Cyprus: The Private Wealth & Private Client Review - Nov 20, 2017

Last Updated: 24 November 2017
Article by Elias Neocleous and Philippos Aristotelous
Most Read Contributor in Cyprus, September 2018

INTRODUCTION

Despite being among the smallest countries in terms of area and population, Cyprus has developed into one of the world's most important financial and business centres. It has numerous advantages, including a strategic location, membership of the EU and the eurozone, a mature and transparent legal system, world-class professional and financial services and a modern, business-friendly tax regime, which offers attractive planning opportunities.

During the years following perestroika, Cyprus developed into the portal of choice for investment from the West into the rapidly developing economies of Russia and central and eastern Europe. Even the largest Russian and eastern European companies have a substantial degree of owner involvement, and high net worth individuals from the region have found Cyprus an excellent location for their personal financial affairs. In 1992 Cyprus enacted the International Trusts Law, which gave investors from overseas formidable asset protection and tax mitigation opportunities and allowed individuals from jurisdictions with forced heirship regimes effectively to regain testamentary freedom.

The links between eastern Europe and Cyprus extend beyond finance. Both share a common Orthodox religious culture and Cyprus is home to tens of thousands of Russians and eastern Europeans.

Today, Cyprus is a low-tax jurisdiction with a modern tax regime and an extensive network of double taxation treaties, allowing effective tax planning. All forms of succession taxes were abolished in 2000. It has world-class professional and financial services and a robust legal infrastructure founded on common law. It enjoys an excellent climate and a high standard of living, and its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa gives it a cosmopolitan atmosphere. While Russia and central and eastern Europe remain the key markets for Cyprus, China, India and the Middle East are also significant. The island is home to a large number of extremely wealthy individuals and the financial base for many thousands of non-residents.

TAX

i Introduction

Cyprus offers a benign personal tax system, with generous allowances and a top rate of 35 per cent on taxable income in excess of €60,000. Passive interest and dividends are exempt from income tax. A special defence contribution (SDC) tax is payable on interest, dividends and rents received by individuals if they are both resident and domiciled in Cyprus (see below); individuals who are resident but not domiciled in Cyprus are not liable to SDC. There are no succession taxes and all capital gains apart from those deriving from the disposal of real estate located in Cyprus are exempt from taxation.

ii Personal income tax

The tax year is the calendar year and individuals are considered to be resident if they are present in Cyprus for more than 183 days in the relevant year. Cyprus residents are taxed on the basis of worldwide income, irrespective of whether it is remitted to Cyprus. Husbands and wives are taxed separately. Persons who are not resident in Cyprus are subject to income tax on income accruing or arising from sources in Cyprus. come tax rates are as follows:

Relief is given for donations to approved charities, professional and trade union subscriptions, life insurance premiums and contributions to pension, social insurance and welfare funds. Relief may also be available under a double taxation treaty.

Resident expatriate employees or secondees are subject to income tax on their worldwide income at the rates shown in the table above.

For tax years up to and including 2014, individuals becoming tax-resident and taking up employment in Cyprus were entitled to an exemption of 20 per cent of their annual income from employment in Cyprus for the first three years of residence. The exemption was limited to €8,550 per annum. With effect from the 2015 tax year, the exemption will be extended to five years, but it will be available only until the year 2020.

In 2012, an alternative exemption was introduced for highly paid individuals, exempting 50 per cent of the first five years' income from employment in Cyprus of a person who was not previously resident in Cyprus, provided the income from employment in Cyprus exceeds €100,000 per annum. With effect from the 2015 tax year, the exemption period of five years was extended to 10 years. In respect of employments beginning on or after 1 January 2015, the exemption is not available to anyone who was resident in Cyprus in any three of the five tax years preceding the year in which the employment in Cyprus began, or to anyone who was resident in Cyprus in the year preceding the year in which the employment began.

The exemption is available in respect of any tax year in which income from employment exceeds €100,000, irrespective of whether the income falls below that amount in any intermediate year, provided that when the employment started the income exceeded €100,000 and the tax authorities are satisfied that the variations in the annual income are not made for the purpose of obtaining this tax benefit.

The two exemptions are mutually exclusive and each taxpayer may only claim one of them.

