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Last updated: 20 Dec 2019

1. Hong Kong offshore company: An easily misunderstood term

To begin with, an offshore company is incorporated for business only carried outside of the jurisdiction of its original formation. Some offshore countries are believed tax havens since there is no corporate profit tax in these places. Typical company types like international business company (IBC) or business company (BC) exists for the purpose of tax exempt.

Hong Kong is sometimes considered as the same as Belize, Seychelles or BVI, which are tax havens. However, a deep sight into current Hong Kong tax laws proves that it should be tagged as a low-tax jurisdiction rather than a tax haven.

Different from normal offshore countries, Hong Kong gives local companies established by foreigners permission to do businesses within the territory of Hong Kong; subsequently, they must pay a tax rate from 8.25 to 16.5 percent for their profit. With its attractive tax rates, Hong Kong seems to be one of the best choices. It’s even better that profits derived outside Hong Kong territory is eligible for tax exemption. The process for proving your source of profits called offshore claim.

2. Hong Kong Offshore Claim: A key to offshore profit tax exemption

In common offshore jurisdictions, a company formed under specific types i.e IBC or BC is subject to offshore status automatically from the time of its incorporation. Contrastively, it takes a bit more time, effort and paperwork for a local Hong Kong company to gain offshore status through offshore claim. 
Offshore status for a local company is a tax exemption letter released by Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department (IRD) after their prudent inspection period. Obliged by Hong Kong laws, companies are tax-free for the profits derived outside the territory. Without an offshore claim, corporates must pay full profit tax despite their sources of incomes.

The process to the approval of IRD for this letter is quite long, not sooner than 6 months. However, it is worthwhile as the offshore status is up to five-year effective. Offshore status will play its role from the time it is issued by IRD, which means the previous annual paid tax is not refundable.
How about partial tax exemption? It is possible for these companies to apply offshore claim, of course, it is more complicated, time-consumed, and costly than completely tax-free ones. The explanation is that directors have to spend time to work with Certified Public Accountants (CPA) to provide proofs for queries from IRD. Additionally, a partially offshore company whose only a portion of profit comes from outside Hong Kong will typically have to do offshore claim on the annual basis.

3. When should we register for offshore claim?

Some people might advise you to start the offshore claim progress right after your company is incorporated. Likewise, it is recommended to make offshore application as soon as filing profit tax return for the first period (18 months after the incorporation date). The examination goes more smoothly and effectively when corporates can specifically prepare required documents for IRD.

4. Who are able to qualify offshore claim?

As mentioned above, Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department (IRD) have their power to determine and approve offshore status for a company under a letter form. Your companies are requested to answer “Question to determine source of profit” by IRD as exactly detailed as possible to avoid confusion and doubts.
Actually, there are also chances that the offshore claim requests are rejected by IRD. This unexpected situation occurs mainly because companies are unable to meet the requirements from IRD clearly. Therefore, to raise the success percentage, you should ensure that your companies include, but is not limited to, these criteria:

  • No clients in Hong Kong
  • No physical office and staff in Hong Kong
  • No web hosting in Hong Kong
  • No services, sales and business performed in Hong Kong
  • No warehousing and fulfillment in Hong Kong

Accordingly, it is intended you take every piece of advice from CPA before making any submission to IRD.

5. Is it easy for us to get offshore claim?

Initially, Profit Tax Return (PTR) should be accomplished as it is a mandatory part of offshore status examination. The application of offshore claim would have to be submitted at the same time with PTR filing. The first PTR must be filed when the corporate is 18-month old. The next periods of PTR are every 12 months after. Auditors require the collection of the following from the corporate:

  • Invoices and contracts
  • Bank statements
  • Expense receipts

To help the offshore claim process run fluently, though this list is not all inclusive, you should prepare the following documents: 
Trading proofs such as sales and purchase orders; 

  • Shipping documents;
  • Meeting minutes with customers and suppliers
  • Travel documents for any visits to clients and suppliers
  • Phone numbers, email, fax as communication means to support negotiation process with customers and suppliers.

The process takes several months because IRD will arise questions during their investigation before making their final decision. Additionally, the timeframe depends on different structures of companies and businesses. The more layers indeed, the more convoluted procedure, and the more costly expense certainly.

Firstly, IRD inspect submitted documents from the subject companies with their Corporations and Partnerships Unit. Afterwards, their Unit of Field Audit and Investigation might get involved in the progress if there is any signal of tax elimination. A letter of offshore tax exemption will be granted after the company’s documents and clarification persuade IRD.

The offshore status maintains its effect in maximum from 3 to 5 years, but you should be noticed to do annual auditing to state with IRD that your business still stays offshore. In case that there are any changes, they must be mentioned in the auditing reports.
Thanks to the country’s significant reputation, no matter it is taxed or not, Hong-Kong-based corporates are able to gain more opportunities in global market. Beside the prestige, offshore status performs in enhancing the attraction for Hong Kong as companies can save a large amount of annual expense. That is the reason why more and more business people decide to incorporate in Hong Kong. Now, it is your turn!

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