Tax haven

There is no generally accepted definition of what a tax haven is, but activities that are commonly associated with such places range far beyond tax.

Some definitions do focus purely on tax: for example, a widely cited academic paper describes a tax haven as a jurisdiction where particular taxes, such as an inheritance tax or income tax, are levied at a low rate or not at all.[1] Other definitions refer to a state, country, or territory which maintains a system of financial secrecy, which enables foreign individuals to hide assets or income to avoid or reduce taxes in the home jurisdiction. Some refer to "secrecy jurisdictions" as an alternative to "tax havens," to emphasise the secrecy element, and a Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their size and secrecy. [2]

Earnings from income generated from real estate (i.e. by renting property owned in an offshore jurisdiction) can also be eliminated in this way. If taxes (if any) are paid in the tax haven jurisdiction, companies can avoid taxes in their home jurisdiction because the tax had already been paid in the lower tax rate jurisdiction. Some taxes (such as inheritance tax on the real estate, VAT on the initial purchase price of the real estate, or transfer tax, annual immovable property taxes, and municipal real estate taxes) cannot be avoided or reduced, as these are levied by the country the real estate where the property is located, and hence need to be paid just the same as any other resident of that country. The only thing that can be done is picking a country that has the smallest rates on these taxes (or even no such taxes at all) before buying any real estate.[3]

Individuals or corporate entities may establish shell subsidiaries or move themselves to areas with reduced or no taxation levels relative to typical international taxation. This creates a situation of tax competition among jurisdictions. Different jurisdictions may be havens for different types of taxes, and for different categories of people or companies.[4] Sovereign jurisdictions or self-governing territories under international law have the power to enact tax laws affecting their territories, unless limited by previous international treaties.

A 2012 report by the British Tax Justice Network estimated that between US$21 trillion and $32 trillion is sheltered from taxes in unreported tax havens worldwide.[5] If such wealth earns 3% annually and such capital gains were taxed at 30%, it would generate between $190 billion and $280 billion in tax revenues, more than any other tax shelter.[6] If such hidden offshore assets are considered, many countries with governments nominally in debt are shown to be net creditor nations.[7] However, despite being widely quoted, the methodology used in the calculations has been questioned,[8] and the tax policy director of the Chartered Institute of Taxation also expressed skepticism over the accuracy of the figures.[9] Another recent study estimated the amount of global offshore wealth at the smaller—but still sizable—figure of US$7.6 trillion. This estimate included financial assets only: "My method probably delivers a lower bound, in part because it only captures financial wealth and disregards real assets. After all, high-net-worth individuals can stash works of art, jewelry, and gold in 'freeports,' warehouses that serve as repositories for valuables—Geneva, Luxembourg, and Singapore all have them. High-net-worth individuals also own real estate in foreign countries."[10] A study of 60 large US companies found that they deposited $166 billion in offshore accounts during 2012, sheltering over 40% of their profits from U.S. taxes.[11]


A global map of tax havens, using the list in the proposed 2007 "Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act", US Congress. The US itself is often considered a tax haven[12][13][14]

There are several definitions of tax havens. In 2002 The Economist adopted the description by Geoffrey Colin Powell (former economic adviser to Jersey): "What ... identifies an area as a tax haven is the existence of a composite tax structure established deliberately to take advantage of, and exploit, a worldwide demand for opportunities to engage in tax avoidance." The Economist points out that this definition would still exclude a number of jurisdictions traditionally thought of as tax havens.[15] Similarly, an Australian journalist suggested that any country which modifies its tax laws to attract foreign capital could be considered a tax haven.[16]

According to other definitions,[17] the central feature of a haven is that its laws and other measures can be used to evade or avoid the tax laws or regulations of other jurisdictions. the U.S. Government Accountability Office in its December 2008 report on the use of tax havens by American corporations, was unable to find a satisfactory definition of a tax haven but regarded the following characteristics as indicative of it: no or nominal taxes; lack of effective exchange of tax information with foreign tax authorities; lack of transparency in the operation of legislative, legal or administrative provisions; no requirement for a substantive local presence; and self-promotion as an offshore financial center.[18]

As of February 2008 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identified three key factors in considering whether a jurisdiction is a tax haven:[19]

However, the OECD found that its definition caught certain aspects of its members' tax systems (some countries have low or zero taxes and ring fencing for certain favored groups). Its later work has focused on the single aspect of information exchange. This is generally thought to be an inadequate definition of a tax haven, but is politically expedient, because it includes the small tax havens (with little power in the international political arena) but exempts the powerful countries with tax haven aspects such as the US and UK.[20]

In deciding whether or not a jurisdiction is a tax haven, the first factor to look at is whether there are no or nominal taxes. If this is the case, the other two factors—whether or not there is an exchange of information and transparency—must be analyzed. Having no or nominal taxes is not sufficient, by itself, to characterize a jurisdiction as a tax haven. The OECD recognizes that every jurisdiction has a right to determine whether to impose direct taxes and, if so, to determine the appropriate tax rate.


Corporations, to avoid or reduce overall taxation may use multiple types of tax havens. Three types of tax haven types form a Dutch Sandwich:[21]

Large multinational corporations may have dozen of such entities in tax haven jurisdictions interacting with each other. Each haven can claim that it does not satisfy definitions that attempt to place all tax havens into a single class.[22] Even increased transparency may not change the effectiveness of corporate tax avoidance.


