Corporate Tax System in Malta
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Corporate Tax System in Malta

on 26 April 2024

​The Maltese jurisdiction is not just a scenic backdrop but a proactive participant, offering a pro-business environment with streamlined company incorporation processes, a highly skilled workforce, and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Understanding the Maltese Corporate Tax System

Overview of the Corporate Tax System in Malta

Malta's corporate tax landscape is tailored to attract and sustain investment. The standard corporate tax rate stands at 35%, a figure that, at first glance, might seem steep. However, the allure of the Maltese tax system lies in its full imputation system, which allows effective tax rates on distributed profits to plummet significantly, sometimes as low as 5% for certain types of companies.

This strategic framework ensures that profits taxed at the company level aren't subject to further taxation when reaching shareholders, making Malta a magnet for businesses eyeing tax efficiency. The participation exemption regime sweetens the deal by exempting dividends or capital gains derived from qualifying holdings from tax, fortifying Malta's position as a tax-efficient jurisdiction.

Basic Principles and Structure of the Tax System

Malta's corporate tax system operates on a worldwide basis, meaning companies set up in Malta are liable for tax on their global income. However, the full imputation system is the linchpin of this framework, ensuring that taxes paid by the company are imputed to the shareholders, effectively preventing double taxation. This system, coupled with an extensive network of over 70 double tax treaties, positions Malta as a formidable hub for international trade and investment.

Comparison with Corporate Tax Systems in Other EU Countries

When juxtaposed with other EU nations, Malta's corporate tax system stands out for its investor-friendly policies. While the headline tax rate mirrors that of other EU countries, the effective tax rate, post-refunds and exemptions, makes Malta a more lucrative option for businesses aiming to maximise their post-tax profits.

Key Features of the Maltese Corporate Tax System

Corporate Tax Rate and Its Implications

The corporate tax rate in Malta is pegged at 35%. However, the unique full imputation system and the availability of refunds on dividends can reduce this rate significantly, making it one of the most attractive tax regimes within the EU.

Tax Residency Criteria for Corporations

A corporation is deemed tax-resident in Malta if it is incorporated in the country or if its management and control are exercised in Malta. This residency status is pivotal as it dictates the corporation's liability to Maltese tax on its worldwide income.

Exemptions and Allowances Available to Businesses

Businesses in Malta can benefit from various exemptions and allowances, including the participation exemption for qualifying holdings and refundable tax credits. These provisions not only reduce the effective tax rate but also encourage reinvestment and growth.

Treatment of Capital Gains and Losses

Capital gains in Malta are generally taxed at the standard corporate tax rate. However, gains derived from the sale of shares in a qualifying holding are exempt from tax, aligning with the participation exemption principle. Conversely, capital losses can be carried forward indefinitely, offering businesses a cushion against future taxable income.

What Type of Business Structures Can Pay Less Tax in Malta

Businesses engaged in international trade, financial services, and innovative sectors like fintech and blockchain often find Malta's tax system particularly beneficial. The combination of the full imputation system, participation exemption, and extensive double tax treaty network means that companies in these sectors can significantly reduce their effective tax burden

Tax Incentives and Benefits for Companies in Malta

Full Imputation System

The full imputation system is a cornerstone of Malta's corporate tax framework, designed to eliminate the economic double taxation of company profits. Under this system, corporate profits are taxed at the standard rate of 35%. However, when these profits are distributed as dividends to shareholders, the shareholders are entitled to a tax credit equal to the tax borne on the profits, ensuring that the profits are not taxed twice.

This effectively means that although the nominal corporate tax rate is 35%, the actual burden can be significantly lower, especially when combined with Malta’s refund system, potentially reducing the effective tax rate to as low as 5%.

Explanation of the Full Imputation System

The full imputation system stipulates that dividends distributed to shareholders from company profits are not subjected to additional taxation. Shareholders receive a tax credit corresponding to the tax paid by the company on the profits from which the dividends are paid. This mechanism ensures that profits are taxed only once, at the corporate level, and not again when distributed to shareholders.

When the shareholders' personal income tax rate is below 35%, they receive a refund for the difference between the tax credit and their tax rate, provided the dividends are included in their tax return.

Benefits for Both Local and International Shareholders

The system is designed to benefit all shareholders, whether resident or non-resident in Malta, and irrespective of whether they are individuals or corporate entities. This inclusivity makes Malta an attractive jurisdiction for both local and international investors, as it assures them that the profits distributed by Maltese companies will not be subject to double taxation.

