What is an Offshore Company and how does it work?

Offshore Company Definition

Do you know what an Offshore Company is? We are going to dedicate this post to explaining offshore companies, what they consist of, what are their characteristics, how they work, types of offshore companies and their advantages and disadvantages.

What is an Offshore Company?

The term offshore refers to a location outside of national boundaries, whether that location is based on land or water. The term can be used to describe foreign banks, corporations, investments, and deposits.

A business can legitimately move abroad in order to avoid taxes or enjoy relaxed regulations. Offshore financial institutions can also be used for illicit purposes or against good corporate governance, such as money laundering and tax evasion.

The offshore companies are those that have their headquarters abroad. To qualify as offshore, the entity must be located in any country other than the home country of the client or investor.

Many countries, territories and jurisdictions have offshore financial centers (OFCs). These include well-known centers such as Switzerland, Bermuda, or the Cayman Islands, and lesser-known centers such as Mauritius, Dublin, and Belize. The level of regulatory standards and transparency differs widely among OFCs.

Proponents of offshore companies argue that they improve the flow of capital and facilitate international business transactions. Critics argue that offshoring is a way to hide tax obligations or illegally obtain profits from the authorities.

In terms of business activities, offshoring is often called outsourcing, the act of establishing certain business functions, such as manufacturing or call centers, in a nation other than the one in which the company most frequently does business.

This is often to take advantage of more favorable conditions in a foreign country, such as lower wage requirements or more flexible regulations, and can result in significant savings for the business.

Companies with significant foreign sales, such as Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp., can take advantage of the opportunity to maintain related earnings on foreign accounts in countries with lower tax burdens.

What are their characteristics?

Among the characteristics of offshore companies, we can highlight the following:

  • They establish their headquarters in tax havens
  • They do not carry out any economic activity within the country of incorporation
  • They pay very little taxes
  • Their constitution is simple and they have a very low registration cost
  • They do not have auditing or accounting expenses, since they are not required to present accounts on an annual basis.
  • They are not obliged to hold meetings of partners or shareholders.
  • They have very low annual maintenance costs.

How does an Offshore Company work?

Offshore companies are generally created to facilitate global trade, allowing clients to close contracts and sales while minimizing international taxes and accounting and filing obligations.

These companies are commonly used as holding vehicles for worldwide subsidiaries.

An offshore company is generally not governed by the laws and tax structure of the company’s home country. In addition, it is subject to a favorable tax structure, as well as laws that encourage the creation of companies like these.

The regime in countries where companies and offshore accounts are established tends to promote business flexibility. This means that corporate activities in these countries are much more lenient compared to the laws that govern companies in developed countries.

Offshore companies are used for a variety of commercial and private purposes, some legitimate and financially beneficial, while others can be harmful or even criminal.

Reports are frequently made in the press about the use of offshore companies for money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and other forms of white-collar crime.

Offshore companies are also used in a wide variety of business transactions, from generic holding companies to joint ventures and listing vehicles. They are also widely used in connection with private wealth for privacy and tax mitigation.

Detailed information regarding the use of offshore companies is notoriously difficult to find due to the opaque nature of much of the business (and because, in many cases, companies are used specifically to preserve the confidentiality of a transaction or individual).

It is a common view that most uses of offshore companies are driven by tax mitigation and/or regulatory arbitrage. Other commonly cited legitimate uses of offshore companies include uses such as joint ventures, SPV financing, publicly traded vehicles, portfolio companies and asset structures, and commercial vehicles.

Types of Offshore Companies

The types of existing offshore companies are:

International Business Corporations (Offshore IBC)

Numerous offshore financial centers have adopted offshore IBC legislation. Here are some examples of IBC applications:

  • A convenient type of entity to open an offshore bank account and obtain a credit card
  • A confidential company for an international holding company, acting as a parent company;
  • An ideal vehicle for legitimate transactions, such as real estate investments;
  • An optimal and confidential way to invest abroad;
  • Your own IBC can meet all your private and business needs when you are abroad;
  • A practical corporate tool for registering a yacht or boat;
  • An excellent framework for employee recruitment initiatives in the international business environment.

The names of the beneficiaries, directors and members are not listed in public documents or registered with local authorities. These people can reside anywhere in the world.

No annual return and/or audit is required, and all financial data is kept confidential at the company office.

The offshore company may have corporate directors, further enhancing its confidential features.