Capital held offshore

Global distribution
of net financial assets[23]
Individuals with
financial assets
Total liquid net
worth ($Tr.)
Amount of which
offshore ($Tr.)
> $30MM $16.7 $9.8
$5 – $30MM $10.7 $5.1
$1 – $5MM $17.4 $4.7
All > $1MM $44.8 $19.6
Rest < $1MM $10.3 $1.0
Total $55.1 $20.6

While incomplete, and with the limitations discussed below, the available statistics nonetheless indicate that offshore banking is a very sizable activity. The OECD estimated in 2007 that capital held offshore amounted to between $5 trillion and $7 trillion, making up approximately 6–8% of total global investments under management.[24]

A more recent study by Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics estimated the amount of global cross-border wealth held in tax havens (including the Netherlands and Luxembourg as tax havens for this purpose) at US$7.6 trillion, of which US$2.46 trillion was held in Switzerland alone.[10] The Tax Justice Network (an anti-tax haven pressure group) estimated in 2012 that capital held offshore amounted to between $21 trillion and $32 trillion (between 24-32% of total global investments),[25][26][27] although those estimates have been challenged.[8]

In 2000, the International Monetary Fund calculated based on Bank for International Settlements data that for selected offshore financial centres, on-balance sheet cross-border assets held in offshore financial centres reached a level of $4.6 trillion at the end of June 1999 (about 50 percent of total cross-border assets). Of that $4.6 trillion, $0.9 trillion was held in the Caribbean, $1 trillion in Asia, and most of the remaining $2.7 trillion accounted for by the major international finance centres (IFCs), namely London, the U.S. IBFs, and the Japanese offshore market.[28] The U.S. Department of Treasury estimated that in 2011 the Caribbean Banking Centers, which include Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Panama, held almost $2 trillion dollars in United States debt.[29] Of this, approximately US$1.4 trillion is estimated to be held in the Cayman Islands alone.[24]

The Wall Street Journal in a study of 60 large U.S. companies found that they deposited $166 billion in offshore accounts in 2012, sheltering over 40% of their profits from U.S. taxes.[11] Similarly, Desai, Foley and Hines in the Journal of Public Economics found that: "in 1999, 59% of U.S. firms with significant foreign operations had affiliates in tax haven countries", although they did not define "significant" for this purpose.[30] In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 83 of the 100 largest U.S. publicly traded corporations and 63 of the 100 largest contractors for the U.S. federal government were maintaining subsidiaries in countries generally considered havens for avoiding taxes. The GAO did not review the companies' transactions to independently verify that the subsidiaries helped the companies reduce their tax burden, but said only that historically the purpose of such subsidiaries is to cut tax costs.[31]

James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Company, in his report for the Tax Justice Network gives an indication of the amount of money that is sheltered by wealthy individuals in tax havens. The report estimated conservatively that a fortune of $21 trillion is stashed away in off-shore accounts with $9.8 trillion alone by the top tier—less than 100,000 people—who each own financial assets of $30 million or more. The report's author indicated that this hidden money results in a "huge" lost tax revenue—a "black hole" in the economy—and many countries would become creditors instead of being debtors if the money of their tax evaders would be taxed.[25][26][27]

Lost tax revenue

Poster issued by the British tax authorities to counter offshore tax evasion.

The Tax Justice Network estimated that global tax revenue lost in 2012 to tax havens is between US$190 billion and $255 billion per year, assuming a 3% capital gains rate, a 30% capital gains tax rate, and $21 trillion to $32 trillion hidden in tax havens worldwide.[6] The Zucman study uses different methodology, and estimates lost global tax revenue at US$190 billion.[10] If such hidden offshore assets are considered, many countries with governments nominally in debt are shown to be net creditor nations.[7]

In 2016 a massive data leak known as the "Panama Papers" cast some doubt on the size of previous estimates of lost revenue.[32]

However, the tax policy director of the Chartered Institute of Taxation expressed skepticism over the accuracy of the figures.[9] If true, those sums would amount to approximately 5 to 8 times the total amount of currency presently in circulation in the world. Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute says that the report also assumes, when considering notional lost tax revenue, that 100% money deposited offshore is evading payment of tax.[33]

In October 2009, research commissioned from Deloitte for the Foot Review of British Offshore Financial Centres said that much less tax had been lost to tax havens than previously had been thought. The report indicated "We estimate the total UK corporation tax potentially lost to avoidance activities to be up to £2 billion per annum, although it could be much lower." An earlier report by the U.K. Trades Union Congress, concluded that tax avoidance by the 50 largest companies in the FTSE 100 was depriving the UK Treasury of approximately £11.8 billion.[34] The report also stressed that British Crown Dependencies make a "significant contribution to the liquidity of the UK market". In the second quarter of 2009, they provided net funds to banks in the UK totaling $323 billion (£195 billion), of which $218 billion came from Jersey, $74 billion from Guernsey and $40 billion from the Isle of Man.[34]

The Tax Justice Network reports that this system is "basically designed and operated" by a group of highly paid specialists from the world’s largest private banks (led by UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs), law offices, and accounting firms and tolerated by international organizations such as Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD, and the G20. The amount of money hidden away has significantly increased since 2005, sharpening the divide between the super-rich and the rest of the world.[25][26][27]


The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research has suggested that roughly 15% of the countries in the world are tax havens, that these countries tend to be small and affluent, and that better governed and regulated countries are more likely to become tax havens, and are more likely to be successful if they become tax havens.[35]

Other sovereign countries that have such low tax rates and lax regulation that they can be considered semi-tax havens are:[37]

Non-sovereign jurisdictions commonly labelled as tax havens include:

Some tax havens, including some of the ones listed above, do charge income tax as well as other taxes such as capital gains tax, inheritance tax, and so forth. Criteria distinguishing a taxpayer from a non-taxpayer can include citizenship and residency and source of income. For example, in the United States foreign nonresidents are not charged various taxes[48] including income tax on interest on U.S. bank deposits by income tax; since the Clinton administration the IRS has proposed collecting information on these depositors to share with their home countries as a regulation; these regulations were eventually finalized in April 2012.[49]

