Lowtax Country Focus: The Seychelles
Sponsored by A.C.T. - Offshore Limited
10 July, 2017
A tropical paradise in the center of the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles has successfully transitioned from an agricultural to a services-based economy within which tourism dominates. However, the government has actively encouraged the development of offshore financial services, and the finance industry now constitutes the third pillar of the economy.
Introduction: The Seychelles And Its Economy
The Seychelles are a group of 115 islands, about 2,000 km east of Africa and to the north of Madagascar, lying mostly between 4 and 5 degrees south of the equator. The archipelago lies outside the cyclone belt so the weather is stable all year round, with an average maximum daily temperature of 29 degrees.
Business life is centred around the capital, Victoria, which is situated on Mahé, the principal island in the Seychelles. The international airport on Mahé has direct flights to many cities in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Far East while a thriving transhipment business has grown up around the capital, which has the deepest port on the Indian Ocean.
The Seychelles gained independence from the British in 1976 and is politically stable. Economically, the islands have come to rely heavily on tourism and fishing, although in last two decades the government has made a sustained effort to attract financial services, initially in banking and insurance, but more recently in investment fund management and fiduciary services.
Although economic growth averaged about 5 percent in the 1990s, and somewhat less in the noughties, it hasn't all been plain sailing; the Asian tsunami dealt a very heavy blow to the Seychelles, severely damaging tourism, infrastructure and the fishing industry, then the commodity price spike caused inflation to shoot up, and in combination with a shortage of currency reserves, the country defaulted on much of its debt and the economy faced crisis. In mid-2008, the government was forced to turn to the IMF for assistance, but the crisis prompted a series of economic reforms, including unpegging the local currency, the Seychelles rupee, from the US dollar, the lifting of exchange controls, and tax reform.
Since the financial crisis the economy has seen steady rates of growth. GDP expanded by 6 percent in 2013 due largely to a rebound in the tourism sector. The economy grew by a more sober 3.3 percent in 2014, and an estimated 3.5 percent in 2015. The Seychelles is also expected to benefit from its membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was approved by the WTO in December 2014. The Seychelles officially became the 161st member of the WTO on April 26, 2015.
In the first review of its three-year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement for the Seychelles, the IMF said that, although 2014 was a challenging year, the country's economic and fiscal fundamentals were strong. An additional boost to the country's credibility occurred in February 2015, when Fitch Ratings affirmed Seychelles' long-term foreign currency credit rating at 'B+' with a stable outlook.
However, the IMF foresaw darker clouds on the horizon in its fourth review of the EFF, published in March 2016. The IMF mission noted that, while the economy performed positively in 2015, "slowing growth or recession in a number of key tourism markets could weigh on economic developments in 2016."
Offshore business in Seychelles began its development in the mid-1990s, when the government launched a series of legislative initiatives aimed at establishing the country as a thoroughly modern, world-class international offshore financial center. Much of the legislation was based on that of successful jurisdictions, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.
In 1994, legislation was enacted covering the registration of offshore companies, offshore trusts and the licensing of international trade zone companies. Additional legislation was introduced covering the licensing of offshore banks, offshore insurance companies and the establishment of a securities industry; and, in 2003, the government legislated for additional types of company: Special Licence Companies (known as CSLs), Protected Cell Companies and Limited Partnerships.
New legislation covering mutual and hedge funds was enacted in 2008, while a new law catering for the formation of foundations came in 2009 with the Foundations Act.
The Seychelles International Business Authority (SIBA) was set up by the Seychelles International Business Authority Act 1994 to administer the offshore sector and deals with the registration of offshore companies as well as supervision of the Seychelles International Trade Zone (SITZ, see below).
The International Corporate Service Providers Act, 2003, substantially improved and simplified the regime for incoming investment. Previously, SIBA had power to issue a license to offshore businesses, but entitlement to fiscal concessions depended on obtaining a certificate from the Ministry of Finance under the Investment Promotion Act. The Act streamlined the procedure for establishing an offshore business, avoiding the need for a separate IPA application to the Finance Ministry.
