The Inward Investment and International Taxation Review: Norway
Norway has a small but robust economy, and with a corporate tax rate of 22 per cent and a participation exemption that is among the most liberal within the European Economic Area (EEA), investors tend to find Norway to be an attractive country to invest in or through.
Norway does not impose withholding tax on dividends paid to corporate shareholders in the EEA. Together with a wide range of double taxation treaties with low or no withholding tax, this makes Norway a suitable base for holding companies, especially when investing into the EEA.
To balance out the low rates for corporate taxation, Norway has an extensive anti-avoidance doctrine to control the use of innovative tax-planning techniques. Special tax regimes apply to income from the exploration of petroleum resources, shipping income and income from the production of hydroelectric power.
Common forms of business organisation and their tax treatment
There are two main forms of organising a business: entities with limited liability and entities with unlimited liability.
Limited liability companies, where none of the shareholders have personal liability for the obligations of the company, may be incorporated either as a private limited liability company (AS) or a public limited liability company (ASA). Other entities with limited liability include foundations, cooperative societies, stock funds and mutual insurance companies.
The common types of entities with unlimited liability are the general partnership with joint liability (ANS), the partnership with apportioned liability (DA) and limited partnerships (KS and IS).
Entities with limited liability are subject to corporate taxation, while entities with unlimited liability are transparent for tax purposes and taxed at partner level.
The AS and the ASA are regulated by two separate laws but with similar structure, and largely similar content. Key differences between public and private companies are that only public companies may turn to the public to raise capital and be listed on a stock exchange. Public companies are also subject to stricter rules regarding organisation, the minimum board member requirement and restrictions on share classes. The required minimum share capital for a private limited company is 30,000 kroner and 1 million kroner for a public company.
As a member of the EEA, Norway has adopted the EC Regulation on European Companies (SE companies).2 SE companies are mainly governed by the same rules that apply to public limited companies.
Business activities may also be organised as partnerships. In a general partnership, the partners are jointly and severally liable for all the obligations of the partnership. A general partnership can also be organised with proportional liability, where each partner is only liable to the proportional share set out in the partnership agreement.
The limited partnership is distinguished by having one or more general partners with unlimited personal liability, and one or more limited partners whose liability is limited to a set amount.
Direct taxation of businesses
Corporate entities incorporated in Norway, and foreign companies with their effective management in Norway, are regarded as tax-resident and liable to corporate tax on their worldwide income, including capital gains (for partnerships, the tax depends on the partner's tax status).
Non-resident companies and Norwegian branches are taxed on Norwegian source income (see Section IV.ii).
i Tax on profits
Determination of taxable profit
As a general rule, taxable profit is a net amount based on accounting profit adjusted for differences between the accounting rules and the tax accounting rules.
Income is taxed on an accruals basis. Income derived under contracts will, with the exception of fixed price production contracts,3 be considered accrued when the taxpayer is entitled to the consideration from the other party under the contract (when the taxpayer has delivered his or her goods or services under the contract).
The taxable corporate income comprises all kinds of income, inter alia, interest, dividends, capital gains on the disposal of assets or ownership interests and foreign-sourced income taxable in Norway (i.e., ordinary business income). For resident limited liability companies or entities, the participation exemption is applicable for dividends and gains on shares and partnership interests (see Section V.i). However, 3 per cent of such tax-exempt dividends may be recognised as taxable income.
For partnerships (transparent for tax purposes), the net result of the partnership is calculated as if the partnership were a company and then allocated to the partners and taxed at the partner level. Income and loss covered by the participation exemption (capital gains and dividends from shares) shall not be included. However, 3 per cent of dividends may be recognised as taxable income.
A limited partner will not be able to deduct partnership losses against ordinary income from other sources. Such losses may be carried forward for deduction against future partnership income or gains upon the realisation of partnership interests. Dividends and gains on shares received by corporate partners will to a large extent be tax exempt under the participation exemption (see Section V.i).
When calculating net taxable income, the general principle is that all expenses incurred to acquire, maintain or safeguard the company's taxable income are deductible.
As a starting point, interest on debts is deductible, whether paid periodically or discounted. The deductibility may, however, be limited under the interest deduction limitation rule (see Section VII) or the arm's-length principle.
Expenses unrelated to normal business activities are not deductible (e.g., excessive entertainment expenses, donations and bribes or similar payments).
