Expenses that are incurred for producing profits chargeable to tax and that are not capital in nature are generally tax deductible. In addition, special tax relief is available for certain capital expenditure. There are special rules for deduction of certain expenses (e.g. interest expenses).
Accounting treatments are usually followed in determining the assessable profits, except when there is an explicit rule in the IRO. Accrued expenses recognised in the profit and loss accounts in accordance with GAAP are usually deductible if they are incurred for producing profits chargeable/subject to tax and are not capital in nature.
Expense items for which a tax adjustment is necessary in determining the amount of taxable profits from the accounting profits include: tax depreciation allowance vs. accounting depreciation, expenses that are capital in nature, general provisions that are non-deductible, and non-deductible interest expenses on borrowings used to finance non-income producing assets.
Set out below are the Hong Kong profits tax treatments of some common expense items.
Tax depreciation of fixed assets
Tax depreciation allowances/deductions are available for capital expenditure incurred on the construction of buildings or structures and in the provision of machinery and plant for trade or business purposes, as follows:
- Industrial buildings and structures: An initial allowance of 20%, in addition to an annual allowance of 4%, of the cost of construction or cost of purchase from a developer is granted for an industrial building or structure occupied for the purpose of a qualifying trade. Provision is made for balancing allowance or charge in the year of assessment in which the building is disposed of to adjust the written-down value of the building to the disposal price. Balancing charges are restricted to the total of initial and annual allowances previously given.
- Commercial buildings and structures: An annual allowance of 4% of the capital expenditure incurred on the construction is applicable. A balancing allowance or charge applies upon disposal. Balancing charges are restricted to the total annual allowances previously given.
- Plant and machinery: An initial allowance of 60% of the capital expenditure on plant and machinery is given for the year of assessment during the basis period in which the expenditure is incurred. An annual allowance is also given for depreciation at three prescribed rates on the reducing value of each of the three depreciation rate ‘pools’. The three prescribed rates are 10%, 20%, and 30%, and the reducing value of each of the three depreciation rate pools is original cost less initial and annual allowances and sales proceeds. Provision is made for balancing charges when plant and machinery within one of the three depreciation rate pools is sold or disposed of and the reducing value of that pool is less than the sale price, which is capped at the original amount incurred in the pool. In addition, balancing allowances or charges may be applicable upon cessation of business. Otherwise, sales proceeds are deducted in calculating the reducing value on which the annual allowance is calculated.
Book depreciation is adjusted for tax purposes in accordance with the above depreciation allowances granted under the IRO.
Cost of acquisition of goodwill/amortisation of goodwill is not deductible as it is capital in nature.
Organisational and start-up expenses
In general, company formation/start-up expenses that are incurred before the commencement of a trade, profession, or business and that are for the establishment of the overall income producing structure are capital in nature and not tax deductible.
Research & development (R&D)
There is a specific provision allowing the deduction of expenditure incurred on R&D (including payments made to an approved research institute and in-house expenditure), provided that certain specified conditions are met.
There is no thin capitalisation rule in Hong Kong. However, except in some specified circumstances (e.g. interest expenses paid to an overseas associated corporation by a corporation carrying on an intra-group financing business in Hong Kong where certain conditions are met), interest expenses paid to an overseas recipient (whether a related or unrelated party) are generally not deductible if the overseas recipient is not subject to Hong Kong profits tax on the interest income. In addition, deduction of interest expense is subject to stringent and complicated rules that are designed to guard against loan arrangements with an intention to avoid Hong Kong profits taxes.
A bad or doubtful debt incurred in any trade, business, or profession, proved to the satisfaction of the HKIRD to have become bad during the basis period for a year of assessment, is deductible. The deduction is limited to debts that were included as a trading receipt in ascertaining the taxpayer’s assessable profits or debts in respect of money lent in the ordinary course of a money-lending business in Hong Kong.
If any bad or doubtful debt that has previously been allowed as a deduction is ultimately recovered, it will be treated as taxable profits of the basis period in which it is recovered.
A deduction is allowed for cash donations to approved charities made in the basis period for a year of assessment if the aggregate of such donations is not less than HKD 100. The deduction is limited to 35% of the assessable profits of the year of assessment.
A deduction is allowed for regular/ordinary contributions to a mandatory provident fund scheme or recognised occupational retirement scheme made by an employer in respect of an employee to the extent that the contributions do not exceed 15% of the employee's total emoluments for the period to which the contributions relate.
Special payments, other than the ordinary contributions to a mandatory provident fund scheme or recognised occupational retirement scheme, are capital in nature but can be deducted evenly over a five-year period under a specific provision of the IRO.
There are also specific rules for deduction of provisions for contributions to a mandatory provident fund scheme or recognised occupational retirement scheme.
Payments for directors
Director fees or other remunerations paid by a corporation to its directors are generally deductible under the normal deduction rule. Nevertheless, no deduction is allowed on salaries or other remunerations paid to a sole proprietor or any partners or partners’ spouses of a partnership business.
Generally speaking, general provisions for expenses are not deductible, whereas specific provisions are deductible if the HKIRD is satisfied that the amount has been incurred (i.e. the taxpayer has a legal/contractual obligation to pay such amount in the future) and that the provision represents a reasonably accurate estimate of the future liability.
There are special deduction rules for expenditures incurred:
- for refurbishment of a building or structure, other than a domestic building or structure
- on environmental protection installation and machinery
- on environment-friendly vehicles
- on machinery or plant used specifically and directly for any manufacturing process, computer hardware (other than that which is an integral part of machinery or plant), computer software, and computer systems (collectively known as prescribed fixed assets)
- for registering trademarks, designs, or patents used in the production of taxable profits, and
- on the purchase of patent/know-how rights and specified intellectual property (IP) rights (i.e. copyrights, registered trademarks, or registered designs), provided certain specified conditions are met.
Fines and penalties
Fines and penalties are generally not deductible, as the HKIRD does not consider them to be expenses incurred for producing profits chargeable/subject to tax.
Taxes paid on corporate profits are generally not deductible for the purpose of calculating the assessable profits. However, the HKIRD generally accepts that a foreign tax that is an expense that must be borne regardless of whether or not a profit is derived (e.g. a foreign withholding tax [WHT] levied on the gross amount of interest or royalties received), as opposed to a charge on the profits themselves, is deductible under the general deduction provision. Where interest income or gains from the sale of a certificate of deposit or bill of exchange are deemed to be subject to profits tax, a deduction is allowed for foreign taxes of substantially the same nature of Hong Kong profits tax paid in respect of the same income, provided that the taxpayer is not eligible for double taxation relief under a CDTA.
Net operating and capital losses
Net operating losses incurred in an accounting year can be carried forward indefinitely to offset future profits of the business. A corporation carrying on more than one business may have losses in one business offset profits of the others, with any balance being carried forward. Net operating losses cannot be carried backward.
Capital losses are not tax deductible.
Payments to foreign affiliates
Royalties and service fees paid/payable by a Hong Kong corporation to foreign affiliates are deductible, provided they are incurred for the production of profits chargeable/subject to tax. There is no special restriction on the deductibility of these payments.
In general, interest payable by a Hong Kong corporation to a foreign affiliate is not deductible if the recipient is not chargeable/subject to Hong Kong profits tax on the interest income received (except where either the payer or the recipient is a financial institution as defined in the tax law). Starting from 1 April 2016, interest expenses on money borrowed from a non-Hong Kong associated corporation by a corporation in the ordinary course of its intra-group financing business carried on in Hong Kong are deductible, provided that certain specified conditions are met.