UK businesses expanding internationally could create 1.9m new jobs in the UK, according to new report from Santander

  • Santander report estimates increased demand and business growth could lead to an estimated additional 1.9 million jobs being created in the UK 
  • £93.5 billion in revenue could be added to UK economy if SMEs realised their international trade aspirations 
  • Those looking to expand operations or trade internationally say the biggest barriers are logistics, cost, and lack of knowledge of local laws and regulations


An estimated 1.9 million1 jobs would be created across the UK and businesses could add a third to their revenue if they were able to make a successful transition to new markets beyond the UK. These figures are released today in a new report from Santander UK entitled 'Unleashing UK businesses’ international growth potential'.

The report outlines the potential revenue growth of £93.5 billion for UK SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) through international expansion. It also outlines the barriers companies face when looking to take their business or products overseas. 

UK companies say the main benefits to international trade are an increase in profits followed by a diversified client base, improved business resilience and an enhanced brand. In separate research, Santander’s Spring Trade Barometer3  found 59% of companies that trade internationally report an improved performance over the past year compared to just 46% of those which do business solely in the UK. They are also more confident about increased growth, with 78% of UK companies optimistic about growth over the next three years versus 69% of domestic only businesses.

However, it is clear from our research that businesses can be put off expanding internationally by the perceived barriers to doing. The key areas highlighted include: 

  • a lack of knowledge about local laws and regulations (28%)
  • 26% feel that they have a lack of understanding of the best financial solution available to facilitate expansion
  • complex trade logistics (25%).

John Carroll, Head of International and Transactional Banking, Santander said: “The UK is a strong incubator for SMEs, but as our data shows, international expansion is key to unlocking future growth potential for the UK economy. We must help to remove the barriers to expansion and support UK companies to take advantage of the benefits of reaching markets outside of the UK. We’ve already assisted over 1,000 UK companies with their global expansion via our network of international specialists, connecting them to distributors, local markets, logistics companies, and many more providers which are now available to even more businesses on our Santander Navigator platform. The opportunity is there but if we are to maintain our status as a leading global economy, there is more to be done to foster international growth.”

Many UK businesses are looking to international trade as a means of economic recovery. Our recent Trade Barometer showed that more than a third (38%) perceive international growth as the way out of current UK economic challenges, and 65% believe international markets have greater growth potential than that of the UK. Additionally, 36% say the current economic conditions have made overseas markets more important to their business. Over the past few years, the economic environment in the UK has been difficult to navigate for many businesses with the political uncertainty of Brexit, the impact of Covid-19 and the escalation of the war in Ukraine.  

As they look ahead and strive for future growth, the main difficulties UK businesses highlighted in the research include: 

  • Increasing cost of doing business, such as increased energy bills, increased raw materials costs and increased staff wages (31%)
  • Impact of customers spending less (25%)
  • Increased competition is making future growth prospects more challenging (24%)
  • Difficulty in finding adequately skilled staff (20%).

Robert La Francesca, Global Commercial Director, Maldon Salt said: “Around 65% of our business is international but expansion is really driven by demand globally, in particular by chefs using us in their recipe books over many decades. We have a global presence already however Southeast Asia and Latin America are fast becoming important growth areas. We’re an SME so we can’t do everything ourselves; we partner with experts to help prioritise and focus our resources effectively. There is a lot of regulation to overcome, alongside customs and logistics dynamics. What Santander do really well is provide local expertise and a point of contact in market, who speaks the local language in addition to perfect English and understands the local culture and norms. It also offers market insight and validation, they can help size the category in a particular market, outline the key players and generally give an assessment of how the market is performing.”

Providing support and guidance to SMEs that are looking to navigate these challenges is key to unlocking the potential for the UK and beyond. When asked what kind of support aspiring businesses would find useful:

  • 36% said they would benefit from support with logistics, such as an established choice of providers
  • 34% stating that they would benefit from a forum where they can discuss mutual challenges and opportunities
  • a third (32%) of companies stated that assistance with navigating customs processes is key.

Our research also identifies two key areas that Government can support with. Firstly, a reduction in bureaucracy especially around barriers to trading. Secondly, support with skills and the labour market to ensure companies can take advantage of the potential for growth with people who have the right skills and knowledge to help their businesses.

Santander’s international team has dedicated market specialists that have access to extensive local networks and knowledge around the world, and a long track record of helping businesses implement their international growth strategies. This support ranges from working with them to identify new markets, helping them with shipping and logistics options and organising virtual trade missions to introducing businesses to trusted local partners, potential new customers and vital networks in key destinations. A year ago, it launched Santander Navigator digital platform to help businesses address the common challenges of expanding internationally. On the platform, Santander supports businesses with trade regulations, recruitment and ‘on the ground’ support as well as offering a community of other businesses looking to operate in similar environments. 

Santander UK has been working with actor Brian Cox as part of a campaign to show the nation’s businesses that it can connect them to the right partners who will help them break into new markets, both in the UK and internationally. Business isn’t just about the people you know, it’s about who you don’t.

For more information on the connections Santander can help with, or to download the report, visit

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The information contained in our press releases is intended solely for journalists and should not be used by consumers to make financial decisions.


Notes to Editors
1.    Jobs and pound value to the economy estimates are based on survey responses from 2,012 UK SMEs. The survey sample is representative of the latest ONS UK Business Population estimates by business size and region. Estimates in this press release (and supporting report) are calculated by using actual reported figures of UK SMEs that are internationally established as a data proxy for what future trade could be worth for internationally ambitious SMEs identified in the survey.

2.    Figures are based on internationally ambitious businesses once trading is fully established.

3.    The Santander Trade Barometer research is carried out bi-annually in spring and autumn. Fieldwork carried out between 17 January and 9 February 2023 by YouGov. Total sample size of 1,014 UK businesses with minimum £1m annual turnover.

Research methodology
To better understand the international trade challenges facing SMEs, Santander undertook a survey of 2,012 SMEs, with fieldwork conducted 23rd May – 4th June 2023. SMEs are defined as businesses with a headcount of 10-249 employees. Sample quotas were set on business size and UK regions based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) business population estimates 2022.

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 31 December 2022, the bank had around 19,000 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the FCA and the PRA in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the FSCS in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in the Europe, North America and South America regions, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Santander aims to be the best open financial services platform providing services to individuals, SMEs, corporates, financial institutions and governments. The bank’s purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising €220 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2030. In the first quarter of 2023, Banco Santander had €1.2 trillion in total funds, 161 million customers, 9,000 branches and 210,000 employees.