Is Hungary the ultimate European Corporate tax haven?
On 12th December 2016, the Hungarian Parliament approved a bill of Viktor Orban’s Government that reduced the Corporation Tax to a flat rate of 9%.
Coming into force on January 1st 2017, the bill marked Hungary’s assumption of the title of EU country with the lowest corporate tax rate, ahead of Bulgaria (10%), Ireland and Cyprus (12.5%). The reduction was significant, considering that the previous tax rate was 10% for the first HUF 500M (EUR 1.5M) and 19% for the remaining.
The government has since been introducing reforms aimed at encouraging foreign direct investment, which had been decreasing in recent years. They are also trying to boost the competitiveness of existing industries, especially medium-sized enterprises, since large foreign multinationals, especially from the German automotive industry, have already enjoyed reduced tax rates due to subsidies and tax concessions. The tax reforms of the last few years have put Hungary in the spotlight of many investors and entrepreneurs as a destination to consider doing business.
What do we know about Hungary?
Before dipping into the legalities and pecuniary issues of Hungary, it might be worth evoking some of the unique elements of the country. Culturally-unique customs, foods and products are so highly valued in the country that they have their own word for it: Hungaricum. Examples of these include the country’s renowned, tasty paprika, its spas and hot springs, affordable. excellent wine (if you haven’t heard about it, you should), its dreadlocked water dogs (known as the Puli breed), the Rubik’s cube, or Hungarian football stars (not suitable for millennials) Czibor, Puskas or Kubala, among others.
Hungary is a relatively small, landlocked country of just 90,000 square kilometers, located in central-eastern Europe, bordering Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Its population is just a little under 10 million. Hungary is considered to be a country with a developed economy, and is a full member of the European Union, OECD, NATO, Visegrád Group and the Schengen Agreement.
Despite its communist past, Hungary is now one of the most open economies in central Europe, with more than 80% of its GDP being found in private sector hands, and with its more important sectors linked to Western Europe through trade and foreign investment.
Since the country’s accession to the European Union in 2004, the economic development of the country has been remarkable, notwithstanding a parenthesis due to the global financial crisis (2008-2013). However, the country managed to overcome much faster than most of its European neighbors, mainly due to the stimulus of the foreign sector, increased competitiveness due to the devaluation of its currency, and strong domestic demand, which has driven activities such as agriculture, its automotive sector and public works. In 2017, the country’s economy grew at a rate of 4%, with a high level of public debt (around 73% of GDP), although this was a reduction of more than 5 percentage points from the three previous years due to the primary surplus of its public accounts.
The official currency of the country is the Hungarian Florint (HUF). There has been no date set for the adoption of the euro, and the country’s often-contentious relationship with the authorities in Brussels makes it unlikely that this will happen in the near future.
The country’s political, economic and financial capital is Budapest, with a population of 1.73 million people. This beautiful city – once one of the main centers of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire on the banks of the river Danube, contributes more than 40% of the country’s total GDP.
Invest in Hungary
As has been mentioned, Hungary is one of the most developed economies in Central Europe. As a member of the EU, it is a gateway to a market of more than 500 million people – 250 million of which are in a radius of just 1,000 km. Its strategic position makes it an investment destination and ideal logistics point, due to its quality infrastructure, and numerous industrial and scientific parks. These factors go a long way to explaining why the foreign direct investment stock in Hungary is one of the highest in the region.
The Hungarian workforce is highly qualified, especially in engineering, medicine, and economics, though average salaries are the fourth lowest in Europe, which was actually a drop in ranking from the previous year. In February 2019, the gross average salary was HUF 385,000 (≈EUR 1,160), and the net salary was HUF 230,000 (≈EUR 697). The professional minimum net salary for unskilled workers was HUF 150,000 (≈EUR 450) and for qualified workers HUF 200,000 (≈EUR 600). The monthly Social Security and unemployment fund contributions paid by the employer are about 27% of the gross salary.