Moreover, the refund mechanism ensures that shareholders are not taxed beyond their personal tax rates, enhancing the attractiveness of investing in Maltese companies.

Participation Exemption

Malta's participation exemption is another significant feature of its corporate tax regime, offering relief from tax on certain dividends and capital gains.

Criteria for Qualification

The participation exemption applies to profits derived from a participating holding or from the transfer thereof. To qualify, the holding must meet specific conditions, such as a minimum percentage of equity held or an investment for a continuous period. This exemption is part of Malta's strategy to encourage investment and participation in Maltese and foreign companies, thereby bolstering economic activity and growth.

Benefits in Terms of Dividend Income and Capital Gains

The participation exemption provides for a 100% exemption on profits (namely dividends) derived from a participating holding or from the transfer thereof (namely gains on transfer). This exemption is significant for companies as it ensures that such income is not subject to further tax in Malta, thus fostering an environment conducive to business growth and international investment.

Notional Interest Deduction (NID)

The NID is a relatively recent addition to Malta’s corporate tax incentives, introduced to equalise the tax treatment of debt and equity financing.

Purpose and Application of NID

The NID aims to level the playing field between debt and equity financing by allowing companies to claim a deduction for a notional interest on their equity. This deduction is calculated based on the risk-free reference rate multiplied by the amount of risk capital employed by the company. The introduction of NID encourages companies to finance their activities through equity rather than debt, promoting financial stability and growth.

Calculation of NID and its Impact on Taxable Income

The NID is calculated by applying the published risk-free reference rate to the amount of risk capital employed by the company. Risk capital includes amounts allocated to the capital accounts of the company, retained earnings, and other reserves. The deemed interest deduction is also a deemed interest income for the shareholder.

However, where the shareholder is not resident in Malta, generally no further Malta tax is paid thereon. This deduction can significantly reduce a company's taxable income, thereby lowering its tax liability and enhancing its net profitability.

Other Incentives

In addition to the full imputation system, participation exemption, and NID, Malta offers a range of other tax incentives aimed at fostering a conducive business environment.

Research and Development (R&D) Incentives

Malta encourages innovation and development by offering various incentives for R&D activities. These include grants, tax credits, and other forms of support, designed to stimulate innovation and technological advancement within the corporate sector. By investing in R&D, companies can not only enhance their competitiveness but also benefit from the supportive tax structure that Malta offers.

Deductions for Intellectual Property

Companies in Malta can also benefit from deductions related to intellectual property. These deductions are intended to encourage investment in intellectual property and innovation, contributing to Malta's growing reputation as a hub for technology and digital industries. The specific conditions and benefits of these deductions vary, but they generally aim to reduce the tax burden on companies engaging in creative and innovative activities

International Considerations

Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs)

Malta's approach to international trade, especially in the financial services sector, is underpinned by its extensive network of Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs), predominantly based on the OECD model. These agreements are pivotal in preventing the double taxation of income earned in one jurisdiction by a resident of another and are instrumental for businesses operating internationally. Once ratified, these treaties supersede domestic tax legislation, ensuring that relief from double taxation is available as stipulated in the respective treaties.

Overview of DTAs and their Importance

DTAs are bilateral agreements that resolve issues involving double taxation of passive and active income, encouraging the growth of international trade and investment. They provide a legal framework for taxing rights between two countries and offer tax stability and reduced withholding tax rates on dividends, interest, and royalties, benefiting companies by mitigating the risks associated with cross-border trade and investment.

How DTAs Benefit Companies Operating in Malta

Companies in Malta leverage DTAs to minimize their tax burden on foreign income. The treaties provide relief in the form of a tax credit against the tax chargeable in Malta on the gross chargeable income, ensuring that the credit does not exceed the total tax liability in Malta on the foreign source income.

Additionally, dividends paid to non-residents are not subject to withholding tax under Maltese law, and interests and royalties paid to non-residents are exempt from tax in Malta, further enhancing the country’s appeal as a business-friendly jurisdiction.

​EU Directives and their Implementation in Malta

Malta's commitment to aligning its tax system with European standards is evident in its implementation of various EU directives, which significantly impact the tax landscape for companies operating within the country.

