Adam DeSanges Feb 15, 2024 10:15:35 AM 18 min read

Exploring EOR Operating Models for Global Expansion

Becoming familiar with the term "Employer of Record" (EOR) is essential when embarking on global expansion. An EOR is essentially a partner that manages the complexities of employing staff in a foreign country, including compliance with local labour laws, payroll, and taxes, acting as the legal employer on your behalf. This setup allows you to concentrate on your business's main activities while expanding globally, without the administrative hassle.

Understanding the different EOR operating models is vital for any business planning international growth. The choice of model will depend on your specific needs, the regions you're targeting, and the level of control or flexibility you require.


Overview of the Three Models

First, let’s look at the three main operating models of EORs:


Direct Model

The Direct model involves an EOR that has its own legal entity in the country of operation. This means the EOR is knowledgeable about local employment laws and practices and hires local nationals directly. This is akin to having an in-country HR department without establishing your own entity.

This model is valued for its simplicity and the control it offers. The EOR can customise its services to meet your needs effectively. However, its limitation is that it can only operate in countries where it has a physical presence, which might be restrictive for businesses looking to expand into multiple countries.


Indirect Model

The Indirect model is used when an EOR does not have a physical presence in a target country. Instead, it partners with a local entity familiar with the country's employment laws. This local partner then hires employees to work for you on behalf of the EOR. This model facilitates entry into markets where the EOR does not have a direct presence.

The advantage of this model is its broad geographic reach, allowing for expansion into various countries regardless of where the EOR is incorporated. And, the effectiveness of this model depends on how well the EOR manages its partnerships to ensure a seamless service.


Hybrid Model

The Hybrid model combines the Direct and Indirect models, providing both flexibility and extensive coverage. It adapts to specific needs in different regions, using the Direct model in countries where the EOR has a presence and the Indirect approach elsewhere through local partners.

This model offers a versatile solution for global expansion but requires careful management of different operations across regions. Hence, choosing an EOR with a proven ability to execute this model effectively is important.

In the following sections, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each model in more detail and address common myths. Selecting the appropriate EOR model is a crucial step in your global expansion strategy, and we aim to provide clear guidance to help you make an informed decision.


Pros and Cons of Each Model

When planning for global expansion, selecting the appropriate EOR operating model is a critical decision that can influence the efficiency and success of your international ventures. 

Moreover, each model comes with benefits and limitations. Here's a straightforward look at the pros and cons of the Direct, Indirect, and Hybrid EOR models to aid in your decision-making process.


Direct Model Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Greater control: The Direct model allows for direct oversight of employment practices, ensuring they align with your company's standards and objectives.

  • Local expertise: EORs with a direct presence in a country bring valuable local legal and cultural knowledge, ensuring compliance and cultural appropriateness in your operations.

  • Streamlined processes: Operations such as hiring and payroll are more straightforward, reducing the risk of miscommunication and errors.


  • Limited geographic coverage: The main limitation of the Direct model is its reach; it can only operate in countries where the EOR has a legal entity, potentially restricting your expansion options.


Indirect Model Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Broader geographic coverage: This model enables expansion into countries where the EOR does not have a direct presence through partnerships with local entities.

  • Flexibility: It offers the ability to enter new markets with less commitment than required for direct incorporation, providing an opportunity to test markets before making significant investments.


  • Potential for less control: Working through local partners may result in less direct oversight of the employment process, which could lead to inconsistencies.

  • Variability in service integration: The effectiveness of the Indirect model depends on the EOR's ability to manage its partnerships. Inconsistencies in service delivery may arise if these partnerships are not well-integrated.


Hybrid Model Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Flexibility and coverage: The Hybrid model combines the Direct and Indirect models, offering both controls where the EOR is directly present and broader coverage through partnerships in other countries.

  • Tailored approach: It allows for a customised strategy for each market, using direct operations in some countries and leveraging partnerships in others for a comprehensive global reach.


  • Complexity in management: This model requires managing a mix of direct and indirect operations across different countries, which can be complex and demands robust systems for consistency and quality control.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each EOR model is essential for making an informed choice that aligns with your company's global expansion strategy. 

