VISITORS to the Philippines come for the beautiful islands, tropical weather, and exotic cuisine. It therefore comes as no surprise to find foreigners all over the Philippines. But they’re not all lounging by hotel pools — many of them are prowling the central business districts wearing suits, supervising projects in the red-hot business process outsourcing sector, among other industries currently attracting investment. Only a few startling statistics are necessary to demonstrate that quite a number of them are here for business. One is the fact that the tiny British Virgin Islands — a favored address for registering investment vehicles — topped all sources of foreign investment in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Another is that only 528, or 20%, of all companies registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) are wholly Filipino-owned, indicating that the remainder have at least some foreign ownership.
Foreign investors seeking direct participation in the management of their projects in the Philippines usually send a representative or live here themselves. For such investors, here is a useful checklist of responsibilities of expatriates working in the Philippines:
To be legally employed in the Philippines, expatriates are required to obtain a work visa. An employment contract and benefits package are some of the key requirements before a visa is approved. The latter should be structured efficiently for tax purposes before it is submitted to the Philippines’ immigration department.
TAX FILING OBLIGATION
Aliens residing in the Philippines or deriving income in the Philippines are generally required to file an income tax return in the Philippines except expatriates covered by substituted filing.
Under substituted filing, a resident expatriate earning purely compensation income from a single employer on which withholding tax on compensation had been properly withheld shall no longer be required to file an income tax return. The Certificate of Withholding Taxes on Compensation (BIR Form 2316), issued by the local employer would suffice for the purpose. If expatriates plan to claim tax credits in their home country, they may use the BIR Form 2316 or alternatively, they may file income tax returns at their option or as required by their home country.
Applying the above, resident expatriates and non-resident expatriates engaged in trade or business in the Philippines are required to file an income tax return.
CHARGE TO TAX
In general, aliens are taxable in the Philippines only on Philippine-sourced income. The income from employment, such as salaries, allowances, benefits and other forms of compensation for labor or personal services performed in the Philippines are treated as Philippine-sourced income, regardless of where the payment is made. The salaries and benefits must be subjected to withholding tax by the employer.
In certain cases, however, an expatriate receives compensation from a foreign affiliate of the local employer, in addition to the salaries received from the local employer. This set-up, where two companies are paying the expatriate, is referred to as a split-pay arrangement. If the foreign-paid salary is given in account for the assignment or work in the Philippines, such income paid by the foreign company is also taxable in the Philippines.
In most cases, the foreign-paid salary above is not subject to withholding tax since the salaries are not shouldered by the local employer and not paid through them. This is because the salaries are directly deposited to the account of the expatriate without the details being known to the local employer. If this is not subject to withholding tax, the expatriate employee loses his qualification for substituted filing.
In addition to salaries, these are some of the benefits and allowances granted by employers and some income earned by the employee from other sources:
• Fringe benefits
The employer may grant or pay the employee housing, car, or personal household expenses. The expatriate need not worry since these benefits are subject to fringe benefit tax which is borne by the employer.
• De minimis benefits
These are small benefits, such as laundry allowance and clothing allowance. Although these are non-taxable, they must be reported as part of the non-taxable amount in the income tax return.
• Passive income
This includes income exempt from tax and income subject to final tax, such as interest, royalties, dividends, and winnings, sale or exchange of stock, etc. For 2014, unless it is further deferred in the succeeding year, these must be disclosed in the individual income tax return. It is therefore imperative that the expatriate all his income earned in the Philippines that is subject to final tax or exempted from income tax.
Speaking of stocks, it is very common for multinational companies to grant stock options to its employees for services rendered in the Philippines. Under Revenue Memorandum Circular No. 79-2014 issued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, it seems the stock option is taxed upon grant and exercise. Expatriates are advised to seek special advice on the taxation of stock options.
Other taxes that expatriates are responsible to pay include: (1) annual community tax, (2) real property tax if owning a condominium, and (3) social security. Social security is compulsory for all individuals working in the Philippines. However, for citizens of countries with which the Philippines has existing social security agreements — such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Korea, Netherlands, Quebec, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom — a request for exemption may be filed with the Philippine social security authorities.
POSSIBLE TAX SAVINGS
Lastly, expatriates may be entitled to income tax relief in accordance with the international tax treaties entered into by the Philippine government. Under most tax treaties, an expatriate who is a resident of a treaty country shall not be liable to pay income tax on employment exercised in the Philippines if the employee is present in the Philippines for an aggregate period of less than 180 or 90 days for the taxable year, depending on the alien’s country of origin. However, to avail of the exemption under the tax treaties, a tax treaty relief application must be filed with the tax bureau before the first taxable transaction/payment is made.
An expatriate earning income in the Philippines should know his tax responsibilities. Whether the income is exempt or not from tax, there is always the responsibility of filing a return or securing an exemption.
Marie Fe L. Fawagan is a manager with the Tax Advisory and Compliance division of Punongbayan & Araullo.