Dividends distributed and appropriations of profits are not deductible in taxable income for the distributing company.
Depreciation and amortisation
The amount of tax-allowable depreciation is determined by the tax legislation and may differ from the accounting rules. There are two alternative methods to determine the deductible amount: (1) the declining balance method (which in general applies to tangible assets and goodwill – the rates vary from 2 to 30 per cent); and (2) the linear method (which applies to certain intangibles that are not covered by the declining balance method).
Land and plots are not depreciable.
Capital gains and income
Capital gains are considered as ordinary income for tax purposes.
Gains on shares and partnership shares will, however, to a large extent be tax exempt under the participation exemption (see Section V.i).
Tax-deductible losses may be carried forward indefinitely and set off against future profits. When a company is liquidated, any loss may be carried back for the two preceding years.
The tax position of a loss carried forward will survive a change in ownership unless the predominant motive is to exploit the tax position; for example, through a group contribution. In these cases, the tax position of the loss may be lapsed (see Section IX.ii).
Losses on intra-group loans (between companies where the lender has more than 90 per cent ownership) are not deductible.
In general partnerships, a limited partner will not be able to deduct partnership losses against ordinary income from other sources. Such losses may be carried forward for deduction against future partnership income or gains upon the realisation of partnership interests.
The corporate income tax rate is 22 per cent.
As a general rule, the income tax year follows the calendar year. Companies must file tax returns electronically by 31 May in the year following the income tax year. Companies may apply for a deviating 12-month tax year, but a tax year may never include more than 18 months. Companies must pay advanced tax by 15 February and by 15 April in the year following the income tax year.
The Norwegian Tax Authority is responsible for the administration of all direct taxes and VAT for domestic sales. Complaints against decisions made by the tax authorities may be filed with the Norwegian Tax Appeal Board. Decisions by the Tax Appeal Board may be brought before the courts.
As of 2017, the statute of limitation period for reassessment of the tax return is five years (10 if the taxpayer intentionally or through gross negligence has given misleading or incomplete information about his or her income).
Penalty tax will be imposed where the company gives misleading or incomplete information about its income and this results in – or could have resulted in – an underassessment. The penalty tax will normally be 20 per cent but is raised with 20 per cent or 40 per cent if misleading or incomplete information was filed intentionally or by gross negligence.
If a resident company (the parent company) holds more than 90 per cent of the capital and votes of other resident companies, the companies will constitute a tax group. Each company within a tax group is, as a general rule, treated as a separate entity, and assets, dividends, interest, income and deductions cannot be moved between companies. However, in a tax group, the participating companies may make tax-deductible group contributions and intra-group transfers of assets without immediate realisation of latent gains (i.e., the taxation is deferred).
A company resident in the EEA may be the parent company in a Norwegian tax group, and a permanent establishment (PE) of a company resident in either the EEA or in a state with which Norway has a tax treaty may also qualify for the tax grouping benefits.
ii Value added tax
Value added tax (VAT) is payable on domestic sales of most goods and services. In addition, VAT is payable on importation of goods or services and withdrawal.
Because taxation (including indirect taxation) is not explicitly covered by the EEA Agreement, Norway is not required to harmonise its VAT law with European Union (EU) VAT law.
The Norwegian VAT Act of 2009 does not contain any specific provisions with respect to the place of supply of goods and services. As a starting point, transactions taking place domestically within Norway are subject to VAT. However, the VAT Act contains several exceptions. Transactions taking place abroad (outside the Norwegian mainland and the limit of territorial waters) are outside the scope of Norwegian VAT.
VAT-liable supplies and VAT-exempt supplies
The ordinary VAT rate is 25 per cent. Certain goods and services enjoy reduced rates. A reduced rate of 15 per cent applies to foodstuffs, and a lower rate of 12 per cent applies (e.g., to passenger transport, cinemas, hotels and accommodation services as well as admission fees to museums, amusement parks and sports events). Because of the covid-19 virus situation, the rate has temporary been reduced, and the rate is currently 6 per cent. The zero rate applies to exports of goods or services, and a number of other supplies, such as supplies of newspapers and books, supplies of or to certain ships, supplies to the continental shelf, aircrafts, transfer of business (TOGC) etc.