Parent-Subsidiary Directive

The Parent-Subsidiary Directive aims to eliminate tax obstacles in the area of profit distributions between groups of companies in the EU by preventing double taxation of such profits at the corporate level. Malta's adherence to this directive ensures that profits distributed by subsidiary companies to their parent companies are exempt from withholding tax, fostering a conducive environment for corporate groups operating within the EU.

Interest and Royalties Directive

This directive provides a tax exemption on payments of interest and royalties between associated companies of different EU Member States. The implementation of this directive in Malta encourages cross-border cooperation and development within the EU by eliminating taxes on such payments, thereby promoting the internal market’s efficiency.

Mergers Directive

The Mergers Directive facilitates cross-border mergers, divisions, transfers of assets, and exchanges of shares concerning companies of different EU Member States by providing common tax rules. This directive aims to ensure that such operations do not result in any taxation of capital gains and defers the taxation of such gains until the eventual disposal of the assets, thus removing tax obstacles for the restructuring of companies within the EU.

Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (ATAD) and its Local Implications

Malta has transposed the ATAD into local law, introducing rules against tax avoidance practices that directly affect the functioning of the internal market. Key components of the implementation include borrowing costs limitation rules, exit taxation, a General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), and Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) rules.

These measures aim to discourage artificial debt arrangements designed to minimize taxes, counteract aggressive tax planning, and deter profit shifting to low/no tax countries. The transposition of ATAD into Maltese law underscores the country's dedication to fostering a transparent and fair tax system while aligning with EU standards

Recent Changes to the Corporate Tax System in Malta & Future Outlook

Legislative Updates and Policy Changes

In a significant policy shift, the Maltese government has confirmed its commitment to maintaining the current corporate tax structure for the year 2024. This move includes the continuation of the full imputation taxation system, which has been a hallmark of Malta's tax landscape.

However, changes are on the horizon with discussions about a migration from the current imputation system to a more classical system. This reform is aimed at ensuring that Malta's tax system remains competitive and sustainable while aligning with evolving international tax norms.

Additionally, the government is keen on ensuring that incentives, such as the Qualified Refundable Tax Credits scheme, align with EU and OECD standards, thereby maintaining Malta's attractiveness as a business hub while adhering to international regulations.

Impact of Global Initiatives like BEPS on Malta's Tax System

The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative by the OECD has brought significant changes to the international tax landscape. Malta, in response to these global developments, has taken steps to align its tax system with these international standards. The government is actively engaging in discussions related to the OECD's Two Pillar Solution. Pillar 1 focuses on the reallocation of taxation rights between countries, while Pillar 2 introduces a global minimum tax, effectively setting an effective tax rate of 15% for large multinational companies. Despite these developments, Malta has chosen to delay the implementation of Pillar 2 rules for 2024, opting to monitor global developments and respond accordingly to maintain its competitive edge.

Future Trends and Predictions

Potential Reforms and Their Implications for Businesses

As Malta prepares for future changes, businesses are closely monitoring the potential implications of the proposed tax reforms. The transition from the current imputation system to a classical system is anticipated to reshape the corporate tax landscape, affecting various facets of business operations, from shareholder tax refunds to corporate incentives.

The aim is to create a tax system that is not only in line with global tax rules but also ensures limited impact on businesses not directly affected by these changes. As these discussions progress, businesses are expected to adapt to the new tax environment, seeking strategies to optimise their tax positions while remaining compliant with the evolving regulations.

The Role of Digitalisation and Technology in Tax Compliance and Administration

The role of digitalisation and technology in enhancing tax compliance and administration is becoming increasingly prominent. Initiatives like the Malta Development Bank's education financing schemes exemplify the government's commitment to fostering innovation and skills development, vital for adapting to the digital economy.

These schemes, aimed at supporting students in diverse study areas, highlight the emphasis on cultivating a workforce equipped to meet the demands of a technologically driven business environment. As digitalisation continues to reshape industries, the interplay between technology, education, and tax policy is expected to become more pronounced, driving efficiencies in tax administration and compliance, and propelling Malta's economic growth in the digital age

Malta's corporate tax system is navigating through a period of transformation, reflecting the country's proactive approach to adapting to global tax developments and the increasing role of technology in shaping the future of tax compliance and administration. Businesses operating in Malta are poised to witness a dynamic tax environment, underscored by the commitment to maintaining competitiveness while aligning with international tax standards.


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