In September 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron said "I do not think it is fair any longer to refer to any of the Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies as tax havens. They have taken action to make sure that they have fair and open tax systems. It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens."[50] Mr Cameron's comments were interpreted as a direct reference to Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, and followed a period of negotiations with those (and other) British territories during which those jurisdictions had made a number of concessions relating to tax transparency and sharing of information.[51] Anti-tax haven pressure groups immediately accused the Prime Minister of taking leave of his senses, and commenting sarcastically "It was Cameron's father's tax haven activities that are repotted [sic] to have paid for his Eton education. Was it ever realistic to think he'd change his spots?".[52]

Former tax havens


The advantages of tax havens can be viewed in the following four principal contexts:[56]

Personal residency

Since the early 20th century, wealthy individuals from high-tax jurisdictions have sought to relocate themselves in low-tax jurisdictions. In most countries in the world, residence is the primary basis of taxation—see tax residence. In some cases the low-tax jurisdictions levy no, or only very low, income tax. But almost no tax haven assesses any kind of capital gains tax, or inheritance tax. Individuals who are unable to return to a higher-tax country in which they used to reside for more than a few days a year are sometimes referred to as tax exiles.[56]

Corporate residency

Corporate persons, in contrast to natural persons, can own subsidiary corporations in many countries. That allows them to take advantage of the variety of laws, regulations, and conventions in multiple countries, without overtly engaging in any questionable activities. Only in extreme cases will they move their formal corporate headquarters.[57]

Asset holding

Asset holding involves utilizing an offshore trust or offshore company, or a trust owning a company. The company or trust will be formed in one tax haven, and will usually be administered and resident in another. The function is to hold assets, which may consist of a portfolio of investments under management, trading companies or groups, physical assets such as real estate or valuable chattels. The essence of such arrangements is that by changing the ownership of the assets into an entity which is not tax resident in the high-tax jurisdiction, they cease to be taxable in that jurisdiction.[56]

Often the mechanism is employed to avoid a specific tax. For example, a wealthy testator could transfer his house into an offshore company; he can then settle the shares of the company on trust (with himself being a trustee with another trustee, whilst holding the beneficial life estate) for himself for life, and then to his daughter. On his death, the shares will automatically vest in the daughter, who thereby acquires the house, without the house having to go through probate and being assessed with inheritance tax.[58] Most countries assess inheritance tax, and all other taxes, on real estate within their jurisdiction, regardless of the nationality of the owner, so this would not work with a house in most countries. It is more likely to be done with intangible assets.[56]

Trading and other business activity

Many businesses which do not require a specific geographical location or extensive labor are set up in tax havens, to minimize tax exposure. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the number of reinsurance companies which have migrated to Bermuda over the years. Other examples include internet based services and group finance companies. In the 1970s and 1980s corporate groups were known to form offshore entities for the purposes of "reinvoicing". These reinvoicing companies simply made a margin without performing any economic function, but as the margin arose in a tax free jurisdiction, it allowed the group to "skim" profits from the high-tax jurisdiction. Most sophisticated tax codes now prevent transfer pricing schemes of this nature.[56]

Financial intermediaries

Much of the economic activity in tax havens today consists of professional financial services such as mutual funds, banking, life insurance and pensions. Generally the funds are deposited with the intermediary in the low-tax jurisdiction, and the intermediary then on-lends or invests the money (often back into a high-tax jurisdiction). Although such systems do not normally avoid tax in the principal customer's jurisdiction, it enables financial service providers to provide multi-jurisdictional products without adding another layer of taxation. This has proved particularly successful in the area of offshore funds.It has been estimated over 75% of the world's hedge funds, probably the riskiest form of collective investment vehicle, are domiciled in the Cayman Islands, with nearly $1.1 trillion US Assets under management[59] although statistics in the hedge fund industry are notoriously speculative.

Anonymity and bearer shares

Bearer shares allow for anonymous ownership, and thus have been criticized for facilitating money laundering and tax evasion; these shares are also available in some OECD countries as well as in the U.S. state of Wyoming.[60]:7 In a 2010 study in which the researcher attempted to set-up anonymous corporations found that 13 of the 17 attempts were successful in OECD countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, while only 4 of 28 attempts were successful in countries typically labeled tax havens.[61] In 2011, an OECD peer review recommended that the United Kingdom improve its bearer share laws.[62]

In 2012 the Guardian wrote that there are 28 persons as directors for 21,500 companies.[63][64]

Money and exchange control

Most tax havens have a double monetary control system, which distinguish residents from non-resident as well as foreign currency from the domestic, the local currency one. In general, residents are subject to monetary controls, but not non-residents. A company, belonging to a non-resident, when trading overseas is seen as non-resident in terms of exchange control. It is possible for a foreigner to create a company in a tax haven to trade internationally; the company’s operations will not be subject to exchange controls as long as it uses foreign currency to trade outside the tax haven. Tax havens usually have currency easily convertible or linked to an easily convertible currency. Most are convertible to US dollars, euro or to pounds sterling.

Incentives for nations to become tax havens

There are several reasons for a nation to become a tax haven. Some nations may find they do not need to charge as much as some industrialized countries in order for them to be earning sufficient income for their annual budgets. Some may offer a lower tax rate to larger corporations, in exchange for the companies locating a division of their parent company in the host country and employing some of the local population. Other domiciles find this is a way to encourage conglomerates from industrialized nations to transfer needed skills to the local population.

