Establishing a Dutch office
The present article describes the legal and tax aspects and some practical matters concerning office establishment in Holland. It summarizes information about the Dutch legal and tax system relevant to the required procedures. The article also presents Holland as an international centre of commerce and highlights the location advantages gained by opening a Dutch office. Finally, it discusses other matters of practical importance such as living and labour costs.
Please, do not hesitate to call our tax and incorporation agents if you have legal or tax issues or in case you need any additional information.
Tax aspects of establishing a Dutch office
Company establishment in Holland has numerous tax advantages. Many entrepreneurs choose to incorporate an international structure under an efficient tax regime such as the one in Holland. Dutch legal entities within company structures bring many tax benefits. The main advantages can be summarized as follows:
1) The benefit of double tax avoidance thanks to agreements concluded by Holland and to the EU directives on direct tax;
2) The participation exemption;
3) The option to negotiate agreements with the national tax authorities regarding advance pricing (APAs) and tax ruling (ATRs). Such agreements provide certainty about future tax payments;
4) Holland’s bilateral treaties on investments (BITs)
5) Dutch tax credits for income from foreign sources;
6) The Innovation Box (IB) regime for R&D activities;
7) No withholding tax levied on outbound royalty and interest payments; and
8) The scheme for highly qualified migrants (30 percent ruling).
These tax benefits will be explained in detail below.
Benefits of Dutch holdings
A Dutch holding can serve as an investment centre for companies established in various countries worldwide. Holland is recognized for its favourable regime with respect to holdings, particularly thanks to the participation exemption, coupled with an extensive network of tax treaties and bilateral agreements on investments. The main benefits prompting international businesses to use Dutch holdings as intermediaries are the lower withholding tax in the country where profit is generated, the untaxed receipt of funds accumulated by foreign subsidiaries and the protected status of these subsidiaries. These advantages will be clarified below.
The Government of the Netherlands has declared its general intention to keep and preserve these benefits, considered figuratively as jewels in the crown of the national tax system, regardless of the attempts of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union to combat tax avoidance strategies aimed at shifting profits from higher- to lower-tax jurisdictions.
The participation exemption in the Netherlands
As already mentioned, Holland is popular with the so-called participation exemption. If particular conditions are fulfilled, capital gains and dividends obtained from qualifying subsidiaries are not subject to Dutch corporate tax.
This exemption applies if an eligible subsidiary holds no less than 5 percent of the company’s shares. One eligibility criterion is that subsidiaries must not hold the shares with the sole purpose of passive investment in a portfolio. However, even in cases where this purpose is predominant, the exemption still applies if the subsidiaries are paying profit tax of no less than 10 percent (under the rules of tax accounting in the Netherlands) or if less than half of their assets are allocated to passive investments. When the exemption cannot be applied, companies usually have the option for tax credit.
The system for tax ruling in the Netherlands (Advance Pricing Agreements, APAs and Advance Tax Rulings, ATRs)
The Dutch system for advance tax ruling provides clearance in advance by concluding APAs and ATRs with Dutch companies with respect to their tax position. The conclusion of such agreements is voluntary. In general, companies use the system for tax ruling to become aware in advance about the tax liabilities relating to planned intercompany transactions. ATRs provide advance certainty with respect to the tax repercussions of envisaged transactions by clarifying, for example, if they will be eligible for participation exemption. APAs, on the other hand, define when the arm’s length principle can be applied to international transactions between associated companies or different parts of the same company.
Bilateral treaties on investments (BITs)
When investing in a foreign country, one should consider both the respective taxes and the protection of the so-called bilateral treaties on investments, especially if the investments are made in a country with a serious risk profile.
BITs are concluded between two countries to establish the terms for protection of entities from one country investing in the other country. These treaties ensure reciprocal protection and promotion of investments. They secure and protect the investments of entities residing in one of the contracting parties on the other party’s territory. Therefore BITs represent institutional safeguards with respect to foreign investments. Also many BITs provide for alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution where investors whose rights have been infringed upon can opt for international arbitration rather than sue the defaulting country in its courts.
Holland has developed a large network of such bilateral treaties offering investors the best possible security and protection in foreign contracting countries. It is worth to mention that Holland has entered into BITs with approximately 100 states.
Investors who reside in a country signatory can benefit from the protection of its BITs. Therefore Holland is an attractive jurisdiction for setting up holding companies not only due to its favourable tax regime, but also thanks to the numerous BITs it has concluded.
