Offshore finance: Answering 12 frequently asked questions

by Andy Nguyen
offshore finance

Companies have traditionally stuck to offshoring small non-core business tasks to service providers in other countries. 

However, recent technological advancements have set off the trend of offshoring key business operations. Offshore finance is one such business activity!

Offshore finance can help businesses offshore key financial tasks, such as complex finance reviews, tax preparation, regulatory compliance, etc.

Regardless of these advantages, offshore markets for finance can be intimidating even to the biggest business leaders. 

But that doesn’t have to include you!

In this article, we’ll answer 12 of the most frequently asked questions about offshore finance. At the end of this read, you’d be able to grasp key concepts, such as tax havens, offshore accounts, tax evasion, and more.

Table of Contents

Let’s get started. 

12 frequently asked questions about offshore finance

Here’s a compilation of the most common questions you may have about offshore finance:

1. What is offshore finance?

Offshoring refers to when a company transfers business activities or the ownership of a complete business process to a different country. Examples of offshoring would include Information Technology (IT services), customer service, automation, etc.

Offshore finance is when a company specifically offshores financial services to an in-house team or third-party providers overseas. These services include tax regulatory compliance, wealth management, financial reviews, etc.

Companies may offshore finance to an overseas country for several reasons, including:

  • Asset protection and security.
  • Better tax regimes.
  • Stable economic conditions.
  • Relaxed business regulations, and more.

Read this article on a Guide to Offshoring Finance for more. 

Note that companies can offshore finance either through an outsourcing arrangement with a third-party service provider or by establishing their in-house team overseas. 

This is slightly different from outsourcing, where companies can only outsource their business functions to third-party service providers regardless of their location. 

2. What are the types of offshore finance services?

Here’s a closer look at the three important types of offshore finance services:  

A. Offshore finance services

Offshore finance services refer to outsourcing financial business activities overseas. This cross-border outsourcing usually involves business competencies like accounting, project budgeting, tax compliance activities, etc. 

Offshoring your financial services overseas can benefit your business from favorable economic conditions, such as lower minimum wage requirements and flexible labor regulations. 

B. Offshore investing

Offshore investing refers to people investing in other countries’ businesses. Examples include offshore mutual funds, venture capital, purchase of precious metals or property, etc. 

This investment tactic is particularly common with high-net-worth investors. These investors are looking to diversify their investment portfolio or expand their business in different countries. 

Note that offshore investing usually requires you to open an offshore account in the overseas country you wish to invest in. 

Key benefits of holding offshore investment accounts include multi-currency banking, flexible banking, tax optimization, arbitrage trading, business confidentiality, and more.

C. Offshore banking

Offshore banking refers to opening an offshore bank account in financial institutions overseas. This bank account can safeguard a company’s or an individual’s assets in a foreign country. 

This process allows businesses to offshore wealth and access favorable business regulations unavailable in a financial institution in their home countries. 

The trend has been on the rise. According to the Bank of International Settlements, offshore banking accounted for nearly 40% of the world GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2021. 

Individuals and multinational companies can use offshore bank accounts to:

  • Opt for financial transactions and access funds in multiple currencies without tracking the exchange rates.
  • Keep business profits and capital gains in countries with low tax burdens. 
  • Safeguard financial assets from authorities and financial systems in their home countries.

3. What are tax havens?

Tax havens usually have different business regulations from a company’s home country. These jurisdictions generally have low or no corporate tax, allowing companies and individuals to set up businesses easily. 

Tax havens are also referred to as Offshore Financial Centers (OFCs), commonly used in banking and other financial activities. 

Additionally, information regarding the business activities in an Offshore Financial Center can be hard to extract, which is why these places are sometimes called secrecy jurisdictions. 

Tax havens that have anchored their global dominance include Caribbean countries like the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands. 

Other tax havens include Luxembourg, Belgium, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Malta, Bermuda, Jersey, Switzerland, Ireland, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Singapore, Isle of Man, Mauritius, and the Channel Islands.

4. How do tax havens benefit a business?

Here are the key ways in which tax havens benefit companies:

A. Tax reduction

Developed economies around the world have high, progressive tax systems. High-income individuals and businesses can lose significant capital to these taxes. 

Tax havens can help these entities legally minimize their tax liability. Prominent tax havens impose very little or no taxes on offshore companies. 

For example, the Cayman Islands doesn’t charge non-resident offshore companies any corporate income tax, capital gains tax, personal income tax, inheritance tax, etc. On the other hand, the British Virgin Islands have no form of direct taxation. 

B. Privacy

Offshore tax havens typically have very few reporting and auditing requirements. As a result, key information about an offshore company and its beneficial owners isn’t publicly available. 

This makes tax havens ideal for individuals and businesses looking for confidentiality. 

For example, it’s a crime to disclose unauthorized information and banking details of an offshore company in jurisdictions like Antigua.

C. Convenience

Tax havens are designed to attract offshore investors, businesses, and high-income individuals to set up offshore financial structures. 

As a result, incorporating and setting up a financial vehicle is very convenient and fast in a tax haven. Offshore companies can be incorporated within a week and with minimal registration costs. 

5. How does becoming a tax haven benefit a country?

Tax havens are usually smaller economies with very few resources and human capital. Offering favorable tax rates to offshore investors can help boost their economic activity by attracting foreign capital. 

Additionally, tax havens make significant income from the fees paid by businesses and individuals who create corporations in these countries. Tax havens also employ lawyers, accountants, secretaries, and more. 


6. What is the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion?

The key difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is that one of these processes is legal while the other isn’t. 

Tax avoidance uses legal methods to reduce tax liability or taxable income. An example would be claiming allowed tax deductions and tax credits in a particular country.

