We are going to stay in the Middle East for a little bit longer to today take a look at Qatar, which has a land border with Saudi Arabia and is tucked between Bahrain and UAE (emirate of Abu Dhabi). Across the Persian Gulf is Iran.
While it’s not a commonly used tax haven and it has major reputational disadvantages when it comes to human rights, it’s nonetheless a jurisdiction that keeps popping up in discussions and warrants a look into as a potential international financial services hotspot.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Qatar became a British protectorate until gaining independence in 1971.
This hereditary emirate struggles with a dreadful international reputation on human rights. Countless paragraphs have been written about the awful conditions for many migrant workers. These conditions have been given especial attention after Qatar was awarded the hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
It is one of few sovereign nations where the local citizens are a minority, accounting for circa 15% of the population. Of the remaining 85%, many are migrant workers from mostly India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines who are engaged in construction, household services, and other typically lower-income professions. A relatively small part of the expat community is made up of highly-skilled workers.
This is affecting the emirate’s success as a financial services hub. It offers practically no benefits over Ras al-Khaimah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or even Bahrain. Its sole saving grace is a strong banking sector that is gradually opening up to international investors.
Geography and Demography
|Full Name:||State of Qatar (دولة قطر)|
|Other major languages:||English|
|Type of government:||Unitary constitutional monarchy|
|Legal system:||Mix of civil and Islamic law|
|Population:||2.1 million (of which over 1.5 million are expats)|
|GDP per capita:||140,000 USD|
|Currency:||Qatari Riyal (QAR), pegged at 3.64 QAR = 1 USD|
Incorporation and Business
From a purely financial services point of view, Qatar has a clean reputation.
Regular incorporations usually require 51% local ownership. To attract foreign ownership, Qatar has set up a more easy-going regulatory environment in the Qatar Financial Center. Here, certain categories of business activities can be set up with full foreign ownership and management.
The permitted categories of non-regulated business are:
- Audit, accounting, tax, or consultancy services.
- Headquarters of a company or a management office, trust, or similar.
- Holding companies.
- Company management services.
- Financial grading or rating services.
- Shipping agencies or brokers.
Most foreign-controlled companies in Qatar are formed as Limited Liability Companies (LLC) but Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP) are also available.
Qatar has a territorial taxation system, where only income derived from Qatar is taxable. The tax rate is 10%.
Required but need not be submitted. Audits are required once a company reaches 100,000 QAR turnover in a year.
Companies are subject to public disclosure.
The QRA public records contain registration status, registration number, place of incorporation, date of incorporation, legal form, directors (name), significant shareholders (name), registered address, capital information, and licensing details.
Qatar has quietly developed a strong and modern banking sector. Foreign deposits are mostly regional but the jurisdiction is trying to attract foreign investment.
This is not an easy-going banking sector such as the ones found in the Caribbean. It’s more akin to UAE and Lebanon, focused on established or quickly-establishing companies and large-scale investments from high-networh individuals and entities.
You’re very unlikely to get accepted at a Qatari bank with an offshore IBC, LLC, or even as a small business incorporated in a reputable jurisdiction.
Open a Bank Account in Qatar
The process is not much different from comparable jurisdictions. It is generally preferred that clients appear in person but as this can be a problem due to the Qatar’s relatively restrictive visa requirements on entries, where nationals of wealthy countries are welcome but others need difficult-to-obtain visas, remote account opening or account opening by visiting a bank representative elsewhere is quite common.
Qatar has not signed the Apostille Convention and as such, document verification can turn into a nightmare if the bank is not satisfied with anything other than verification by an embassy official.
Minimum deposits are not strictly enforced but smaller clients with no other ties to Qatar or the region are unlikely to be accepted.
Banking secrecy in Qatar is generally strong, at least for non-resident foreigners. It’s important to understand how laws work in wealthy totalitarian or semi-totalitarian sovereign nations. Typically, local residents and especially citizens can have no reasonable expectation of privacy. However, the affairs of non-resident foreigners, as long as they do not disturb the nation, are often not given much attention.
With the advent of the US’ FATCA and OECD’s AEOI, repercussions are now being felt for not caring about the money foreigners hold in local banks.
Banks in Qatar
There are in total 18 banks licensed in Qatar. Banks are listed below with year of license being issued and assets as of December 2015.
Seven are national banks:
- AL Ahli Bank (1984, 47.2 billion QAR)
- AL Khalij Bank (2007, 31.5 billion QAR)
- Commercial Bank (1975, 100.8 billion QAR)
- Doha Bank (1979, 69.4 billion QAR)
- International Bank of Qatar (2000, 30.6 billion QAR)
- Qatar Development Bank (1997, 6.9 billion QAR)
- Qatar National Bank (1965, 423.8 billion QAR)
Four are Islamic national banks:
- Barwa Bank (2009, 38.5 billion QAR)
- Masraf AL Rayan (2006, 82.1 billion QAR)
- Qatar International Islamic Bank (1991, 40.1 billion QAR)
- Qatar Islamic Bank (1983, 99.7 billion QAR)
The remaining seven banks are foreign banks:
- Arab Bank (1957, 7.8 billion QAR)
- Bank Saderat Iran (1970, 0.7 billion QAR)
- BNP Paribas (1973, 2.7 billion QAR)
- HSBC (1954, 16.7 billion QAR)
- Mashreq Bank (1971, 6.6 billion QAR)
- United Bank (1970, 0.9 billion QAR)
Living in Qatar
Qatar is very warm and compared to UAE, Oman, and Bahrain much more conservative, although it is not as conservative as Saudi Arabia.
While a large majority of the population is made up of expats, there are relatively few expats (especially from non-Arabic nations) who come here to start businesses or enjoy a tax free life. Many settle down in UAE instead, or somewhere else entirely.
Only possible after 25 years (15 years for Arabic nationals) of residency and speaking Arabic. Very few citizenships are awarded and Qatari passports are not particularly attractive.
Dual citizenship is not permitted.
Qatar being included on lists of tax haven is arguably unfair since it does not have much in common with typical tax havens, other than being a zero-tax jurisdiction.
Few incorporate here, with most entrepreneurs in (or interested in) the region opting for UAE instead.
The banking sector is strong but not yet very welcoming to foreigners other than the very wealthy.