The top 15 tax havens around the world
- Tax havens are places where super-wealthy individuals keep money in offshore accounts for reasons that include, among others, tax avoidance.
- These individuals often hold money within shell companies and anonymous entities in places like the Cayman Islands and other small, low-tax jurisdictions in remote locations.
- CORPNET, an Amsterdam-based corporate research group, ranked the world's top tax havens based on how much more money comes into the country than how much should come in based on the size of its economy.
- Most of the top tax havens are island nations like the British Virgin Islands, Samoa, and Malta.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Tax havens are places where business people and other super-wealthy individuals keep money in offshore accounts for tax avoidance and other purposes.
Also known as offshore financial centers (OFCs), these tax shelters are often small, low-tax jurisdictions in remote locations, like the Caribbean islands. In these places, wealthy individuals often hold money within shell companies and anonymous entities.
CORPNET, an Amsterdam-based research group that investigates global networks of corporate control, published a 2017 report in Scientific Reports ranking 24 offshore financial centers by their "sink" number, which indicates roughly how much more money comes into the country than how much should come in based on the size of its economy.
In the Cayman Islands, for example, 331 times more value sinks into the country than is proportionate to the size of its economy.
The European Union releases a tax haven "blacklist" - first published in 2015 and continuously updated - that calls out specific countries in order to improve global tax governance and fight tax fraud, evasion, and avoidance. The EU blacklist pressures nations to make changes and reforms to their tax codes, and blacklisted countries can face sanctions from the EU, according to OXFAM International.
Here are the world's 15 top hax havens, according to CORPNET:
Once a colony of the United Kingdom, Seychelles is an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean that has about 2.5 times the area of Washington, DC.
The island nation made headlines in 2018 for being the setting of a mysterious alleged meeting between a Trump-linked private security entrepreneur, a Russian CEO, and a representative of the United Arab Emirates, which was investigated by Robert Mueller as part of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Cyprus, a Mediterranean island of about 1.2 million people south of Turkey, is investigating corruption charges related to its "golden passport" program, which gives citizenship to foreigners who invest at least R32 million in real estate or local business in the country.
In 2001, the tiny island nation was internationally blacklisted amid concerns that it had become a center for money laundering, and it was among the countries blacklisted as a tax haven by the EU in 2015. The OECD upgraded Nauru's tax transparency standards in 2017.
Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, largely thanks to its financial sector, which makes up more than 35% of its GDP.
The government has put policies in place since 2002 to attract foreign direct investment, but Luxembourg has lost some of its favorable tax advantages in recent years after pressure from the EU and the OECD, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Mauritius, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa with a population of about 1.4 million, is home to more than 32,000 offshore entities.
It has encouraged foreign investment since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it enacted the Mauritius Offshore Business Activity Act, which allowed the incorporation of foreign entities with little financial disclosures and extremely low taxation, according to Quartz.
Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea south of Italy with a population of about 450,000.
According to the BBC, companies in Malta pay the lowest tax on profits of any country in the EU. Local businesses pay a 35% tax on profits, but foreign corporations pay as little as 5%.
T10. Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands, a chain of islands in the central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines, was under US administration for almost 40 years before gaining independence in 1986.
The island nation of about 76,000 people was one of the countries blacklisted as a tax haven by the EU in 2015, but the EU decided in 2019 to remove it from the blacklist because the country is outlawing letterbox companies that are used for tax avoidance and hiding the identities of wealthy taxpayers.
Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island, is known as an offshore financial center.
In 2017, it was put on the EU's "grey list" of countries that need to improve their tax policy to comply with EU transparency regulations but who have committed to doing so.
Liechtenstein, a European country smaller than Washington, DC, has a thriving financial services sector and one of the highest per capita income levels in the world.
According to the EU, it has also served as a tax haven, prompting the union to blacklist the country in 2015. Liechtenstein agreed to crack down on tax evasion, but it still has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe.
In 2015, the South Pacific island state of 200,000 residents was ranked the world's most financially secretive nation in a list of tax havens compiled by the Tax Justice Network.
Samoa is also on the EU's blacklist of global tax havens.
5. Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is one of the world's most notorious tax shelters because it has no corporate tax, no personal income tax, and no capital gains tax.
It was one of 30 countries blacklisted as a tax haven by the EU in 2015.
In October 2019, the Cayman Islands promised to reveal the identities of every person who owns a company there by 2023, Quartz reported.
The economy of the British island territory, which is home to about 71,000 people, relies primarily on insurance and other financial services.
Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, has had a reputation as a tax haven since wealthy Brits started moving there and transferring their money there in the 1920s to take advantage of its lack of wealth and inheritance taxes.
The Tax Justice Network this year ranked Jersey as one of the most aggressive tax havens in the world.
In 2017, Taiwan was named a potential tax haven by the EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council. Taiwan is a disputed nation; while China claims it as one of its own territories, Taiwan considers itself an independent democracy that champions human-rights issues.
The EU removed Taiwan from its blacklist in 2019 after it made commitments to reform its tax system.
1. British Virgin Islands
The world's top tax haven, the British Virgin Islands, holds more than 5,000 times the value of what its economy should hold.
The self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, home to about 35,802 people, was one of 30 countries blacklisted as a tax haven by the EU in 2015.
In 2017, British Virgin Islands officials released a report claiming the British territory was not a tax haven, but a strong contributor to the global economy and facilitator of international trade and investment.
The EU gave the British Virgin Islands until the end of 2019 to comply with tax reforms and avoid landing on its tax haven blacklist in 2020.
One of the most famous names associated with the British Virgin Islands is Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur who owns Necker Island, a 74-acre private island with a luxury resort that he often opens up to friends like Barack and Michelle Obama.
Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest
Also from Business Insider South Africa:
- The man in charge of SAA’s business rescue once had to sort out SA’s biggest company failure - here’s how that worked out
- Take a look inside: This apartment was sold for R59 million - it may be the priciest deal in SA this year
- Russian secret agents have reportedly been operating out of villages in the French Alps
- Chinese Vivo cellphones are now on sale in SA for R1,900. Here are some of our favourite features
- South Africa has the most expensive home fibre internet connections of any country, according to a new survey
- SAA in business rescue: What it means and its odds for survival
- Here are one bank's 10 'outrageous' predictions that could shake markets in 2020