Thursday, April 28, 2016

What They Are And Who Goes There

This article was originally on at: 10 Tax Havens In The World - What They Are And Who Goes There

Almost every country in the world, including Singapore, subjects its residents to taxes. The question has always been how high or how low the tax rates are for the particular year. If you’ve been following the news on the Panama Papers, then you would know that some of the wealthiest people in the world are being suspected of not paying these taxes, all in the name of preserving their wealth.

On one hand there are countries with the highest personal income tax rates in the world and then there are countries with the lowest personal income tax rates. But tax havens are a whole new ball game altogether. We at are going to try our best to shed some light on this topic.

What Is A Tax Haven?

A tax haven is basically a country with a very low tax rate which sometimes even reaches 0%.

Remember that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where they stashed a few hundred million dollars in cash in Switzerland? That was no coincidence.

Nations like Switzerland and Luxembourg, were once considered tax havens.

For Switzerland, this changed in 2014 when they were forced to close their tax loopholes.

Currently, these 10 countries are considered to be tax havens - and it's not so easy to become a resident in any of them!

1. Brunei Darussalam

To be considered as a resident in Brunei Darussalam, you have to reside there for 183 days or more within the tax year.

2. Anguilla

To be considered as a resident in Anguilla, you must have been legally residing in Anguilla for 7 or more years.

3. British Virgin Islands

To be entitled to no tax at the British Virgin Islands, you have to apply for rights to reside long term because of either local employment or self-employment, or if you are starting a business.

4. The Bahamas

There are many criteria which enable you to apply for residency in The Bahamas. One common way is for financially independent individuals or investors to be legitimate owners of a residence in The Bahamas. According to their Ministry of Finance website, those who purchase a residence for BS$1.5 million or more will get speedy consideration!

5. Panama

In Panama, you have to obtain a Temporary Permit before obtaining a Permanent Residency Permit. Once you have the residency permit, you have to reside in Panama for at least 5 years before you can apply for Panama Citizenship.

6. United Arab Emirates

To be a resident of the United Arab Emirates, you have to apply for a residency visa, which has a 2 year validity period. During the 2 years, you must enter the country once every 6 months.

7. Cayman Islands

To be a resident in Cayman Islands, you have to have been living there legally for at least 8 years.

8. Bermuda

Before applying to be a resident in Bermuda, you have to have been living there for at least 10 years, among other requirements.

9. Island Of Sark

To be a resident on the Island of Sark, you must live with a an existing Island of Sark resident.

10. Monaco

In Monaco, you have to go through certain processes that will take about 12 years before you can apply for a privileged residence card, which is valid for 10 years. Upon obtaining this privileged card, you have to spend at least 6 months and one day in Monaco every year.

Who Goes To Tax Havens?

Most of the time, those who are interested in these countries are people or businesses with large amounts of money who want to escape the high tax rates back at home. Wealthy people mostly find themselves stowing away their cash in these countries.

For example, British Formula One drivers, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton both reside in Monaco. Instead of having to pay the usual United Kingdom income tax rate of 45%, because they are domiciled in Monaco, they are not required to pay taxes.

However, to move your money to these tax havens, is no simple feat. You have to be able to legally set up a corporate structure within the tax haven country, or be domiciled in that particular country.

These processes though, are not that simple. There is a lot more that goes into setting up a corporate company in these tax havens than meets the eye.

Is Singapore A Tax Haven?

The answer to that is, somewhat. Look at it this way, a tax haven is defined as a country with a low or no tax rate.

In Singapore, those who earn within the highest tax income bracket, or above S$320,000 per year are only taxed 20%, which is significantly lower that most other developing countries like the U.S. (income tax rate of 55.9%) or the United Kingdom (income tax rate of 45%).

Singapore also has a low corporate tax rate and doesn’t put a levy on capital gains. So when you take this combination and put it together, it’s easy for the people earning above S$320,000 per year, to think of Singapore as a tax haven.

However, since the UBS tax evasion case which occurred last month, the U.S. has been paying close attention to Singapore’s bank secrecy laws.

