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Understanding Hong Kong's Offshore Tax Exemption - A Comprehensive Guide to Opening and Maintaining a Company in Hong Kong in 2024 - Part 6

Updated: May 17

The possibilities of Hong Kong Tax Exemption
In Brief: Hong Kong's offshore tax exemption allows local companies, including most SMEs, to legally pay zero taxes on profits generated entirely abroad. While recent regulations like FSIE have increased complexity, most SMEs remain eligible for this exemption. This makes Hong Kong an attractive base for small enterprises focused on international activities across sectors like trading, professional services and investments.

Hong Kong is well-known for its business-friendly taxation system and territorial approach to taxation. This means that only income sourced from Hong Kong is subject to tax in the region. Foreign-sourced income is exempt from Hong Kong profits tax, making it an attractive base for international business operations.

One of the key features for foreign companies in Hong Kong is the offshore tax exemption. But how exactly does this work, and can small businesses benefit from it? This article provides a brief overview of Hong Kong’s offshore tax exemption, who can qualify, and what business owners need to watch out for when pursuing this option.

What is Hong Kong Offshore Tax Exemption?

Hong Kong’s tax system operates on a territorial basis, so only profits earned locally are taxed, while foreign earnings are exempt. The offshore tax exemption allows companies to pay zero tax on profits generated from activities conducted entirely outside of Hong Kong.

To qualify, the business cannot have any operations in Hong Kong. This includes having local staff, directors, premises, or clients. The company’s management and control must be handled entirely overseas as well. If granted, qualifying companies do not need to file tax returns or pay taxes in Hong Kong on their foreign income.

Does it Apply to Small Businesses?

The recently introduced Foreign-Sourced Income Exemption (FSIE) regime raised concerns that the offshore tax exemption would no longer be feasible for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Hong Kong. However, most local SMEs do not fall under FSIE requirements.

Businesses with annual revenue under HK$100 million and fewer than 100 employees do not qualify as FSIE entities. Furthermore, even if annual turnover exceeds HK$100 million but staff count stays under 100, an SME can apply for a concession and remain exempt.

Therefore, most private enterprises remain eligible for the standard offshore tax exemption under the original provisions, rather than being subject to FSIE restrictions. However, it is still advisable to consult tax professionals when pursuing this option.

Considerations for Business Owners

When applying for offshore tax exemption for your Hong Kong company, business owners should be cautious about their residency status. If you reside in a country that taxes worldwide income, the Hong Kong exemption may be counterproductive, subjecting foreign profits to tax abroad instead. Check regulations in your country of residence when considering offshore exemption in Hong Kong.

It is also prudent not to mix offshore salary and director fees when claiming exemption, as the latter can still be taxed locally. Work closely with accounting and tax advisors to ensure you apply the optimal structures aligning with your commercial activities.

Since approval can take up to three years, some business owners opt for an offshore salary arrangement first, which is usually faster to obtain. This involves paying yourself an employment income from your overseas parent entity to legally avoid Hong Kong salaries tax.

The Takeaway

Hong Kong’s territorial tax system offers major advantages, especially the potential zero tax liability under the offshore tax exemption. While recent regulations like FSIE have increased complexity, most local SMEs remain exempt from these latest rules. With the right planning and advice, small enterprises in trading, services, investments and more can leverage Hong Kong’s liberal tax policies to operate globally in a tax-efficient manner. If structured properly, the offshore exemption remains a lucrative option for SMEs using Hong Kong as a base for their international activities.

Company registration for Hong Kong tax exemption service


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