Under the Financial Services Authority Act 2013, SIBA changed its name to the Financial Services Authority (FSA), and became the regulator for offshore non-bank financial services in the Seychelles as from March 1, 2014. The new institution concentrates solely on regulatory matters and is responsible for the licensing, supervision, and development of the non-bank financial services industry, including the registration and regulation of international business companies, foundations, limited partnerships, and trusts in the Seychelles.
By 2008, the number of IBCs on the register had surpassed 50,000, making the Seychelles one of the fastest growing offshore centers in the world. More than 10,000 companies were estimated to have incorporated in the Seychelles in the first half of 2014 alone.
Seychelles International Trade Zone
The International Trade Zone Act 1995 and the International Trade Zone Regulations 1995 (as amended) provide for the establishment of free trade zones, which are delimited by a declaration of the Finance and Communications Minister, and can be for one company or many. The existing International Trade Zone (SITZ) on Mahé is established under the Act. Activities within the Zone are governed by the Seychelles FSA, which issues licenses to incoming companies.
The concessions available to license holders in SITZ include:
- Exemption from customs duties on capital equipment to be used in SITZ;
- Exemption from Business Tax, Trades Tax and Withholding Tax;
- Exemption from social security contributions;
- Exemption from fees in respect of 'gainful occupation permits' (work permits);
- Entitlement to employ 100 percent foreign labor;
- A license holder can apply for permission to sell within the domestic sector.
Licenses are available for manufacturing, assembling, redistribution or service activities; retailing is not normally permitted within the Zone or from it, but the FSA has authority to give consent for it. The FSA can request information at its discretion from an applicant for a license.
Offshore Company Law
The vast majority of companies formed in the Seychelles for offshore purposes are incorporated under the International Business Companies Act 1994. However, this law did not supersede the existing Companies Law 1972, which is based on English law and is used to form various types of company used by businesses trading in the Seychelles, and also for offshore businesses which are not permitted to use the IBC form, such as banks, insurance companies and mutual funds.
Companies formed under the Companies Act 1972 can be private companies limited by shares, by guarantee, or hybrid; or they can be unlimited, but that is rare. Public companies can also be formed under the Act. For all these types of company, Memorandum and Articles of Association must be filed at the Companies Registry, along with the registration fee.
Some important amendments to company law were enacted at the end of 2011. One of these, the International Business Companies (Amendment) Act 2011, signed by President Michel in December 2011, requires all IBCs to keep proper accounting records. Under this amendment, IBCs must keep accounting records that are sufficient to show and correctly explain the IBC's transactions; to enable the financial position of the IBC to be determined with reasonable accuracy; and to enable the accounts of the IBC to be reasonably prepared. Fines can be imposed for non-compliance with these requirements. Accounting records must be kept for seven years under the amended law. In addition, the Companies Ordinance Amendment Act 2011, also signed by President Michel in December 2011, amended the Companies Ordinance 1974 to prohibit the issuance of bearer shares or bearer debentures.
Additional changes to the IBC Act were approved by the Seychelles legislature in 2013 and came into force on December 16, 2013. Among other measures, the International Business Companies (Amendment) Act, includes the following requirements:
- Bearer shares are no longer permitted; companies with existing bearer shares were given six months from the date of the entry into force of the new legislation to cancel them;
- The company's share register must be kept at the registered office of the company in Seychelles;
- Accounting records must be maintained and the registered agent informed of the place where the records are kept;
- An annual report signed by either directors or the ultimate beneficial owners must be filed with the registered agent before the anniversary date of the company's formation.
