Tax, Banking, and Offshore Havens – 7 Tips

Haven nations in which privacy was expected, guaranteed and delivered were numerous just two or three decades ago. They’re many fewer today. But you do still have choices. Which is right for you? It will depend.

Understand that each “offshore” haven is unique. A country that provides the best banking regulations won’t necessarily be the best place for incorporating a business, just as the best jurisdiction for privacy won’t necessarily be the best for an offshore trust (although the two usually do go together).

Nevertheless, some general guidelines for choosing an asset or tax haven apply across the board. Here are seven important considerations:

1. Is the haven a completely independent sovereign nation?

Or is it a territory, dependency, or colony of a larger country (usually the United Kingdom)? While the government of a dependency or territory may have favorable legislation to attract foreign investment, these laws are usually hostage to the political and economic policies prevailing in the mother country. For example, the last word on the laws of the Cayman Islands comes from London.

2. Does the haven respect privacy?

Strong privacy laws are a must in any haven that you consider. Is privacy built into its law? Under what circumstances can creditors or the government obtain information about your wealth, or even seize it?

Ideally, financial privacy should be built into the legal code and violations of privacy should be prosecutable with civil or criminal sanctions. However, even in jurisdictions with the best privacy laws, it’s foolish to violate the tax or money laundering laws of your home country.

3. Do the local citizens support the haven’s offshore status?

In some havens, local citizens are not the primary beneficiaries of pro-offshore laws or banking secrecy. Since taxes are low to non-existent and the local lawyers have not evolved into predators, locals may have little interest in privacy or bank secrecy. That attitude contrasts with Switzerland, Austria, and Panama, where strong privacy laws and traditions affect a significant segment of the citizenry who work in the offshore financial sector or have related jobs.

4. Is the haven important to your own home government?

“Important” here means how likely is the haven and its government to come under pressure from your home country on tax and related matters? The United Arab Emirates, because it is said to be a “friendly” nation in an unstable region, enjoys the favor of the U.S. government. Haven income is important to the UAE, so Washington won’t want to lean too hard on it over a “non-strategic” issue. The Cayman Islands, on the other hand, has little or no strategic value to Washington and is a constant target of the IRS.

Editor’s note: There are other key considerations you need to take into account before you move your hard earned money abroad. In his full article in the current issue of International Living magazine, 7 Questions to Ask Before You Choose an Offshore Haven, Bob looks at your financial safety, the taxes you are likely to be hit with as an expat, where to find efficient professional services, financial privacy issues, and more.

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