India: Types of Company
This page was last updated on 11 Dec 2018.
Nature of a Branch Office
Branch offices can be set up in India both by foreign companies and by existing domestic companies. It is expected that the branch office will carry on substantially the same business and activity as is carried out by its Head Office.
Domestic companies simply need to pass a Board resolution; foreign companies must undertake an approval process with the Reserve Bank of India.
From a taxation perspective, a branch of a foreign company is deemed to be a 'business connection' of its parent, and thereby constitutes a taxable permanent establishment of the foreign enterprise. There is only very limited deductibility of head office expenses. For a domestic company, the financial results of a branch will be consolidated into the profit and loss account of its parent.
Foreign companies engaged in manufacturing and trading activities abroad are allowed to set up branch offices in India for the following purposes:
- Undertaking export or import of goods;
- Rendering professional or consultancy services;
- Carrying out research work, in which the parent company is engaged (provided that the results of the research work are made available to Indian companies);
- Promoting technical or financial collaborations between Indian companies and the parent or overseas group company;
- Representing the parent company in India and acting as buying/selling agents in India;
- Rendering services in information technology and development of software in India;
- Rendering technical support to the products supplied by the parent/overseas group companies.
Branch offices are restricted to trading activities and are not permitted to engage in manufacturing, although it is permissible to employ Indian sub-contractors for production purposes.
Formation of a Branch Office
Under the Companies Act 1956, in order to open a branch office, a domestic company must pass a board resolution that specifies the business to be carried out by the branch, who will be appointed its manager and authorises a parent company official to ensure necessary support is given to the branch.
If the branch is to carry out activities which are other than incidental to those of the parent company as laid down in its memorandum and articles of association of the company, then a special resolution is required, and a declaration must be made on e-form No.20A with the registrar of companies within thirty days of passing the resolution, which itself must be reported on e-form No.23.
For a foreign company to open a branch office, it must obtain permission from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which will include the following conditions:
- The branch office cannot expand its activities or undertake any new trading, commercial or industrial activity other than those which are expressly approved by the RBI;
- The entire expenses of the branch office in India will be met either out of the funds received by it from abroad through normal banking channels or through income generated by it in India;
- The branch office cannot accept any deposits in India;
- Commissions earned by the branch office from parties abroad for any agency business will be repatriated to India through normal banking channels.
In order to open a branch office, the foreign company needs to submit a formal application to the Chief General Manager, Exchange Control Department (Foreign Investment Division), RBI Central Office, Mumbai on form FNC-1. The application must include the following details:
- The operating history of the company worldwide;
- Proposed interests and activities in India;
- Reasons for wanting to open a branch office and
- Any foreign exchange implications.
Once permission has been obtained, the branch office can then register with the tax and customs authorities, obtaining a PAN (permanent account number) and a TAN (tax collection number). Visas for foreign staff can now be issued and bank accounts opened.
Branch offices may remit their profits outside India, net of applicable Indian taxes and subject to RBI guidelines. They need not retain any profits as reserves in India. In certain cases, where income is deemed to have originated in India and such income includes royalties, fees for technical services, interest and capital gains, branch offices may repatriate profits to their Head Office without obtaining prior approval from RBI.
Ongoing Formalities for a Branch Office
A branch office is required to file annual audited financial statements with the RBI and the Registrar of Companies; tax returns must also be filed, even if no tax is due.
Employing Staff for a Branch Office
Branch offices can hire local and foreign staff. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for issuing work permits (employment visas) under the Foreigners Act. They are normally necessary for foreigners, although people with Indian ancestry may be exempted from the need for a visa. The family members of an individual holding a work permit are also permitted to work. Indian Consulates issue work permits and visas prior to arrival.
Normally a foreigner employed by a branch office will require an Employment Visa, although if only short visits are being made a Business Visa may be sufficient.
The local Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), an agency of the Home Ministry, is responsible for registering the visas of foreigners employed by branch offices in India and for supervision of the individuals during their stay.
Registration with the police is required within 14 days of arrival in India (which may or may not be the same as registration with the FRRO in a given region). Documents required include a registration form in quadruplicate and a registration permit booklet, copies of passport and visa, a copy of the employment contract, copies of a letter of recommendation from the parent company, six passport photos. An HIV/AIDS test result must also be filed within 30 days.
Visas can be extended, though this involves another set of bureaucratic procedures.