But while the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is clamping down on countries that remotely resemble a tax haven, they seem to have forgotten a haven of their own - the state of Delaware, which is home to no less than 285,000 businesses that are looking for a place to hide from tax rates.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Singapore Airlines: Blazing a Trail With Commitment To Excellence

Imagine a world that combines incomparable exclusivity, innovation and style; interiors designed by James Park Associates of Orient-Express fame, luxe linens by French fashion house Givenchy and decadent powder room amenities from L’Occitane en Provence. Sounds like you’ve just entered a 5-star hotel or villa, right? Think again. This is the new First Class luxury experience from Singapore Airlines, where little expense has been spared to ensure travelers enjoy a restful and memorable in-flight journey.

Having come a long way since their founding as a regional airline in 1972, Singapore Airlines enjoys status as one of the most respected travel brands around the world with destinations spanning six continents and a reputation as an industry trendsetter. Ever striving to provide and improve upon already high standards of care and service that customers have come to expect, Singapore Airlines raises the bar even higher with upgraded First Class travel on all B777-300ER aircraft. More than ever before, passengers are indulged in the finest air traveling experience in the world.

Personally handpicked to redesign the first class experience to meet modern expectations of flying, renowned hotel and transport interiors designers, James Park Associates, met the challenge to create a first class cabin that exudes sleek styling as well as a calming mix of pure forms to strike a balance between contemporary chic and traditional comfort. Based in London and Singapore, James Park Associates is the creative talent behind such iconic hospitality projects including St. Regis Hotel & Residences in Jakarta, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai and The Pierre in New York City.

Exquisitely upholstered with light tan and acorn leather, each seating area is finished with mahogany wood trimming and leather stitch lines to bring out the look and feel of classic high-end furnishings. The color scheme is warm and rich, a perfect complement to the most spacious seat in the sky, as passengers luxuriate in just 8 stately First Class seats per cabin; providing customers with enhanced privacy, personal attention, unparalleled convenience and state-of-the-art entertainment and technology.  Whether working, dining or relaxing, First Class travelers are free to go about their in-flight activities in any preferred posture, just as they would at home. Do you sleep on your back, your side or on your stomach? On Singapore Airlines it doesn’t matter as by night, each seat converts into a generous full-flat bed so that you have the choice to rest in your most natural sleeping position. An exclusive turn-down service transforms each seat into a heavenly oasis with luxurious soft furnishings including down filled-mattress, duvet and pillow designed exclusively for Singapore Airlines by Givenchy; the legendary fashion house that dressed many of the world’s most famous women including Lauren Bacall, Princess Grace of Monaco and Audrey Hepburn.

Your utmost privacy is paramount, so each seat is designed with a fixed back shell that extends to the sides of the seat. To lessen multiple visits to the restroom, a personal vanity area has been added to each seat to enable customers to freshen up without getting up. To create more headroom, overhead stowage space is removed and relocated to space under an ottoman designed to accommodate a standard cabin bag and equipped with a light for easy viewing. Other conveniences include storage space for gloves, wallets and books and magazines. First Class customers on selected long-haul flights receive a stylish Givenchy sleeper suit and suede slippers to lounge in comfort while onboard.

Onboard each Airbus A 380, an exclusive collection of just 12 ‘SkySuites’ has been created for the distinguished few. Transforming into a flat bed at the touch of a button, an air mattress in the cushion inflates to even out gaps in the cushion’s contouring to ensure the customer is fully supported. Little touches make all the difference and include a stationary drawer containing writing paper, postcards, envelopes and pens; a personal coat closet with wardrobe lights, a sleek 23-inch LCD screen and adjustable reading and dining lights. A brand new product for the airlines, the hallmarks of each SkySuite is sophistication, luxury and comfort as each private suite is appointed with sliding doors and self-adjustable roller-blinds, so the customer can have control over his or her level of privacy. Each suite is outfitted with an artisan crafted leather chair, upholstered by world-renowned upholsterer Poltrona Frau, one of the most famous ‘Made in Italy’ brands since 1912.

