Taxes in China: What Foreign Companies Need to Know

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As one of the world’s largest economies, China presents an enticing frontier for foreign companies looking to expand their global footprint. However, navigating the taxes in China can be a formidable challenge, given its complexity and distinctness. Understanding the ins and outs of this system is pivotal for businesses aiming to operate successfully in this dynamic market.

In this article, we will demystify the concept of taxes in China, discussing different types of taxes, tax rates, and compliance requirements, along with their implications for foreign businesses. We will also introduce TopFDI, a company offering comprehensive services in company formation, tax filing, accounting, and company secretary, making it an ideal partner for businesses seeking to thrive in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the USA.

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The Chinese Tax System: An Overview

The Chinese tax system is extensive, encompassing a range of taxes which can broadly be divided into three categories: taxes on income, taxes on goods and services, and taxes on property. The Chinese tax system is overseen by the State Taxation Administration (STA) which is the highest tax authority in the country. 

Taxes on Income  The most significant of these are the Corporate Income Tax (CIT) and the Individual Income Tax (IIT). The CIT is applied to both domestic and foreign enterprises on their worldwide income, with the standard rate set at 25%. There are certain preferential tax treatments available, with reduced CIT rates for small-scale and thin-profit enterprises.

The IIT is levied on the worldwide income of individuals domiciled in China and on China-sourced income for non-domiciled individuals. There are seven progressive tax brackets for employment income, ranging from 3% to 45%.

Taxes on Goods and Services The key taxes in this category are Value Added Tax (VAT) and Customs Duty. The VAT is the primary indirect tax in China, applicable to the sale and import of goods, repair and replacement services, and the provision of certain services within the country. VAT rates vary based on the type of goods or services provided.

Customs Duty is imposed on goods imported into China, with rates varying based on the type of good and its country of origin. China has established numerous free trade zones that provide preferential import and export tax policies.

Taxes on Property This includes Real Estate Tax, Urban and Township Land Use Tax, and Deed Tax. Real Estate Tax is typically paid by property owners, while the Urban and Township Land Use Tax is paid by individuals or entities using land in urban and township areas. The Deed Tax is levied on transactions involving the sale and purchase of property.

China has tax treaties with many countries to prevent double taxation for companies and individuals. These agreements allow for certain taxes paid in China to be deducted from the tax payable in the home country of the foreign entity or individual.

There are 18 different kinds of taxes in China, which can be divided into three categories according to their nature. The tax system in China is complex and constantly evolving, with significant reforms taking place over the past few years. Thus, foreign companies looking to expand into China should ensure they have a comprehensive understanding of these tax laws and keep abreast of the latest developments. 

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Corporate Income Tax (CIT) in China

The general standard rate for Corporate Income Tax (CIT) in China is 25%. This applies to both domestic and foreign enterprises on their worldwide income. 

Tax Incentives China offers several tax incentives to foreign enterprises in specific sectors or regions. These incentives include preferential tax rates, tax exemptions, and bonus depreciation. The eligibility and specific details of these incentives are often updated, so it’s important to keep an eye on the latest changes. Some of the key tax incentives that were available as of September 2021 include:

  • Small Low-Profit Enterprises: Reduced CIT rates are available for qualifying small low-profit enterprises. The rates can be as low as 5% to 10% depending on the taxable income level.
  • High and New Technology Enterprises (HNTEs): HNTEs that are resident in China can benefit from a reduced CIT rate of 15%. HNTE status is granted based on certain criteria, including that the enterprise must be in a specified high-tech field encouraged by the Chinese State.
  • Key Software and Integrated Circuit Enterprises: These businesses are also eligible for tax incentives including CIT exemptions for a certain number of years and a reduced CIT rate of 10% for years thereafter.
  • Tax incentives for R&D: A super deduction of 175% of qualifying R&D expenses can be claimed by technology-focused businesses.

When it comes to repatriating profits, foreign enterprises should be aware of China’s withholding tax. A 10% withholding tax is generally applicable to China-sourced passive income (dividends, interests, royalties, etc.) paid to non-resident enterprises. However, this may be reduced under a relevant tax treaty between China and the foreign enterprise’s country of residence. Dividends remitted abroad by a foreign-invested enterprise (FIE) out of its profits are exempt from CIT, provided that the profits have been taxed at the enterprise level. Related article: Corporate Taxation in China: Top 5 Things To Know

Value Added Tax (VAT) in China

China’s Value Added Tax (VAT) system is a critical part of its tax structure. The tax is levied on the added value created at each stage of the production or distribution process, from raw materials to finished goods. The VAT is generally calculated on a tax-inclusive basis. There are four VAT rates in China: 13%, 9%, 6%, and 0%

  • The 13% rate applies to goods such as agricultural and utility products.
  • The 9% rate is for goods like processed foods, utilities, and books.
  • The 6% rate is for services, including modern services, financial services, and lifestyle services.
  • The 0% rate is mainly for certain international transportation services and specified services exported from China.

