U.S. Law firms consulting in India – trap for the unwary

International legal and independent professionals consulting in India often have issues receiving funds from their clients in India. India has stringent exchange control regulations contained in the Act called Foreign Exchange Management Act – FEMA. Accordingly all foreign remittances must go through certain procedures. Additionally, Income Tax Department asks for “Tax Residency Certificate” (TRC) from the US service provider so that the treaty benefits can be allowed. If TRC is not produced, the payer must withhold tax from the income remitted to US service provider. This is true regardless of where the services were provided.

Until recently, it was mandatory that TRC issued by foreign tax authority must contain all items required by the government of India in order to exempt any tax withholding requirements. As many of us are aware, Internal Revenue Service issues the US tax residency certificate in Form 6166 which cannot contain additional information as required by government of India. Due to this, in many cases, the Indian income tax department rejected the TRC issued by IRS and that resulted in withholding tax in India.

However, after a few representations, the government of India and the tax department agreed to accept the US residency certificate in its present Form 6166.

Accordingly the following documents are required to successfully receive payments form Indian companies without any withholding:

  1. Form 10F
  2. Permanent Account Number  (PAN or tax ID number)for India
  3. US Form 6166 for the relevant tax year
  4. Signed letter on US law firm’s letterhead stating that the law firm does not have a permanent establishment (PE) in India under the US – India tax treaty article.

Since the tax year in India runs from April 1 to March 31st, it is possible that some clients in India may request that the firm provide TRC issued by IRS in 2015 for payments processed in January through March 2015. Therefore US law firms may want to begin the process of collecting relevant data and partner signatures in advance, so as to file Form 8802 in a timely manner. This will expedite the process to receive TRC from IRS soon. Note that currently IRS charges a $85 user fee and processes the TRC within 45 days.

Please contact us to receive our assistance on both sides of the border.

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“One Person Company” concept introduced in India

Recently Companies Act 2013 was enacted in India. One of the concepts that was introduced for the first time is OPC or One Person Company concept. Practitioners of the erstwhile Companies Act of 1956 never could imagine that a Company can be formed just by one person! However, siding with the developed countries’ corporate laws, this certainly is a welcome change. It is remaining to be seen as to how the concept will be received by the business as well professional community in India.

The Companies (Incorporation) Rules, 2014 provides as following:

  • A natural person who is an Indian citizen and resident in India shall be eligible to incorporate an OPC and to become a nominee for the sole member of the OPC.
  • Corporations, foreigners or a non resident individual cannot incorporate an OPC;
  • A person cannot incorporate more than one OPC or become a nominee in more than one OPC. However, such a person can be a member of one OPC and nominee of another OPC;
  • Where a member of an OPC becomes a member of another OPC by virtue of his nomination in that second OPC, he shall opt out of either one of the OPC within a period of 180 days;
  • A minor cannot become a member or nominee of an OPC or hold shares with beneficial interest; An OPC cannot carry out NBFC activities including investment in securities of anybody corporate.
  • Every OPC will mention “One Person Company“ in brackets below the name of such company wherever it is printed, affixed or engraved. Hence, the name should be mentioned as “ABC  (One Person Company)“  and not any other way.

It is perceived that the new development will not be attractive from the Indian income tax point. Indian tax law imposes a secondary tax on dividend (called distribution tax) on the Companies. If OPC has to pay the dividend tax, it looses its attractiveness as compared to a sole proprietorship.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the concept and see if the law will accommodate foreign investors and allow them to use OPC in future.

India budget proposals and foreign investors

Indian Finance Minister presented the annual budget yesterday that contains host of income tax provisions that need attention for an efficient tax planning by a foreign investor. Some of the key provisions are:

  • Royalty and technical fee paid to a foreign person is now subject to 25% withholding tax rate instead of 10%. Lower rate maybe available for the investors from treaty countries.
  • Introduction of FIRPTA kind of withholding tax – all buyers (including NRIs) of real property in India would be subject to 1% withholding tax (TDS) on the sale price of the real property. If the seeler does not have a Permanent Account Number for tax purposes, the withholding tax would be assessed at 20%
  • There was a confusion if tax residency certificate is conclusive evidence to establish residency of foreign country in order to claim treaty benefits; it has been clarified that it may not be sufficient evidence although it will be necessary
  • Mortgage interest is now allowed to be dedducted in a limited amount provided certain conditions are met
  • Direct Tax Code will be introduced prior to the end of current budget session according to the Finance Minister
  • Surcharge on foreign company’s taxable income to increase from 2% to 5% if the taxable income exceeds Rs. 100 million ($2 million)
  • Dividend distribution tax surcharge to increase from 5% to 10%; however, 15% rate on dividend received by the Indian company from its foreign subsidiary will continue for one more year

Additional information is available from CPA Global Tax professionals.

Tax tribunal in India rules database access fees as royalty – implications for US companies

In the case, the taxpayer (ONGC) was an Indian resident company engaged in the exploration and development of natural oil and gas. ONGC subscribed to an online database maintained by Wood MacKenzie (WM), a U.K. resident company. The subscription, which provided information on the global oil and gas industry, required ONGC to pay a fee to WM in exchange for a license agreement that provided for an exclusive and non-transferable right to access and download information from the site. No right to sublicense was granted to ONGC under the license agreement and the use of the information was limited to what was specified in the agreement. The website was only accessible by select ONGC employees and WM provided two days of training per year to 20 ONGC employees on technical issues related to oil and gas exploration.

The Indian Income tax Appellate Tribunal ruled that the fees paid by ONCG are properly characterized as royalties, for Indian tax purposes, under both Indian domestic law and the India-UK double taxation treaty. It was therefore subject to the applicable withholding tax according to the treaty.

Number of U.S. based companies provide the database subscriptions services to the users in India. They should closely study amd monitor the case as this may have deep implications for them.