Tax evasion, on the other hand, is the use of illegal methods of escaping tax liabilities. Businesses and individuals can evade taxes by concealing income or information from the tax authorities. Tax evasion can result in fines, penalties, or even prison time.

Note that tax havens can be used for both tax avoidance and evasion. 

7. What is a shell company?

A shell company is a legal entity created in a tax haven. The terms ‘shell company’, ‘offshore company,’ and ‘holding company’ are often used interchangeably in the offshore finance industry. 

Shell companies usually exist only on paper. These companies don’t have full-time employees or even office space. For this reason, one office space in the Cayman Islands can house thousands of shell companies. 

While the incorporation rules may depend from one jurisdiction to the other, ownership details of shell companies are usually always protected. 

Shell companies can take the shape of several financial structures, including:

  • Asset holding vehicles.
  • Collective investment vehicles.
  • Exchange control trading vehicles.
  • Joint venture vehicles, and more.

8. How can you set up a shell company?

Usually, setting up a shell company doesn’t even require you to leave your house. You can complete the whole process online within a few days. 

One of the simplest ways to set up a shell company involves these simple steps:

  • Narrow down on a tax haven to set up the shell company in.
  • Choose professional registered agents.
  • Pick a name for the company.
  • Name a director for your company. 
  • Provide the necessary identification documents.

Owning and operating a shell company in a tax haven is legal. 

These companies serve several legal business purposes, including:

  • Creating limited liability for business partners within a company.
  • Transfer assets from a company to a new one without carrying the previous liabilities.
  • Gain access to foreign stocks and exchanges.

However, they can be used for illegal activities, such as tax evasion and money laundering.

In the past, tax havens and offshore companies have been illegally used in tax fraud scandals. 

Some notable scandals include:

  • Panama Papers (2016): More than 11 million secret documents of tax frauds were leaked from an offshore law firm in Panama called Mossack Fonseca. 
  • Paradise Papers (2017): News media like the Wall Street Journal revealed that over 13.4 million money laundering documents were leaked from an offshore law firm in Bermuda called Appleby. 
  • Pandora Papers (2021): Financial records shared with the Washington Post exposed 14 cases of fraud involving leaders from over 90 countries. 

10. What are the benefits of offshore finance?

Here are the key benefits of venturing into offshore finance:

A. Asset protection

Offshore finance can help businesses safeguard their assets by restructuring their ownership.  This transferring of ownership is possible by creating trusts, hedge funds, or an existing corporation. 

Asset protection through offshore finance can help you:

  • Avoid being targeted by a lawsuit.
  • Safeguard assets in situations that insurance companies don’t cover.
  • Protect intellectual property.
  • Decide how to use your assets at your own pace. 

B. Access to tax havens

Tax havens incentivize businesses to invest in their economy with increased tax savings. Offshore investors usually form a corporation in a tax haven. This prevents the higher tax burdens from their home countries. 

Additionally, because the newly formed corporations don’t engage in local operations, little or no tax is imposed on them in the tax haven. 

C. Political and economic stability

Offshore finance can provide businesses with a politically and economically stable offshore jurisdiction. This can be an advantage for residents of locations with political turmoil, resulting in frozen assets.

D. Diversification of investments

A major risk of concentrating wealth in one location is that currency deflation or the fall in the foreign currency can lead to a fall in the currency’s purchasing power. 

Offshore investing is one of the best ways to avoid such risky scenarios and diversify your assets. 

Diversification helps spread your investments across multiple offshore jurisdictions. This can also lessen your chances of getting caught up in a country’s economic downturn.

11. What are the drawbacks of offshore finance?

Here are the three major cons of offshore finance:

A. Increased international scrutiny

Past tax scandals and illegal money laundering activities have tainted the image of offshore finance and subsequently increased the regulatory scrutiny around it. 

For instance, the United States government enacted the United States Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010. This act requires American citizens to file annual reports on their foreign account holdings. 

Similar to North America, jurisdictions in Latin America also have laws like General Anti-avoidance Rules (GAAR) to prevent tax loopholes. 

Swiss banks, for instance, have always been known for their bank secrecy and privacy laws. But with continuous international scrutiny, these banks started revealing account information in 2018

In line with this tax transparency trend, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that 100 countries automatically shared information about offshore accounts with tax authorities in 2019. 

B. Unpredictable geopolitical unrest

Companies and individuals offshoring to major outsourcing countries may have to handle the consequences of an unstable political climate. This may lead to several business risks.

Geopolitical unrest can be caused by issues such as a government shutdown, riots over an election, a military coup, etc.

For example, the anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019 sent the country’s economy into a recession for the first time in a decade.

C. Management concerns

While all offshore countries are outside a company’s home country, tax havens are often particularly isolated small islands. 

As a result, businesses offshoring financial services may have to deal with management challenges, such as the inability to physically visit the company and a lack of a large talent pool. 

Companies may also deal with increased communication gaps, cultural barriers, time zone differences, work efficiency concerns, etc.

12. What should you consider before offshoring financial services?

If you choose to offshore finance for your business, here are some things to consider:

  • Tax disclosures: Offshore finance may require you to disclose your income to relevant tax authorities and declare any interest earned on offshore accounts.
  • Additional costs: Offshore finance may involve additional prices, such as the pricing of offshore service providers, fees charged by offshore banks, etc.
  • Eligibility: Since offshore finance is primarily targeted at high-income individuals, services like offshore banking may require you to make a large sum of minimum deposit. 

Final words

The offshore finance industry can be an intimidating one, especially for businesses that are just starting in the financial sector. Understanding the basic concepts of offshoring financial services can help you make the right decisions. 

For starters, you can go through the 12 commonly asked questions we’ve discussed in this article. And for more tips and insights on offshoring, check out the Time Doctor blog!

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