Whether you prioritise direct control and local expertise, need broad geographic coverage, or seek a balance of both, selecting the right EOR model is a key step in your international growth journey.


Myths and Misconceptions

When considering the Indirect EOR model for global expansion, it's crucial to separate fact from fiction. Misunderstandings can cloud judgment and lead to missed opportunities. Let's address some common myths about the Indirect EOR model and set the record straight.


Myth 1: Intellectual Property Risks

There's a misconception that using an Indirect EOR model poses a higher risk to intellectual property (IP) security. However, the truth is that EORs, whether operating directly or indirectly, are bound by contractual agreements that ensure IP rights are protected and transferred appropriately. For example, a software development company expanding into Brazil might use an Indirect EOR model. Despite the EOR partnering with a local entity, the contractual safeguards in place ensure that any IP developed by employees in Brazil is securely transferred to the company.


Myth 2: Higher Costs

Another myth is that the Indirect model inherently leads to higher costs due to the involvement of local partners. While it's true that there are additional layers in the service delivery chain, these costs often mirror the administrative and operational expenses you would incur with a Direct model in managing local compliance and payroll. The key is transparency in pricing from the EOR, ensuring that any fees are clear and justified.


Myth 3: Compliance and Control Issues

Some believe that the Indirect model compromises compliance and control over employment processes. In reality, reputable EORs meticulously select local partners with proven compliance and operational excellence track records. This partnership allows for adherence to local laws and regulations while maintaining a level of control through established agreements and regular audits.


Myth 4: Lack of Understanding of Local Laws

The final myth to debunk is the notion that EORs using local partners lack a deep understanding of local employment laws. On the contrary, these partnerships are formed precisely because of the local partners' expertise and intimate knowledge of their legal landscape. This collaborative approach ensures that employment practices are compliant and optimised for local nuances.


Choosing the Right Model for Your Business

Selecting the most suitable EOR model for your business involves a deep dive into your company's unique needs, ambitions, and the nuances of the markets you aim to enter. Here's an expanded look at the factors that should influence your decision-making process:


1. Company's Expansion Goals and Target Regions

Different countries come with their unique challenges, from complex labour laws to cultural nuances in the workplace. If your target region has particularly intricate employment regulations, an Indirect model's local knowledge and expertise could be crucial for navigating these complexities successfully. For example, expanding into countries like Brazil or India, known for their rigorous and often complex regulatory environments, may benefit from the nuanced understanding that local partners provide.

Consider the size of the market you're entering and your long-term potential there. A Direct model might be more suitable for significant markets where you plan substantial, long-term investment and presence, as it offers more control and direct oversight.


2. Type of Support and Services Needed from an EOR

The breadth of services you require can vary widely, from basic payroll processing to comprehensive HR management, including recruitment, onboarding, and benefits administration. Assess whether you need a partner that offers a full suite of services or if your focus is more on specific areas like payroll and legal compliance.

Certain industries or companies may have specialised needs, such as the ability to manage remote teams across various jurisdictions or specific visa and immigration support for international employees. An EOR model that can cater to these specialised requirements, possibly through a Hybrid approach, might be the best fit.


3. Operational Requirements and Preferences for Control Versus Coverage

How much direct control do you wish to maintain over your international employees? If maintaining a strong grip on employment policies and practices is crucial for your business, a Direct model, where the EOR operates within its own legal entity, might be preferable. This model allows for more standardised practices across your operations.

If your expansion strategy involves entering multiple markets, especially those where you have no existing presence, the broad geographic coverage offered by an Indirect or Hybrid model could be advantageous. These models allow for quicker entry into new markets without the need to establish your own legal entities.

Also, consider how quickly you need to move and how flexible you need your EOR solution to be. If you're exploring a new market with the intention to scale up or down based on early experiences, the flexibility offered by an Indirect or Hybrid model could provide the adaptability you need.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can align your choice of EOR model with your business strategy, ensuring that your global expansion efforts are both effective and compliant. Remember, the right EOR partner can significantly ease the burden of international expansion, allowing you to focus on growing your core business.


