The liability of foreignness—or LOF—is the additional cost that multinational enterprise (MNE) subsidiaries face relative to local competitors in foreign markets. The LOF arises in the form of unfamiliarity costs, relational costs, and discrimination costs in host country markets. Because these costs are unique to foreign firms, the LOF constitutes a difference in both kind and degree that distinguishes the MNE from other organizations. LOF has been addressed from a wide array of theoretical perspectives, including internalization theory, institutional theory, the resource-based view, network theory, cross cultural management, and organizational identity. The antecedents of LOF can be found in inter-country distance and dissimilarity, country-specific institutional arrangements, as well as firm-level experiences. Scholars have traced the implications of LOF to many of the critical attributes of the MNE, including internationalization patterns and country selection, entry mode choice, subsidiary performance and survival, localization strategies, and the development of firm-specific advantages. As such, the LOF constitutes one of the foundational assumptions of the international business domain..
Several research gaps and controversies remain in the LOF literature. LOF is often used as a catch-all term for the MNE’s disadvantages and costs in general, rather than the extraordinary costs faced by foreign-owned subsidiaries. Although numerous works invoke LOFs in their overall framing and theoretical argumentation, few studies explain the mechanisms behind the extraordinary costs facing subsidiaries. Empirical measurement of LOFs is rare, with many works using inter-country distance and institutional voids as proxies for LOF. Conceptually, LOF is often confounded with proximate but nonetheless distinct constructs, including the liability of newness, the liability of origin, and the liability of emergingness. A critical issue for extant and future work is to clarify the scope, boundary conditions, and operationalizations of LOF.