Published on April 11, 2019

The CapRelo team are experts when it comes to global mobility services, working with businesses of all sizes from around the world. Given our expertise in the field of how businesses operate around the globe, we pay keen attention to current events concerning Fortune 500 companies.

While companies on that prestigious list must be American in origin, they comprise some of the biggest, most successful multinational companies in the world, and oftentimes have offices and operations in international locations. Considering the mammoth international scope of these companies, our curiosity was piqued as to how far and how fast they are expanding beyond U.S. borders.

Our first step was to dig into the history of each company on the 2018 Fortune 500 list to analyze the specifics of how those businesses expanded internationally and look at the kind of global footprint they currently maintain.


When Fortune 500 Companies Expanded Internationally by Industry chart

One of the first things we wanted to know was how long it took the average Fortune 500 company to open its first international location. We wanted to see which industries were the fastest to expand -- and which were the slowest. Once we found data on when every company on the list was founded, as well as what year its first office or plant was opened in a country other than America, we found that it took an average of 30 years for Fortune 500 businesses to expand internationally.

We didn’t stop there. We then grouped all of the companies we evaluated by industry to see which industries are the quickest and which are the slowest to open an international location. Interestingly, we found that food and drug stores on the current Fortune 500 list have never technically “expanded” internationally. The food and drug companies officially listed on the Fortune 500 were all formed as the result of mergers between companies with existing international operations, meaning they all actually started out with a global footprint in year zero.

On the flip side, financial companies on the Fortune 500 average more than half a century between opening their doors in America and then doing the same in another country. This may largely be attributed to the fact that those financial institutions on the Fortune 500 today have been around for a long, long time. Companies like JP Morgan Chase and the State Street Corporation trace their roots as far back as the 1700s. At the time these companies were founded international travel was a more difficult and dangerous task than it would become in modern times, so it’s really not surprising that it took a little longer to expand overseas.


Number of Fortune 500 Companies with International Locations chart

With the “when” of international expansion answered, we next wanted to see “how many” Fortune 500 companies have overseas locations. We found that 35% of Fortune 500 companies have no international presence at all in terms of physical operations, while another 25% have fewer than 25 overseas locations to call their own. However, on the other end of the spectrum, just 5% of Fortune 500 companies boast more than 500 international locations.


Fortune 500-03Fortune 500 Company Locations and Headquarters Infographic

While over one third of these companies do not have an international presence, the majority of Fortune 500 entities do operate locations in foreign countries. With this in mind, we dove deeper to see what kind of facts and trends we might find among this group.

Not surprisingly, when opening their first non-US location, many Fortune 500 companies chose to open their first international location within America’s northward neighbor. A total of 74 companies selected Canada for that honor, which is more than double the next highest country, the United Kingdom. London won as the most chosen city to launch an international expansion.

Those Fortune 500 companies that expanded globally with the greatest number of overseas locations typically were America’s most recognizable and iconic institutions. The golden arches of McDonald's can be found in more than 23,000 places outside the U.S. Western Union can be found in 205 different nations, more than any other company on the Fortune 500.   


Fortune 500 Companies Global Presence Chart

Having looked at the number of overall locations for these Fortune 500 international companies, we also wanted to investigate how many different countries they tend to operate in. Excluding the 35% of companies without international locales, we discovered a relatively even distribution. Four different segments of this portion of our evaluation feature at least 50 companies operating in a given range of countries.


Fortune 500 Company Locations and Headquarters Infographic

And, saving the best for last, here are some fun facts we uncovered. Roughly half of the Fortune 500 companies (249 out of 500) have moved their company headquarters. Mostly these moves have been from one U.S. city to another, though a few American-born companies have made the major shift to an overseas headquarters, such as Avon Products’ move to a London-based HQ.

Typically, Fortune 500 companies average 317 international locations, yet those in the telecommunications, aerospace and defense, and engineering and construction industries typically have fewer than 30 locations. Unsurprisingly, international companies in the U.S. hotel and leisure business are the polar opposite, with almost 5,000 locations on average, far outpacing the industries with the second- and third-most locations, which are retail and apparel businesses.

While there are many U.S. companies expanding internationally, we understand that not every business might have as many international locations as Fortune 500 companies. Nonetheless, no matter how many international locations you have, if your company needs help moving employees from one place to another around the globe, CapRelo can help!

Learn more about our global mobility services that span the US and beyond!