In their Singapore hub, First Class service begins on the ground, where passengers enjoy a level of service previously found only in the best hotels. Pamper yourself with a relaxed curbside greeting and premium check-in reception at Changi Airport where a team of senior passenger-relations officers meet you upon arrival to assist with check-in formalities. Elegantly appointed, the First Class check-in lounge is detailed with marble, wood panels and embossed leather.

Created to reflect the best in dining trends across the world, their First Class inflight dining service features an exquisite menu created by an International Culinary Panel where every meal is complemented by a selection of fine wines and Champagne hand selected by the their very own panel of wine experts. Expect a culinary feast, for both eyes and palate, as tantalizing signature dishes are designed to delight even the most discerning taste buds.

Comprised of award-winning chefs from the culinary capitals of the world, the International Culinary Panel was formed in 1998 to work with the airline’s own chefs to help create the most innovative menu found in the air. The panel consists of eight specialists from France, Singapore, the USA, India, Japan and China. To enrich the Chinese food selection onboard, Chef Sam Leong from Singapore is renowned for his ability to give Chinese cuisine a modern touch with the use of Western and Asian spices. He has received numerous accolades that include a number of World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence. Sanjeev Kapoor is an internationally recognized chef, TV host, author of many best selling books, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards whose innovations in Indian cuisine have made him a household name in India and abroad. Known for her inventive and distinctly Californian style with preparations rooted in classic culinary traditions, Suzanne Goin is the chef and restaurateur of three award-winning restaurants including Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern. One of the very few chefs able to discuss Japanese cuisine from a global perspective, Yoshihiro Murata’s creations are famed for their subtle French accent. His restaurant, Kikunoi, which has branches in Kyoto and Tokyo, was awarded three Michelin stars in 2010.

With the help of this expert team, customers can look forward to an exquisite dining experience. Little perks help make you feel like you’re in a world-class hotel instead of on an airplane. On flights of four hours or more, you have the flexibility to dine whenever you prefer, to select or skip courses as you wish. As part of their World Gourmet Cuisine selection, travelers have the option of pre-selecting a main course dish of their choice from the  ‘Book the Cook’ service available on all flights departing from Singapore and selected flights arriving into Singapore. Mouth-watering dishes include the Warm Cajun Spiced Prawns with baby romaine salad, smoked scarmoza cheese and ranch dressing, Seared Lamb Loin with salsa verde, Lyonnaise onion, aioli and bacon and Boston Lobster Thermidor sautéed in butter, flambéed in brandy, sprinkled with cheese and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, garlic and spicy mustard and buttered asparagus. All meals are served on Givenchy-designed fine bone china and glassware. In addition, unique Asian culinary offerings ranging from Kyo-Kaiseki and Shahi Thali to the popular Singaporean ‘Singapore Chicken Rice’ are presented in service ware specially designed to enhance the authenticity of these dishes.

For grazers, an array of savory and sweet items including freshly baked cookies, Asian noodles and fresh fruit are available to snack on at anytime. A wide range of gourmet bread rolls including ciabatta, focaccia, sesame seed Kaiser rolls and kalamata olive bread are accompanied by four flavors of extra virgin olive oil including extra virgin, balsamic vinegar, truffle and basil. For coffee aficionados, enjoy a wide selection of international offerings from Brazil, Colombia, Kenya and Jamaica.

Selected by some of the world’s most sought after palates and celebrated masters in their field, customers on Singapore Airlines enjoy wines from the very best vineyards. Sourced from many of the globe’s most famous wine regions, the airline conducts two formal tastings annually in Singapore where up to 1,000 bottles of red and white wine, Champagne and Port are sampled by expert consultants in blind tastings with concealed bottle labels. Wines are judged on appearance (color and clarity), bouquet (smell) and palate (taste). Wines are also assessed on their ability for drinking on board an aircraft where the atmosphere tends to be dryer.

Imagine being one of three world-renowned wine experts that make up the airline’s expert panel; committed to ensuring only the very best is served on board. Michael Hill-Smith is a wine consultant, wine judge, writer and commentator. In 1988, he became the first Australian to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination and won the Madame Bollinger Tasting Medal that same year. He established the highly rated ‘Shaw and Smith’ winery with his cousin Martin Shaw in the Adelaide Hills in 1989. As the current Australian Regional Chairman for the Decanter World Wine Awards, Smith has extensive tasting experience in numerous international and Australian wine shows.

