Foreign Sourced Income Taxation In Singapore

Written by Team Farallon

  • Farallon Law Corporation
  • January 24, 2024

Singapore’s tax system is predominantly territorial, focusing primarily on income sourced within the country. Under this system, Singapore resident companies are liable for tax on income generated within its borders. However, the taxation of foreign-sourced income, defined as income earned by a Singapore company outside the jurisdiction introduces unique considerations into the tax landscape.

The Income Tax Act of Singapore stipulates that foreign-sourced income is subject to tax only when it is received in Singapore or deemed remitted to Singapore. This principle aligns with the broader strategic objective of the Singaporean government to position the country as a global business hub, balancing the need to tax domestic economic activities while encouraging international trade and investment.

What constitutes ‘foreign-sourced income? This includes income remitted to, transmitted, or brought into Singapore, as well as funds used to satisfy any debt incurred in respect of a trade or business carried on in Singapore or to purchase any movable property brought into the country.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has clarified certain aspects of this policy to ensure clarity for taxpayers. These clarifications cover various scenarios such as funds coming into Singapore, debt payments, and the acquisition of goods and movable property.

Defining Foreign-Sourced Income

Examples of foreign-sourced income include profits from business operations conducted overseas, dividends received from foreign subsidiaries, interest from foreign investments, and royalties from intellectual property rights registered outside Singapore. Each of these income types carries distinct characteristics and implications under the Singaporean tax framework.

A common feature among these income types is their geographical and operational detachment from Singapore. For instance, a Singapore-based company may receive dividends from an overseas subsidiary where the business activities generating those dividends occur entirely outside Singapore. Similarly, interest income earned from foreign investments would typically accrue from financial assets held in foreign jurisdictions.

Conditions for Taxability of Foreign-Sourced Income

In Singapore, the taxability of foreign-sourced income is contingent on specific criteria:

  • Receipt in Singapore: Income is taxable if remitted, transmitted, or brought into Singapore, used to settle local business debts, or to purchase movable property imported into Singapore.
  • Subject to Tax Condition: Income already taxed in its originating jurisdiction, particularly if the foreign headline tax rate is at least 15%, may be exempt from taxation in Singapore.
  • Beneficial Exemption: IRAS assesses if exempting such income from tax benefits the resident in Singapore.

The Concept of ‘Received in Singapore’ and Its Implications

The taxation of foreign-sourced income in Singapore hinges on the concept of income being ‘received in Singapore’. This includes:

  • Remittance: Direct transfer of funds into a Singapore-based account.
  • Debt Settlement: Use of overseas income to settle debts related to Singaporean business activities.
  • Purchase of Movable Property: Utilization of foreign income to buy movable property that is then imported into Singapore.

Tax Treatment of Different Forms of Foreign-Sourced Income

In Singapore, different types of foreign-sourced income are subject to varied tax treatments:

  • Business Profits: Taxed when remitted to Singapore, unless previously taxed overseas with a minimum rate of 15%.
  • Dividends: Exempt if subject to tax in the source country or under foreign headline tax rate condition.
  • Interest and Royalties: Taxable upon remittance to Singapore, eligible for exemptions under specific conditions such as being taxed in the source jurisdiction.

Administrative Concessions and Overseas Investments

Singapore’s tax system incorporates administrative concessions for foreign-sourced income, particularly regarding overseas investments:

  • Reinvestment Concession: Income used for overseas investments and not repatriated is not considered ‘received in Singapore,’ deferring the tax point.
  • Exemption for Non-Resident Entities: Foreign-sourced income remitted to Singapore by non-resident entities is not taxable.

Foreign Tax Credits and Their Application

Singapore provides foreign tax credits to mitigate double taxation for companies dealing with foreign-sourced income:

  • Tax Paid Overseas: Credits are available for taxes paid on income in foreign jurisdictions.
  • Limitation on Credits: The credit is limited to the amount of tax payable in Singapore on the same income.
  • Application Process: Companies must provide evidence of foreign tax paid to claim the credit.

Role of Double Taxation Agreements

  • Agreement Coverage: Singapore’s DTAs with various countries outline the taxation rights on different types of income.
  • Preventing Double Taxation: DTAs provide mechanisms to avoid or mitigate double taxation of the same income in two jurisdictions.
  • Enhancing Tax Compliance: DTAs offer clarity and certainty in cross-border tax matters, aiding in compliance for businesses operating internationally.

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