How To Set up a Subscription Based Startup Business Tax Free Offshore

Are you looking to startup a Subscription based business?


(For the uninitiated) Subscription Based businesses began in the media world many years ago. Before the Information age people would subscribe to a particular magazine or news service or book club ie the subscriber would pay a regular fee (eg a monthly fee or yearly fee) to regularly receive a particular newspaper or magazine. (Eg when I was a boy my parents subscribed to a record club and received a certain number of new vinyl LP records every month).


With the technological revolution, and in particular the advent of SaaS (Software as a service) products, a LOT of businesses are shifting away from the traditional cash flow model (ie where revenue is derived from a customer’s one-off purchase) to a subscription based revenue model where revenue flows in on a recurring basis. In this later scenario subscribers pay subscription fees periodically in return for consistent access to the delivery of a particular good or service.


Examples of latter-day subscription based models include:

  • Music streaming services (eg Spotify)
  • Pay TV services (eg Netflix)
  • Fitness Clubs (ie Gyms)
  • Online Newspapers (eg News Limited)
  • Software Services (eg MYOB/Accounting Software Providers)


With such a business often, if not typically, the services are offered Online (ie via a website and/or an active online direct marketing campaign), the subscriber signs up online and the service is delivered online (ie via download or via email) or via post/courier.


Such a business lends itself perfectly well to an “Offshore” Corporate Structuring Plan.


Here’s how such a business can/will typically work from an “Offshore” Perspective:


  • A nil tax offshore company (commonly an International Business Company “IBC”) is incorporated to own/operate the business
  • You design/launch a website or Online Product/Sale portal which is owned by the Offshore Company
  • The IBC owns all proprietary items (including also the/any Trademarks, Operating software/systems, soft products to be delivered to customers etc)
  • Your website/landing page should ideally should be hosted in a nil tax/private Jurisdiction (Iceland is currently the most popular destination for such web hosting, Singapore is also often favoured)
  • The clients find you and/or contact you via the web
  • The IBC is seen to be managed and controlled from (and ideally beneficially owned from, see below) Offshore. This is achieved via the appointment of a (nil tax jurisdiction based) “Nominee” Director.
  • The client applies to become a subscriber Online (eg via your website)
  • Your standard sale agreement/website terms and conditions should provide that a contract is not formed until the customer’s offer is accepted by you (ie the Offshore Company)
  • Before the client clicks the “subscriber” button he/she clicks on a button acknowledging that he/she has read and agrees to be bound by your terms & conditions
  • Acceptance of the buyer’s offer would be provided by the Company (which is seen to be managed from “Offshore” via a nil-tax-jurisdiction resident Nominee Director) sending an email or text to the buyer, after he/she has paid online; In simple terms what this means is that the situs of the Contract ie the place where the contract of sale (ie the agreement between you and the buyer for you to supply goods in consideration of the buyer paying), at law, is formed is the director’s location ie a nil tax environment…
  • Hence the income – from which, in effect, the contract of sale is the source – has been/is derived, prima facie, in a zero tax jurisdiction (every time a client buys and you send an email thanking him for payment that concludes as contract of sale at law)
  • Ideally the Company’s Board of directors would meet once a month to ratify (ie belatedly approve) all subscription contracts signed up/entered into in the month previous
  • An Offshore account (which can/will also be set up to receive card payments via a merchant account) is opened in a nil tax banking centre (ie a jurisdiction/country which does not tax interest paid by local banks on bank deposits)
  • Subscribers pay the IBC; All such monies are banked free of tax in the first instance
  • You or your local company would/could be contracted by the IBC to manage sales/delivery of product/website maintenance/whatever
  • (If you need a regular income) You would invoice the IBC periodically (eg monthly) for this service which income would be assessable income in your home state – though a smart Tax Accountant should be able to assist you to claim a series of expenses against this income (eg home office, equipment, travel, phone/internet/utilities etc) to significantly reduce the amount of tax payable on this income
  • Ideally once you start to grow you and to add substance you would be wise to set up your MD/Board and or a sales team to take orders and receive income in a low tax onshore environment (eg Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, Cyprus etc as per the Amazon/Google model).


Management/Ownership Structure


As alluded to, in order to minimise the chances of the IBC being taxed onshore, ideally, the IBC should/would be (and be seen to be) managed and controlled from Offshore. How this can be achieved is by including a Nominee Director as part of the Corporate structure. For details of how that can work click on these links:


Ideally – so you can swear on oath in the event of a tax investigation, law suit or regulatory inquiry – I am not the beneficial owner of this Company, (which could get you around what might otherwise be a substantial tax or legal liability eg imprisonment for tax evasion) you will want to set up a Private Foundation to act as the shareholder of your IBC. (This should also assist you to get around CFC rules ie if you live in a country which has such a law).


With a bespoke legal/admin structure in place you should only be liable to declare and pay tax on income paid to you by your Offshore Company (and/or on any distributions paid to you by the Foundation); The rest of your Online sales earnings you should be able to bank, and/or invest, Offshore in a nil tax environment.


Similarly, if a product that you sell doesn’t perform and a customer tries to sue you the good news is your personal assets should not be at risk as the customer has contracted with a limited liability Company (ie the Company carries the legal risk, not you personally). Moreover, having your business incorporated Offshore in a foreign/strange land is of itself a deterrent. (Have you ever tried to sue/get money out of an “Offshore” Company? It’s the Litigation Lawyer’s equivalent of climbing Mount Everest!)


Local laws can have an impact. Hence you should seek local legal/tax/financial advice before committing to set up an IBC for such purposes.


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