Jeannie Cho Lee is the first Asian to be awarded the title ‘Master of Wine’. She is a wine critic, judge, educator and the award-winning author of Asian Palate. Her book won the Gourmand award for Best Food and Wine Pairing Book in the World and was shortlisted for the UK’s prestigious Andre Simon award. She is a consultant for Galaxy Macau and in 2009 was awarded the Vinitaly International Award for her contributions to the wine industry by the organizers of Vinitaly, the largest wine trade fair in the world. Originally from London, Steven Spurrier is a leading authority and author on wine. His illustrious career includes founding the first Paris wine school, L’Academie du Vin. He created and manages the Christie’s Wine Course and is Consulting Editor for Decanter Magazine. In 2011, he was inducted into the Wine Media Guild of New York’s prestigious Wine Writers’ Hall of Fame in recognition of his achievements as a wine author, journalist and educator. He has contributed to Singapore Airlines as a wine consultant for over two decades.

Acting upon the panel’s advice, Singapore Airlines stocks up reserves for serving in the future. Their favored Champagnes include Dom Perignon and Krug Grande Cuvée. Specially featured wines include Grand Cru Red Burgundy from France, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Second Growth Red Bordeaux. To aid in the overall experience, the cabin crew are also taught the essentials of wine appreciation during their initial training, including how and where different wines are produced as well as the unique characteristics of different wines. Those interested in acquiring more wine knowledge may progress to advanced courses conducted by wine professionals. And to top it all off in keeping with their tradition of excellence, Singapore Airlines is an Approved Programme Provider for the UK’s Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Intermediate and Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits. Selected crew with the necessary certification may go on to become Singapore Airlines Air Sommeliers, providing professional wine service to customers and promoting wine knowledge amongst fellow crew members to ensure a well rounded experience for all onboard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

If You Run an SME, Here Are the Most Important Elements of Budget 2016

Did you know I have something in common with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and his predecessor Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam? We all wear glasses. And while the three of us might be literally short-sighted, there’s nothing short-sighted about the government’s consistent commitment to business growth in Singapore.

And the maiden Budget speech that Mr Heng gave last month echoed the Budget speeches of his predecessor DPM Tharman, in that he continues to recognise the importance of supporting small and medium enterprises in Singapore. Measures to strengthen local industries, such as the creation of new industrial spaces to cluster companies within the same industry and support to Trade Associations and Chambers to strengthen their capabilities and drive industry-wide solutions to common challenges were announced.

SMEs stand to benefit from having greater industry support as well as a more competitive industry. SMEs also enjoy financial support from a wide range of measures such as grants and tax rebates. But too often, it’s not clear what measures are available for businesses, or whether you’re eligible for them. Well, we’ve done the legwork for you. Regardless of where your company is on your enterprise journey, here is what Budget 2016 has for you:

1.      What Budget 2016 means to fresh start-ups

The first step to getting help is knowing what help is actually available. Mr Heng admitted that although there’s a range of incentives schemes, some firms may often be confused as to which applies to them, or which agency is relevant to their interests.

Hopefully, this problem will be solved with a new Business Grants Portal, expected in the fourth quarter of 2016, as a centralised source of information on all grants available from government agencies. Through the Portal, SMEs should be better equipped to tap on the various financial aid available at different stages of their development.

In addition to the grants, the government is introducing an SME Working Capital Loan scheme for an initial period of 3 years, which lends up to $300,000 for each SME. This is especially useful for an SME starting out, when cashflow issues are a major problem. The government will co-share half of the default risk with participating financial institutions. This announcement comes on the heels of DBS’s announcement that they are the first bank in Singapore to offer SMEs bridging loans, which are collateral-free and have preferential interest rates.