The double tax avoidance decree
In order to encourage Dutch investments into other, especially developing, countries, the Government has introduced a regulation providing a mechanism to lower Dutch corporate tax on profits obtained from investments in countries that have not concluded tax treaties with Holland. This piece of legislation is the Unilateral Double Tax Avoidance Decree (hereinafter referred to as DTAD). As a result of the DTAD the Dutch taxes levied on investments in countries that have not concluded tax treaties with the Netherlands are usually the same as the taxes levied on investments in tax treaty states.
The Innovation Box (IB) regime
Holland boasts a favourable tax climate under the innovation box regime, with regards to companies working in the field of research & development (R&D). Any company generating income from its own developed and patented intangible fixed assets (excluding trademarks and logos) or from assets derived from R&D activities (verified by an official statement) has the option to report the income using the IB regime. Then its eligible income exceeding the costs for the development of the intangible fixed assets will be subject to only 5 percent tax. Any losses associated with the eligible assets can be deducted against the usual corporate tax rate, i.e. 25 percent. If losses are included in the tax return, then they need to be recaptured using the normal rate. Only then the reduced 5 percent rate will become available again.
No withholding tax with respect to royalty and interest payments
Holland is an attractive jurisdiction for setting up (group) license and finance companies. The greatest advantage of establishing a Dutch license or finance company lies in the tax-effective setup of these entities. In broad terms this efficiency stems from the convenient tax treaties that Holland has concluded, coupled with the lack of withholding tax with respect to outbound royalty and interest payments. If certain requirements are fulfilled, these prerequisites allow for an extremely tax-efficient “flow” of license income and finances through the entity in the Netherlands to the eventual recipient.
The scheme for highly skilled migrants
Foreign employees living and working in Holland can benefit from a concession if they meet particular requirements. This concession is called the 30% ruling. According to it, 30 percent of the wages of the international employee remain untaxed. As a result the overall tax rate on personal income revolves around 36 percent instead of the usual 52 percent.
Legal aspects of establishing a Dutch office
Having a Dutch company in the framework of an international corporation provides both tax and legal benefits. Some important legal benefits are:
1) The legal system in the Netherlands has provisions for various entities to match the characteristics and needs of the planned business operations;
2) The Dutch Commercial Chamber (KvK) is very efficient and cooperative;
3) It only takes a day or two to obtain legalization from a Dutch Latin notary and a court-issued apostille;
4) It is easy to arrange the appointment of a local managing director, for example, to meet the subsistence requirements; and
5) In 2012 the laws on private limited companies (BVs) were thoroughly amended and currently they are a lot more flexible.
The corporate law in the Netherlands has provisions for entities both with and without a legal personality (i.e. both incorporated entities and partnerships/contractual entities).
The more commonly used entities without a legal personality include:
1) sole trader/sole proprietor/a one-man business (Eenmanszaak); (technically, sole proprietorships are not legal entities);
2) general partnership (Vennootschap onder firma or VOF);
3) professional/commercial partnership (Maatschap); and
4) limited partnership (Commanditaire vennootschap or CV.
The more commonly used entities with a legal personality include:
1) private company with limited liability (Besloten vennootschap or BV)
2) public company with limited liability (Naamloze vennootschap or NV)
3) cooperative association (Coöperatie or COOP); and
4) foundation (Stichting).
The choice of a legal entity depends on the type of business to be conducted. Owners of small businesses and freelancers usually establish sole proprietorships, while larger enterprises are incorporated as private companies with limited liability (BVs), public companies with limited liability (NVs) and limited partnerships (CVs).
After you decide to start a business, the first step is to register it at the Commercial Chamber which will include it in the Trade Registry. This procedure must take place during the period starting a week before your business becomes operational to a week after that.
Further details about the private company with limited liability (BV)
The private company with limited liability (Besloten Vennootschap or BV) with nominal capital split into shares is the most commonly used entity for business operations in the Netherlands. A BV has one or multiple shareholders and issues only registered shares. It can have one or several “incorporators” or subscribers who can be legal entities and/or natural persons. An entity or an individual, be it resident or foreign, can simultaneously be the sole incorporator and director representing the board of management.
Geographical features: Holland as an international commercial centre
Holland is an ideal strategic destination for businesses thanks to its connectivity. Companies established in the country can easily place their products and services on markets in the EU, Eastern and Central Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Holland is located in the western part of Europe and has common borders with Belgium (south) and Germany (east). To the west and to the north it borders the North Sea and its coastline is 451 km long. Holland is a small country with a territory of 41 526 square kilometres. Its economy is strongly dependent on international trade (more than 50% of the Gross Domestic Product is derived from foreign trade). The country is among the world’s top 10 exporting nations, which is quite an achievement for its size. Approximately 65 percent of all Dutch exports are destined for five countries: USA, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and France.