Another aspect that makes Hungary a very attractive region for investment is its financial stability. Its financial system is one of the most developed in the area, and complements the country’s legislation, favorable investment policies and tax incentives aimed at improving competitiveness, which will be discussed later in more detail.
As a weak points, the main aspect to be emphasized is the country’s dependence on the economic situation of its main European trading partners, due to the importance of its foreign sector, the low level of its foreign exchange reserves, and the risk of loss of value of its currency.
Regarding investment opportunities in Hungary, the most attractive are to be found in the automotive, services, biological sciences, pharmaceuticals, and medical technology, electronics, information technology, R&D, renewable energy, supply chain management, and distribution logistics sectors.
Overall, the Budapest stock market has performed spectacularly over the past 5 years, rising from around 22,000 in October 2015 to more than 38,000 points in August 2019, though the last 5 months have seen a drop from a peak of around 43,000 points in April 2019. The 10-year Treasury bonds have yielded a rate of around 1.8% this past year, down from nearly 3.7% in mid 2019, and currently, its credit rating is BBB (Standard & Poor’s) and Baa3 (Moody’s) with a stable outlook.
Incorporate in Hungary
Types of legal entities
Act. 4 of 2006 on business associations allows individuals, legal and business associations without legal personality, both residents and foreigners to incorporate various types of companies in Hungary, where Kft. (LLC) is the most popular.
- Limited liability company (Kft.): This is the most common form of company to incorporate in Hungary. It may have 1 or more members and the liability of each is limited to their capital contribution. Its members cannot be recruited through public offers and the rights of the partners and their owners are represented by quotas, which may be ordinary (identical rights) or preferential (e.g. preference of dividends or voting rights). Issuance of securities in respect of such quotas is not allowed. The minimum subscribed capital is HUF 3,000,0000 (≈EUR 9,050), which may be in cash or species, in addition to other possible contributions if established by its bylaws. One or more administrators manage the company and a supervisory board is not required if the number of employees is less than 200. The registration fee is HUF 50,000-100,000 (≈EUR 150-300) depending on the registration procedure used.
- Private Company Limited (Zrt.): Capital is divided into shares, but these are not publicly listed and traded. The shares may be ordinary shares, employee shares, interest-bearing shares, redeemable shares or preferred shares (dividends, with respect to the settlement ratio, with respect to voting rights, preferably to the appointment of executives or members of the board of directors… etc.) The members assume no responsibility for the obligations of the company. The minimum share capital is HUF 5,000,0000 (≈EUR 15,080), which may also be established only with in-kind contributions. The management of the company is carried out by a board of directors of three to eleven members, or in the event that the constitutive document establishes it, the general manager manages the company. Shareholders representing at least 5% of the voting rights may request a supervisory board, which must have between 3 and 15 members. If the average annual number of full-time employees of the company exceeds 200, they must constitute one-third of the board. The registration fee is HUF 100,000 (≈EUR 3,000).
- Public Company Limited (Nyrt): Capital is divided into shares, which are listed and traded on the stock exchange. The minimum paid-in capital is HUF 20,000,000 (≈EUR 60,000). Its members assume no responsibility for the obligations of the company. A board of directors of three to eleven members and a supervisory board of between three and fifteen members are mandatory. If the number of employees exceeds 200, they must constitute a third of the supervisory board. The duty levied for registration is HUF 600,000 (≈EUR 1,810).
Other options for doing business in Hungary are a branch or representative office:
- Branch: allows for carrying out normal commercial activities independently. The parent company must continuously provide the assets necessary for the branch operation and the settlement of its debts, and assume unlimited liability for debts incurred during the activity.
- Representative office: may attend and represent the parent company in the negotiation of contracts, and may carry out marketing, advertising and exhibition campaigns on its behalf.
Hungary Company Formation
The process for the registration and formalization of a Kft. (LLC) requires a minimum of 5 days and consists of the following phases:
Day 1: Hire a Hungarian lawyer, prepare all corporate documents and sign the constitutive document. The attorney’s fees may vary, but are usually around HUF 100,000-260,000 (≈EUR 300-780).