The Seychelles has a territorial basis of taxation; that is, profits are taxed only if they are derived or deemed to be derived from a source in the Seychelles. There is no capital gains tax; interest, dividends and other payments received from abroad are likewise not taxed. A withholding tax on individual emoluments from employment was introduced in July, 2010. Government policy is to broaden the application of the income tax to other sources of domestic-sourced income (for example, dividends and interest on savings) once the personal income tax becomes established and the new system has been assessed.
The Business Tax Act governs company taxation in the Seychelles. The Act states that resident, non-resident corporate and non-corporate businesses are liable to pay business tax on their income derived from the Seychelles. A company is considered resident if it is incorporated in the Seychelles. A company not incorporated in the Seychelles that conducts business there is resident if its central management is located in the Seychelles or if its voting power is controlled by shareholders who reside there.
For companies and trusts, the first SCR1m is taxed at 25 percent. Prior to January 1, 2013, the remainder was taxed at 33 percent. However, in his 2013 budget statement on December 4, 2012, Minister for Finance Pierre Laporte cut the top rate to 30 percent from January 1, 2013, for all companies expect commercial banks, telecommunication companies, insurance companies (but not brokers and agents), and alcohol and cigarette manufacturers. For sole traders and partnerships, there is no tax on the first SCR150,000 of income; income from SCR150,001 to SCR1m is taxed at 15 percent and income above SCR1m is taxed at 30 percent.
Additionally, there are the following withholding taxes in the Seychelles:
- 15 percent on dividends paid to non-residents (this is a final tax);
- 15 percent on interest paid to non-residents other than financial institutions (for whom a nil rate applies); this is a final tax;
- 30 percent on interest payments by a Seychelles financial institution at maturity of a bearer security issued by that institution; this is a final tax;
- 15 percent on royalties paid to residents;
- 15 percent on royalties paid to non-residents on certain types of royalty (copyrights, patent, design and trademark royalties are exempt).
There is also a corporate social responsibility (CSR) tax, which is payable at a rate of 0.5 percent by businesses with a turnover of SCR1m or more.
An optional tax regime for small business was also announced in the 2013 Budget, under which reporting requirements for companies with turnover of less than SCR1m was reduced from January 1, 2013. Companies electing to file under this system pay a flat tax of 1.5 percent on gross turnover.
An entity with a Certificate of Approval under the Investment Promotion Act 1994 may be exempt from part or all of the Business Tax, or may have special deductions or tax credits. Companies in the International Trade Zone also have tax privileges.
The Value-Added Tax Act 2010 was approved by the National Assembly in December 2010 and was intended to be introduced in July 2012, but was delayed until January 1, 2013. The VAT replaced goods and services tax, which was introduced in 2001. A business is required to register for VAT if annual turnover meets a certain threshold. Initially the registration threshold was set at SCR5m, but was lowered to SCR2m as from January 1, 2015 under the provisions of the 2015 Budget, announced in December 2014.
The standard rate of VAT has been set at 15 percent; there are no lower rates, although certain goods and services are classified as exempt supplies, including educational courses and materials, medical and health care services, childcare services, religious services and penalty interest (such as interest charged on an overdue account). Exempt imports include basic foodstuffs, goods for consumable stores for use outside of the Seychelles, energy-saving lighting devices and goods imported to be used in the process of conservation.
The Seychelles also has a substantial and growing list of double taxation avoidance agreements, and the Government sees such treaties as being an important part of its scheme to develop as a key financial hub in the Indian Ocean. The Government has 20 DTAs in force, including treaties with: Bahrain, Barbados, Botswana, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Malaysia, Mauritius, Monaco, Oman, Qatar, San Marino, South Africa, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. At the time of writing a further five treaties are awaiting ratification, including the agreements with Belgium, Guernsey, Jersey, Kenya, and Singapore.
The Seychelles signed its first bilateral tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) in August 2010, with the Netherlands. The jurisdiction was subsequently "white listed" by the OECD for substantially implementing the internationally-agreed standard on tax transparency, which required countries to have signed a minimum of 12 TIEAs. At the time of writing, 10 TIEAs were in force in the Seychelles, with the following jurisdictions: Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Guernsey, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Three signed TIEAs were still pending, including the agreements with the Cayman Islands, India and Switzerland.
