Starting a Philippine Business as a Foreigner

Philippines Business Registration
Philippines Business Registration

It doesn’t not matter whether you’re a foreigner or a Filipino, it really is difficult to start a business in the Philippines.

Tips for foreigners who want to register a company in the Philippines

Do your homework! There are many restrictions on foreign equity ownership of businesses in the Philippines. The percentage of foreign ownership will also dictate the allowed number of foreign directors and officers of the company.

There are exceptions; up to forty percent Foreign ownership of educational institutions is allowed as stated in the 1987 Constitution and in the Foreign Invest Negative List; but Presidential Decree No. 176 issued in 1973 disallows any foreigner from being a director or officer of an educational institution.

The Philippines Foreign Investment List (which is revised every few years) states the restrictions on foreign ownership but does not provide any information on other restrictions which may apply to your business, such as the number of allowed foreign directors, officers, residency obligations, secondary licenses or the minimum paid-in capital requirements for certain industries.

Obtaining the necessary and correct information to register and run a business in the Philippines is a difficult task and entails inquiring with multiple government agencies with some giving outdated facts.

Anti Dummy Law

To avoid foreign ownership regulations many people try to find schemes to circumvent the Philippines Foreign Investment Act. All these schemes using nominee shareholders (anti-dummy law) or misstating the primary purpose of the business in the articles of incorporation are illegal.

Registering a Business on Your Own – Unless you’re a frequent visitor to Philippine government agencies, there is no way to be sure that the forms you downloaded from their website are current and that application processes and fees haven’t changed. The multiple visits to the SEC and frustrations will make you regret not having hired a Philippine business consultant to guide you and process your documents.

Local Business Permits

Once a business has been licensed to transact business in the Philippines by the SEC, the company must still register with the local municipality where its principal office is located (Mayors’ Permit), BIR, SSS, HDMF and PhilHealth.
The new Unified Registration Record (URR) touted by the SEC as incorporation made easier and faster does not simplify registration with any government entity as a business will still need to go each and every government office to register and process application forms. Only the government will benefit from the URR as they will use it to insure compliance in filings and payments of fees and taxes.

All businesses registered in the Philippines must comply with BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) regulations and file monthly, quarterly and annual reports as well as an audited financial statement. Bookkeeping may only be computerized by submitting a special request with the BIR.

Payroll is quite complicated in the Philippines and it’s essential to have an extensive knowledge of taxation and labor laws to correctly compute it.

Starting a Philippine business, contact Dayanan now, to discover how we can remove the annoyances and exasperation of doing business in the Philippines.

Ways around Philippines Foreign Investment Act

Many people ask how they may circumvent the Philippines laws on foreign ownership as stated in the foreign investment negative list.

Most inquires pertain to foreign ownership of land and foreign ownership of corporations engaged in retail business or where the foreign equity is restricted to 40% or less.

No legal solutions exist for a foreigner to own land in their own name or to own more than the legal percentage of a business allowed to him by law. The use of nominees with side agreements is illegal and is a violation of the Anti-Dummy Law.

The Department of Justice Opinion No. 165, Series of 1984 indicates what may determine that the Anti-Dummy Law is being violated:

•    That the foreign investor provides practically all the funds for the joint investment undertaken by Filipino businessmen and their foreign partner.
•    That the foreign investors undertake to provide practically all the technological support for the joint venture.
•    That the foreign investors, while being minority stockholders, manage the company and prepare all economic viability studies.

Foreign investors may think they are protected by side agreements naming them the beneficial owners, however when the time comes to use the agreement in court, they will discover that the agreement has no value being a document that violates the law.  Another common occurrence is for the foreign investor to find that the nominee has taken over the business or has sold all the business’s assets.

No matter what people may tell you, the best way to do business in the Philippines is to obey the foreign investment act regulations regarding foreign ownership. Shortcuts only equal unnecessary risks.

Foreign Ownership of Corporations in the Philippines

Foreign investors usually have the same rights as Filipino citizens and must register their businesses with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (corporation, partnership, branch office or representative office) or with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection (sole proprietorship). Foreign ownership of corporations is defined in the Corporation Code of the Philippines. The Foreign Investment Act (R.A. 7042, 1991, amended by R.A. 8179, 1996) liberalized the entry of foreign investment into the Philippines.

Businesses with Foreign Investment Restrictions

Within the 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) there are two negative lists also known as the “Foreign Investment Negative List” which defines the foreign investments which are limited or restricted by the constitution and specific laws. Negative List A & Foreign ownership is limited for reasons of security, defense, risk to health and morals and protection of small and medium scale enterprises. Negative List B

Domestic Corporations (subsidiary)

A registered company with at least 60% Filipino ownership is considered as having Philippine nationality; if more than 40% foreign-owned, it is considered a foreign owned domestic corporation.

More than 40% and up to 100% foreign ownership of a Domestic Market Enterprise is allowed as long as the paid-in capital is a minimum of USD 200,000.00. Employing a minimum of 50 direct employees or using advanced technology may allow a paid-in capital of less than USD 100,000.00 (R.A. 7042 as amended by R.A. 8179).**

Retail Trade Enterprises

100% foreign ownership is allowed for Philippine retail trade enterprises: (a) with paid-up capital of USD 2,500,000.00 or more provided that investments for establishing a store is not less than USD 830,000.00; or (b) specializing in high end or luxury products, provided that the paid-up capital per store is not less than USD 250,000.00 (Sec. 5 of R.A. 9762). No foreign equity is allowed in Retail Trade Enterprises with less than the above mentioned capital.

Export Businesses

An export enterprise is defined as a business who exports at least 60% of its output.
Export Business Enterprises may be 100% fully foreign owned and may file with the SEC for an exemption of the paid-up capital requirement of USD 200,000.00.
KPO, BPO, Back Office, IT, Web Development and call centers are all considered Philippines Export Enterprises.

** Unless otherwise indicated in the Philippine Foreign Investment Negative List

Foreign ownership of land in the Philippines