Making comparison: Branch vs Subsidiary vs Representative office in Hong Kong
Below are the main differences among the three widely-used registration options for foreign companies in Hong Kong:
Subsidiary in Hong Kong
A subsidiary is a private limited company in nature. It can be owned by a maximum of 50 shareholders, each of whom can be an individual or a corporation.
The matter of liability
Since a subsidiary is a private company limited by shares, it is considered a distinct legal entity that has a legal status separate from its owners/shareholders. This means if a foreign parent company holds ownership of a subsidiary in Hong Kong, it will not hold any further liabilities other than the proportion of shares it owns.
This can be a significant advantage since it provides a given foreign parent company with a great deal of safety in case everything goes south for its subsidiary in Hong Kong (insolvency for example).
- Entity name: a subsidiary’s name can be similar or different to that of the parent company in another jurisdiction (however, subject to certain criteria).
- Business activity: a subsidiary can carry out activities that are the same or different from the parent company. This is an advantage over the types of branches and representative offices.
- Entity’s key personnel: a subsidiary company in Hong Kong needs to satisfy the requirement of appointing the following key persons:
- One either local or foreign director;
- One either local or foreign shareholder; and
- One local resident company secretary
The process of setting up a subsidiary is quite similar to establishing a private company in Hong Kong. It can be done within a couple of days.
The taxation of a subsidiary is the same as a local private company in Hong Kong. Particularly, the profits of a subsidiary will be subject to two-tier corporate income tax (8.25% for the first 2 million HKD and 16.5% for remaining profits). Furthermore, it can be eligible for offshore tax exemption, meaning the profits earned from foreign sources will not be taxed in Hong Kong.
There are several annual compliance requirements for a subsidiary in Hong Kong. Furthermore, yearly, the subsidiary must file a Tax Return together with audited accounts to the Inland Revenue Department and an Annual Return to the Companies Registry.
Branch in Hong Kong
A branch office is deemed as only an extension of its parent company established in another jurisdiction.
The matter of liability
Since being only an extension, a branch office is not a separate entity in its rights and powers, even though it is a legal entity registered with the Companies Registry. Hence, the foreign parent company will hold full responsibility for all debts or liabilities incurred by the branch office in Hong Kong.
- Entity name: the name of a branch office in Hong Kong needs to be identical to that of the parent company.
- Business activity: a branch can only carry out a business activity that is the same as that of the parent company.
- Entity’s key personnel: For a branch setup, only one authorized representative who is a Hong Kong resident is required.
The requirements for branch registration in Hong Kong are rather few and easy. However, it is quite restrictive since the name and activity must be the same as its parent company.
This is another similarity to a subsidiary. A branch in Hong Kong will be taxed in the same manner as locally incorporated companies. It can also benefit from offshore tax exemption and Hong Kong’s network of international double tax treaties.
Likewise, a branch has to comply with many post-registration requirements. Furthermore, like local companies, it has to file annual reports to related Hong Kong regulatory authorities, sometimes a copy of the audited accounts of the parent company if requested.
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Representative office in Hong Kong
A representative office is not treated as a legal entity since it is the office of its foreign parent company to be set up temporarily for administrative tasks in another jurisdiction – here to mention is the example of Hong Kong. It is worth noticing that a representative office in Hong Kong can only serve non-profit purposes.
The matter of liability
In most cases, due to no legal standing, a representative office does not bear any liability in the event of debt costs. All the liabilities will be channeled back to its foreign parent company.
- Entity name: the name of a representative office in Hong Kong needs to be identical to that of the parent company.
- Business activity: a representative is not allowed to earn profits, it is only allowed to carry out non-profits activities such as market research or administrative tasks.
- Entity’s key personnel: a representative office is only required to appoint a staff member from the overseas parent company to relocate to Hong Kong.
Since no profit can be generated from a representative office in Hong Kong, no tax is imposed on such an office.
Likewise, it is not required in compliance requirements of filing tax returns or annual returns with competent authorities like others. Note, however, that application for a Business Registration Certificate (including renewals of Certificate) is still a mandatory requirement for the representative office in Hong Kong.
Everything you need to start doing business in Hong Kong
- Company registration process
- Compliance & tax requirements
- Employment & hiring issues
How to choose the best business structure for your foreign company
Whether you decide on a branch office, a representative office, or a subsidiary, you should consider your foreign parent company’s business goals in advance and the positives and negatives of each structure.
|Business Structure||Branch Office||Representative Office||Subsidiary|
|Business Activities Allowed||Same as parent company||Permitted activities limited to non-profit activities only||Can be similar or different from parent company|
|Company Name||Same as parent company||Same as parent company||Can be similar or different from parent company|
|Legal Status||Not a separate entity||Not a separate entity||A separate legal entity|
|Liability||Extend to parent company||Extend to parent company||Limited liability|
|Key Officer Appointment||Local authorized representative||Chief representative relocated from parent company||Director, Shareholder, Local company secretary|
|Tax Obligation||Taxed as a locally incorporated entity||Not applicable||Taxed as a local incorporated entity|
|Filing Requirements||Done as a local company||Not applicable||Done as a local company|
|Opening A Bank Account||Allowed||Allowed||Allowed|
Below are some considerations for you:
- Large corporations prefer opening a branch office, while most SMEs choose a subsidiary or a representative office in Hong Kong
- Branch and subsidiary are allowed to engage in profit-earning activities but must follow compliance obligations such as audited accounts, filing annual returns and tax returns, AGMs, etc.
- Branches and subsidiaries bear no difference in the tax rates applied. Both are taxed as locally incorporated companies in Hong Kong.
- Representative offices act as temporary vehicles, they cannot generate any revenue for the foreign parent company.
- For a subsidiary, its parent company’s liability is limited to the amount of share capital contributed, whereas a branch and representative office have their liabilities extending to their parent company.
Still uncertain about branch vs subsidiary vs representative office in Hong Kong – which type of business presence is best suited for your foreign company? Feel free to email us your queries for more useful advice!