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Offshore Legal And Tax Regimes

The BVI Business Companies Act has effectively removed the distinction between offshore and onshore companies, but the new legislation is expected to be just as popular to 'offshore' investors and clients. Prior to the BVI BC Act,
the main forms useful for offshore operations in the British Virgin Islands were the International Business Company, the various types of non-resident Cap. 285 company, the International Limited Partnership, and the Trust.

British Virgin Islands Forms of Offshore Operation

Under the 2004 Business Companies Act, several different types of companies can be incorporated including:

  • Companies limited by shares. Likely to remain the most popular form of BVI company.
  • Companies limited by guarantee not authorised to issue shares.
  • Companies limited by guarantee authorised to issue shares.
  • Unlimited companies authorised to issue shares.
  • Unlimited companies not authorised to issue shares.

See Forms of Company for a fuller description of the 2004 BVI BC Act.

Under the old IBC Act, offshore operations took place within the following forms:

British Virgin Islands Tax Treatment of Offshore Operations

See Domestic Corporate Taxes for the general principles of BVI corporate taxation. NB As from 2006, corporate income tax in the BVI has been abolished (see below).

Until 2006, offshore BVI companies were taxed as follows (stamp duty exemptions remain in force):

  • Non-resident limited liability companies (whether limited by shares, by guarantee or both, ie hybrid) were exempt from income tax on foreign-derived income, but paid BVI income tax at 15% on any chargeable income derived locally or remitted to the BVI.
  • Resident limited liability companies which obtained not less than 90% of their net profit from trading outside the BVI (known as offshore trading companies) paid 1% income tax on their chargeable profits.
  • International Business Companies were exempt from income tax and from stamp duty.
  • International Limited Partnerships were exempt from income tax and from stamp duty.
  • Trusts without BVI beneficiaries, local land holdings or business activities were exempt from income tax and stamp duty.

Almost all captive insurance companies, mutual funds and foreign investors use the Business Company, Limited Partnership or Trust formats; thus, they were exempt from local taxation. License fees are payable as follows in addition to registration and incorporation fees (for which see Forms of Company):

  • Insurance Companies: Application fee $500; Annual license fee $1,000 (Credit Life Companies), $2,000 (LongTerm/General Companies);
  • Mutual Funds: Application fee $350 (Private and Professional Funds), $500 (Public Funds); annual license fees are the same.

In October 2004 Chief Minister at the time, Orlando Smith informed the country’s Legislative Council that a two-year transition period would be put in place to smooth the changeover to the proposed new Business Companies Act, which has lowered the income tax rate to 0% for both local and International Business Companies.

The new legislation, which took effect on 1st January 2005, has been drafted to ensure the territory is fully compliant with the European Union (EU) Savings Tax Directive and EU Code of Conduct on Business Taxation, as required by the United Kingdom of all its Overseas Territories.

Under the transition arrangements announced by Dr Smith, new incorporations were still possible under old legislation throughout 2005. From 2006, new incorporations must be made under the new Business Companies Act, although companies already on the register were permitted to operate under the old IBC Act or Companies Act for an additional year. From 1st January 2007, all companies were required to be operating under the new legislation.

The Act requires companies to use a registered agent to ensure compliance with the new laws.

Under the new legislation, the income tax system for employees has also disappeared. However, in its place, a new payroll tax was is levied, 8% of which is paid by the employee. The first $10,000 of income remains tax free.

Local firms are now required to pay annual licence fees.


British Virgin Islands Taxation of Foreign Employees of Offshore Operations

There are no special rules applying to the foreign or BVI employees of operations. The general principles of individual taxation in the BVI also apply to the resident employees of non-resident entities. There are no special privileges or exemptions for expatriate workers, indeed they pay higher land taxes than BVI residents.


British Virgin Islands Exchange Control

The British Virgin Islands have no exchange controls.


British Virgin Islands Offshore Activities

The BVI BC Act 2004 has removed the distinction between offshore and onshore companies.

Under the former legislation, International Business Companies (and International Limited Partnerships) were permitted certain local activities:

  • Make and maintain deposits with banks;
  • Professional contacts with solicitors, barristers, accountants, book-keepers, trust companies, administration companies, investment advisers etc (not to be cynical, anyone who charges fees!);
  • Prepare or maintain books or records;
  • Hold meetings of directors or members;
  • Hold a lease of property to use as an office for other permitted purposes;
  • Hold shares, or other securities, in another IBC;
  • Hold shares, or other securities, in a company owned by a BVI resident or a BVI-incorporated company.

Non-resident Companies Act (Cap. 285) Companies were permitted to do business locally but paid income tax on the profits.


British Virgin Islands Employment and Residence

In order to work in the BVI, a work permit is needed, except for 'Belongers', naturalised citizens and holders of a certificate of residency. Work permits are issued only when there is no suitable local applicant for the job.

Under a new labour code introduced in 2002, it was proposed that 'non-belonger' workers in the Islands would no longer be granted an initial work permit of more than five years. Permits would be issued for up to one year at a time and then be considered for a renewal or an extension. A new five-year limit was introduced under which workers who have held work permits for five years must leave the BVI with their dependents and remain outside the territory until they can be considered for either re-employment or new employment. The proposals were resisted by business interests.

The Labour Code 2010, gazetted in May 2010, came into force on 4 October 2010. The Code revises the rules for work permits. Under the Code, work permits are valid for a maximum of three years and may be renewed upon application. Applicants who do not receive a renewal may be entitled to severance pay from the employer.

In order to lease or purchase land, non-Belongers must obtain an Alien Landholding Licence. Applications for a Licence must be accompanied by two personal financial references, one bank reference, two character references, police record, application fee of USD200 (per individual) or USD300 (per company). Once the licence has been granted applicants pay an acceptance fee of USD600 per person and USD1000 per company. Licences carry a 2 or 3 year commitment to develop unimproved land.

In December, 2004, the government outlined the details of a new immigration policy framework in a bid to clarify the rules surrounding applications for residence and ‘belonger’ status. Then Chief Minister Orlando Smith explained that the Board of Immigration would make recommendations in 2005 concerning those who applied for residence status before January 1, 2003 and had lived in the territory continuously for the last twenty years. In June, 2005, 92 of these individuals received residence and belonger certificates.

Approvals for those applying for residency status after January 1, 2003 are limited to no more than 25 persons per year. The government also stressed that in all cases, individuals cannot be away from the BVI for more than 90 days in any calendar year if they want to qualify for residency status.

Smith acknowledged that controlling immigration in the territory represented a “very serious challenge” for the government, and explained that a balance must be struck between welcoming outsiders and protecting the privileges afforded to BVI citizens.

However, the issue of immigration reform has not yet been settled conclusively, and in March 2008 Premier and Minister of Finance Ralph O’Neal announced in his budget speech that comprehensive immigration reform would be a priority that year.

"We will amend existing legislation to implement additional control measures. Current legislation will be reviewed to ensure compliance with international laws, human rights and other conventions. As we embark on the reform process, we will ensure citizen participation by conducting regular consultations with representatives of the community, advocacy groups and other private sector organisations," he revealed.

As part of this process, the government began that year to streamline immigration procedures by creating a "one-stop process" for obtaining entry permits and work permits.

Further details of the BVI's immigration and work permit rules can be obtained from the Immigration Department at:

341 Waterfront Drive,
Ashley Ritter Building,
Road Town,
Tel: 1-284-494-4399




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