Up until the US invasion in 1989, Panama was the premier off-shore jurisdiction but the BVI came to prominence after that event. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is often called the grandfather of all IBCs. IBC stands for “international business company,” originally from the International Business Companies Act of 1984 in the British Virgin Islands. It has since been copied—with slight variations—across many jurisdictions.
For so many international entrepreneurs, the BVI is now the go-to jurisdiction for an offshore company. When asked why the BVI? Most entrepreneurs would probably say that it’s because it’s a well-known or popular jurisdiction. Almost a synonym for an offshore company. But is it worth it?
How does it work
The United Kingdom in general and the City of London in particular, has long been considered a global financial center. Today London is rivaled only by New York City as far as financial hub cities go. This helps explain the popularity of the BVI. On one hand this overseas territory is a part of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, it is a semi-autonomous region which allows it to craft its own unique laws and financial regulations.
Companies and wealth managers who choose to offshore to the BVI get to enjoy the reputation and supervision of the United Kingdom, while also tapping into favorable offshoring regulations. English is the official language, it uses the US dollar and is an ideal location for Americans looking to offshore.
- Taxation – There is no corporate tax in BVI. The only taxes are in practice only paid by locally run companies with local employees. If you incorporate in BVI and have no local operations, you may not need to pay these taxes.
- Public Records – Companies owned by nonresidents rarely register for the public records. The government does not know who the directors and shareholders of companies are. That information stays with the registered agent, which is bound by law to only disclose the information under a lawful request such as through a DTA or a Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA).
- No Taxes but Accounting Requirements remain – The BVI has no corporate income tax, customs duties, wealth tax, or VAT. Nevertheless companies are required to maintain proper records and prepare annual accounts. Accounts do not have to be filed and auditing is not required, but copies of the accounts must be held available for inspection.
- Only 1 Director and 1 shareholder is needed. Can be a corporate shareholder and any nationality is allowed.
- No minimum capital requirements.
- Costs – Costs are generally higher than in other IBC jurisdictions, but nonetheless highly competitive. It’s rare to find BVI incorporation fees under $1,000 USD. Expect something closer to $1,500-$3,000 with a high-quality, reputable service provider. Annual renewal fees are around $800 to $1,200 in most cases.
- Restricted activities – The following activities are not permitted for IBCs to be undertaken: offering banking or investment services to third parties; offering gambling, betting or casino services; offering insurance or reinsurance services; offering trust services to third parties.
- Reputation – The BVI’s international reputation has been impacted by recent high profile and controversial cases of tax evasion and suspected money laundering. In addition, there has been some unfavorable ratings by organizations like the OECD.
- Complicated – Setting up an IBC in the British Virgin Islands is a bit more complicated than some other offshoring hubs. All activities conducted must be legal in both your home country, and the BVI. The compliance screening usually comes up with follow up questions and the business details have to be clearly outlined. Some providers demand a full business plan.
- Offshore Banking in BVI – The banking sector in BVI is very small. Accounts are almost always opened remotely or by visiting the bank in another country. Some banks often insist on a personal visit if there is no introducer or intermediary.
The BVI is a recognized jurisdiction in the international financial services sector, but many are starting to opt for other Caribbean jurisdictions like Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, or even jurisdictions which aren’t British Overseas Territories, such as Mauritius or Singapore for their reputations.
In the past the BVI earned a bad reputation for money laundering, but in recent years the country has strengthened its systems and is now a part of major international agreements. But more robust compliance screening results in slightly higher costs and slower registration.