Combining its strategic geographical location, a highly skilled labour force and competitive costs, Tunisia has always been a popular destination for foreign investors. Indeed, the country has positioned itself as a springboard for those looking to get involved in the African market and a centre for business process outsourcing. Committed to furthering its goals, the country has put in place legislation within its regulatory framework aimed at supporting the investment climate.
Investment incentives were first introduced into domestic legislation in the 1970s and reformed in the 1990s. Ventures are now governed by the latest version of the Investment Law, which was signed in 2016 and is expected to boost domestic and foreign investments, and bring down many barriers to launching a business. It provides guarantees, more flexibility and a less restrictive administrative process for a broad range of qualifying businesses. It also brings Tunisia in line with international standards regarding the management of disputes and litigations through international arbitration. Additionally, high-value-added projects are eligible for attractive tax incentives. Further details on the Tunisian tax and legal investment framework are provided in the following sections.
Tax & Legal Investment Framework
In September 2016 the Tunisian Chamber of Representatives enacted the latest Investment Law, which saw the repeal of the previous investment incentives code. Commencing from April 1, 2017, these measures aim to boost investments within the country by strengthening guarantees offered to foreign investors.
The legislation widens the scope of qualifying sectors by limiting the requirements needed to open a business in Tunisia. While qualifying businesses were restrictively listed under the previous regime, the new law reinforces investment freedom. Specific prohibited activities can still be laid down, but this can only be done by presidential decree. In addition, the new law has put a focus on accelerating administrative procedures, including those relating to repatriation of funds by foreign investors to their home countries. This was done by tightening deadlines for the Central Bank of Tunisia (Banque Centrale de Tunisie, BCT) to process transfer requests to 15 days. Failure to meet this deadline means the request is automatically deemed as authorised.
The acquisition of properties used for operational activities has also been made easier. Foreign investors can acquire immoveable properties (excluding agricultural properties) necessary to undertake their operating activities. Previously, only businesses operating in the tourism and industrial sectors could qualify for such consideration.
Other incentives include increasing the number of expatriates that can be recruited. Foreign investors are currently allowed to recruit foreign employees, with the number capped at:
• 30% of the whole staff number during the first three years of business activity; and
• 10% of the whole staff number starting from the fourth year onwards. According to the previous rules, only a handful of businesses were entitled to recruit foreign employees and only under strict conditions.
The latest Investment Law offers the possibility to resolve any litigation with the Tunisian state before going to an international arbitration institution.
he rules regarding non-discrimination between Tunisian and foreign investors have also been reinforced, implementing terms within domestic legislation. Under the previous rules, such principles were generally provided for through bilateral treaties between jurisdictions and not according to national legislation.
There are also incentives available to companies that qualify as significant projects, including financial bonuses among other things. Furthermore, tax incentives are available for developments that are considered to be of interest to the national economy. Financial incentives include the following:
• A 10-year period of corporate income tax breaks;
• An investment bonus up to 33% of the investment cost capped to the equivalent of €10m, including internal infrastructure cost; and
• A state contribution for infrastructure cost.
The most common structures set up by foreign investors are société anonyme, (joint stock companies) and société à as branches of foreign firms that have concluded a contract in Tunisia for a limited period.
Foreign Exchange Regulation
Under the latest Investment Law, profits realised through foreign investments, including both foreign-owned legal entities and the permanent establishments of foreign companies, may be freely repatriated to where such investments originate through the import of foreign currency.
Payments abroad relating to other transactions are subject to prior authorisation by the BCT. Tunisian firms may borrow from abroad, with the total value capped at TD3m (€1.2m) per year. The limit is increased to TD10m (€3.8m) per annum when the borrower is a banking institution.
Corporate Income Tax
The 2016 Investment Law better defines the scope of corporate income tax covering Tunisian-established companies as well as Tunisian permanent establishments of foreign companies. Non-resident companies with no Tunisian permanent establishment are liable to tax with respect to their Tunisian-sourced income. They are taxed under the withholding tax mechanism.
The standard corporate tax rate in the country is 25%. A higher rate of 35% is applied to oil and gas companies, banks, insurance and reinsurance institutions, debt collection companies, telecommunications operators, companies carrying on production and transport activity of hydrocarbons under particular conventions, firms transporting hydrocarbons via pipeline, and companies carrying out oil-refining activities and the wholesale of hydrocarbons products.
