Hong Kong adopts a territorial basis of taxation. Profits tax is payable by every person (defined to include corporation, partnership, and sole proprietorship) carrying on a trade, profession, or business in Hong Kong on profits arising in or derived from Hong Kong from that trade, profession, or business. In general, the tax residence of a person is irrelevant and there is no distinction between residents and non-residents when it comes to liability to profits tax, except in a tax treaty context. Non-residents are chargeable to tax on profits arising in or derived from Hong Kong unless they are from jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has a tax treaty and they are protected by the treaty.
Gains and receipts that are capital in nature are not subject to tax. Dividends from local companies chargeable to tax are exempt, whereas dividends from overseas companies are generally offshore in nature and not subject to tax in Hong Kong. The tax treatments of public and private companies are the same.
Certain income that would not otherwise be subject to Hong Kong profits tax is deemed to arise in or be derived from Hong Kong from a trade, profession, or business carried on in Hong Kong and thus becomes taxable in Hong Kong. This includes royalties received by a non-resident for the use of or right to use a patent, design, trademark, copyright material, layout-design of an integrated circuit, performer’s right, plant variety right, secret process or formula, or other property of a similar nature in Hong Kong, or for the use of such intellectual properties outside Hong Kong, but the royalties paid can be claimed as a deduction by a person for profits tax purposes.
Effective from the year of assessment 2018/19, there is a two-tiered profits tax rate in Hong Kong. The following table shows the applicable tax rates for companies and unincorporated businesses:
|Rates of tax
||Where the two-tiered rate applies * (%)
||Where the two-tiered rate does not apply (%)
|First HKD 2 million
|On the remainder
|First HKD 2 million
|On the remainder
* As an anti-avoidance measure, a ‘group of connected entities’ can only nominate one entity within the group to enjoy the two-tiered tax rate for a given year of assessment.
There are special rules for determining the tax liabilities of certain industries, such as shipping, air services, and financial services. There is also a special tax framework for Islamic bonds (i.e. sukuk) that provides for the same tax treatments for sukuk vis-à-vis their conventional counterparts.
Incomes from certain qualifying debt instruments (QDIs) issued before 1 April 2018 are either tax exempt or subject to a concessionary tax rate (i.e. 50% of the regular profits tax rate) depending on the date of issue and maturity period of the QDIs. Incomes from QDIs issued on or after 1 April 2018 are tax exempt regardless of the maturity period, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions. However, there is a specific anti-avoidance provision under which the concessionary tax rate/tax exemption does not apply to incomes derived from QDIs by a person who is an associate of the issuer of the QDIs.
Publicly offered funds that are regulated by the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) of Hong Kong and other similar bona fide widely held investment schemes that comply with the requirements of a supervisory authority within an acceptable regulatory regime are exempt from profits tax in Hong Kong. Effective from 1 April 2019, both onshore and offshore privately offered funds are exempt from Hong Kong profits tax on profits derived from certain specified transactions provided that the specified transactions are carried out or arranged by ‘specified persons’ (i.e. SFC licensed fund managers) or the funds are a ‘qualified investment fund’ as defined. There are also specific anti-avoidance provisions in the Inland Revenue Ordinance (IRO) deeming certain resident persons to be subject to profits tax on their share of the non-resident person's tax-exempt profits.
Profits derived from the business of reinsurance of onshore and offshore risks and qualifying onshore and offshore captive insurance business are subject to profits tax at a concessionary tax rate (i.e. 50% of the regular profits tax rate).
Qualifying profits derived by a qualifying corporate treasury centre are subject to profits tax at a concessionary tax rate (i.e. 50% of the regular profits tax rate) under specified conditions.
Qualifying profits derived from qualifying aircraft leasing activities and qualifying aircraft leasing management activities carried out in Hong Kong are subject to profits tax at a concessionary tax rate (i.e. 50% of the regular profits tax rate) under specified conditions. In addition, the taxable net lease payments derived by a qualifying aircraft lessor from leasing of aircraft to an aircraft operator will be deemed as 20% of the gross lease payments less deductible expenses, excluding tax depreciation allowance.
Effective from the year of assessment 2018/19, the concessionary tax treatments under the following special tax regimes will be available only if certain threshold requirements for determining whether the profits producing activities are carried out in Hong Kong are met:
- Corporate treasury centres.
- Reinsurance business.
- Captive insurance business.
- Aircraft lessors and aircraft leasing managers.
- Shipping operations.
The threshold requirements will be specified by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue (CIR) by a notice published in the Gazette later and measured by various indicators (e.g. number of full time employees with the necessary qualifications in Hong Kong and the amount of operating expenditure incurred in Hong Kong).