Hong Kong has evolved into one of the important business centers in the region. Located on the South East Coast of China it became part of China on 1 July, 1997. It is a Special Administration Region (SAR) within the People’s Republic of China with its own legislature and courts. Despite the presence of business centers such as Shanghai, Hong Kong continues to gain popularity as an offshore jurisdiction and commercial hub because of the economic and political stability and simple and straightforward tax regime and legislative system.
Some of the key benefits of Hong Kong as an offshore jurisdiction include:
Favorable Tax regime: Hong Kong follows a territorial policy of taxation, the companies are taxed only on the income that is derived from Hong Kong and profits earned beyond the shores of Hong Kong are exempted from tax. Moreover there is no VAT, or capital gains tax or tax on dividends this makes it a highly desirable jurisdiction. Thus, a Hong Kong offshore company that generates income from abroad practically pays Zero tax. Overseas profits are exempt from taxation in Hong Kong even if it is brought back to the jurisdiction.
Even for revenue generated from Hong Kong the tax applicable on taxable profit is just 16.5%, one of the lowest in the region. After deductions and exemption the effective tax rate will be much lower than the headline tax rate.
Positive Image: Hong Kong Companies are not perceived as offshore tax haven as Hong Kong is not regarded as a tax shelter. In an article published in May 2009, the Director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration commended Hong Kong’s efforts to comply with the international standards on tax transparency and exchange of information while pointing out that Hong Kong is not a tax haven according to the OECD criteria. Subsequently, in its September 2009 report, the OECD vindicated again that Hong Kong is not a tax haven and recognised Hong Kong’s commitments to the OECD standards. Therefore a Hong Kong Offshore company commands a respectable image and does not raise suspicions.
Strategic Location: Hong Kong is considered as the gateway to China, the world’s biggest market and facilitates easy access to mainland China and all the key markets of Asia, most of the Asian cities are within four hours flying radius.
Free economy: Hong Kong is regarded as the world’s most free economy with the lack of restrictions and government interventions in trade. The economic policy allows free inflow and outflow of capital and there is no exchange control. The jurisdiction allows 100% foreign ownership of companies. It has been ranked as the freest in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom for 15 consecutive years.
Political Stability: Hong Kong a former British Dependent Territory became a Special Administrative Region of People’s Republic of China in July 1997. Since then Hong Kong has retained its autonomous status and under the “one country two systems” concept, the Chinese government does not interfere with the governance of Hong Kong which has flourished by leaps and bounds with a significant share of world’s largest banks, corporations and high net worth individuals. World Investment Report 2009 released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)reaffirmed Hong Kong as one of the world’s and Asia’s most attractive destinations for FDI. Despite the tough economic situation Hong Kong attracted US$63 billion inward investment in 2008 and continues to be Asia’s second largest and is the world’s seventh largest FDI recipient. This reflects on the investment climate and investor’s confidence which are direct outcome of Political stability.
Strong Economy: With 7 million population and foreign exchange reserve of over US$140 billion the economy of Hong Kong is resilient and vibrant. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is Asia’s second largest stock exchange in terms of market capitalization, behind the Tokyo Stock Exchange. As of 31 December 2007, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange had 1,241 listed companies with a combined market capitalization of $2.7 trillion.
Absence of Nationality or Residency Limitation: As an international business center the jurisdiction does not have any stipulation regarding the nationality or the residency of share holders and directors. A minimum of one director and shareholder is required and there is no cap on the maximum numbers and a foreigner who is not residing in Hong Kong can act as the Director. The director and shareholder can be the same person. However the company secretary must be a resident individual or a resident company.
Minimum Share Capital: The minimum paid up capital is HK $1 and recommended share capital is HK$10,000. Bearer shares are not allowed.
Filing of Returns: If a company does not do any business in Hong Kong, which is usually the case with offshore companies, there is generally no requirement to file financial statements and no audit is required. It is only necessary to file an annual Declaration of “No business activity in Hong Kong.” However if the offshore company has an office in Hong Kong or has employees in Hong Kong then it is required to file audited financial accounts. Moreover the government reserves the right to request for filing annual statements at a short notice any time therefore it is recommended to maintain the books up-to-date.
Provision for Anonymity: The names and details of the Directors and Shareholders are disclosed in public records however the nominee provision could be used in order to maintain anonymity.
Regulatory Compliance: The other regulatory compliance are simple and is similar to any resident companies such as maintenance of proper records, renewal of licenses, notifying any changes in the registered details etc.
A Hong Kong offshore company is a very popular vehicle for conducting offshore banking activities, international trade, investment activities, and for asset protection.