Many industrialized countries claim that tax havens act unfairly by reducing tax revenue which would otherwise be theirs. Various pressure groups also claim that money launderers also use tax havens extensively,[65] although extensive financial and know your customer regulations in tax havens can actually make money laundering more difficult than in large onshore financial centers with significantly higher volumes of transactions, such as New York City or London.[66] In 2000, the Financial Action Task Force published what came to be known as the "FATF Blacklist" of countries which were perceived to be uncooperative in relation to money laundering; although several tax havens have appeared on the list from time to time (including key jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, Bahamas and Liechtenstein), no offshore jurisdictions appear on the list at this time.

Regulation measures

To avoid tax competition, many high tax jurisdictions have enacted legislation to counter the tax sheltering potential of tax havens. Generally, such legislation tends to operate in one of five ways:

  1. Attributing the income and gains of the company or trust in the tax haven to a taxpayer in the high-tax jurisdiction on an arising basis. Controlled Foreign Corporation legislation is an example of this.
  2. Transfer pricing rules, standardization of which has been greatly helped by the promulgation of OECD guidelines.
  3. Restrictions on deductibility, or imposition of a withholding tax when payments are made to offshore recipients.
  4. Taxation of receipts from the entity in the tax haven, sometimes enhanced by notional interest to reflect the element of deferred payment. The EU withholding tax is probably the best example of this.
  5. Exit charges, or taxing of unrealized capital gains when an individual, trust or company emigrates.

However, many jurisdictions employ blunter rules. For example, in France securities regulations are such that it is not possible to have a public bond issue through a company incorporated in a tax haven.[67]

Also becoming increasingly popular is "forced disclosure" of tax mitigation schemes. Broadly, these involve the revenue authorities compelling tax advisors to reveal details of the scheme, so that the loopholes can be closed during the following tax year, usually by one of the five methods indicated above.[68] Although not specifically aimed at tax havens, given that so many tax mitigation schemes involve the use of offshore structures, the effect is much the same.

Anti-avoidance came to prominence in 2010/2011 as nongovernmental organizations and politicians in the leading economies looked for ways of reducing tax avoidance, which plays a role in forcing unpopular cuts to social and military programs. The International Financial Centres Forum (IFC Forum), a trade organisation for companies located in the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, has asked for a balanced debate on the issue of tax avoidance and an understanding of the role that the tax neutrality of small international financial centres plays in the global economy.[69]

Modern developments

U.S. Legislation

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was passed by the US Congress to stop the outflow of money from the country into tax haven bank accounts. With the strong backing of the Obama Administration, Congress drafted the FATCA legislation and added it into the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE) signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.

FATCA requires foreign financial institutions (FFI) of broad scope – banks, stock brokers, hedge funds, pension funds, insurance companies, trusts – to report directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) all clients who are U.S. persons. Starting January 2014, FATCA requires FFIs to provide annual reports to the IRS on the name and address of each U.S. client, as well as the largest account balance in the year and total debits and credits of any account owned by a U.S. person.[70] If an institution does not comply, the U.S. will impose a 30% withholding tax on all its transactions concerning U.S. securities, including the proceeds of sale of securities.

In addition, FATCA requires any foreign company not listed on a stock exchange or any foreign partnership which has 10% U.S. ownership to report to the IRS the names and tax identification number (TIN) of any U.S. owner. FATCA also requires U.S. citizens and green card holders who have foreign financial assets in excess of $50,000 to complete a new Form 8938 to be filed with the 1040 tax return, starting with fiscal year 2010.[71] The delay is indicative of a controversy over the feasibility of implementing the legislation as evidenced in this paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.[72]

An unintended consequence of FATCA and its cost of compliance for non-US banks is that some non-US banks are refusing to serve American investors.[73] Concerns have also been expressed that, because FATCA operates by imposing withholding taxes on U.S. investments, this will drive foreign financial institutions (particularly hedge funds) away from investing in the U.S. and thereby reduce liquidity and capital inflows into the US.[74]

Bank data leak 2013

Details of thousands of owners of offshore companies were published in April 2013 in a joint collaboration between The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.[75] The data was later published on a publicly accessible website in an attempt to "crowd-source" the data.[76] The publication of the list appeared to be timed to coincide with the 2013 G8 summit chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron which emphasised tax evasion and transparency.

Liechtenstein banking scandal

Germany announced in February 2008 that it had paid €4.2 million to Heinrich Kieber,[77] a former data archivist of LGT Treuhand, a Liechtenstein bank, for a list of 1,250 customers of the bank and their accounts' details. Investigations and arrests followed relating to charges of illegal tax evasion. The German authorities shared the data with U.S. tax authorities, but the British government paid a further £100,000 for the same data.[78] Other governments, notably Denmark and Sweden, refused to pay for the information regarding it as stolen property.[79] The Liechtenstein authorities subsequently accused the German authorities of espionage.[80]

However, regardless of whether unlawful tax evasion was being engaged in, the incident has fuelled the perception among European governments and the press that tax havens provide facilities shrouded in secrecy designed to facilitate unlawful tax evasion, rather than legitimate tax planning and legal tax mitigation schemes. This in turn has led to a call for "crackdowns" on tax havens.[81] Whether the calls for such a crackdown are mere posturing or lead to more definitive activity by mainstream economies to restrict access to tax havens is yet to be seen. No definitive announcements or proposals have yet been made by the European Union or governments of the member states.