However, start-ups also need to be aware that the cash payout rate under the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme will be reduced from 60% to 40% for expenditures incurred on or after 1 August 2016, and the PIC scheme will expire after the Year of Assessment 2018. According to Mr Heng, this move is to shift away from broad-based support to more targeted measures. The implication is clear – firms cannot just do their own thing and expect the government to subsidise you. If you want state aid, you’re going to have to move in the same direction that the most competitive firms are going. Ultimately, however, this stands to benefit the company as it is somewhat of a partnership towards improving the performance of the company overall.

2.     What Budget 2016 means to start-ups looking to grow and scale-up

“Increase productivity, scale up and internationalise” became quite the catchphrase for Mr Heng during his Budget speech. But he’s also putting his money where his mouth is – literally, and most of the announcements will benefit companies looking to scale up in the next few years.

It’s 2016, we’re a year AFTER the future in Back to the Future, and Mr Heng knows it. Recognising that companies will only move towards automation if there are subsidies behind it, he has announced a new Automation Support Package. This is a combination of measures that includes a grant of up to $1 million that funds up to 50% of the automation project costs, a 100% Investment Allowance for approved capital expenditure, better access to loans for qualifying projects by SMEs, and assistance for such firms to enter overseas markets.

Needless to say, if your firm can take advantage of this Automation Support Package, you should. It’s expected to provide support of over $400 million over the next 3 years.

If your company is not thinking of automation but looking at growing the business at this point, there are other avenues to support you in your endeavour. First, Mr Heng announced that another $50 million has been added to the SME Mezzanine Growth Fund, bringing it to $150 million. Introduced in Budget 2014 to help SMEs obtain more flexible funding, the additional funding will provide more capital to support SMEs in growing their business locally and internationally.

Second, SMEs seeking opportunity to grow via acquisitions can also get more support for their mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deals. The value of qualifying deals eligible for M&A allowance has been raised from $20 million to $40 million. This means that companies can now enjoy up to $10 million of M&A tax allowances per Year of Assessment (25% of the value of the deal) instead of $5 million. This move will hopefully encourage larger SMEs to cast the net wider when looking to acquire other companies with the higher tax savings.

There’s also good news in the form of an increased Corporate Income Tax rebate, from 30% to 50% of tax payable with a cap of $20,000 rebate per year for the Years of Assessment 2016 and 2017. With this increased Corporate Income Tax rebate, grants and a slew of other ways to manage the tax costs such as through tax deductions and allowances, a smart SME owner has the opportunity to sit down and think through how the company can maximise the value from these measures. With the additional cash flow from the tax savings, you can use it to fund your business expansion plan.

In addition, the Special Employment Credit scheme has been adjusted and extended for another three years. This extension will help to defray the costs of hiring workers aged 55 and above and paid up to $4,000 a month. In fact, companies hiring Singaporeans aged 65 and above can currently have their wage costs be defrayed by up to 11% of their monthly wage till the re-employment age is raised in 2017. If you are scaling up your business and the work can be performed by older workers, there really is no reason not to give this a shot. Not only will you be able to leverage on their rich work experience, you can also keep your cost down even as you grow your business.

3.     What Budget 2016 means for companies looking to go international

Once your business has reached a certain level in Singapore, it’s time to look to expansion overseas where the markets are significantly larger. To that end, Mr Heng also announced several measures to help. Some initiatives such as the Global Company Partnership and Market Readiness Assistance programmes can help to prepare SMEs for what might seem like a daunting and costly task, reducing the perceived risks companies might envision before taking a jump overseas.

Speaking of taxes, the Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation has been extended by another four years to 31 March 2020. This allowed companies to claim 200% tax deduction on items like airfare, hotel accommodation for overseas business development and investment study trips, and even salaries of Singaporeans posted overseas.

So no matter what stage your company is at, Budget 2016 has something for you. Seen in the light of existing schemes and programmes from previous Budget announcements, it’s clear that there is now a specific direction that the government is encouraging firms of all sizes to move towards – towards greater innovation, internationalisation, and enterprise. SMEs should take advantage of this to restructure accordingly and maximise the benefits available to them.

Are you an SME owner? What do these announcements mean for you? We want to hear your thoughts.