Day 2: Opening of a bank account by the founders in person and a cash deposit of at least 50% of the subscribed capital; the rest of the capital must be paid no later than one year after the foundation.
Day 3 and 4: Registration of the company in the Court of Registration of Hungary and obtain a tax identification number. The application for registration will be examined by the Tax Administration, which may refuse to issue a tax identification number if there is a tax debt higher than HUF 15,000,000 (≈EUR 45,200) on the part of the managing director, an owner entitled to represent the company or a majority shareholder.
The court will issue a certificate with the name of the company, address, temporary tax, statistical number and reference number of the registration. It is the necessary to register the company in the State Tax Administration (for VAT and income taxes) and the Office Statistics through an online system.
There are two available procedures for incorporation:
- Simplified electronic submission with a standardized template for the bylaws: this usually takes 2 business days and the registration fee is HUF 50,000 (≈EUR 150)
- Standard electronic submission: incorporation takes 15 business days, the registration fee is HUF 100,000 (≈EUR 300) and the publication fee is HUF 5,000 (≈EUR 15)
Day 5: Registration with the Hungarian tax authority, municipality, chamber of commerce, Central Administration of National Pension Insurance.
Some business activities such as financing, insurance or capital markets require a special permit issued by the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority.
Corporate Income Tax
Resident companies’ income is subject to corporation tax, whether obtained in Hungary or abroad. Foreign companies that conduct business operations in a permanent national establishment (P.E.) will be subject to corporation tax on their income earned in Hungarian territory, considering agreements with other countries to avoid double taxation, and/or if the taxpayer earns income through the transfer or withdrawal of participation in a company holding real estate.
Entities that are subject to corporation tax: business associations (see the previous chapter), non-profit companies, regulated real estate investment companies, foundations, public foundations, companies that own real estate and assets managed under a trust agreement.
As has been mentioned, corporate income is taxed at a flat rate of 9% – the lowest of all the European Union.
Dividends received are tax- exempted. However, those received from a controlled foreign entity may be subject to taxation.
Capital gains are treated as ordinary business income and therefore subject to CIT, except those gained from the disposal of shares, when the shareholder owns at least 10% of the subsidiary, when shares have been held for at least one year, and the taxpayer has informed the tax authority of the acquisition of the participation within a period of 75 days after formalizing the purchase. There are similar rules to capital gains derived from the sale of intellectual property.
There are no withholding taxes on payments of dividends, royalties, interests, fees or branch profits remittance made to non-resident companies. A 15% rate may apply on payments to non-resident individuals.
Allowances and Tax incentives
SMEs may request a 40% tax incentive on interest paid on loans from financial institutions for the acquisition or manufacture of tangible assets, with a maximum of HUF 6,000,000 (≈EUR 18,100).
The Hungarian treasury also offers tax incentives for development, with the return of 80% of corporation tax for a maximum period of 14 years from the application period, which may be up to 10 years after the investment for investments with a net present value of at least HUF 3,000,0000,000 (≈EUR 9,050,000), and investments of at least HUF 1,000,000,000 (≈EUR 3,020,000) in special areas and during the four years following the first one in which the tax deduction is used. The requirements for requesting such a tax incentive are an increase by at least 150 workers (75 in some regions) or rising wage costs by at least 600 times the annual minimum wage (300 in some regions) compared to annual salary costs of the year prior to the investment or the average annual salary cost of the three years prior to the investment.
Tax incentives for development can also be requested for investments of at least HUF 100,000,000 (≈EUR 320,000) for equipment for the production of zoogenic foods, in environmental projects, film production, basic research, applied and experimental projects, projects in free entrepreneurship zones and some specific cases of projects financed with an issue of publicly traded shares.
