Updated: Nov 19, 2021
A person who carries on a business in Hong Kong but derives profits from elsewhere is not required to pay tax in Hong Kong on those profits. Hong Kong adopts a territorial basis for taxing profits derived from a trade, profession, or business carried on in Hong Kong. Only profits which arise in or are derived from Hong Kong are taxable.
Under the Inland Revenue Ordinance, a person is chargeable to Profits Tax under the following conditions -
he carries on a trade, profession or business in Hong Kong;
the trade, profession or business derives profits; and
the profits arise in or are derived from Hong Kong.
Business presence overseas
A business may maintain a presence overseas which earns profits outside Hong Kong but the absence of a business presence overseas does not, of itself, mean that all the profits of a Hong Kong business invariably arise in or are derived from Hong Kong. However, in the vast majority of cases where the principal place of business is located in Hong Kong and there is no business presence overseas, profits earned by that business are likely to be chargeable to Profits Tax in Hong Kong.
Irrelevant facts Facts not directly related to the trading activities are considered irrelevant in determining the locality of profits. For example, renting office premises, recruiting general staff, setting up office, etc.
Where the contracts of purchase and sale are effected outside Hong Kong, the profits are not taxable.
Where either the contract of purchase or the contract of sale is effected in Hong Kong, the initial presumption is that the profits are taxable.
Where the sale is made to a Hong Kong customer (including the buying Hong Kong office of an overseas customer), the sale contract will usually be taken as having been effected in Hong Kong.
Where the effecting of the purchase and sale contracts does not require travelling outside Hong Kong but is carried out in Hong Kong by use of telephone, or other electronic means including the Internet, the contracts will be considered as having been effected in Hong Kong.
Trading profits are regarded as being either wholly taxable or wholly non-taxable here. Apportionment is not appropriate.
The place of manufacture The source of profits for a manufacturing business is the place where the goods are manufactured. The profits arising from the sale of goods manufactured in Hong Kong are fully taxable. Where goods are manufactured partly in Hong Kong and partly outside Hong Kong, that part of the profits which relates to the manufacture of goods outside Hong Kong will not be regarded as arising in Hong Kong. The place where the manufactured goods are sold is not relevant.
Manufacturing under a processing or assembling arrangement with an entity in the Mainland of China
In the Mainland, two types of processing trade normally involve Hong Kong companies: contract processing and import processing.
Contract processing In contract processing, the document that governs the contractual relationship among the parties is the processing agreement. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of the Hong Kong company and the Mainland processing enterprise. The Hong Kong company is responsible for the supply of raw materials and machinery without consideration and to provide technical know-how while the Mainland processing enterprise is responsible for the provision of factory premises, utilities and labour force. In return for the processing service, the Hong Kong company pays a subcontracting charges to the Mainland enterprise. The legal title to the raw materials and finished goods remains with the Hong Kong company.
The Mainland processing enterprise is a separate sub-contractor distinct from the Hong Kong company and the question of apportionment in respect of the latter's profits should not arise. The Hong Kong company's operations in the Mainland complement its operations in Hong Kong. Recognising the operations of the Hong Kong company in the Mainland, an apportionment of profits on a 50:50 basis is usually accepted.
Import processing In import processing, the manufacturing operations are carried out by a foreign investment enterprise (FIE) incorporated in the Mainland and related to the Hong Kong company. The Hong Kong company sells raw materials to the FIE and buys back the finished goods from the FIE. The Hong Kong company engages in the trading of raw materials and finished goods whilst the FIE manufactures the finished goods. The legal title to the raw materials and the finished goods passes to/from the FIE.
The profits which accrued to the Hong Kong company from "trading transactions" carried out in Hong Kong cannot be attributed to the manufacturing operations of the FIE carrying on business in the Mainland. The source of the trading profits must be attributed to the operations of the Hong Kong company which produced them. Apportionment of profits is not appropriate.
Manufacturing by an independent sub-contractor in the Mainland of China In cases where the assembly work is contracted to various contractors in the Mainland, the jobs are numerous, small in value and of short duration and the Hong Kong company has minimal involvement in the assembly work, then the manufacturing in the Mainland is not regarded as having been carried out by the Hong Kong company. Given that the Hong Kong company does not carry out any manufacturing operations outside Hong Kong, its profits should be fully chargeable to profits tax without any apportionment.
The place where service is performed When a business earns commission by securing buyers for products or by securing suppliers of products required by customers, the activity which gives rise to the commission income is the arrangement of the business to be transacted between the principals. The source of the income is the place where the activities of the commission agent are performed. If such activities are performed in Hong Kong, the income has a source in Hong Kong.
Factors such as the place where the principals are located, how they are identified by the commission agent, and the place where incidental activities are performed prior or subsequent to the earning of the commission are not generally relevant in determining the source of the commission income.
In the event that the commission income is earned by a person carrying on a business in Hong Kong but the activities which give rise to the commission are performed entirely outside Hong Kong, the commission is not taxable in Hong Kong.
For manufacturing profits or service fee income involving substantial activities, both inside and outside Hong Kong, apportionment of profits is appropriate. In contract processing cases, a 50:50 basis of apportionment is applied as the norm, in view of the contractual conditions imposed on the parties to the arrangement. For other cases where apportionment is appropriate, the basis applied will depend on the facts of the case.
When apportionment is applied, it may lead to the question of how indirect expenses are to be allocated. When these expenses contribute to both Hong Kong and offshore profits they should be apportioned on the basis of the ratio that Hong Kong and offshore profits bear to total profits.
If you wish to explore the subject in greater depth, please consult Bestar professional advisers.