Dateline: Belgrade, Serbia
For the person who has successfully opened an offshore bank account, got a second passport and is living the lifestyle of their dreams traveling the world, the time has come to move on to the next level of flag theory. This new level is one where the focus shifts from acquisitions that are largely for diversification purposes toward purchases meant purely to improve your lifestyle – like boating.
For many who reach this stage, the next step is to combine travel and leisure by investing in the purchase of a yacht.
Unlike buying a new car – or even a house – buying a yacht is an investment of an international nature, and deciding upon the best country for yacht registration is a decision for which you need professional advice so you do not expose your assets to unnecessary taxes and liabilities. If you go into the process uneducated, your exciting new purchase might just become nothing more than a hole in the water into which you pour unnecessary amounts of money.
As with other international strategies, the country in which you register your yacht can have an enormous effect on the amount of money you will be able to save, as well as your freedom of travel. Some countries keep you from freely traveling to other jurisdictions, others charge high tax percentages or registration fees, and others do none of those things.
Choose Your Flag Wisely
When buying a yacht, the choice of yacht flags is one of the most important decisions you have to make because it can have a direct effect on your privacy, taxes, and your exposure to liability. Just as you would create a corporate structure to protect your other assets, you should do the same when it comes to yacht registration.
For this reason, many boat owners opt to register their yacht in places like the Cayman Islands to avoid the onerous taxes and regulations of the United States and other western governments. Panama, with its favorable registration policies, is the largest ship registry in the world with over 9,000 ships flying its flag.
However, it’s also very important to do your due diligence in selecting a country for yacht registration by working with a professional. Once your vessel is registered in a country, all of the country’s laws will apply to your boat. Many countries that have attractive tax structures have other issues that you’ll want to avoid, such as laws that require you to hire a crew completely composed of nationals from that country.
You will also want to register your yacht in a country that is well respected by the US and the EU. If you choose a country with a bad reputation, it can limit where you are allowed to travel, or at the very least, make you subject to more detentions and inspections.
The flag state has the responsibility to enforce regulations over vessels registered under its flag, so yacht registration under countries on the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (Paris MoU) on Port State Control’s black or gray list will come under more scrutiny in inspections. Because of this, a large majority of yachts are flagged in British Overseas Territories, known as the ‘Red Ensign Group’ — including Bermuda, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.
These countries have acceptable safety regulations for travel in EU countries, while also having more attractive tax structures than the UK. In fact, company tax is set at 0% in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda.
This is particularly useful for those who wish to spend time in European Union waters, as vessels owned or used by EU residents are subject to the EU’s Value Added Tax (VAT). Private yacht registration with a non-EU flag allows an owner to operate under a “temporary importation structure” which allows for 18 months free of these taxes or customs duties. After the 18 months are over, the boat owner can re-apply for this status.
Bearing this in mind, let’s take a look at some of my favorite countries for yacht registration.
1.The Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands Shipping Registry is a favorite among people who own both pleasure and commercial yachts worldwide. This ship registry has been at the Port of George Town, Cayman Islands since 1903. There are two other ports in the Cayman Islands as well: The Creek in Canyon Brac and Bloody Bay in Little Cayman.
The Merchant Shipping Law, which was revised in 2016, is the governing legislation for all boats registered in the Cayman Islands. The law offers many different types of yacht registration, including full registration, interim registration, provisional registration, a ship under construction registration, and demise charter/bareboat registration. An owner who is having a vessel built might find this convenient so he or she can register it as a boat under construction and then change to full yacht registration later.
As I mentioned above, the Cayman Islands is a part of the Red Ensign Group. This means that getting your yacht registration in the Cayman Islands flags your vessels as a British Ship, granting it protection by the British Royal Navy.
Because time is crucial for so many people, the Cayman Islands Ship Registry (CISR) can also expedite the registration process for those who need to be registered immediately if they pay their expedition fee. In addition, the CISR has representative offices in Fort Lauderdale, London, Cannes, Athens, Tokyo, and Singapore where you can have ship registry certificates issued immediately if needed.
Yachts that are registered with the Cayman Islands as pleasure yachts and are not engaged in trade are granted a License to Cruise the water of the United States which will allow them to enter, depart, and cruise within U.S. waters. These vessels will only need to report to U.S. customs when entering the country or changing customs districts.
