany, for example.) But I am sure this stuff could be learned through research and on the job.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:21 PM on July 24, 2014

With enough money, it's totally possible, though maybe not easy. The UK and many other countries offer investor visas--have a million quid that you're willing to invest? Congrats, you might qualify for this visa. Most countries have something like this, and the amounts required vary.

IIRC, the benchmark for most English-speaking places is a million in the local currency. France is super expensive--ten million? Germany is relatively easy and only requires something like 250k and the ability to create a couple new jobs--which could be the sort of thing that you're talking about. Head into South America or Asia and it can be even cheaper--Argentina wants about 175k USD, for example, which I think would be pretty doable for many people, assuming that we're talking about cashing out your retirement fund to go semi-retire to a bookstore.

There's some variance in how the visas work--some of them are permanent, some of them allow you to become permanent after $x in investments, etc, but it's totally a thing that happens.
posted by MeghanC at 6:22 PM on July 24, 2014

You could probably do this in Australia if you also invest AUD5M in bonds, through our wonderful 'residency for the rich' 'Significant Investor Visa' program.
posted by pompomtom at 6:23 PM on July 24, 2014

(running a bookshop for any length of time is probably more the challenge here...)
posted by pompomtom at 6:24 PM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Breaking from the rich world, I can offer that when I was living in one of the medium-sized cities in Nicaragua I was friendly with a Canadian family (including two young kids they'd enrolled in the local school) who were running a small bookshop--with a thriving business in one-or-two week used-novel rentals for expats. I believe they just set it up with the intention of staying for a year or two; I suspect that governments without a strong reg regime are easier to do this under.

If you're interested in coming to the U.S., you can get an EB-5 "immigrant investor" permanent-residence visa if you're willing to invest a half-million dollars and create 10 or more jobs for locals. Whether a bookshop can qualify depends on your persuasiveness and resources.
posted by psoas at 6:48 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: If you want to know about running a used bookshop in Wales, Sixpence House by Paul Collins lays out the situation pretty well.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:04 PM on July 24, 2014

Something that hasn't been mentioned is that to make a bookshop pay, especially a second-hand shop but any kind really, is that you need to understand the culture, not just the language. I know English and French and I'm fairly well read, but I'm not sure I could move from Canada to England, France, Ireland or Australia and trust my instincts to stock a bookstore with the titles most likely to appeal to potential customers.
posted by zadcat at 10:31 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the Netherlands, the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty allows US citizens to apply for a residence permit based on self-employment, which could include running a shop. The English Bookshop and The American Book Center in Amsterdam are both examples of bookstores run by immigrants.
posted by neushoorn at 1:14 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

How realistic is this?

Not very. To survive as an indy bookstore in the western world these days is really, really hard. To survive as an indy bookshop in Wales is really hard, but in Welsh. If you look at that list of book stores, you will see that virtually all of them carry titles in Welsh as a mainstay of their business. As an American, you'd be extremely hard pressed to know what Welsh language books to stock and, as a separate issue, what English language authors sell in Wales.

Hay is the exception to this but Hay is exceptional not just in Wales, but in the entire landscape of Anglophone book retailing.

Yes, I am extremely tempted to save up and buy a bookshop when I retire. :-)

You know the joke "A boat is a hole in the ocean into which you pour money"? That's what an indy bookstore is, except the hole has an overdraft.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:16 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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