More than 50% of all export and import in Holland consist of foods, machinery (mainly computers and parts) and chemical products. Many import goods (computers included) are actually destined for other countries and are re-exported largely unprocessed soon after their arrival in Holland. This situation is typical for big transportation and distribution hubs. As a matter of fact many millions of tonnes of North American and Asian goods arrive at Amsterdam or Rotterdam for distribution all over Europe. The role of Holland as an European gateway is also sustained by Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam – the fourth busiest and biggest airport on the continent servicing traffic of both goods and passengers. Most Dutch transportation companies have their bases of operation either in Rotterdam (with Rotterdam The Hague Airport) or close to Schiphol. Other major European airports, namely Düsseldorf and Frankfurt in Germany, Roissy in France and Brussels and Zaventem in Belgium are only several hours away. Furthermore Holland has an exceptional railroad network connecting important European capital cities, including London. The EU capital of Brussels is only a short ride away. Also, Rotterdam’s port is the biggest on the European continent. Until 12 years ago it was also the busiest port in the world, but was overtaken by Shanghai and Singapore. In 2012 it was the sixth busiest port in the world as regards tonnage of cargo per year.
Cost of labour
The living standards in Holland are relatively high and this is reflected by the average salary. In 2015 employers paid 2500 Euro/month to their employees and therefore the average cost of labour was 34.10 Euro/hour. All due taxes are levied at the source of income. The average work week is about 40 h.
The costs of labour in the different members of the EU vary widely. In 2015 the average pay per hour for the whole European Union was 25 Euro, and for the Eurozone the rate was 29.50 Euro. Therefore the costs of labour in the Netherlands are 16 percent higher compared to the average Eurozone value. Still, in 2015, five EU countries had higher labour costs than Holland. The average pay per hour in Denmark (41.30 Euro) and Belgium (39.10 Euro) is approximately 10 times higher compared to the value for Bulgaria (4.10 Euro). The labour in Belgium is more costly than in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and France. Yet, the costs of labour in Lithuania and Romania are not much different than the cost in Bulgaria, even though the salaries in these 3 countries are on the rise.
As of 07/2015, the national minimum gross salary in Holland for employees aged 23 and older is 1507.80 Euro/month, i.e. 69.59 Euro/day. Based on 40 working hours per week, this equals 8.70 Euro/hour.
Amsterdam: The new European capital of finance
According to the writer James Stewart, a business columnist working at the NY Times, after Brexit Amsterdam is bound to become the new London thanks to its impressive architecture, top rated schools and exciting night life. Holland has been a global centre of commerce for centuries and so the country is traditionally tolerant to foreigners. Furthermore almost all Dutch residents speak English. The schools in Holland are considered the best on the European continent, with many opportunities for education in English. Amsterdam captivates with its architecture and offers attractive housing options, outstanding restaurants, picturesque views, theatrical and musical performances and an exciting night life. Its citizens have a tolerant, cosmopolitan attitude cultivated for centuries, ever since its emergence as a centre of global trade.
Thanks to the continuous efforts of the nation Holland is currently among the wealthiest states worldwide. The country’s strategic location on the North Sea coast and its rivers, bringing industrial and agricultural benefits have undoubtedly contributed to this success. Thanks to these geographical characteristics and the inherent work enthusiasm of its people, the Netherlands is now a great centre of commerce.
In addition, Holland has a well developed welfare state system ensuring that all the citizens share the prosperity of their homeland. The Dutch take great pride in their high living standards. The expenses associated with living, education, housing and culture are lower compared to most countries in Western Europe. The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network surveys many people residing in various countries worldwide to prepare its annual World Happiness Report. As evident by its name, the report states which countries have the happiest populations. In 2018 Holland took the 6th place.
Cost of living
Similarly to many other countries in Europe, the living cost in Holland has increased with the adoption of the common currency, the Euro. A standard room costs 300 – 600 Euros/month, so it is a lot cheaper to settle in a non-urban area, than to live in a city like Amsterdam or The Hague.
The public transportation is comparatively cheap by EU standards. Most areas work with chip cards (“ov-chipkaart””) that can be used on trams, buses, metros and trains. In the city a single bus ticket costs approximately 2 Euro. A ticket for the train from Schiphol to the Central Station in Amsterdam costs about 4 Euro. A ticket Amsterdam – Utrecht is around 7.50 Euro. In contrast, taxi services are quite expensive. The usual starting cost is 7.50 Euro and the rates reach 2.20 Euro/km.
Please, do not hesitate to call our experts in taxation and incorporation. They will happily assist you with the procedures for starting your own business in Holland.