With the issue of tax transparency now firmly on the political agenda around the world, the Seychelles has also agreed to participate in multilateral information sharing initiatives.
In 2014, the Seychelles became one of the "early adopters" (by end-September 2017) of the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement on the implementation of a new automatic exchange of information standard. The new standard calls on jurisdictions to obtain information from their financial institutions and automatically exchange that information with other jurisdictions on an annual basis.
And on February 24, 2015, it became the 85th signatory of OECD's Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. The Convention provides for all forms of administrative assistance, in tax matters, including the exchange of information on request and automatically; in tax examinations abroad and in plurilateral investigations; and in tax collection. It will therefore allow the Seychelles' Revenue Commission to request information from other tax authorities and seek assistance in collecting outstanding tax debts on a reciprocal basis.
In October 2015, the Seychelles was commended by the OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes for making significant changes to its legal framework and practices in the area of information exchange. With this supplementary report approved by the Global Forum, the Seychelles was rates as "Largely Compliant" with international standards.
The OECD said, since the Phase 2 review, the Seychelles has (i) strengthened sanctions for non-compliance with legal requirements including broadening of possibility to strike off a company where the requested information is not provided; (ii) prohibited bearer shares; (iii) introduced requirement for IBCs to provide declaration of compliance with its ownership and accounting obligations whose breach can be sanctioned; (iv) introduced an obligation on corporate service providers (CSPs) to monitor compliance of their clients with record keeping obligations and periodically report results of this monitoring to the FSA; (v) introduced an obligation to maintain the share register at the corporate service provider's office in all cases; (vi) restructured the supervisory authority of the offshore sector and strengthened its supervisory powers; (vii) increased the number of inspections and the proportion of inspected IBCs; and (viii) increased the number of cases and level of sanctions applied including cases where an IBC was struck-off from the register.
The Seychelles has also taken steps to come into line with the requirements of the United States Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The system enabling financial institutions to report information about their American clients FATCA went live on July 31, 2015.
Banking in Seychelles is regulated by the Central Bank of Seychelles and is administered under the Financial Institutions Act 2004 (amended in 2008, 2009 and 2011). The Act features full confidentiality with regards to information of its clients with the exception of criminal investigation cases.
Until recently, the Act made provision for the licensing of offshore banks and incorporated the necessary flexibility to encourage growth in that sector. However, a single licensing regime was introduced by the 2011 amendment to the Financial Institutions Act, which eliminated the requirement for separate licenses to conduct only offshore banking.
The single licensing regime introduced the concept of "Segment 1 and Segment 2" banking activities; Segment 1 relates to banking business that gives rise to "foreign-sourced income" whilst other banking business fall under Segment 2. It recognizes that some banks will operate exclusively in Segment 1 or Segment 2, and others in both.
Segment 1 activities are essentially directed to the provision of services that give rise to "foreign sourced income." Segment 1 assets generally consist of placements with and advances to foreign financial institutions, parents or overseas correspondents, investments in foreign securities, stocks and debt instruments as well as claims on "non-resident persons " or entities incorporated or registered in the Seychelles which have personal and economic relations or a place of effective management outside Seychelles. Segment 1 liabilities normally arise from deposits made by and borrowings from "non-resident persons" or entities incorporated or registered in the Seychelles which have personal and economic relations or a place of effective management outside the Seychelles. These liabilities must be used exclusively to fund assets that generate "foreign-sourced income."
Segment 2 activities relate to banking business other than those that fall under Segment 1. Segment 2 business essentially consists of transactions with persons or entities that do not generate "foreign sourced-income." Banks conducting Segment 2 business are also at liberty to finance domestic transactions from "non-resident persons'" funds.