German legislation

Peer Steinbrück, the former German finance minister, announced in January 2009 a plan to amend fiscal laws. New regulations would disallow that payments to companies in certain countries that shield money from disclosure rules to be declared as operational expenses. The effect of this would make banking in such states unattractive and expensive.[82]

UK Foot report

In November 2009, Sir Michael Foot, a former Bank of England official and Bahamas bank inspector, delivered a report on the British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories for HM Treasury.[83] The report indicated that while many of the territories "had a good story to tell", others needed to improve their abilities to detect and prevent financial crime. The report also stressed the view that narrow tax bases presented long term strategic risks and that the economies should seek to diversify and broaden their tax bases.[84]

It indicated that tax revenue lost by the UK government appeared to be much smaller than had previously been estimated (see above under Lost tax revenue), and also stressed the importance of the liquidity provided by the territories to the United Kingdom. The Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories broadly welcomed the report.[84] The pressure group Tax Justice Network, unhappy with the findings, commented that "[a] weak man, born to be an apologist, has delivered a weak report."[85]

G20 tax haven blacklist

At the London G20 summit on 2 April 2009, G20 countries agreed to define a blacklist for tax havens, to be segmented according to a four-tier system, based on compliance with an "internationally agreed tax standard."[86] The list as per 2 April 2009 can be viewed on the OECD website.[87] The four tiers were:

  1. Those that have substantially implemented the standard (includes most countries but China still excludes Hong Kong and Macau).
  2. Tax havens that have committed to – but not yet fully implemented – the standard (includes Montserrat, Nauru, Niue, Panama, and Vanuatu)
  3. Financial centres that have committed to – but not yet fully implemented – the standard (includes Guatemala, Costa Rica and Uruguay).
  4. Those that have not committed to the standard (an empty category)

Those countries in the bottom tier were initially classified as being 'non-cooperative tax havens'. Uruguay was initially classified as being uncooperative. However, upon appeal the OECD stated that it did meet tax transparency rules and thus moved it up. The Philippines took steps to remove itself from the blacklist and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had suggested earlier that Malaysia should not be in the bottom tier.[88]

In April 2009 the OECD announced through its chief Angel Gurria that Costa Rica, Malaysia, the Philippines and Uruguay have been removed from the blacklist after they had made "a full commitment to exchange information to the OECD standards."[89] Despite calls from the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for Hong Kong and Macau to be included on the list separately from China, they are as yet not included independently, although it is expected that they will be added at a later date.[86]

Government response to the crackdown has been broadly supportive, although not universal.[90] Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has criticised the list, stating that it has "no credibility", for failing to include various states of the USA which provide incorporation infrastructure which are indistinguishable from the aspects of pure tax havens to which the G20 object.[91] As of 2012, 89 countries have implemented reforms sufficient to be listed on the OECD's white list.[92] According to Transparency International half of the least corrupted countries were tax havens.[93]


Tax havens have been criticized because they often result in the accumulation of idle cash[94] which is expensive and inefficient for companies to repatriate.[95] The tax shelter benefits result in a tax incidence disadvantaging the poor.[96] Many tax havens are thought to have connections to fraud, money laundering and terrorism.[97] While investigations of illegal tax haven abuse have been ongoing, there have been few convictions.[98][99] Lobbying pertaining to tax havens and associated transfer pricing has also been criticized.[100]

Some politicians, such as magistrate Eva Joly, have begun to stand up against the use of tax havens by large companies. She describes the act of avoiding tax as a threat to democracy.[101] Accountants' opinions on the propriety of tax havens have been evolving,[102] as have the opinions of their corporate users,[103] governments,[104][105] and politicians,[106][107] although their use by Fortune 500 companies[108] and others remains widespread.[109] Reform proposals centering on the Big Four accountancy firms have been advanced.[110] Some governments appear to be using computer spyware to scrutinize some corporations' finances.[111]

Effect of developing countries

Illicit capital flight from the developing world is estimated at ten times the size of aid it receives and twice the debt service it pays.[112] About 60 per cent of illicit capital flight from Africa is from transfer mispricing, where a subsidiary in a developing nation sells to another subsidiary or shell company in a tax haven at an artificially low price to pay less tax.[113] An African Union report estimates that about 30% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP has been moved to tax havens.[114] One tax analyst believes that if the money were paid, most of the continent would be "developed" by now.[115]


The use of differing tax laws between two or more countries to try to mitigate tax liability is probably as old as taxation itself. In Ancient Greece, some of the Greek Islands were used as depositories by the sea traders of the era to place their foreign goods to thus avoid the two-percent tax imposed by the city-state of Athens on imported goods. The practice may have first reached prominence through the avoidance of the Cinque Ports and later the staple ports in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries respectively. In 1721, American colonies traded from Latin America to avoid British taxes.

Various countries claim to be the oldest tax haven in the world. For example, the Channel Islands claim their tax independence dating as far back as Norman Conquest, while the Isle of Man claims to trace its fiscal independence to even earlier times. Nonetheless, the modern concept of a tax haven is generally accepted to have emerged at an uncertain point in the immediate aftermath of World War I.[116] Bermuda sometimes optimistically claims to have been the first tax haven based upon the creation of the first offshore companies legislation in 1935 by the newly created law firm of Conyers Dill & Pearman.[117] However, the Bermudian claim is debatable when compared against the enactment of a Trust Law by Liechtenstein in 1926 to attract offshore capital.[118]

Most economic commentators suggest that the first "true" tax haven was Switzerland, followed closely by Liechtenstein.[56] Swiss banks had long been a capital haven for people fleeing social upheaval in Russia, Germany, South America and elsewhere. However, in the early part of the twentieth century, during the years immediately following World War I, many European governments raised taxes sharply to help pay for reconstruction efforts following the devastation of World War I. By and large, Switzerland, having remained neutral during the Great War, avoided these additional infrastructure costs and was consequently able to maintain a low level of taxes. As a result, there was a considerable influx of capital into the country for tax related reasons. It is difficult, nonetheless, to pinpoint a single event or precise date which clearly identifies the emergence of the modern tax haven.