There are 10% (15% for SME) tax benefits of payroll costs accounted for as direct costs of R&D and payroll of software developers, with a maximum of 70% of the tax liability calculated.
A foreign tax credit is available for corporation tax paid by a foreign company (up to 90% of the total), which may not exceed the minor between the foreign tax and the Hungarian tax, based, if it exists, on the double-taxation treaty between the two countries.
Debt interests (other tank bank debt) exceeding three times the entity equity is non-deductible.
Controlled Foreign Companies
A foreign entity is considered a CFC if the Hungarian entity holds more than 50% of participation and a foreign P.E., and if the tax paid by the subsidiary and P.E. is less than the difference between the tax that would have been payable in Hungary for the same income and the tax actually paid. If the foreign entity income is generated from production, agricultural, servicing, investment or trade activities with its own assets and employees, it may not be considered as a CFC. Certain income accrued by a CFC, such as interest or royalties, are taxable in Hungary, but a tax credit may apply for foreign tax paid.
Local Business Tax
There is a Local Business Tax of 2% on the income of companies domiciled in the jurisdiction of the municipality or carrying out temporary activities of 30 days.
At 27%, the value-added tax is one of the highest in Europe, with two reduced rates: 18% for some basic food products, and 5% for products related to public services, culture, and livestock.
Real Estate Investment
Foreign nationals are required to hold a permit from the corresponding Administrative Office to buy a property in Hungary as private persons, which usually takes 2-3 months. To avoid this obligation and the consequent waiting period, it is advisable to establish a company, with which the permit is not required and the related expenses can be amortized.
Since the Hungarian government introduced a range of measures to boost the national real estate market in 2014-2015, the Hungarian residential real estate market has been going through a boom; According to the Hungarian National Bank’s house price index, which rose 16.2% y-o-y (12.7% inflation-adjusted) in 2018, and 20.2% y-o-y (16.6% inflation-adjusted) during the same period for house prices in Budapest. Prices of existing dwellings rose by 10.6% y-o-y (7.7% inflation-adjusted) in Q2 2018, while prices of new dwellings went up by 10.4% (7.5% inflation-adjusted), according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH).
In fact, Budapest actually has the fastest growing prices of real estate in the entire world. At the end of 2016, the average price of one square meter in Budapest of second-hand housing was HUF 456,000 (≈EUR 1,500), 20% more than the previous year, due to a 38% increase in demand. Fast forward to the end of 2018, and the price had risen around 200%, and is now at around the EUR 3,000 mark. Gross rental income currently stands at 5.2%-5.6% per annum.
Regarding foreign investment, 17% more foreigners were buying property in the Hungarian market compared to the previous year, and the main buyers were of Chinese, Russian and Israeli origin, mostly focused in Budapest.
The buyer is subject to a property transfer tax, which includes the acquisition of real estate, valuable rights and interests, and tangible assets specified by law. The applicable rate is 4% up to a market value of HUF 1,000,000,000 (≈EUR 3,000,000) of the real estate asset or of the capital contribution acquired in a commercial association holding real estate, the excess will tax 2%, limited to HUF 200,000,000 (≈EUR 6,000) per property.
The acquisition of ownership of a new building by an entrepreneur will be exempt from the Property Transfer Tax if: the acquisition is based on the will to build a residential property; the acquisition of real estate or a contribution in a company that owns property; National assets under a preferential transfer of assets; transfer between related parties of real estate or a contribution to a company owning domestic real estate if the principal activity of the party acquiring the property is the lease, operation or sale and purchase of real estate; the acquisition of real estate under a lease; and transactions between direct relatives and spouses or as a result of a divorce or spousal separation.
The transfer of residential real estate is exempt from the VAT. The transfer of new buildings and construction plots is always subject to VAT, and the seller is responsible for VAT at the rate of 27%. 5% applies to the construction of new residential buildings and apartments with a floor space not exceeding 300 square meters and 150 sq. m., respectively.
Capital gains from the sale of property or rights to real estate property are subject to personal income tax. More information on this can be found in the Personal Income Tax Chapter.
