Singapore Taxation on Foreign-Sourced Income
Singapore adopts a territorial basis of taxation. Taxes are applied on income derived from or accrued in Singapore, as well as foreign-sourced income received in Singapore.
With the globalisation trend, it is of no surprise that the income of many Singapore tax-resident companies are derived from overseas. Foreign income derived from overseas will be taxable in Singapore when remitted to and received in Singapore, which may result in double taxation – once in the foreign country, and a second time when the foreign income is remitted into Singapore.
Determining the locality of the source of income can be complex and contentious. There is no universal rule that can be applied to every scenario to determine whether an income is Singapore-sourced or foreign-sourced. It depends on the nature of the profits and of the transactions which give rise to such profits. As a guide, the following points can be used in determining the source of the income:
- Identify the operations which produced the relevant profits and ascertain where those operations took place.
- If there is no business presence overseas and the principal place of business is located in Singapore, profits earned by that business are likely to be treated as sourced in Singapore.
- Determine the place where the contracts for purchase and sale are effected (i.e negotiated, concluded and executed) for profits earned from trading in goods and commodities.
- For businesses earning commission, determine where the activities of the commission agent are performed. If such activities are performed in Singapore, the income will be treated as sourced in Singapore.
For income that has been determined to be foreign-sourced, it is important to determine whether it is received in Singapore. Income earned from outside Singapore is considered to be received in Singapore when it is:
- remitted to, transmitted or brought into Singapore in the form of cash, cheque, dividends, electronic transfer etc.;
- used to pay off any debt incurred in respect of a trade or business carried on in Singapore; or
- used to purchase any moveable property brought into Singapore (e.g. equipment or raw materials connected to your business).
Foreigners and foreign businesses may be concerned about being taxed for using Singapore’s banking and fund management facilities. However, foreign income received in Singapore will only be taxable if the income belongs to an individual who is resident in Singapore or an entity which is located in Singapore. As such, non-resident individuals and foreign businesses which are not operating in or from Singapore can remit their foreign income to Singapore without being taxed on the income.
As mentioned above, foreign-sourced income may be taxed twice – once in the foreign jurisdiction and a second time in Singapore when it is remitted here. However, there are tax benefits available to alleviate the double taxation suffered.
A Singapore tax resident company is able to enjoy tax exemption on following specific foreign income that is remitted into Singapore under the foreign-sourced income exemption (FSIE) scheme:
- Foreign-sourced dividend
- Foreign branch profits
- Foreign-sourced service income
All three conditions have to be met for the tax exemption:
- The highest corporate tax rate (headline tax rate) of the foreign country from which the income is received is at least 15% at the time the foreign income is received in Singapore;
- The foreign income had been subjected to tax in the foreign jurisdiction from which they were received. The rate at which the foreign income was taxed can be different from the headline tax rate; and
- The Comptroller is satisfied that the tax exemption would be beneficial to the resident company.
Qualifying Conditions for Tax Exemption
To enjoy the tax exemption, you have to provide the following information in your Income Tax Return:
- Nature and amount of income received;
- Jurisdiction from which the income is received;
- Headline tax rate of the foreign jurisdiction; and
- Confirmation that foreign tax has been paid in the jurisdiction from which the income was received. This is to satisfy the “subject to tax” condition.
“Subject to Tax” Condition
In order to meet this condition, the specified foreign income received in Singapore must have been subject to tax in the foreign country from which the income is received. Foreign tax paid or payable on foreign-sourced dividend received in Singapore includes:
- the dividend tax, which is income tax levied on the dividend by the foreign country of source; and
- the underlying tax, which is income tax paid or payable by the dividend paying company on the income out of which the dividend is paid.
“Subject to tax” concession for substantive business activities
The Comptroller will regard the “subject to tax” condition as being met if the income is exempt from tax in the foreign jurisdiction due to tax incentive(s) granted for substantive business activities carried out in that jurisdiction. The following documents must be prepared and retained*:
- A declaration by the company that the foreign jurisdiction has exempted the foreign income from tax because of substantive business activities carried out by the company in that jurisdiction; and
- A copy of the tax incentive certificate/ approval letter issued by the foreign jurisdiction. In the case of a foreign-sourced dividend, a dividend voucher (if available) stating that the dividend is exempt from tax due to tax incentive granted to the payer company for carrying out substantive business activities in that foreign jurisdiction will be sufficient.
If above FSIE does not apply, Singapore resident companies may claim foreign tax credits on the foreign tax suffered against its Singapore tax payable to alleviate double taxation.
The following types of tax credits that may be claimed are:
- Unilateral tax credit (UTC) – This is for income remitted from countries which Singapore does not have a Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) with; or
- Double taxation relief (DTR) – This is for income remitted from countries which Singapore has a DTA with.
To make use of the low-tax regime of Singapore and to eliminate double taxation, incorporating a Singapore entity is the perfect choice.