The use of modern tax havens has gone through several phases of development subsequent to the interwar period. From the 1920s to the 1950s, tax havens were usually referenced as the avoidance of personal taxation. The terminology was often used with reference to countries to which a person could retire and mitigate their post retirement tax position, a usage which was still being echoed to some degree in a 1990 report, which included indications of quality of life in various tax havens which future tax exiles may wish to consider.[119]

From the 1950s onward, there was significant growth in the use of tax havens by corporate groups to mitigate their global tax burden. The strategy generally relied upon there being a double taxation treaty between a large jurisdiction with a high tax burden (that the company would otherwise be subject to), and a smaller jurisdiction with a low tax burden. By structuring the group ownership through the smaller jurisdiction, corporations could take advantage of the double taxation treaty, paying taxes at the much lower rate. Although some of these double tax treaties survive,, for example between Barbados and Japan, between Cyprus and Russia and Mauritius with India, which India sought to renegotiate in 2007,[120] most major countries began repealing their double taxation treaties with micro-states in the 1970s, to prevent corporate tax leakage in this manner.

In the early to mid-1980s, most tax havens changed the focus of their legislation to create corporate vehicles which were "ring-fenced" and exempt from local taxation (although they usually could not trade locally either). These vehicles were usually called "exempt companies" or "international business corporations". However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the OECD began a series of initiatives aimed at tax havens to curb the abuse of what the OECD referred to as "unfair tax competition". Under pressure from the OECD, most major tax havens repealed their laws permitting these ring-fenced vehicles to be incorporated, but concurrently they amended their tax laws so that a company which did not actually trade within the jurisdiction would not accrue any local tax liability.[121]