The banking and financial sector in Hungary is stable and offers high levels of security and protection of funds. It is possible to open accounts in US Dollars (USD), Euros (EUR) or Hungarian Florints (HUF), the procedure is relatively simple and a minimum initial deposit is usually not required. Some banks may require a residence permit to open a bank account, some may require a proof of address in Hungary, and a few may only require identification documents such as a passport.
The exchange rate between the Hungarian Forint (HUF) and the Euro (EUR) is fluctuating; during this last year, it has moved in a hairpin of HUF 316-330 for each Euro.
The average interest rate applied to bank deposits has been negative since January 2016, at -0.05% per annum. In addition, there is not much difference between banks. The average inflation rate in July 2019 eased to 3.3% from 3.4% in the previous months, and forecasts indicate that it will grow stabilize at around 3% by mid 2020.
In June 2019, the long and short-term interest rate was 2.74% and 0.25% respectively.
With regard to the automatic exchange of bank information between countries, Hungary started to undertake first automatic exchanges of information (AEOI) in 2016. It has signed Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs), in addition to participating in the United States Foreign Tax Compliance (FACTA).
Living in Hungary
Even for an EU citizen, obtaining a permit to reside for more than 90 days in Hungary can be a laborious process of bureaucratic procedures. For that permission, individuals must receive a registration card (Regisztrációs kártya) and prove that they have domicile in the country, and a job or ability to generate sufficient income to remain in the country. Once the registration card is released, the government agency will send an address card (Lakcímkártya) within two weeks, valid indefinitely, which will serve as sufficient documentation to request a tax card and register with the social security system.
Non-EU citizens need to obtain a visa to enter the country, except nationals of the countries listed below:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Macedonia, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Macao Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Seychelles, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela.
To legally reside in the country, it will be necessary to apply for a Schengen residence permit before the expiration of a visa. This will be valid for three years and renewable every three years. Foreigners must also arrange the address card. To request such permission, the following documents are required:
- Verifying the purpose of residence:
- Self-employed persons: private business license or private employer registration number, or business plan or professional services contract.
- Employees: labor contract or other employment agreement.
- Owner or executive of a business association: employs at least three full-time Hungarian citizens with the right to free movement and residence for six consecutive months, or the applicant is essential to the business association and the business plan attached to the application contains sufficient information to verify that the business association will prosper to ensure the subsistence of the applicant
- Proving the income of the applicant: statement relating to the bank account or certificate of income issued by the tax authority, or certificate of income issued by the employer or certificate issued by the employer and/or tax authority as proof of regular income received abroad or any reliable means.
- Hungarian domicile proof: lease or accommodation courtesy document or documents to verify reservation of accommodation and payment or proof of ownership of a house or other reliable documents.
- Proof of the tenure of comprehensive health insurance
- Documents to prove departure if the application is rejected: a valid passport or the necessary permits for the third-country national to return to his or her country of origin or the country that indicates, or a valid ticket, or sufficient funds to buy such a ticket, or a means of transport lawfully used by the third-country national.
The fee for the application for the residence permit is HUF 18,000 (≈EUR 60), and the fee for the extension of the permit is HUF 10,000 (≈EUR 30). The procedure can last up to 60-70 days.
EU Blue Card
Non-EEA nationals may apply for the EU Blue Card if they fulfill the above conditions, have a contract of employment or a firm job offer and have a higher education.
Permanent Residency Card
Nationals of EEA countries can apply for a permanent residence card if they have resided legally and continuously in the territory of Hungary for five years; non-EEA citizens may apply for an EC Permanent Residence Card, if they have resided in Hungary legally and continuously for 5 years, or holders of an EU Blue Card having resided for two years in Hungarian territory or 5 years in any state of the European Union.
