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Qatar is one of the highest-ranked countries for doing business according to the World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report, earning the 10th position in the world for the business […]

Qatar is one of the highest-ranked countries for doing business according to the World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report, earning the 10th position in the world for the business impact of rules on FDI. Potential investors should consult Law No. 13 of 2000 (“the Foreign Investment Law“) and the subsequent 2010 amendment, Law No. 1 of 2010, which lay out the guidelines for establishing operations in Qatar. Foreigners can set up operations in most sectors, provided a legal presence is registered in the country. That legal presence can be an individual or a company, though if the legal presence is a company, at least 51% the company should be owned by either a Qatari national or a company that is wholly owned by a Qatari national. There are several options available to foreign investors to establish a legal presence in Qatar.

CORPORATE STRUCTURES

Provided it receives prior permission via either a partial or fully governmental contract, a foreign company may set up an operation in the State of Qatar using a project or contract-specific temporary branch. Due its nature, retentions from temporary branches are deducted from payments received by the branch and can be recovered only after the completion of the contract and the tax returns of the branch are finalized with no statement of objection issued by the Public Revenues and Taxes Department.
An International Engineering Consultancy Office (IECO) in the State of Qatar can be established as a 100% international-owned branch allowed to operate with respect to more than one contract in the engineering sector. As opposed to the contract-specific temporary branch, IECOs do not have a required duration and may operate as a permanent branch. Law No. 2 of 2014 maintains the requirement that engineers and architects in Qatar may only operate after receiving mandatory licenses, and preserves the severe consequences for failing to do so.

Another option for interested investors is to establish an Incorporated Joint Venture as a 51%/49% Limited Liability Company with 2-50 shareholders, with foreign ownership limited to 49% unless stated otherwise. These joint ventures are unable to operate in banking, insurance, or the investment of financial assets. One advantage of this setup is that profits claimed by foreign shareholders may exceed the 49% ownership cap. There is no limit to the amount of profits foreign shareholders may claim through an Incorporated Joint Venture, and these operations’ articles of association are commonly approved with clauses allocating upwards of 90% of profits to foreign investors. Incorporated Joint Ventures must meet a minimum capital requirement of approximately $55,000 (QR200,000) and appointed directors must be conveyed to Qatar’s commercial registry.

Following a 2006 ministerial decision, foreign investors may establish a 100% foreign-owned Representative Trade Offices (RTO) in the State of Qatar. Provided it receives permission from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, an RTO functions as a selling platform and is not allowed to enter into contracts for the provision of goods and services.

SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES

The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) and the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) provide additional solutions for foreign investors interested in establishing a local Qatar entity. The QFC operates within its own legal, regulatory, and tax framework, all of which run in parallel to but independent from the standing framework in the State of Qatar. Entities established in the Qatar Financial Centre can be 100% foreign-owned, access the local market, bypass currency restrictions, and repatriate 100% of profits earned from local operations. QFC companies are not limited to the boundaries of the SEZ and, with prior approval, can be based anywhere in Qatar. The QTSP operates in a similarly autonomous manner and is highlighted by the government as a vehicle for attaining the goals laid out in the Qatar National Vision 2030.

TAX CODE

Qatar’s tax code for FDI is divided into three different segments under which foreign investors can operate, each of which are unique and should be taken into careful consideration. The three tax regimes currently in place are those under the State of Qatar, the QFC, and the QSTP, with the ongoing possibility of new tax classes being added as the country establishes new SEZs. The current tax guideline in Qatar is Law No. 21 of 2009. Profits of non-Qatari nationals are subject to a flat tax rate of 10%—2nd best in the world according to the Global Competitiveness Report—though different rates may apply to operations in oil and gas, as well as those carried out under specific agreements with the government.

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