However, the 2018 fiscal law allows for certain reductions in the income tax rate:
• From 20% to 25% for small and medium-sized enterprises, that is those firms with turnover of less than TD1m (€384,000) in industry and trade, and under TD500,000 (€192,000) for services;
• New firms declared in 2018 and 2019 are fully exempted from income tax for a three-year period starting from the first year of production. Profits derived from export sales are subject to corporate income tax at the rate of 10%. Companies operating in craft, fishing and agriculture are subject to corporate income tax at the rate of 10%. The minimum corporate tax is calculated at:
• 0.2% on annual gross domestic turnover for companies subject to rates of 25% or 35%; and
• 0.1% on annual gross domestic turnover for companies subject to the rate of 10%. Included in the budget law for 2018 were new sectors expected to pay the 35% corporate tax rate, including franchising, hypermarkets and car dealers.
The 2018 budget law also introduced a new contribution to social security by adding one percentage point to all incomes, including corporate income tax which will be either 26% or 36%. In addition, an exceptional contribution to the state budget was introduced for 2018 and 2019.
The contribution applies to the net income of banks, financial institutions and insurance companies and is outlined as follows:
• 5% of net profit in 2018 with a minimum contribution of TD5000 (€1900); and
• 4% of net profit in 2019 with a minimum contribution of TD5000 (€1900).
Capital Gains Tax
Capital gains made by resident companies are subject to corporate income tax at the rate applicable to the whole company’s profit. The same rules are applicable to Tunisian permanent establishments of foreign companies.
With respect to capital gains realised by non-resident corporations with no Tunisian permanent establishment, and subject to a more favourable treatment under an applicable tax treaty, such gains are subject to tax with respect to capital gains derived from the disposal of shares held in Tunisian companies and immoveable properties situated in Tunisia.
Regarding shares held in Tunisian companies. Such gains will be subject to final withholding tax at a rate of 25% levied on the difference between the selling price and the acquisition cost. However, corresponding tax should not exceed 5% of the selling price. The seller may elect to submit a tax return corresponding to such an operation and be taxed at the net gain. In such a case, the withholding tax incurred may be credited against the corporate tax due. Any excess may be refunded upon application.
With respect to immoveable properties situated in Tunisia, the corresponding final withholding tax is levied at the rate of 15% on the selling price. The seller may elect to submit a tax return corresponding to the operation and be taxed on the net gain. In this case, as with shares held in Tunisian companies, the withholding tax incurred may be credited against the corporate tax due, with any excess refunded.
The financial year generally corresponds to the calendar year. Tunisian tax authorities may authorise taxpayers to adopt a different tax period upon application and provision of the main reasons behind such request.
Corporate income tax returns should be submitted by the 25th day of the third month following the date of conclusion of the company’s financial year.
The deadline for corporate income tax returns with regard to companies whose financial year corresponds to the calendar year is March 25.
Such a return is considered temporary for firms subject to mandatory external audit and for those which are authorised to submit another regularising return adjusting the taxable profit as disclosed under the previous temporary return. The deadline is the 25th day of the sixth month following the closing date of the company’s financial year.
Any corporate income tax liability should be settled upon submission of the corresponding tax return. However, any advance payment of tax may be credited against the tax liability. Advance payment of corporate taxes may be undertaken as follows:
• For withholding taxes incurred, the rates range between 0.5% and 20%, depending on the nature of the remuneration.
• In the case of provisional instalments, three provisional instalments should be submitted annually by companies commencing on their second year of operating activities. Advance payments under each instalment are calculated at 30% of the previous year’s corporate income tax liability. The deadlines to submit the provisional instalment are the 28th day of the sixth, ninth and 12th months following the closing date of the financial year.
• Advance payment upon the import of specific consumer products is required as set out under ministerial decree. E-filing of tax returns is mandatory for companies with turnover exceeding TD1m (€384,000).
The taxable profit is based on the net profit and/or loss as resulting from the accounting records. Such net profit and/or loss is adjusted to take into consideration non-allowable expenses and non-taxable incomes.
Under the current rules, the annual depreciation of fixed assets should be calculated, in accordance with the straight-line method on the basis of maximum depreciation rates. Any amount exceeding such rate will be disallowed for deduction.
Some of the depreciation maximum rates are detailed in the chart on this page.
It must be noted that the depreciation rate on equipment and machinery may be increased by 50% when such assets are used at least 16 hours a day. It can be doubled when the use of such assets lasts 24 hours a day. No deduction is allowed on the depreciation of goodwill and lands. The tax deduction of donations granted to charities and public-interest organisations engaged in philanthropic, educational, scientific, social and cultural activities is capped to 0.2% of the annual gross turnover. With regard to gifts and meal expenses, the tax deduction is limited to 1% of annual gross turnover, up to TD20,000 (€7700). Deductions of provisions expenses are limited to 50% of the taxable profit and are tax deductible only when they relate to the following:
• Doubtful debts where the taxpayer appealed in court to recover such debts;
• Inventory of final products, excluding semi-finished products, raw materials and spare parts
• Shares of listed companies. Such limits do not apply to banks concerning non-performing loans and shares of risk capital investment companies.