"Foreign-sourced income" derived from Segment 1 activities are subject to a tax rate of three percent whilst the existing rate of 33 percent applies to Segment 2 activities.
There are currently nine banks licensed by the Central Bank, including: Barclays Bank (Seychelles) Ltd; Mauritius Commercial Bank (Seychelles) Ltd; Bank of Baroda; Habib Bank Limited; Seychelles International Mercantile Banking Corporation (SIMBC, but trading under the name "Nouvobanq"); Seychelles Commercial Bank (formerly Seychelles Savings Bank); BMI Offshore Bank; Bank of Ceylon; and Bank AL Habib Limited.
In 2008, new legislation was introduced, in the form of the Insurance Act 2008; this replaced the Insurance Act 1994, which was modelled on the Insurance Act of Singapore.
The Insurance Act 2008 contains provisions for the licensing of offshore insurance companies, insurance managers and principal insurance representatives. That Act, which regulates domestic and non-domestic insurance business, is an excellent legal framework for conducting offshore insurance activities.
The law provides for full confidentiality, expect in cases involving criminal investigation. An offshore insurance company must be either a company limited by shares or an unlimited company incorporated or registered under the Seychelles Company Law.
All licensed offshore (non-domestic) insurance companies are exempted from Seychelles taxes and duties for a 20-year period from the date the license was granted, although a non-domestic insurer may elect to pay business tax in Seychelles on its taxable income as agreed with the Commissioner of Taxes.
With the development of a luxury marina close to Victoria, the attractive registration laws and stable climactic conditions, Seychelles is a good choice for luxury vessel registration.
Ships and yachts may be registered in the Seychelles under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992. Consular and diplomatic representatives of Seychelles abroad are also empowered to issue provisional certificates of registration to vessels satisfying the ownership and registration criteria. The shipping law also provides for parallel registration of bareboat charters in the Seychelles registry; likewise, a Seychelles vessel may be parallel-registered abroad during chartering.
The Government recognizes most leading classification societies, including Lloyd's Register of Shipping, American Bureau of Shipping, Bureau Veritas, Nippon kaiji Kyokai, Germanischer Lloyd, Registro Italiano Naval, Croatian Register of Shipping, Korean Registry of Shipping, China Classification Society, Russian Maritime Registry of Ships, Indian Registry of Shipping, and Det Norske Veritas.
An International Business Company is the most effective vehicle for offshore ownership of a Seychelles-registered vessel or ship management operation. Such a company will be exempt from Seychelles taxation on profits and dividends. Sale and transfer of Seychelles-registered vessels or the companies owning them are also free of tax, as are the salaries of officers and crew of Seychelles-registered vessels operating internationally.
The age limit for registration is 15 years. The initial registration fee for a yacht is USD500. An annual registration fee of USD300 is also payable.
Trusts and Foundations
The International Trusts Act 1994 established, for the first time, a regime for international trusts in the Seychelles; it does not provide for domestic trusts. The Act was drafted after a thorough study of current practice in a number of leading offshore jurisdictions. Under the Act, the Seychelles International Business Authority (now the Seychelles FSA) is appointed as the regulatory body for trusts, alongside the Court.
Under Seychelles trust law, an international trust may be created in writing, by will or by oral declaration; deemed trusts are admitted, as are those resulting from a decision of the Court. The settlor must reside outside the Seychelles for the duration of the trust; at least one trustee must reside in the jurisdiction, but this trustee may be an IBC, which shall not thus be deemed as resident; an IBC may therefore be a settlor. The trust property may not include any Seychelles movable or immovable property.
The names of settlors and beneficiaries are confidential under the Act, unless a Court orders disclosure under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. The standard perpetuity period is 100 years; but it does not apply to purpose trusts. The accumulation of income is permitted and forced heirship judgements are specifically excluded.
An international trust is exempt from tax in the Seychelles; a registration fee of USD100 is payable to the Registrar. Registration of trusts must be carried out by a licensed trustees operating in the Seychelles.