See also

Further reading


  1. Dharmapala, Dhammika und Hines Jr., James R. (2006) Which Countries Become Tax Havens?
  2. Tax Justice Network (2015) Financial Secrecy Index
  3. Global Property Guide. "Belgium". Global Property Guide. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  4. Moran Harari, Markus Meinzer and Richard Murphy (October 2012) "Financial Secrecy, Banks and the Big 4 Firms of Accountants" Tax Justice Network
  5. "Tax havens: Super-rich 'hiding' at least $21tn". BBC News.
  6. 1 2 Tax Justice Network (22 July 2012) "Revealed: Global super-rich has at least $21 trillion hidden in secret tax havens"
  7. 1 2 Canadian Broadcasting Co. (22 July 2012) "Wealthy hiding $21 trillion in tax havens, report says"
  8. 1 2 Gordon, Richard; Morriss, Andrew (20 October 2013). "Moving Money: International Financial Flows, Taxes & Money Laundering". Hastings International and Comparative Law Review. 31 (1). Retrieved 13 June 2014. "such claims rest on poor data and analysis, and on mistakes about how financial transactions, international taxation, and anti-money laundering rules actually work" (abstract)
  9. 1 2 John Whiting, tax policy director at the Chartered Institute of Taxation commented "There clearly are some significant amounts hidden away, but if it really is that size what is being done with it all?" and "If the suggestion is that such amounts are actively hidden and never accessed, that seems odd - not least in terms of what the tax authorities are doing. In fact, the US, UK and German authorities are doing a lot", and noting that if the figures were accurate "you would expect the havens to be more conspicuously wealthy than they are". However, he also admitted that "I cannot disprove the figures at all, but they do seem staggering" "Tax havens: Super-rich 'hiding' at least $21tn". 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  10. 1 2 3 Zucman, Gabriel. "Taxing across Borders: Tracking Personal Wealth and Corporate Profits". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 28 (4): 121–148. doi:10.1257/jep.28.4.121. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  11. 1 2 Scott Thurm; Kate Linebaugh (March 10, 2013). "More U.S. Profits Parked Abroad, Saving on Taxes". Wall Street Journals. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  12. 1 2 Jesse Drucker (27 January 2016). "The World's Favorite New Tax Haven Is the United States".
  13. Wood, Robert W. (27 January 2016). "The World's Next Top Tax Haven Is...America". Forbes. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  14. Swanson, Ana (5 April 2016). "How the U.S. became one of the world's biggest tax havens". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  15. Doggart, Caroline. 2002. Tax Havens and Their Uses (originally published 1970), Economist Intelligence Unit, ISBN 0-86218-163-1
  16. Davidson, Sinclair (2007-10-15). "The Truth About Tax Havens". Melbourne: Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  17. tax justice network (28 December 2007). "The Truth About Tax Havens" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  18. "International Taxation: Large U.S. Corporations and Federal Contractors with Subsidiaries in Jurisdictions Listed as Tax Havens or Financial Privacy Jurisdictions GAO:GAO-09-157". Government Accountability Office. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  19. "Tax Haven Criteria". 26 February 2008. Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  20. Hay. "Towards a level playing field - regulating corporate vehicles in cross border transactions" (PDF).
  21. Jesse Drucker (2010): The Tax Haven that is Saving Google Billions; Bloomberg Business Week, 21 Oct. 2010.
  22. Gio Wiederhold (2013): Valuing Intellectual Capital, Multinationals and Taxhavens; Management for Professionals, Springer Verlag
  23. James S. Henry (2012):
  24. 1 2 "Places in the sun", The Economist, 22 February 2007. This may be a slight underestimate: according to the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, Caymanian licensed banks held US$1.725 trillion in deposits as of September 2011"Banking statistics". Retrieved 2013-02-14.
  25. 1 2 3 "13 trillion pounds in offshore tax havens: Report". The Times of India. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  26. 1 2 3 "Super rich hold $32 trillion in offshore havens". Reuters. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  27. 1 2 3 "Tax havens: Super-rich 'hiding' at least $21tn". BBC. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  28. "Offshore Financial Centers", International Monetary Fund background paper, 23 June 2000
  29. "U.S. Banking Liabilities to Foreigners.". Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  30. Desai, Foley and Hines, "The demand for tax haven operations", Journal of Public Economics 90 (2006), page 514.
  31. Carol D. Leonnig (16 January 2009). "Report Finds Major U.S. Companies Have Offshore Tax Havens". Washington Post.
  32. "David Cameron's Panama Papers Show How Little Offshore Tax Dodging Is Going On". Forbes. 10 April 2016. We’ve got evidence of offshore structures, most assuredly we have. But not only haven’t we got any evidence of tax dodging all the evidence we do have points to less tax dodging than many think.
  33. "Fighting Anti-Tax Haven Demagoguery on CNN". 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  34. 1 2 The Times (2009-10-30). "Tax haven report lays emphasis on vital role of Crown Dependencies". London. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  35. Working paper 12802, . The paper implicitly adopts the "smaller" tax haven approach, i.e., disregarding larger countries which have either low taxes rates (for example, Russia), or systems of taxation which permit them to be used to structure tax avoidance schemes (for example, the United Kingdom). It also excludes non-sovereign tax havens (for example, Delaware or Labuan).
  36. 1 2 Kevin S. Markle and Douglas A. Shakelford (2009): Do Multinationals or Domestic Firms Face higher Effective Tax Rates; University of North Carolina Univ., June 2009
  37. "Unite's Notes On The Front: Tax Haven Dictionary". 2013-05-27. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  38. "This Tax Haven Just Revised Its 2015 GDP up From 7.8% to 26.3%". Fortune. 2016-07-13. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  39. "Another big corporation is flagrantly dodging tax. This must be outlawed". The Guardian. 2015-11-24. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  40. "Ireland: The tax haven that dare not speak its name". counterpunch. 2016-01-12. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  41. Nicholas Shaxson (2011): Treasure Islands, Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World; The Bodley Head, London, 2011
  42. Dan Nakaso: U.S. tax shelter appears secure; San Jose Mercury News, 25 Dec. 2012, p.1,5
  43. "Top tax haven got more investment in 2013 than India and Brazil: U.N". Reuters. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  44. Guardian US interactive team. "China's princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven". the Guardian. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  45. William Brittain-Catlin (2005): Offshore – The Dark Side of the Global Economy; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
  46. Leslie Wayne (2012): How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven; The New York Times, 30 Jun.2012.
  47. Reuven S. Avi-Yonah (2012): Statement to Congress; University of Michigan School of Law, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, U.S. Congress, 20 Sep.2012.
  48. "Nonresident Aliens - Exclusions From Income".
  49. "Daily Tax Update - April 17, 2012: Final Regs Requiring Reporting of Bank Deposit Interest Paid to Non-Resident Aliens Issued". Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
  50. International Adviser (12 September 2013). "Jersey, Guernsey, IoM revel in Cameron's 'not tax havens' comments".BBC News (10 September 2013). "David Cameron: Crown dependency tax haven banner 'not fair'".
  51. BBC News (15 June 2013). "'Tax havens' agree to clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion".
  52. Tax Research UK (10 September 2013). "David Cameron takes leave of his senses as he declares the UK has no tax havens left".
  53. "Election Under Fire". Time Magazine. 1976-05-17. Retrieved 2006-12-23.
  54. "Vanuatu to ditch tax haven", Anthony Klan, The Australian, 6 May 2008
  55. Kambas, Michele. "Cyprus closes in on EU bailout, U-turn on levy". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  56. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Tolley's Offshore Service (2006), ISBN 1-4057-1568-5
  57. Reuven S. Avi-Yonah (2002): For Haven's Sake: Reflections on Inversion Transactions; University of Michigan Law School, Tax Notes, Vol.95 no.12, 17 June 2002.
