Jurisdiction spotlight: Country of Curaçao

In this article — the sixth article in the Jurisdiction Spotlight series — I will be focusing on the Country of Curaçao.

History

CuraçaoCuraçao’s very early history is poorly recorded. By the time the first European settlers arrived, the island was inhabited by the Arawak people, a collection of indigenous Caribbean tribes.

The island was discovered by the Spanish conquistador Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The island remained Spanish until the Dutch took it over in 1634. The Dutch were already prominent slave traders and Curaçao was used extensively as a slave trade hub. It quickly became the largest slave trade in the Caribbean, taking slaves from Africa and Brazil to America.

Curaçao fell into the hands of the British empire in 1800, following the end of the Napoleonic War. The French held Curaçao between 1803 and 1807, when the island again became British. That did not last long, as Curaçao was given back to the Netherlands in 1816 as per the 1815 Treaty of France.

It remained a part of Netherlands Antilles – together with Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba, and Sint Maarten, until the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in October 2010. Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba became special municipalities, while Curaçao and Sint Maarten became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. (Aruba separated from the Netherlands in 1986.)

Curaçao also has an important Jewish history, hosting the oldest Jewish settlement in the Americas. Seventy Sephardim Jews came to Curaçao in 1659 and the community has remained since then, today consisting of both Sephardim and Azhkenazi Jews. The synagogue of Mikve Israel-Emanuel was built in 1651, making it the oldest synagogue still in use in the western hemisphere.

Today, Curaçao is a stable country with a diversified economy, covering tourism, financial services, online gambling, shipping, oil refining, and – as of 2014 – a spaceport. This impressively diverse economy is part of a government initiative called Open Arms, whose aim has been to attract foreign investment, which has been highly successful.

Curaçao isn’t without its quirks, though.

Owing to its location and long tradition of being a trading hub, Curaçao has been used extensively by drug smugglers, mostly Farc guerilla in Colombia, to smuggle narcotics into Europe. For a long time, all flights from Curaçao to Netherlands were subject to thorough drug screening upon arrival. This has been improved some, with drug smugglers opting for other islands. It still happens and very little is done to combat it, either due to corruption or threats.

Despite that, it remains a relatively safe island to live in and I have yet to experience any corruption in Curaçao affecting its financial services or online gambling sectors.

 

Overview Data

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Curaçao incorporation

The old tax free regime was voted away in 2000 and the tax free status of such companies expires in 2019. Instead, Curaçao has drafted a clever bill which can be useful as a part of a greater tax structure.

Netherlands Antilles Besloten Venootschap (NABV)

NABV — as it’s commonly called — is a private limited liability company, which can be fully tax exempt if it is structured correctly.

To ensure tax exemption, an NABV must have at least 10% of its shares registered in shareholders register. The company’s management must be in Curaçao. Shareholders’ annual general meeting must be held in Curaçao, but attendance by proxy is permitted.

The NABV’s annual accounts, which must be duly kept, must be audited.

Finally, the company is limited in what activities it can engage in. It can effectively only act as a holding company (particularly of IP rights) or as an investment company to qualify for tax exemption.

So with all these requirements, what’s good about Curaçao?

The NABV provides for a reputable means to form a tax free offshore holding company, which is suitable for holdings and investments. NABVs do not qualify for DTAs, meaning that income may still be incurred by parent in another jurisdictions.

E-Zone Ecommerce

Trading companies formed in the E-Zone enjoy a 2% income tax and access to DTAs, but must be operated from within the E-Zone. A special permit and a local bank account are required.

These companies are private or public limited companies. Several of them are igaming (online gambling) operators, but the companies can perform any type of ecommerce.

Gambling License in Curaçao

Gambling licenses in Curaçao are relatively easy to obtain and costs are significantly lower than competing jurisdictions in Europe, such as Malta, Gibraltar, and the UK. It also doesn’t have the reputational advantages of its European counterparts, but makes up for it with a decent reputation for good regulation, low costs, and tax benefits.

Curaçao gambling license holders form as E-Zone ecommerce companies, which makes them extremely tax efficient. The country has invested heavily in internet connectivity and it is probably one of the best connected islands in the Caribbean after Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and BVI. This means a Curaçao gambling company can host its servers locally, and most do.

The government and e-zone authorities are very responsive and eager to get new licensees up and running.

Banking in Curaçao

There are several types of banks and financial institutions (FI) in Curaçao.

  • Local general banks
  • Subsidiaries of foreign banks
  • Branches of foreign banks
  • Credit unions
  • Specialized credit institutions
  • Savings banks
  • Savings and credit funds
  • International credit institutions – FIs which are not under Curaçao regulatory supervision but instead regulated by another jurisdiction. Cannot trade with locals.

A list of banks under each category can be found on the Centrale Bank van Curacao en Sint Maarten website: http://www.centralbank.cw/uploads/files/Register_Kredietinstellingen_2012.pdf.

Banking services in Curaçao are generally good and accounts can typically be opened remotely, but it’s all done on a case-by-case basis. Minimum balance requirements are low; a few thousand dollars will be enough in most cases.

Curaçao lacks banking secrecy. Financial information is provided under a general professional confidentiality clause, which is enough to keep nosy people away but your information is available to tax authorities.

Living in Curaçao

Curaçao has relatively little tourism compared to for example Aruba and Sint Maarten. This is however not without reason. The island is essentially a desert, with most beaches being private and artificial.

Taxes are quite high for residents in Curaçao and world-wide income is taxed. Capital gains are taxed under normal income tax.

Moving to and getting residence permit in Curaçao is a relatively easy process. If you do not have a local company to sponsor, you need to prove that you have the financial means to sustain yourself. Since costs of living are relatively low, this is quite easy to accomplish. Dutch citizens are exempt from this.

Final words

Curaçao is a fairly low-profile offshore jurisdiction, which enjoys a good international reputation, save for the whole drug smuggling business.

It has drafted and adopted a very clever incorporation legislation, which is used by companies across the world as a part of tax minimization structures.

Click here to see other posts in the Jurisdiction Spotlight series.

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