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IBC Companies Versus Freezone Companies in the UAE

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

When you are looking to open an income tax-free company in the UAE, aside from a mainland company, you usually come across standard free zone companies and IBC companies.

Compared to the other two "standard" options (mainland and freezone companies) which we have already covered in detail here, an IBC company is usually much cheaper but comes with serious drawbacks.

Waterfont and nature

Let's first have a look at what an IBC company is. IBC stands for International Business Company. This type of company type attained popularity in various Caribbean jurisdictions, and nowadays can also be opened in places such as the Seychelles and the UAE.

Compared to standard companies in free zones or the mainland, IBCs are always tax-free, provide more far-reaching privacy regarding their ownership structure, and generally speaking, are cheaper to open and maintain. IBC companies are usually restricted to doing business outside the country they are incorporated in.

As of 2023, jurisdictions that offer IBC incorporation include:

  • United Arab Emirates (Ras Al Khaimah)

  • Anguilla

  • British Virign Islands (BVI)

  • Panama

  • Bahamas

  • Dominica

  • Seychelles

  • Saint Kitts and Nevis.

  • Belize

Due to increasing scrutiny on tax avoidance and tax evasion by OECD governments including the United States and the European Union, private IBC incorporation in offshore jurisdictions is getting more difficult every year.

IBC companies are also having difficulties opening bank accounts - a necessity to engage in commercial transactions.

Furthermore, IBC companies usually do not allow you to open an office or hire employees in their jurisdiction of incorporation. Remember, IBC companies are only allowed to operate outside the borders of the country they are based in.

Many high-tax countries have introduced so-called economic substance regulations which only recognize the tax exemption of a foreign company (such as an IBC) if that company has a permanent operating presence abroad. An IBC by definition does not have a physical presence abroad, and as a result, will be taxed by the country where the beneficial owner resides.

Of course, thanks to the inherent privacy built into many IBCs, it is unlikely that your high-tax home country finds out about you operating such a company, and therefore may not tax you. However, this is where we are entering illegal tax evasion, and with ever-improving efforts to find tax cheaters, it would be unwise to rely on IBCs' continued privacy.

Now all these downsides of IBCs do not mean that they are dead. IBCs still have some limited uses.

For example, if your residence is located in a country without an income tax, such as the UAE, operating an IBC in Seychelles, for instance remains legally tax-free. Whether you have an office or physical presence in the Seychelles is irrelevant.

Due to the often lower cost of IBCs, they are useful when you want to open multiple companies to hold various assets, from intellectual property to real estate - anonymously.

You can then transfer ownership of these assets by selling your IBC.

We are experts at navigating the complex world of tax-optimized business structuring.

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