Furthermore, a specific additional deduction is allowed for Tunisian permanent establishments of foreign companies. The additional deduction relates to overhead expenses which are attributable to a Tunisian branch. The allowable deductible amount is calculated proportionally to the turnover of the Tunisian branch compared with total turnover at the head office.
Sumptuary expenses, including the amortisation of highly powered passenger cars, yachts, etc., are considered non-allowable expenses. The tax deduction of expenses settled in cash is excluded when the value of such expenses exceeds TD5000 (€1900).
Penalties incurred following the breach of any applicable law are not considered allowable expenses. All payments to tax havens for the purchase of goods and services cannot be deducted from the corporate tax base.
Loss Carry Forward
Losses may be carried forward up to a subsequent five tax years. Losses resulting from fixed assets’ depreciations may be carried forward for an unlimited period. However, no carry-back of losses is allowed. There are currently Fixed asset Depreciation cap rate Patent, trademark, capitalised, research & development costs 20% Buildings 5% Other construction 2.5% – 25% Equipment – machinery 15% Transport vehicles 20% Computer hardware & software 33.33% no rules regarding controlled foreign companies.
Under the current rules, interest on loans granted by shareholders is deductible for corporate income tax purposes only when the following conditions are met:
• The share capital is fully paid up.
• The interest rate does not exceed 8%.
• The loan value does not exceed 50% of the total share capital.
Under the rules in force, transactions undertaken by related entities should meet the arm’s length principle. Otherwise, the Tunisian tax authorities are empowered to introduce adjustments to the taxable profit. However, domestic legislation does not provide any details regarding the acceptable transfer pricing methods or transfer pricing documentation. The current practice generally accepts the cost plus and the uncontrolled price, or CUP, methods, which are transactional methods prescribed by the OECD. Advance pricing agreements are not allowed under the current rules.
Consolidated Tax Return
A consolidated tax return is only allowed for a group of companies when the share capital of the parent company is listed on the Tunis Stock Exchange. Other restrictive conditions apply making the possibility of benefitting from such a consolidated tax return difficult.
Dividends & Profit Remittance
Subject to a more favourable treatment under an applicable tax treaty, dividends paid by a Tunisian company to non-resident shareholders, whether a legal entity or natural person, are subject to withholding tax at a rate of 5%, where the relating profits result from transactions carried out as of January 1, 2014. The 2018 budget law raised this rate to 10% for all distributed profits starting from January 1, 2018.
Furthermore, profits remitted abroad by Tunisian permanent entities of foreign companies are subject to a 10% withholding tax, up from 5%, as of January 1, 2018. The withholding tax increases to 25% when the recipient is based in a tax haven jurisdiction.
Interest arising in Tunisia and paid to non-residents is subject to withholding tax at a rate of 20% on the gross amount of interest, unless a more favourable treatment is available under an applicable tax treaty. Where the beneficiary recipient of the interest is a non-resident bank, the applicable withholding tax rate is 10%.
Royalties arising in Tunisia and paid to non-residents are subject to withholding tax at a rate of 15%, unless a more favourable treatment is available under an applicable tax treaty. Tunisia has a vast network of tax treaties in operation, with more than 50 treaties already being implemented, including those with a number of OECD countries.
Value-Added Tax (VAT)
VAT is levied on the supply of goods and services in Tunisia as well as on the import of goods and services. For VAT purposes, territory rules are described as follows:
• The supply of goods is deemed to have taken place in Tunisia when such goods are delivered in Tunisia.
• The supply of services is deemed to have taken place in Tunisia when such services are consumed or used in Tunisia, even if rendered abroad. The standard VAT rate is 19%. Reduced rates of 7% and 13% are applicable for specific transactions, goods and services. These are restrictively enumerated under the list appended to the VAT code. The list of transactions, goods and services that are VAT-exempt is also appended to the VAT code. Export sales are eligible for a zero rate.
Under current regulations, input VAT may be credited against output VAT. Any excess may be credited during the subsequent months or refunded under specific conditions. VAT is refundable within three years following the date from which the VAT in question became claimable.
Export-oriented businesses qualify for VAT suspension with respect to their purchase of goods and services required for operating activities.
Companies are currently required to submit VAT returns and make payments on a monthly basis. The deadline for submittal is the 28th day of the month following the month of reference in the case of legal entities, and the 15th day of the month following the one of reference for individuals carrying out business activities.