The Seychelles Foundations Act 2009 was enacted in late December 2009 and provides for a new addition to Seychelles' financial services product portfolio Seychelles foundations.
The Act provides for strong foundation asset protection; provisions protecting dispositions to a Seychelles foundation from challenge from creditors of the founder; and a two-year statute of limitations for creditors' claims coupled with a high onus of proof (beyond reasonable doubt, rather than on the balance of probabilities).
A Seychelles foundation is established by a charter made in writing and signed by one or more founders and on the issuance of a certificate of registration by the Registrar upon registration of the foundation under the Act. On registration, a foundation is a separate legal entity.
Unlike in other foundation jurisdictions, it is not mandatory to state in the charter, or to otherwise file at the Registry, the names of the councilors of a Seychelles foundation.
While the charter of a foundation is required to be filed at the Registry, there is no requirement to file a foundation's regulations. A foundation will commonly adopt regulations, to ensure that matters pertaining to foundation beneficiaries and distribution entitlements remain non-public.
The objects of a Seychelles foundation may be charitable, non-charitable or both, and may be to benefit a beneficiary or beneficiaries, or to carry out a specified purpose, or to do both. A Seychelles foundation must have a minimum of one councilor, who may be a natural person or corporate entity.
While a Seychelles foundation is required to keep proper books of account and records as its council considers necessary in order to reflect the financial position of the foundation, it is not subject to a mandatory annual audit requirement or to any requirement to file financial accounts or annual return in Seychelles.
However, the Foundation (Amendment) Act 2011 provides additional requirements with regards record-keeping. Under the changes, a foundation is required to keep, at its registered office, a register of its councilors, founders, beneficiaries, registered agent, any protector and any person authorized as an agent or power of attorney holder of the foundation. The foundations register is not open to public inspection but is open to inspection by the founder, any councilor, any protector and the registered agent of the foundation.
The 2011 amendment also introduced a new section 111A into the Foundation Act 2009, which provides that a councilor of a foundation may apply to the Supreme Court of Seychelles for directions in relation to the manner in which the council is to act with respect to a decision affecting the foundation.
A foundation may own assets worldwide. However, the assets of a foundation may not include any Seychelles real estate or other Seychelles property (subject to various exceptions under the Act, including shares in Seychelles IBCs or CSLs, interests under a Seychelles trust, Seychelles limited partnership or another Seychelles foundation, or a Seychelles bank account, etc.).
A foundation is exempt from Seychelles Business Tax on its income and is exempt from Seychelles withholding tax, social security contributions and stamp duty (except in relation to any permitted lease of Seychelles real estate for own office use).
Enabling legislation putting in place a mutual funds sector in the Seychelles was enacted in 1997, aiming to provide a modern regulatory system in order to attract international mutual funds promoters from around the world.
In 2008, new legislation was introduced, in the form of the Mutual Funds and Hedge Funds Act 2008, which sought to build on the success of the jurisdiction's financial services industry while plugging regulatory gaps in the previous mutual funds law.
The redraft extended the powers of the regulator, introducing additional rights to request periodical audits, request information for inspection and grant powers to enter, search and take copies of any licensed operations and guaranteeing compatibility with international standards enforced by FATF, IMF, International Organization of Securities Commission and Offshore Group of Insurance Supervisors.
In January 2010, SIBA (now the Seychelles FSA) assumed the responsibility of regulating and supervising the Mutual and Hedge Funds and Securities Exchange. Prior to this, the responsibility for these functions was vested with the Non-Bank Financial Services Authority within the Central Bank.
The redrawn legislation also allows expatriate employment levels of up to 50 percent, replicating existing regulations for the offshore sector.
Funds in the Seychelles may be established either as investment companies or unit trusts. In the case of investment companies, a wide choice of vehicles is available. All funds must have a registered office and a licensed administrator in Seychelles.
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