Demystifying Corporate Taxation in Hong Kong: The Guide Every Foreign Business Needs in 2023

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Hong Kong’s reputation as a business-friendly hub for foreign companies can be largely attributed to its efficient, low-rate, and simple corporate taxation system.  In this article, three distinctive elements of Hong Kong’s unique corporate taxation system will be explored in depth. Additionally, intricate policies and regulations surrounding corporate tax calculations, deductions and allowances, loss management, as well as filing and payment procedures will be presented in detail.

Taxes in Hong Kong

Three Key Factors: Why the Hong Kong Corporate Taxation System is Business-Friendly

The primary corporate taxation in Hong Kong is known as the profits tax, the tax that corporations and unincorporated businesses pay on their taxable income. In the context of the Hong Kong tax system, taxable income generally refers to profits generated from a trade, profession, or business carried out in Hong Kong. However, not all income earned by a company is necessarily subject to tax. This is due to the application of the territorial principle, a fundamental aspect of Hong Kong’s tax system. 

1. The Territorial Principle

This principle stipulates that taxes are only levied on profits that arise in or are derived from conducting business in Hong Kong. If a profit is sourced outside Hong Kong (also known as an offshore profit), it is exempt from profit tax, regardless of whether the profit has been remitted to Hong Kong.

The territorial principle applies equally to both residents and non-residents in Hong Kong. Even if you are a resident of Hong Kong, profits earned outside the jurisdiction are not subject to tax. Conversely, non-residents who generate profits within Hong Kong are obligated to pay profits tax on those earnings.

Determining whether profits are sourced in Hong Kong can be complex and depends on the nature of the profits and the specific facts of each case. Typically, the operations test is applied, where the activities that directly lead to profits are examined. In general, if the core operations that generate the profits are conducted in Hong Kong, the profits are likely to be considered Hong Kong-sourced and hence subject to the profit tax.

2. A wide range of tax incentives

Hong Kong uses a two-tiered tax system to alleviate the tax burden on smaller businesses, allowing them to retain more of their earnings and thereby foster business growth and development. Moreover, the absence of dividend or capital gains tax, coupled with a broad range of permissible business expense deductions and allowances, amplifies Hong Kong’s appeal as a favorable business environment. 

In addition, unlike many other jurisdictions, Hong Kong allows businesses to carry forward their losses indefinitely to offset future profits. This provision can be beneficial for businesses, especially startups that might incur losses in their early years of operation. Comprehensive explanations of each tax incentive will be provided in the upcoming sections.

3. Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs)

DTAs are a pivotal part of Hong Kong’s taxation system, facilitating international business and investment by eliminating potential obstacles like double taxation. They establish the framework for taxation rights on all forms of income flows between jurisdictions and ensure that taxpayers don’t pay tax twice on the same income. DTAs also provide mechanisms for resolving disputes and facilitating cooperation between tax authorities, fostering a more stable and transparent tax environment for businesses operating across borders.

Corporate Taxation in Hong Kong

How to calculate the corporate tax in Hong Kong?

A solid grasp of the two-tiered system is vital before calculating corporate tax in Hong Kong. This system plays a significant role in determining the tax liabilities of corporations in the region.

A Two-tiered system

In the context of Hong Kong’s corporate taxation structure, a two-tiered system refers to the different tax rates applied to a corporation’s profits based on specified thresholds. 

  • For corporations, the first HK$2 million of profits will be taxed at one-half of the current tax rate (i.e., 8.25%) and the remaining profits will continue to be taxed at the existing 16.5% tax rate.
  • For unincorporated businesses, the first HK$2 million of profits will be taxed at one-half of the current tax rate (i.e., 7.5%) and the remaining profits will be taxed at the existing 15% tax rate.

While the two-tiered system is designed to provide tax relief for businesses, it has specific rules and restrictions to ensure fairness and prevent misuse.

  • Connected Entities: The legislation defines “connected entities” to prevent multiple companies within the same group from benefiting from the lower tax rate separately. Essentially, each group of connected entities must nominate one entity to avail the two-tiered regime benefits. The decision, once made for a particular year of assessment, cannot be changed.
  • Exclusion of Certain Taxpayers: Companies that have elected for other preferential half-rate tax regimes are not eligible for the two-tiered system. This includes professional reinsurance companies, captive insurance companies, corporate treasury centres, and aircraft leasing companies. The intention is to avoid “double benefits” whereby a company could potentially take advantage of two preferential tax rates simultaneously.
  • Exclusion of Certain Profits: Profits that are already subject to concessionary tax rates, such as those derived from qualifying debt instruments (taxed at either 7.5% or 8.25%), are not eligible for the two-tiered rates. This rule is designed to maintain the existing tax benefits of those instruments, rather than to provide an additional reduction.

No Capital Gains or Dividend Tax

In Hong Kong, there is no tax imposed on capital gains or dividends. This means that profits from the sale of capital assets and dividends received remain untaxed, enhancing the attractiveness of the Hong Kong tax system for businesses.

Calculations

Calculating corporate tax in Hong Kong involves several steps and primarily depends on the corporation’s net profit:

  • Step 1. Determine Assessable Profits: This is the total revenue from the business minus allowable expenses, allowances, and deductions. Allowable expenses typically include the costs of goods sold, wages, rent, and other operating expenses directly related to the production of profits.
  • Step 2. Apply the Appropriate Tax Rate: For the two-tiered system, the rate of first HK$2 million of profits is 8.25%, and any profit above that is 16.5%. 
  • Step 3. Calculate the Tax Payable: Multiply the assessable profit by the tax rate. The total of these two calculations is the tax payable.