Exemptions and special cases

The following are exempt from income tax:

  1. passive interest and dividends receivable by individuals (these are subject to SDC tax – see below);
  2. lump sums received on retirement;
  3. profit from the sale of shares;
  4. capital sums from approved life assurance policies and provident or pension funds;
  5. income from employment services provided abroad to a non-resident employer or an overseas permanent establishment of a resident employer for a period exceeding 90 days in the tax year;
  6. certain pensions, such as a widow's pension;
  7. salaries of officers and crew of ships owned by a Cyprus shipping company that sail under the Cyprus flag and operate in international waters; and
  8. income from a qualifying scholarship, exhibition, bursary or similar educational endowment.

For income tax purposes a 20 per cent deduction is allowed from rental income received.

The first €3,420 per annum of any foreign pension is free of tax and the excess over that amount is taxed at 5 per cent.

Special defence contribution tax

SDC tax is payable by individuals who are both resident and domiciled in Cyprus on interest, dividend and rentals received at the rates set out below. Individuals who are resident but not domiciled in Cyprus enjoy a full exemption from SDC on all investment income generated on a worldwide basis. Residence is determined in the same way as for income tax purposes.

The principles set out in the Wills and Succession Law, which follow the principles of English common law, are used to determine domicile. In summary, an individual acquires a domicile of origin at birth. It is generally the same as the domicile of the father at the time of birth, and in exceptional cases that of the mother. A domicile of origin may be replaced by a domicile of choice if in actual fact an individual permanently establishes himself or herself in another country with the intention of living there permanently and dying there. However, an individual will be deemed to be domiciled in Cyprus if he or she has been a tax resident for 17 or more of the 20 tax years immediately preceding the year of assessment.

Taken together with the income tax exemption, this means that an individual who is not domiciled in Cyprus is exempt from all Cyprus taxation on interest and dividends from all sources.

Relief or credit for tax paid abroad may be available either under the terms of a double tax treaty or by way of unilateral relief.

Capital gains tax

There is no taxation of capital gains in Cyprus apart from gains made on the disposal of real estate located in Cyprus or on the shares of companies directly or indirectly holding real estate in Cyprus (in which case the taxable gain is the gain attributable to the real estate holding). To stimulate the real estate market, an exemption was introduced for immoveable property acquired between 16 July 2015 and the end of 2016, provided that the property was acquired on an arm's-length basis and not under the foreclosure provisions of the Transfer and Mortgage of Immoveable Properties Law. Any gain on the disposal of the property will be exempt from capital gains tax, irrespective of the date of disposal.

As an added incentive, the normal transfer fees payable to the Department of Lands and Surveys on acquisition of immoveable property were discounted to 50 per cent of the standard rate until the end of 2016, provided that the property was acquired on an arm's-length basis and not under the foreclosure provisions of the Transfer and Mortgage of Immoveable Properties Law. Alternatively, if VAT is payable on the purchase of the property, no transfer fee is payable at all, provided that the sale agreement is deposited with the Land Registry by 31 December 2016. In July 2016, the reduction in transfer fees was made permanent by the Lands and Surveys Department (Fees and Rights) (Amendment) (No. 2) Law.

Succession taxes

There are no succession taxes in Cyprus.

III SUCCESSION

Cyprus's succession law reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the island and gives an interesting insight into its history. The current succession law dates back to when Cyprus was a British colony and the wording of the law and many of its provisions are unmistakably English, but Cyprus succession law also enshrines the concept of forced heirship, usually associated with civil law and Islamic countries, and recognises the rights of widows of polygamous marriages. It was modified in 2015 by the entry into force of the European Succession Regulation, which applies a single national law of succession to a person's moveable and immoveable property on death, both for testate and intestate succession. The applicable law is that of the country of the deceased's habitual residence at the time of death, unless the deceased was manifestly more closely associated with another country, or the deceased elected in his or her will for their national law to apply, regardless of whether the European Succession Regulation applies in the state of their nationality or not.

Cyprus succession law is set out in a number of enactments, the most significant of which are the Wills and Succession Law (WSL) and the Administration of Estates Law. The WSL deals with both wills and intestacy. The part dealing with wills is based on the English Wills Act of 1837, whereas the part dealing with intestacy is based on the Italian Civil Code and reflects continental law. Cyprus succession law therefore can be said to represent a mixture of common and civil law, in roughly equal proportions.

If an individual dies leaving certain categories of relatives, part of his or her estate, known as the statutory portion, is reserved for them and distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The actual proportion of the net estate taken up by the statutory portion varies according to which relatives survive the deceased person and can be as much as three-quarters of the net estate.

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