VAT Refunds In certain circumstances, businesses can be entitled to a VAT refund. If a business’s input VAT (the VAT paid on purchases) exceeds its output VAT (the VAT collected on sales), the business may apply for a VAT refund of the excess amount. It’s crucial to keep accurate, detailed records to facilitate this process.

Special VAT Considerations for Foreign Businesses Foreign businesses operating in China or importing goods into China are generally subject to the same VAT regulations as domestic companies. However, there are a few special considerations:

  • Export VAT Rebate: China encourages exports by offering a VAT refund on exported goods, referred to as an ‘export VAT rebate’. The rebate rate depends on the classification of the goods exported.
  • Cross-Border Services: As part of China’s efforts to align its VAT system with international standards, cross-border services provided by foreign businesses to Chinese customers are also subject to VAT. Depending on the nature of the services, these might be subject to VAT under the ‘reverse charge mechanism’.
  • VAT obligations for E-commerce: Foreign businesses selling goods to Chinese consumers through e-commerce platforms may be required to register for VAT in China, and to charge and remit VAT on their sales.
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Individual Income Tax (IIT) for Expatriates

China’s Individual Income Tax (IIT) laws apply to all individuals working in the country, including expatriates. An individual’s tax residency status and the source of their income play crucial roles in determining the amount of IIT due.

Tax Residency Individuals who are resident in China (living in China for 183 days or more in a tax year) are taxed on their worldwide income. Non-resident individuals are taxed only on their China-sourced income.

Tax Rates China uses a progressive tax rate system for employment income, with seven brackets ranging from 3% for monthly taxable income up to CNY 3,000 to 45% for monthly taxable income over CNY 80,000.

Allowances & Deductions China has made significant reforms to its IIT law that affect how benefits, allowances, and deductions apply to expatriates:

  • Standard Deduction: All taxpayers, including foreign employees, can enjoy a standard monthly deduction of CNY 5,000 when calculating their taxable income.
  • Special Additional Deductions: Chinese tax residents may be eligible for special additional deductions for certain personal expenses, including children’s education, continuing education, medical expenses for serious illnesses, housing loan interests, housing rents, and support for the elderly.
  • Allowances:Prior to 2019, expatriates could receive certain tax-exempt allowances, such as for housing, language training, and children’s education. However, under the new IIT law, these allowances are now generally taxable. 
  • Foreigners and residents of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan could still enjoy the benefit of tax-exempt allowances under the ‘transitional period’ rule if they choose to be taxed under the old tax regime, but this benefit was set to expire at the end of 2021. Current updates need to be checked for the status of these provisions.
  • Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs): China has DTAs with many countries to prevent individuals from being taxed twice on the same income. These agreements can provide for tax relief on certain types of income and may affect the overall amount of tax an expatriate needs to pay.

Other Business-Related Taxes in China

Apart from the Corporate Income Tax and Value-Added Tax, foreign companies operating in China should also be aware of other taxes such as Property Tax, Customs Duties, and others that have been replaced like the Business Tax. 

Property Tax This is levied annually on property owners and users. The standard tax rate is 1.2% of the original value of the property, with a 10-30% deduction allowed before the tax is levied. For rental properties, the rate is 12% of the rental income. For foreign businesses owning or renting properties in China, the property tax can add to operational costs. The specific impact depends on the property’s value and the location, as local governments have some discretion in implementing property tax.

Customs Duties These are imposed on goods imported into China, with rates varying depending on the type of goods and their country of origin. Foreign companies importing goods into China for their business operations need to take these into account when calculating costs. Importing necessary goods or materials into China could be costly due to customs duties. However, it’s worth noting that China has established numerous free trade zones offering preferential import and export tax policies, which could mitigate these costs.