Here’s a simple example: If a company has assessable profits of HK$3 million, the tax payable under the two-tiered system would be calculated as follows:

– For the first HK$2 million of profits: 2,000,000 x 8.25% = HK$165,000

– For the remaining HK$1 million of profits: 1,000,000 x 16.5% = HK$165,000

– The total tax payable would be HK$165,000 + HK$165,000 = HK$330,000.

Offshore companies in Hong Kong

What other tax incentives are available in Hong Kong?

Except for the two-tiered tax system, Hong Kong offers several other attractive tax incentives to foreign businesses. These incentives contribute to making Hong Kong a globally recognized and preferred location for businesses and investments.

Deductions and Allowances 

Hong Kong’s profit tax system allows for a wide range of deductions that can lower a corporation’s taxable income:

  • Costs of Goods Sold: The costs associated with producing the goods sold by a business are generally deductible.
  • Salaries: The wages, bonuses, benefits, and other remuneration paid to employees for their services can typically be deducted.
  • Rent: The cost of renting business premises can be deducted.
  • Interest Expenses: Interest paid on loans used to finance income-generating activities can often be deducted.
  • Depreciation: Depreciation on plant, machinery, and other fixed assets used to generate income can usually be deducted.
  • Bad Debts: Bad debts can be written off as deductions if certain conditions are met.
  • Repair and Maintenance Costs: Expenses incurred for the repair and maintenance of income-producing property can typically be deducted.
  • Charitable Contributions: Donations to approved charities are usually deductible, subject to certain conditions and limitations.

In addition to these deductions, certain exemptions are available:

  • Offshore Profits: Under the territoriality principle, profits that arise in or are derived from outside Hong Kong are exempt from profit tax.
  • Capital Gains and Dividends: Capital gains from the sale of capital assets and dividends received are not subject to profit tax in Hong Kong.
  • Industry-Specific Exemptions: Certain industries or types of income may benefit from specific exemptions. For example, profits from qualifying debt instruments are taxed at concessionary rates, and profits from the sale of patent rights may be exempt if certain conditions are met.

How are business losses treated in the Hong Kong tax system?

In the Hong Kong tax system, losses incurred by a business can be carried forward indefinitely to offset future profits, reducing the taxable income in future years. This carry-forward provision applies to trading losses (i.e., losses incurred in the course of running a business) and is subject to the “continuity of business” test, meaning the business must continue to operate for the losses to be carried forward. The provision allows businesses experiencing temporary setbacks to have potential tax relief in the future when they return to profitability.

However, there are some rules and restrictions to keep in mind:

  • No Carry-Back: Unlike some tax systems, Hong Kong does not permit the carry-back of losses, meaning businesses cannot apply current losses to offset profits made in previous years.
  • Ownership Continuity and Same Business Test: The company claiming the loss must have the same owners who owned at least the same percentage of shares at the time the loss was incurred and when the loss is claimed. Furthermore, the loss can only be deducted against profits from the same trade or business in which the losses were incurred.
  • Group Relief Restrictions: Hong Kong’s tax law does not currently allow group relief. This means that a company cannot offset its losses against the profits of another company, even if they are part of the same group.

What are the instructions for filing and payment in Hong Kong?

Filing tax returns and making tax payments on time is crucial for businesses operating in Hong Kong. An overview of the process and associated deadlines is as follows:

Filing the Profits Tax Return

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) of Hong Kong typically issues profit tax returns on the first day of April each year. Once issued, businesses need to complete and return these forms within one month. For newly registered businesses, the IRD will issue the first profit tax return 18 months after the commencement of business or incorporation. To streamline the process, the IRD encourages businesses to file their tax returns via the eTax system. This system allows for easier and more efficient filing.

If a company cannot meet the filing deadline, it can request an extension. However, whether to grant the extension is at the discretion of the IRD.

Making a Payment

After processing the tax return, the IRD will issue a notice of assessment which states the exact payment due date. This payment is usually due within one month of the notice issuance.

Late payments can result in penalties. If taxes are not paid by the due date, a 5% surcharge may be imposed on the outstanding amount. If the tax and the 5% surcharge are not paid within six months, an additional 10% surcharge may be added to the remaining amount.

Obtaining an Advance Tax Ruling

If there’s uncertainty about how the tax law applies to a specific situation, businesses can request an advance ruling from the IRD. This can provide clarity about the company’s tax obligations.

As always, businesses should consult with tax professionals to ensure they comply with tax filing and payment requirements and to avoid potential penalties and surcharges.

Conclusion

In conclusion, navigating Hong Kong’s unique corporate taxation system may seem daunting, but with the right guidance, businesses can reap the benefits of this dynamic economy. This article explored in depth three distinctive elements of the taxation system, along with intricate policies and regulations surrounding corporate tax calculations, deductions and allowances, loss treatments, as well as filing and payment procedures.

While the knowledge provided in this article is essential, partnering with an experienced consultant like TopFDI can further simplify and streamline your overseas company registration and administration processes. TopFDI’s wealth of experience in dealing with international taxation and business regulations makes them a trusted partner in your business journey. With TopFDI, you can navigate the corporate taxation landscape of Hong Kong more confidently. Our experts will ensure that you understand your tax obligations, benefit from all applicable deductions and allowances, and meet all filing and payment deadlines.

Profit tax in Hong Kong
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