E-filing VAT returns is required for taxpayers with an annual turnover that exceeds TD1m (€384,000).
Different regulations apply in cases involving foreign firms.
When a foreign service supplier with no Tunisian permanent establishment provides services falling under the scope of Tunisian VAT, the Tunisian debtor is required to withhold the full amount of VAT and remit it to the tax authorities.
The foreign supplier is allowed, however, to register for VAT purposes on a temporary basis in order to qualify for the deduction of input VAT incurred on purchases of goods and services required for operating activities.
The local municipality tax, more commonly known as the TCL, is a tax on turnover levied at the following rates:
• 0.1% on export sales; and
• 0.2% on domestic sales.
Various rates are applicable to formal documents falling under the scope of registration duties. Rates are as follows:
• Business contracts are subject to registration duties at a 0.5% rate on the contract’s gross value.
• Documents relating to setting up, winding up, capital increase/decrease, merger or de-merger of companies are subject to a fixed rate of TD150 (€58) per document.
The vocational training tax is calculated at the rate of 2% levied on gross wages. The rate can be reduced to 1% for firms operating in manufacturing industries. Contributions to the government-run Le Fonds de Promotion de Logements Sociaux social housing programme are calculated at the rate of 1% levied on total annual gross wages.
The 2016 Investment Law offers financial incentives including bonuses for specific companies that qualify. Furthermore, tax incentives are available for projects presenting an interest for the national economy. The relevant authorities will consider, on a case-by-case basis, applications for incentives, which can reach a period of up to 10 years for corporate income tax breaks.
The new 2016 investment legislation offers additional financial incentives including the following:
• Investment bonuses of up to 33% of the investment cost, including costs related to internal infrastructure; and
• A state contribution for infrastructure costs. The tax incentive system to investment, revised in February 2017 and applied as of April 1, 2017 is only applicable to priority sectors such as agriculture, regional development, export, high-productivity services, and technological and innovative investment.
Tax Framework for Individuals
An individual is qualified as a tax resident in Tunisia if any of the following criteria exists:
• He/she has a permanent home in Tunisia.
• He/she is present in Tunisia for more than 183 days during the calendar year. Resident individuals are taxed on their worldwide income regardless of where the income is derived. They are subject to income tax in Tunisia according to a progressive tax rate with an upper band of 35%. Details are presented in the table on this page.
The budget law for 2018 introduced a new contribution to social security by adding one percentage point to each rate applied to personal income brackets. Non-residents are subject to Tunisian tax on income from local sources. Tunisian-sourced income is defined as all remunerations paid for a job and/or activity carried out in Tunisia.
Non-resident individuals are taxable at a flat tax rate of 20%. This tax rate is subject to specific OBG would like to thank KPMG for its contribution to THE REPORT Tunisia 2018 conditions and mostly covers expatriates working for Tunisian hydrocarbons companies. Other tax rates will also apply depending on the nature of the revenue, unless covered by tax exemptions or relief, such as capital gains on the transfer of shares. Income tax returns should be submitted annually by resident individuals.
Residents with only employment income or pensions, must submit their tax return by December 5 of the year following the year of taxation. Non-resident individuals are exempt from the annual return submission requirement. It is the employee’s responsibility to withhold and remit the tax to the tax authority when their employer is not based in Tunisia.
Social Security Contributions
As a common rule, social security contributions are calculated according to the following rates:
• 16.57% on gross wages for the employer contribution to social security;
• 0.5-4%, (depending on the nature of the activity) on gross wages for the employer contribution for workplace injuries; and
• 9.18% on gross wages for the employee contribution to social security. Several social security agreements are signed with other countries to determine the social security system to which the employee should be affiliated, offering the possibility of a relief payment in Tunisia. The Social Solidarity Contribution on all incomes has been introduced by the 2018 budget law to help reduce the social security deficit.
For personal income tax, one percentage point is added to the rate applied to every income bracket. For corporate tax, one percentage point is added to the appropriate corporate tax rate with a minimum payment of:
• TD300 (€115) for those paying a corporate tax rate of 35%;
• TD200 (€77) for those paying a corporate tax rate between 20% and 25%;
• TD100 (€38) for those paying a corporate tax rate of 10%; and
• TD200 (€77) for those not paying the corporate tax due to exemptions or deductions.
Residence Visa Requirements
Except for specific citizenships, such as EU nationals, a visa must be applied for before the individual plans to enter Tunisia. The category of visa required will depend on the purpose of the individual’s stay in Tunisia.
Income bracket (TD) Income tax rates Less than 5000 0% Between 5001 and 20,000 26% Between 20,001 and 30,000 28% Between 30,001 and 50,000 32% Over 50,000 35%.