Assuming you meet all of the required qualifications, there are no restrictions or rules concerning the nationality of the master or the crew of your ship. In addition to the Cayman Islands being a tax neutral environment, the jurisdiction provides vessel owners with banking facilities and directorship services.
2. The Netherlands
Many people consider Holland to be an ideal location for yacht registration because the country is flexible and straightforward, whereas most other European countries follow stricter rules and regulations. The registration process is fast compared to that of other countries and requirements are minimal.
To register under the Dutch flag, the process is easiest if you are either an EU citizen, Swiss, Norwegian, or own a company registered in the EU.
One of the main advantages of the Netherlands is that you can be registered under the Dutch flag in as little as three days. That is why Holland is typically preferred over countries like Italy, France, and Spain where there is a long boat registration process in addition to high registration fees. A lot of yacht owners solve this problem by registering under the Dutch flag. Taxes and registration requirements in the Netherlands are minimal, allowing the whole process to be completed in three days, assuming you meet the necessary criteria.
Boat owners do not have to be of Dutch nationality, nor do they have to have a residence in the country. The only documents you must have are an ID card or passport and you must provide proof of ownership of your boat. Because so little documentation is needed, renewing your yacht registration is also a fairly simple process.
The process is easiest, however, for people who are Dutch, Swiss, Norwegian or have a company based in the EU. If you are not Dutch, Swiss, or Norwegian, and if you do not have a company registered in the EU, you can still register by paying a fee to have a United Kingdom Ltd. set up in your name.
The Ltd. will cost you 349 EUR up front and 249 EUR every year after that. Once the Ltd. is set up, you’ll receive your registration within three to five days. The documentation needed is still the same. It only costs about 299 EUR for yacht registration in Holland if you are an EU citizen. It costs 648 EUR for non-EU citizens and your registration license can be delivered overnight anywhere in the world. Those prices include everything from the taxes to the mandatory Dutch address and all the costs for shipping and consultation.
There is also no requirement to have your boat inspected, making the vessel documentation process even simpler.
Types of yacht registration under the Dutch flag:
1. Light registration
Light yacht registration is for people who want fast and easy registration for navigating EU waters. With light registration, you can only sail European Union waters and the length of your yacht may not exceed 24m.
2. Global registration
Global yacht registration is for yachts that will navigate outside of European Union waters, sail worldwide, or be engaged in commercial chartering. People with Global registration can sail worldwide. Global registration is also available to Swiss or Norwegian persons regardless of whether or not they have a company in the EU.
3. The Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands ship registry was formed in 1988. In 2001, it was expanded to allow those with commercial and private yachts to register as well, which has made the Marshall Islands a popular place to register over the last sixteen years.
The jurisdiction has also gained a lot of recognition over the years by having regional offices in major maritime cities around the world, allowing them to provide same day service to anyone, regardless of the location or time zone in which they reside.
The Marshall Islands Registry is the third largest in the world and you can register under a one or three-year program.
You must be a Marshall Islands citizen, national, or qualified foreign maritime entity to register in the Marshall Islands. The terms “citizen” and “national” refer to Marshall Islands corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, and associations of individuals. (You can easily complete the process to have a Marshall Islands company registered in your name so you can register your ship there.)
Assuming you complete all the necessary documents and meet all requirements, you can have your ship registered within 24 hours; you can also register your yacht as a ‘ship under construction’ if needed. You can obtain a U.S. cruising permit as a boat registered in the Marshall Islands and commercially compliant yachts can charter in Europe. In other words, you are not confined to the waters of the Marshall Islands alone, which is convenient for those who want to see more of the world.
As long as you meet proper flag requirements, yachts measuring 18m or longer that weigh less than 500 gross tons can be chartered out for up to 84 days as a private yacht limited charter (PYLC).
In addition to being white-listed under Paris and Tokyo’s MoUs, the Marshall Islands also meets the flag criteria for a low-risk ship under the Paris New Inspection Regime. Additionally, the Marshall Islands has been a part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Qualship 21 roster for 11 consecutive years.
The Marshall Islands registry is low tax and respected worldwide; the country is a presidential republic in free association with the United States and enjoys similar benefits to its British Overseas Territory counterparts making it a great jurisdiction for yacht registration.
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia. The country’s ship registry ranks 10th in the world with a gross tonnage of over 21 million pounds.
A ship can be registered in Cyprus if more than 50% of the shares of the registering company are owned by a Cypriot or if your company is registered in the Republic of Cyprus. An offshore company can also be registered in Cyprus if the company’s control is in the hands of Cypriots.
