Sunday, March 25, 2007


Tax havens of the world
Wednesday, 21 March , 2007, 15:05

Death may be certain, but taxes don't have to be.

It's an international marketplace after all, and there are plenty of nations willing to welcome expatriates fed up with Uncle Sam.

Countries like the Bahamas make tax haven status an integral part of their marketing -- relocate to Nassau, and you'll fear no taxman. That's because, for Bahamians and resident aliens there are no taxes on personal income, capital gains, inheritance or gifts.

In Pictures: Tax Havens of the World

"The policy benefits the Bahamas indirectly," says Terrance Bain of FT Consultants, an accounting and tax planning firm in the Bahamas. "A person coming to the Bahamas will buy real estate or operate some kind of business. Most luxury properties are marketed to and eventually bought by non-Bahamians -- it's a very robust market."

Good weather and no audits, it's almost unfair.

The History

Tax havens grew out of the late 19th-century British system that began granting independent economic governance to protectorates like Gibraltar, Hong Kong or the Channel Islands, which then became easy places for people to protect money -- hence the term off-shore accounts.

By the 20th century, high net-worth individuals were flocking to small islands like Monaco and Bermuda, whose governments figured the money they could garnish off real estate transactions and sales tax made the tax-free incentives worthwhile.

"Monaco is a luxury destination," says Maguy Maccario-Doyle, consul general to the United States. "It is a soft tax system, but we do have a value added tax around 30% on luxury items such as jewelry or restaurants and all the best luxury people are here within a square mile."

And it works. Six of the Forbes Billionaires reside in Monaco, making one in every 5,400 residents worth over a billion dollars. The principality's housing market commands a median price of $3,000 per square foot, ahead of Manhattan and London, according to international real estate analysts Global Property Guide.

Bermuda, though it has only three billionaires, has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $70,000 per citizen. Hiding out in Bermuda is so popular, in fact, that the government makes it virtually impossible to get permanent residency, and requires that foreigners buying into the market pay a minimum of $1 million for their home and then a 22% transfer fee to the government.

In Pictures: Tax Havens of the World

Those may be luxury prices, but it's a small price to pay for the tax breaks. Non-profit group Tax Justice Network estimates that offshore tax havens shielded over $255 billion in global tax revenue in 2006, a number roughly equal to a third of India's overall GDP.

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