An IBC enjoys exempt status with respect to virtually all types of taxes and stamp duties. For example, you can have millions of dollars in profits and still pay practically no taxes in the country or territory where you are incorporated.

Private Limited Company or Ltd

Now that we’ve seen the benefits of an IBC, we might wonder why anyone would go for an Ltd.

The fact that you must manage and file an accounting Ltds improves the reputation of the company. When you need a bank account for your business, working with an offshore limited company will make things easier for you.

Ltd may also be exempt from tax. This is especially true in countries with property taxes, those in which only income earned from the country is taxed, but not income earned from abroad. Of course, the tax exemption comes at a price. You will need to ensure that your accounting is accurate and well-detailed.

The offshore corporation cannot carry out activities in the territory of a tax haven where it was registered under any circumstances. These types of companies are also exempt from taxes, the limited liability of the partners is indicated according to the capital stock contributed and the dividends are taxed in the country where the money is deposited.

This type of company is used by 1 or 2 partners and cannot request any type of tax haven license. They are very common in Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, and Costa Rica.

Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

There are advantages to establishing a company and a limited liability company (LLC), and other advantages to establishing an LLC in a foreign account. Many people are looking to create an offshore LLC to reduce tax payments, but this must be done legally.

These partnerships have the benefit of limited liability, but with the profit division characteristic of partnerships, whereby the profits are divided among the partners based on their participation in the business.

If the members or partners of an LLC are not domiciled and do not tax residents within the jurisdiction of incorporation, and the business activities are based outside of the country of incorporation, then neither the business nor the members/partners are subject to tax in the constitution jurisdiction.

LLC is a combination of a limited liability company and a personal partnership.

Like Ltd, LLCs limit liability, but instead of constituting their own legal personality, they are fiscally transparent, that is, income is taxed as if it were going directly to the owners, thus avoiding taxes on dividends and income. double taxation (taxes at source are avoided).

Differences between an Offshore Company and an Onshore Company

The main difference between offshore and onshore companies is that offshoring involves completing work in a different country.

Every year there are millions of offshore companies that are registered in the most used jurisdictions like Belize, Seychelles, British Virgin Island, etc. Why choose an offshore company? Well, in addition to a range of tax benefits, the offshore company offers certain advantages in most jurisdictions:

  • It can be quickly registered for only several days, or even 24 hours.
  • You can get more financial and privacy benefits. Obviously, an offshore company, most of the time, can benefit from:
    • Minimum audit and financial requirements.
    • No monetary control
    • There is no obligation for company owners to reside in the offshore host country

Another key difference between an offshore and an onshore company lies in their incorporation process. You can have an offshore company incorporated through a faster and simpler procedure compared to that of the onshore company.

On the opposite side, the onshore company is a widely used option, as it helps companies to:

  • Minimize cultural and linguistic barriers.
  • Allow it to be easier for the communication process, as well as monitor outsourced business projects thanks to the same time zone.

Despite some of its outstanding features, which are especially attractive for new companies that want to expand their business abroad, the offshore company has some drawbacks such as the following:

  • Normally, offshore companies are subject to a fixed annual fee.
  • To be qualified as a legal offshore company, the particular company must also meet certain requirements of which its business activities must not fall into some “restricted” categories to conduct business according to the rules of the offshore country.
  • It is also noteworthy that making the decision on the most suitable offshore jurisdiction for a company can be time consuming and require extensive research efforts. It is highly recommended to hire a reputable service provider to save time and resources for your offshore company formation.

The onshore companies, however, are associated with some disadvantages:

  • Onshore companies are more likely to conduct most of their business in the country of registration; therefore, they are bound by state control and local rule set as well.
  • Unlike offshore companies that can benefit from confidentiality treatments in some offshore jurisdictions, the identity details of the owners of onshore companies are less confidential. Most of the beneficial ownership information of an onshore company is normally disclosed to the public.
  • For an onshore business to be established, it also takes a more complicated process and more money to deal with hiring and training employees.

Offshore Companies, are they legal?

Offshore company, tax haven, tax evasion… In fact, when we talk about offshore companies, tax havens and tax evasion often come to mind.

However, if we stick to the very definition of the offshore company, it is just a matter of creating a company abroad, it is very possible to create a company abroad, avoid taxes and be legal.

On the other hand, it is possible to create an offshore company in the greatest illegality, so we are not talking about tax optimization but about tax evasion or even tax evasion.

It is up to you and according to your situation, to perform arbitrations on the chosen country, the definition of your activity, the establishment of your bank accounts, etc.