Steps to Evaluate and Choose the Most Suitable EOR Model

Choosing the right EOR model requires a methodical approach to ensure that the model you select not only meets your immediate needs but also aligns with your long-term business objectives. Here's how to approach this decision-making process:


Step 1: Assess Your Business Needs

Begin with a comprehensive assessment of your international expansion goals and the specific human resource requirements they entail. This step is about understanding the 'why' behind your expansion — are you entering new markets for talent acquisition, market presence, or to test product viability? Each objective may necessitate a different approach to employment and, consequently, a different EOR model. 

For instance, if rapid talent acquisition in a tech-savvy market is your goal, you might prioritise an EOR model that offers robust recruitment and onboarding services. Documenting your objectives and associated HR needs will help you filter through EOR models to find those best suited to your strategy.


Step 2: Understand the Operational Footprint of Potential EOR Partners

Once you've defined your needs, the next step is to research potential EOR partners to gauge their operational footprint and expertise in your target regions. This involves looking beyond the surface to understand not just where they operate, but how effectively they do so. Consider the following:

  • Does the EOR have a direct presence in your target countries, or do they rely on partners? How does this align with your needs for control or flexibility?

  • Seek out case studies or client testimonials that provide insight into the EOR's track record. Success stories in similar industries or with similar expansion challenges to yours can be particularly illuminating.

  • Evaluate the range and depth of services offered by the EOR in each region. An EOR that offers comprehensive services, including payroll, benefits administration, and legal compliance in one region may have a more limited offering in another.

Step 3: Consider the Long-Term Implications of Each Model on Your Global Strategy

The final step is to look beyond the immediate benefits of each EOR model and consider their long-term implications on your global strategy. This is where you weigh the models' flexibility, scalability, and adaptability against your anticipated business trajectory. Ensure to enquire about the following:

  • How easily can the EOR model adapt to changes in your business strategy or the regulatory environment of your target regions? An Indirect or Hybrid model may offer more flexibility to enter or exit markets quickly.

  • Consider whether the EOR model can support your growth in these regions. Can the model scale up operations smoothly as your business grows, or are there limitations?

  • Evaluate the ability of each model to pivot in response to new opportunities or challenges. The global market landscape can change rapidly, and your chosen EOR model should be able to support pivots in your strategy without significant delays or disruptions.

By carefully navigating these steps, you can make a well-informed decision on the EOR model that best supports your international expansion. This process ensures that your immediate HR needs are met and positions your business for successful growth and adaptation in the global marketplace.


Selecting the most appropriate EOR model is a critical step on the path to successful global expansion. Clearing up misconceptions about these models equips you with the knowledge to make an informed decision tailored to your business's unique requirements, objectives, and the specific challenges your target markets present. Engaging in comprehensive research, seeking advice from seasoned professionals, and aligning your choice with your immediate and future strategic goals is essential. Taking this approach ensures that your expansion efforts are successful in the short term and sustainable and scalable in the long run.

If you're ready to explore how an EOR can facilitate your company's growth on the international stage, Emerald is here to guide you. Our team of experts is equipped to help you understand each EOR model's nuances and identify the perfect fit for your business needs.

Contact Emerald today to learn more about how we can support your global ambitions and help you navigate the journey of international expansion with confidence.

Adam DeSanges

Part of Emerald since 2006, Adam has personally developed an Executive Search process that has been incorporated throughout the entire Emerald Technology business and has enabled our team to offer an unrivalled, collaborative service to our clients. As one of our Company Directors, he is responsible for leading, training and mentoring this methodology.

End-to-end recruitment FAQ's

What locations do Emerald search, hire and payroll in?

We offer a limitless solution. We source, onboard and payroll employees in every region worldwide (except sanctioned countries.)


Who are Emerald’s customers?

We support Pre-IPO, VC or PE backed technology start-ups. We are a trusted partner to some of the most innovative and globally recognised technology companies since 2000.


How quickly can Emerald onboard employees?

We can compliantly onboard employees on average of just 24-72 hours.