The Republic of Cyprus can easily register your company under their flag so you can register your yacht there. The costs of yacht registration and management are the lowest in Europe, making the jurisdiction an ideal, convenient place for many owners to register their ship.
There are many tax benefits that come with yacht registration under the Cyprus flag. An owner whose ship is registered in Cyprus is fully exempt from income taxes from operations in international waters. Additionally, no tax is payable for the wages of the crew that operates in international waters. No tax is payable on any dividend received from a shipping company in Cyprus.
Cyprus has maritime offices around the world, allowing them to work with anyone anywhere at any time. Some of their main offices are located in New York, London, Rotterdam, Piraeus, Brussels, and Hamburg. Upon registering in one of these offices, you will have the benefits of flying an EU flag, which is respected worldwide. According to the EU registry, “Sailing under EU flags demonstrates strength and represents a strong reputation.”
Like some of the other countries I have mentioned, Cyprus has been white-listed among the Paris and Tokyo MoUs, meaning it is a high-quality flag with low risk compared to many other countries who have been gray or black-listed.
It should also be noted that Cyprus is excluded from the “list of targeted flag states,” which is kept by the U.S. Coast Guard. Cyprus’s absence from the list means that inspections of the yacht with a Cypriot flag are kept to a minimum and they will experience no unnecessary delays when entering and leaving ports.
Types of yacht registration:
Cyprus offers three types of registration, including provisional registration, permanent registration, and parallel (bareboat) registration.
1. Provisional remains in effect for 6 months; after expiration, it can only be renewed once more for 3 more months.
2. Permanent Yacht Registration goes into effect 6 to 9 months from the date your yacht was provisionally registered.
3. For Parallel / Bareboat Registration your ship must hoist the Cyprus flag and “Limassol” must be marked as your port of registry. Parallel-in lasts for two years and is renewable. For parallel-out registration, your ship must hoist the foreign flag rather than the Cyprus flag and your port of registry must be the port of the foreign country. Parallel-out lasts for three years and is also renewable.
Liberia is the oldest democracy in Africa and one of the first offshore, zero tax jurisdictions. The Liberian ship registry is a favorite among owners of large vessels; the country has the second largest registry in the world and makes up 12% of registered ships worldwide.
One of the perks of The Liberian Yacht Registration is that it is open to any ship-owner in the world and there are absolutely no restrictions on the nationality of your crew or country of construction. This makes Liberia appealing to many ship-owners who either cannot register somewhere because of their nationality or can only register by paying an additional fee.
Liberia has been white-listed on the Paris and Tokyo MoUs and has also been approved by the International Maritime Organization AND the U.S. Coast Guard. This, combined with the country’s other features, means that the Liberian Registry is known as “the world’s largest quality registry, renowned for excellence, efficiency, safety and innovative service”.
The following types of vessels can be registered in Liberia:
Vessels under construction, new buildings, vessels being transferred from other flags, offshore vessels, vessels in lay-up, and vessels involved in international, coastal, or domestic trading. You may also have a dual flag if your ship is bareboat registered.
The Liberian Registry is owned and operated by the United States. Additionally, service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making things very convenient for those wishing to do yacht registration under the Liberian flag. There are over 400 nautical inspectors, so there is always someone available to attend to vessels.
Vessels registered in Liberia are taxed with a fixed fee, which depends on the tonnage of your ship. The tax is applied yearly, so there should be no surprises. However, there are no taxes on operations and your profits are not assessed.
The Liberian flag is accepted in many EU countries — the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland are only a few countries in the European Union that accept the Liberian flag. In addition, Liberia is highly rated for safety and accident prevention, which makes this country even more attractive for your yacht registration.
Liberia is recognized every year for having high standards. The country has an above average performance in safety and accident prevention as well as in independent statistical reports. Liberia also has a network of 100 security inspectors to inspect ships when necessary; this is something that was implemented post-9/11.
According to information provided by the Liberian Registry website, “The “Maritime Services Award” is for exceptional achievement or contribution to any service sector of the Americas maritime industry by a company, individual, or organization. According to Lloyd’s List criteria for this award, “The winner must be able to demonstrate how they have set themselves apart, going above and beyond best practice to offer the shipping industry something exceptional.”
The Maltese ship registry is the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world; it is one of the most popular countries in the world for pleasure yacht registration. The country has EU compliant legislation, clear laws relating to yacht mortgages, low registration costs and is well respected across the globe.
