Due to its financial and business center status, as well as its proximity to mainland China, Hong Kong is usually at the top of the list for our clients looking to set up an offshore company with the main purpose to trade with China. While Hong Kong clearly has its advantages, there are however three other alternatives worth considering: the British Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands and Seychelles.
The advantages shared by these three, as compared to Hong Kong are the following:
-Low incorporation and yearly maintenance fee.
-No profit return filling requirements.
-No filling or annual audit of financial statements.
-Better privacy as to the scrutiny from the Chinese government.
-Better protection of company shareholders/directors which cannot be checked from the public record.
-Clear distinction between the onshore/local companies and the offshore ones (International Business Corporations or IBCs).
-Possibility to issue bearer shares, or shares with or without par value (Please note however that most banks currently do not accept to open bank accounts for companies with bearer shares).
The British Virgin Islands are one of the oldest and better established offshore jurisdictions. While concerns exist as to subsequent tax treaties BVI has entered in recent years, it is still a very suitable jurisdiction for setting up an offshore trading company.
Seychelles is a younger offshore jurisdiction, the International Business Act dating only from 1994. It is an increasingly popular jurisdiction worldwide, and is gaining acceptance in China as well.
The Marshall Islands are much less known than the BVI or even Seychelles. This jurisdiction has the lowest fees for both registration and annual maintenance. Most of the functions of the Marshall Islands IBC are similar to the BVI or Seychelles ones.
Offshore companies registered in the BVI, Marshall Islands or Seychelles can also easily open a bank account in Hong Kong. Sinoinvest Consulting provides a remote account opening service for a one-time USD400 fee; you can also contact any Hong Kong bank and travel to Hong Kong to set up your account provided you have all the paperwork in place.
The BVI, Seychelles are Marshall Islands are true offshore jurisdictions, while Hong Kong companies do not have a separate regime for companies operated from within or from outside Hong Kong, but only specifies that non-Hong Kong sourced income is not liable for tax with the Hong Kong government. However, even when that is the case, one needs to apply for exemption from the tax authorities, and in case you operate your bank account in Hong Kong, you might be required to justify that the operations of the company are not related to Hong Kong. To avoid all this hassle, if your company will be mainly used to buy or sell to/from China, selecting one of these three jurisdictions will make a better business sense in the long term.