Hungarian Bond Residency Program
Until 31 March 2017, it is possible for Non-EU citizens to obtain a permanent residence permit in Hungary through the Hungarian Bond Residency Program, by investing in Special Hungarian Government Bonds that have a minimum maturity of 5 years, and are issued by the State through the Government Debt Management Agency. The minimum initial investment by each subscriber is EUR 300,000. At maturity, the original principal is returned to the investor with no accrued interest, and allows them to maintain their permanent resident status.
The investment in the program is made through a Residency Bond Agent approved by the Hungarian authorities, and they usually charge fees of around EUR 60,000. This transaction is subject to a Subscription Agreement with the designated agent company, which must be licensed for the geographic region of the principal applicant. Government bonds are allocated for the program only, and cannot be used to negotiate in the public or the secondary market.
Once the security is issued to the investor, the Residence Bond Agent will provide an irrevocable statement certifying that a Treasury bond will be acquired for a face value of EUR 300,000, with a five-year maturity, of the funds received from the investor within the first 45 days of his residence permit. In addition to the investment, applicants are also required to cover all processing fees and visa application.
Hungarian citizen(s). Reference here.
Cost of Living
Hungary is the country with the cheapest average cost of living in the whole EU-28 along with Poland and Bulgaria. The same basket of goods and services may be 60% cheaper in Hungary than in the UK, 44% cheaper compared with Germany, or 50% with Austria. This fact is well known to the Viennese, who are used to the two and a half hour drive that separates Vienna from Budapest for shopping without wringing their wallet.
Personal Income Tax
Anyone who stays more than 183 days in a year or has their vital interests in Hungary will be considered a tax resident.
Tax residents in Hungary are subject to tax on their worldwide income; for non-residents only income generated in Hungary will be subject to tax, such as income received domestically or offshore for activities in Hungary, or income from assets in Hungary.
Personal income tax is currently 15%, including income from employment, self-employment and other income being consolidated. In-kind benefits, capital gains, private business income and income from property rentals are also taxed at 15%.
Capital gains on the sale of real estate are generally taxed at 15%. The taxable amount must be reduced by a percentage in each year counted from the year of acquisition; exempt from the tax are gains by the alienation of residential properties that have been held in a property for 5 years, which changes to 15 years for another type of real estate. Rental income is taxed as income from self-employment; some costs related to the activity are deductible
Dividends and interest are also taxable.
In certain circumstances, the loss of capital resulting from activity in the exchange market in f the two previous years may be extended.
If the health insurance contribution does not reach HUF 450,000 (≈EUR 1360) per fiscal year, 14% of the income from capital gains will be taxed up to this amount. In addition, interest income is subject to a 6% health tax.
Under certain circumstances, capital gains from the so-called permanent investment account may be exempt from taxation.
Expenses related to professional training, travel, and accommodation considered as business expenses may be deductible on the taxable basis by attaching the corresponding invoices.
The allocation of people with disabilities and long-term investments, such as payments to voluntary pension funds and investments in pension accounts, are also deductible.
Families receive a deduction of HUF 66,670 (≈EUR 200), if they have a child, HUF 83,330 (≈EUR 250) per child if they have two, or HUF 220,000 (≈EUR 664) per child, if they have three or more. Married couples get a deduction of HUF 33,335 (≈EUR 100) for two years for a newborn if it is the first marriage for at least one of the two spouses.
Income accrued by a tax resident in a country that has concluded a tax treaty with Hungary is not taxable. In the absence of a double taxation treaty, 90% of the tax paid abroad is exempt, without exceeding the Hungarian tax rate. Check Hungarian tax treaties at incorporations.io/hungary.
More information and Our Offerings
If you want to learn about the various options to start building a life internationally, you may purchase a copy of our Complete Guide to Flag Theory. You may also consider a Flag Theory Intel Society Membership or sign up to our newsletter for regular, detailed articles on internationalization and structuring.
In addition, we are at your disposal to resolve any doubts you may have about immigrating or incorporating in Hungary. Contact us and we will analyze your case in detail to offer you the best and most convenient solution according to your needs.