Malta became a member of the European Union in 2004, so yacht registration here comes with the perks of sailing an EU flag, including protection by the British Royal Navy. Like the other countries I’ve mentioned, Malta has been white-listed, providing ship-owners with a sense of security when you go through the yacht registration process under the Maltese flag.
If you’re an EU, EEA, or Swiss national, you can hold your vessel in your personal capacity. However, if you’re a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen you must hold your yacht through a Maltese or foreign company.
When it comes to taxes, it is important to note that companies operating commercial yachts out of Malta are exempt from income tax on any income generated by the operation of their yachts. They are also exempt from any VAT tax on the high seas. What sets Malta apart from many other countries besides tax policy is that there are no restrictions on the nationality of the master, officers, or crew of your ship.
Another perk that Malta shares with Liberia is that there is round-the-clock service, so you can feel safe and secure registering in the country. And, as long as you meet all flag requirements, any type of vessel can be registered — that means pleasure yachts, oil rigs, vessels under construction, and anything in between.
When it comes to the age or trading, boats between 10 and 15 years must pass inspection by an authorized inspector within one month of provisional registration and ships over 15 years old must pass inspection before being provisionally registered.
7. The British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands is the latest country to join the Red Ensign Group (2014). Now, the British Virgin Islands can register any type of ship and any size. Not only that, yacht registration under the BVI flag grants access to all the ports in the world. There are restrictions with almost all other registries when it comes to this, so the fact that a BVI flag gives you access anywhere sets the country far apart from the rest.
Another advantage that makes the jurisdiction one of the most attractive is that the British Virgin Islands is tax neutral. The islands are outside the scope of the EU value added tax (VAT) laws, meaning that there is no sales tax when purchasing goods or services.
As is the case with the Cayman Islands and Malta, the Red Ensign Group flag grants protection by the British Royal Navy to those vessels registered under the British Virgin Islands flag. Similar to the other countries listed, you can register under the BVI flag even if you are not a citizen and even if you do not own a company there; you will need to register a company in the BVI to do so, but this can be completed in a matter of hours.
When it comes to the registration process, it usually takes two to six months, meaning that it is not as short as some of the other countries, but it’s still not too terribly long.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, the British Virgin Islands has one of the most stable governments and economies in the world, which makes ship owners who register there feel very safe and secure when compared to other countries who have more enemies or corruption within the government.
Panama is not only a popular place when it comes to offshore banking or getting a second passport, it also holds the largest ship registry in the world, having over 9,000 ships registered under the country’s flag.
Most countries require a minimum amount of weight, but Panama does not. The only exception to this rule is if your ship is older than 20 years, requiring that the ship is inspected in order to be registered.
There is usually some downtime when someone transfers their ship from one flag to another, but that is not the case when you are transferring to Panama. Panama has a very simple transferring process; for example, numerous other countries make you dry dock for inspection and Panama does not. Because their process is so easy, it eliminates the concern that ship and business owners have concerning downtime.
The good news for all the shipping companies, ship owners, and merchant shipping companies is that you can have dual ship registry in Panama, but if you were registered in the other country first, you must have consent from that country to register in Panama, too.
Instead of taking your ship’s size or tonnage into consideration, Panama charges a flat yacht registration fee to keep things simple. If you are not a Panamanian or an owner of a Panamanian business, you’ll pay a flat fee of $1,500 to register your yacht. If you are Panamanian, it costs $1,000 to register your yacht. Once you are registered, you will have access to Panama’s round-the-clock service.
Additionally, once you are assigned provisional yacht registration, you have six months to provide the proper vessel documentation to transfer your provisional yacht registration to permanent registration. Your yacht registration certificate is valid for two years and renewal costs are low.
Many countries require yacht owners to pay taxes when they register their ship, but Panama does not. There are also no taxes on profit that is made through international trade. You do not have to pay taxes on wages for your crew members either. The main reason people choose to register in Panama is this lack of taxes. When registering in Panama, people are legally reducing tax costs and that would not be the case if they were to register in many other jurisdictions.
There is no one best ship registry in the world, but there are many you can choose from to keep your investment safe. Finding the right one for you will depend on what you value when it comes to naval protection, taxes, privacy, and ease of travel.
If you have already registered your vessel, where did you choose to go for your yacht registration and would you recommend it to others? Feel free to comment below.
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