Business Tax It’s important to note that as of 2016, China has replaced its Business Tax with the Value-Added Tax (VAT) for all industries. This transition was part of the country’s efforts to streamline its tax system and reduce the tax burden on businesses. The shift from the Business Tax to VAT has implications for foreign businesses. With VAT, tax is levied on the value added at each stage of the production and distribution process, rather than on total business revenues. This can potentially reduce tax liabilities, particularly for businesses in sectors such as services and logistics.

taxes in China tax rates in china

Tax Compliance and Administration in China

China’s tax compliance and administration procedures are overseen by the State Taxation Administration (STA), along with local tax bureaus. Compliance with these regulations is essential for businesses to avoid penalties and ensure smooth operations. 

Tax Filing and Payment Procedures Tax filing and payment procedures may vary depending on the type of tax involved. However, the general process includes:

  1. Registration: Enterprises must register with their local tax bureau upon establishment. They will be issued a tax registration certificate, which is required for tax filing.
  2. Tax Declaration: Businesses in China are required to declare their taxes to the tax authorities, generally on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the specific tax involved.
  3. Payment: Upon filing, businesses are required to pay the due amount of tax. Some taxes may require withholding at source and remittance to the tax authorities by the payer.
  4. Annual Reconciliation: Corporations must perform an annual reconciliation for Corporate Income Tax within five months after the year-end.

Electronic tax filing and payment systems have been increasingly used in China to streamline the process. Nevertheless, it’s important for businesses to keep accurate and comprehensive records of all transactions and tax payments, as these may be requested during audits by the tax authorities.

Potential Penalties for Non-Compliance Failure to comply with China’s tax laws can result in serious penalties. These may include late payment surcharges, fixed fines, a certain percentage of the underpaid tax, or in severe cases, criminal charges. The specifics depend on the nature and severity of the violation. Prevention is the best approach to avoid these penalties. This involves ensuring timely and accurate tax filing, maintaining comprehensive and accurate business records, and staying updated with the latest changes in tax regulations. 

Navigate China’s Tax Landscape with TopFDI

When it comes to navigating the complex landscape of China’s taxation system, having a reliable partner by your side can make all the difference. That’s where TopFDI comes into play. With extensive experience in providing comprehensive business services to foreign businesses, TopFDI can be your guiding light in the intricate web of China’s taxation and business laws.

With services extending beyond mainland China to Hong Kong, Singapore, and the USA, TopFDI ensures that your business maintains compliance with local laws while optimizing tax strategies and business operations. Here’s how TopFDI can help:

  • Company Formation: Setting up a business in a new country can be daunting, with myriad legal and regulatory obligations to consider. TopFDI offers a seamless and efficient company formation service, ensuring your business gets off to a flying start.
  • Tax Filing Service: The complexity of China’s tax system calls for specialist knowledge. TopFDI’s tax filing service ensures your company remains fully compliant with local tax laws, minimizes its tax liabilities, and avoids penalties for non-compliance.
  • Accounting Service: With different accounting standards and practices across countries, TopFDI’s accounting service can help ensure that your financial reports meet local requirements and standards, while providing you with the insights you need to make sound business decisions.
  • Company Secretary: A Company Secretary plays a crucial role in ensuring your company’s legal obligations are met. TopFDI provides a professional company secretary service to keep your business running smoothly and in line with local corporate governance requirements.

Working with TopFDI, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your company’s compliance needs are in expert hands. So, as you prepare to venture into the Chinese market, let TopFDI be your partner in success. Their professional and comprehensive suite of services is designed to cater to your business needs, allowing you to focus on what you do best – growing your business.

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Expanding a business into a new country, especially one with a distinct and intricate tax system like China’s, presents a host of challenges. Understanding the tax landscape is a vital aspect of this process. From corporate and individual income taxes to VAT and other business-related taxes, every facet of China’s tax system has potential implications for foreign businesses.

However, complexity should not deter businesses from tapping into China’s vast market. With careful planning, up-to-date knowledge, and the right partners, foreign companies can effectively manage their tax liabilities and ensure compliance with local laws. 

TopFDI, with its wide array of services ranging from company formation to tax filing, accounting services, and company secretary service, can guide businesses through this process. With a firm understanding of China’s tax environment and business practices, TopFDI enables companies to focus on growth while ensuring they stay on the right side of tax laws.

It’s worth noting that tax laws are dynamic and can change over time. Therefore, it’s important to stay informed about the latest developments, or better yet, work with a partner like TopFDI that is dedicated to doing so. The Chinese market holds significant potential, and with the right approach and guidance, businesses can navigate the complex tax landscape successfully and reap the rewards of their expansion efforts.