  58. This is a simplistic example; in most sophisticated tax codes there are extensive provisions for catching "gifts" (such as a declaration of trust) made for a specified time preceding death.
  59. Institutional Investor, 15 May 2006
  60. Gravelle JG. (2013). Tax Havens: International Tax Avoidance and Evasion. CRS.
  61. Sharman JC. (2010). Shopping for Anonymous Shell Companies: An Audit Study of Anonymity and Crime in the International Financial System. Journal of Economic Perspectives.
  62. Bearer shares and delays blot UK record on information exchange. Tax Journal.
  63. HS 27.11.2012
  64. Leigh, David; Frayman, Harold; Ball, James (25 November 2012). "Offshore secrets revealed: the shadowy side of a booming industry". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  65. Such as ATTAC and the Tax Justice Network. See for example: Offshore watch
  66. See for example the views expressed in The Guardian in 2001.
  67. Companies incorporated in tax havens are often used as bond issuing vehicles in securitisations for tax reasons.
  68. "The United Kingdom is one country that has strict forced disclosure rules". 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  69. "Statement on tax avoidance debate. IFC Forum" (PDF). Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  70. U.S. Internal Revenue Service (2011-07-14). "Treasury and IRS Issue Guidance Outlining Phased Implementation of FATCA Beginning in 2013". Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  71. "For most individual taxpayers, this means they will start filing Form 8938 with their 2011 income tax return to be filed this coming tax filing season."U.S. Internal Revenue Service (2012-01-25). "Do I need to file Form 8938, "Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets"?". Retrieved 2012-07-03.
  72. "Gary Clyde Hufbauer: The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act: Imperial Overreach". 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  73. Spiegel Online (2011-12-14). "European banks stop serving American customers". Retrieved 2011-21-31. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  74. "Another approach would involve some global funds avoiding American assets entirely. That can hardly be what Congress had in mind." The Economist (2011-11-26). "Scratched by the FATCA". Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  75. Yahoo! News (2013-04-05). "Tax haven data leak names names, raises questions".
  76. The Guardian (2013-06-15). "Offshore Leaks app puts secret users of tax havens in the public eye".
  77. Mr Kieber seems to be an unlikely hero for law enforcement authorities. A convicted fraudster, reports indicate that after initially stealing the information, he blackmailed the Liechtenstein authorities into reducing and dropping criminal charges against him relating to property fraud in Spain. However, before returning the disks he made copies which he later sold to foreign governments after he left the country. Further reports indicate that he now lives under a new name in Australia.
  78. Nick Mathiason. "A journey from haven to hell". the Guardian. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  79. Denmark's tax minister, Kristian Jensen, said: "I think it's a moral problem to reward a criminal for some information that he stole... I don't like this and I don't think this ethic is the best way to ensure that taxes are paid correctly."
  80. Harry de Quetteville 12:01AM GMT 20 Feb 2008 (2008-02-20). "''The Daily Telegraph'', 26 February 2008". London: Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  81. "Germany to call for tax haven crackdown". Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  82. Der Spiegel (2009-01-17). "Steinbrück forciert Kampf gegen Steuerparadiese" (in German). Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  83. "Michael Foot publishes final report". HM Treasury. 2009-10-29. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
  84. 1 2 "Governor and Premier Welcome Michael Foot Review Conclusions". 2009-10-30. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  85. "The Foot Report: a setback". Tax Justice Network. 2009-10-29. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
  86. 1 2 G20 declares door shut on tax havens, The Guardian, 2 April 2009
  87. "OECD List as per 2009-04-02" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  88. "OECD names and shames tax havens". BBC News. 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
  89. BBC (2009-04-07). "OECD removes tax havens from list". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
  90. Butler, Eamonn (2009-04-12). "Save the tax havens – we need them". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
  91. Clark, Andrew (2009-04-10). "Welcome to tax-dodge city, USA". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
  92. "Tax haven clampdown yields cash but secrecy still thrives." Reuters, 26 July 2012.
  93. Transparency – Hyvät veljet kahvilla Voima April 2013
  94. "Idle cash piles up: David Cay Johnston" Reuters, 16 July 2013
  95. "Repatriating Offshore Funds" U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 11 October 2011
  96. "Picking Up the Tab" U.S. Public Interest Research Group, April 2012
  97. "These Islands Aren’t Just a Shelter From Taxes" New York Times, 5 May 2012
  98. "Super Rich Tax Cheats" American News Project, 8 January 2009
  99. "'A green light to tax evasion': Super-rich tax dodgers given immunity from prosecution" Daily Mirror, 3 November 2012
  100. "If you want to know who’s really keeping billions in poverty, then the answer is the partners in the Big 4 firms of accountants" Tax Justice Network, 5 April 2012
  101. "Tax Free documentary by Marije Meerman". 2009-10-25. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  102. "Tax avoidance: fair or foul?" Accountancy Age Debates, 14 January 2013
  103. "Google will not oppose clampdown on tax avoidance, chairman says" Guardian, 28 January 2013
  104. "Tax avoidance isn't a left or right issue, it's a cancer eating our democracy" New Statesman, 21 June 2012
  105. "Helsinki Boycotts Tax Havens", Inter Press Service, 6 October 2012
  106. "David Cameron: Tax avoiding foreign firms like Starbucks and Amazon lack 'moral scruples'" The Telegraph, 4 January 2013
  107. "Germany's Merkel calls for G8 fight against tax havens" Reuters, 13 February 2013
  108. "Which Fortune 500 Companies Are Sheltering Income in Overseas Tax Havens?" Citizens for Tax Justice, 17 October 2012
  109. "Speaker Biographies" Networking Seminars, February 2013
  110. "Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four" The Guardian, 10 December 2012
  111. "Did the Bounds of Cyber War Just Expand to Banks and Neutral States?" The Atlantic, 17 August 2012
  112. Kristina Froberg and Attiya Waris (2011). "Introduction". Bringing the billions back: How Africa and Europe can end illicit capital flight (PDF). Stockholm: Forum Syd Forlag. ISBN 9789189542594. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  113. Sharife, Khadija (18 June 2011). "='Transparency' hides Zambia's lost billions". Al-Jazeera. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  114. Mathiason, Nick (21 January 2007). "Western bankers and lawyers 'rob Africa of $150bn every year'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  115. "Africa losing billions in tax evasion". 16 January 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  116. "[T]he tax haven is a creature of the twentieth century, and began to be used extensively because of the high levels of tax which prevailed after the First World War" at para 26.1, Tolley's International Tax Planning (2002), ISBN 0-7545-1339-4
  117. See generally Introduction to Tolley's International Initiatives Affecting Financial Havens (2001), ISBN 0-406-94264-1
  118. The Personen- und Gesellschaftsrecht of 20 January 1926
  119. Tax Havens and Their Uses, The Economist,1990, Special Report No. 1191, ISBN 0 85058 292 X.
  120. Sidhartha India to push for change in tax treaty with Mauritius times of india, 6 January 2007,
  121. For example, the British Virgin Islands repealed the International Business Companies Act (Cap 291) (which had prohibited such companies from trading locally) and enacted the BVI Business Companies Act 2004 (which permitted this) in its place. Contemporaneously it varied its tax laws by amending the Income Tax Act (Cap 206), which amended the rate of income tax for individuals and corporations to zero, along with the Payroll Taxes Act 2004 which imposed a (new) payroll tax on person employed by businesses within the British Virgin Islands.

Further reading

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