Offshore Company Example

Let’s take an example, you have an e-commerce company with products that you ship from China to Portugal.

Your company is based in China, where it has its bank accounts and conducts business on a regular basis, for example hiring someone on the spot for all administrative tasks.

Your business is well established in China, even if you live in Spain, in this case, it is possible, with the help of a specialized company, to take all the steps in legality.

However, keep in mind in this context that the tax administration requires any tax resident to declare their accounts abroad using the form that you must attach to your tax return.

You must indicate the details of the bank, account references, its nature (deposit account, savings, …) and specify, among other things, if it is a personal or professional account.

On the other hand, you are not required to specify the balance of your accounts abroad.

Otherwise, you expose yourself to pecuniary penalties, in addition to the taxes that you must regularize with late payment interest.

When is a territory considered a tax haven?

A territory is considered a tax haven when it offers foreign individuals and companies little or no fiscal responsibility in a politically and economically static environment.

The tax havens also share limited or no financial information with foreign tax authorities. These territories generally do not require residency or commercial presence for individuals and businesses to benefit from their tax policies.

Offshore tax havens benefit from the capital that their countries bring to the economy. Funds can flow from individuals and companies with accounts set up at banks, financial institutions, and other investment vehicles.

Individuals and businesses can potentially benefit from low or no income taxes levied in foreign countries where loopholes, credits, or other special tax considerations may be allowed.

In which countries are these types of Societies usually created?

A list of some of the most popular tax havens where offshore companies are created includes: Andorra, the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, the Cook Islands, the Island of Jersey, Hong Kong, The Isle of Man, Mauritius, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis.

There is no widely defined standard for classifying a country as a tax haven worldwide. However, there are several regulatory bodies that oversee tax haven countries, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the US Government Accountability Office.

The characteristics of countries with tax havens generally include:

  • zero or low income taxes,
  • minimal information reports,
  • lack of transparency obligations,
  • lack of local presence requirements and
  • commercialization of tax havens.

Advantages and disadvantages of Offshore Companies

To finalize the study of offshore companies, we are going to indicate their advantages and disadvantages.


Offshore companies are often exempt from paying taxes on income earned in areas under the jurisdiction of the foreign country. Another advantage is the low cost. The costs and fees involved in the establishment and operation of the offshore entity are generally low in the countries where they exist.

The requirements of compliance reports are also minimal. For example, in regions like the Cayman Islands, there is almost no information available to the public about such offshore companies.

Business flexibility is the biggest advantage. The benefits under this include minimum capitalization rules, low capital maintenance, and encouraging financial assistance rules. Most regions also allow offshore companies to get away with their own rules for paying dividends.

Another reason offshore companies are created is due to the strong asset protection laws of the offshore premises. Most of the time, beneficiary details are kept anonymous. The best part is perhaps the fact that offshore banking generally helps advance the cause of asset protection.


The usual suspect, of course, is that offshore companies can be used to evade taxes. These companies can also be used to conduct illegal transactions. The most popular is that offshore companies can be used to hold unaccounted money.

In addition to the above points, another drawback is that the very nature of the business makes it difficult for investors to evaluate. This is because the laws and rules under which they exist can be unfamiliar or difficult to understand.

The offshore company also runs the risk of losing benefits available in its home country, such as business profits.

The latest in the Panama offshore company case is that prosecutors are analyzing allegations that a hacker was behind the leak of the documents. The hack is suspected of originating outside of Panama. Europe is seen as a possibility. Any adverse developments or disclosures that may arise would lead tax havens to rethink their strategies to attract money to their country using “shell” companies.

How to create an Offshore Company?

Here are five general steps to open an offshore company, from start to finish:

  1. Define your goals and the reasons why you want to go abroad.
  2. Make a plan and consult international tax professionals. Paying a little up front is a no-brainer when it comes to your peace of mind in the future.
  3. Identify where you want to create it, with the help of your advisor.
  4. Decide what type of legal entity you want to establish: Certain types of offshore companies are only available in specific jurisdictions.
  5. Register your business (normally, this is a simple process that can take as little as an hour in some countries).

And what do you do after forming your offshore corporation?

Open a bank account in your new jurisdiction. Whether you have to physically travel to the bank depends on a few things, including where your business is incorporated, your nationality, and where you intend to bank.

The most important first step towards an offshore corporation is simply taking action. And always, manage your business within the legal parameters.

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