As long as there have been taxes, there have been tax avoiders. And as long as there have been tax avoiders, there have been tax havens. Broadly speaking, any country that is known for helping individuals or businesses avoid taxes can be described as a tax haven. Some are very forthcoming and proudly advertise the tax advantages of living there, while others are more discreet. In either case, tax havens have a long and enduring legacy in civil society (with an estimated $11.5 trillion currently stashed in offshore accounts) and each one offers something different to aspiring tax dodgers.
Luxembourg is an attractive place for foreigners to stash excess wealth, as the entire country (said to be among the richest in the world – in per capita terms) seems to have a rather lax attitude toward tax collection. According to one website that profiles tax havens: “although they have taxes, nobody seems to work too hard on collecting them.”
The Cook Islands have much to offer prospective tax dodgers, including the sheer natural beauty of its beach climate. Combined with the tax advantages discussed below, it’s no wonder shamed Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond stashed his money here before it all came crumbling down on top of him. Not everyone has such a rosy view of the Cook Islands, however. AssetProtectionBook.com describes several instances where Cook Islands-based trusts were successfully invalidated by foreign judges and attorneys, some of whom actually specialize in going after trusts that are based there.
Hedge fund managers and investors have grown particularly fond of the Cayman Islands, which relies solely on indirect methods of taxation like import duties, tourist fees, and licensing fees to sustain its government and operations. The Caymans got major press during the 2008 Presidential debates when Barack Obama slammed their tax haven status, declaring “there’s a building in the Cayman Islands that houses supposedly 12,000 US-based corporations. That’s either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world, and we know which one it is.”
Investors with real estate-based investment trusts (or REITs) in their portfolio will find the Channel Islands much to their liking. A 2007 Telegraph article notes that UK-based REIT investors are flocking to the Channel Islands (located between the shores of France and England) where their investment income is taxed at far lighter rates than the mainland UK. In addition to REIT investors, the Channel Islands are also apparently attracting their fair share of of e-commerce firms and web companies (including UK retailer Play.com.)
What could be better than floating in these crystal-clear waters and sipping an exotic drink with the knowledge that your business profits are completely shielded from taxation? These and other benefits help explain why entire companies (such as Tyco) have moved their operations to Bermuda. And while other tax havens are coming under intense legal scrutiny, a 2002 Seattle PI article notes that “what these American companies are doing in Bermuda appears to be perfectly legal under the tax code.”
Dubai is the tax haven of choice for those seeking to do business with Russian companies and investors. It is also home to a sizable pool of job talent and business contacts of all kinds. According to one website, Dubai is blossoming into “leading UAE commercial gateway to more than 1.5 billion consumers in Asia, Africa, Europe, India and the Middle East.”
Lichtenstein is rumored to be one of history’s earliest tax havens, and it has a well-deserved reputation among tax dodgers. Unfortunately, the success of evading taxes in Lichtenstein may be leading to its own undoing! Forbes recently reported that German spies have been dispatched to the country to hunt down suspicious activity from its own citizens.
British Virgin Islands
According to a Yahoo! News article, ‘More than 400,000 companies share a few local addresses” on the British Virgin Islands, despite having no employees there and often evading taxes in their native countries as well. Indeed, offshoring is so integral to the local economy that it provides over half of all government revenue.