A number of services are VAT exempt. Such supplies fall entirely outside the scope of the VAT Act. Businesses that only are engaged in such supplies are not entitled to register for VAT purposes and are not entitled to VAT deduction. Examples of VAT-exempt supplies are financial services, health and social services, educational services, some cultural services (e.g., the right to attend theatre, opera, ballet and concerts). Sale and lease of real estate are also VAT exempt. However, it is possible to opt for a voluntary VAT registration with respect to lease of real estate for use in a VAT-liable business by the lessee.
Exports and imports
The zero VAT rate is applicable on exports of goods and services from Norway to abroad under certain conditions.
VAT should be calculated and paid on services purchased from abroad, that would have been liable to VAT when sold domestically. The recipient has a duty to calculate and pay the VAT in accordance with the reverse charge principles. VAT liability applies only to those services that can be supplied from a remote location. This means in cases where the provision of the services, by its nature, is difficult to associate with a particular physical location. Examples of remote services are services that can be supplied digitally, consultancy services, administrative services, legal services (with an exception for court cases), accounting services, information services and hiring out of labour. For services that cannot be supplied from a remote location, such as services relating to work on real property or goods in Norway, hiring out of goods etc., the foreign business enterprise must instead register in the Norwegian VAT Register and calculate Norwegian VAT on the supply to the customer.
VAT shall also be calculated on the importation of goods. The reverse charge principles apply to VAT registered businesses.
A business registered in the Norwegian VAT Register is, as a main rule, entitled to deduct input VAT on purchases of goods and services for use in the VAT liable business. A pro-rate key must be used for acquisitions for use in both a VAT liable and VAT exempt business.
Input VAT is not deductible on certain costs. It is also a condition for VAT deduction that incoming invoices are issued in the name of the buyer and contain certain information as set out in the Bookkeeping Regulation, including the VAT number by the supplier.
VAT adjustment rules: capital goods
Machinery, fixtures, fittings and other operating assets, for which the input VAT on the cost price amounts to at least 50,000 kroner, are deemed to be capital goods. This limit applies to each individual acquisition. Real estate that has been subject to construction, extension or alteration, for which the input VAT amounts to at least 100,000 kroner, is also deemed to be capital goods.
In general terms, the provisions means that the deduction for input VAT shall be adjusted up or down if the connection between the capital goods and activities liable to VAT change during a period of 10 years (real estate) or five years (other capital goods).
Sale and other transfer of capital goods through mergers, demergers or transfer of business, may trigger VAT adjustment obligations. The same applies when a change in the use of the capital goods results in the purpose no longer being VAT liable. The VAT adjustment obligations could be transferred to the new owner in a VAT adjustment agreement under certain conditions. Sale of shares are not capital goods and hence are not covered by the VAT adjustment rules.
All companies with annual VAT liable turnovers that exceed a certain threshold (at present, 50,000 kroner) are required to register with the Norwegian VAT Register.
In general, this also applies to non-resident enterprises, making supplies that are subject to VAT in Norway. A foreign enterprise that does not have a place of business in Norway must in principle register through a fiscal representative. However, foreign enterprises from other EEA countries can register for VAT without a VAT representative.
A foreign enterprise that is not required to register for VAT purposes in Norway may nevertheless claim a refund of input VAT paid for goods and services for business purposes in Norway. It is a condition that the enterprise would have been required to register for VAT purposes in Norway if the business activities had been carried out in Norway and that the VAT incurred would have been deductible in accordance with the VAT Act.
The government has, with effect from 1 April 2020, established a simplified registration and reporting system (VOEC) for calculation and payment of VAT on importation of goods (e-commerce) below 3,000 kroner to private individuals. This involves the foreign suppliers being responsible for calculating and payment of Norwegian VAT. The new registration and reporting system do not apply in connection with imports made to Norwegian businesses and to the public sector. Previously, this system was only applicable with respect to supplies of electronic services (VOES).
It is also possible, under certain conditions, to apply for a pre-registration before the supply commences, or prior to the registration threshold having been reached.
Collaborating companies may, at their own request, be regarded as one single taxable entity and form a VAT group provided at least 85 per cent of the capital in each company is owned by one or more of the collaborating companies. VAT should not be calculated on transfer of goods and services between the VAT group registered companies, as this is not considered as a supply for VAT purposes. All companies within the VAT group are jointly and severally liable for the payment of VAT.
It is also possible to opt for a voluntary VAT registration with respect to lease of real estate for use in a VAT-liable business by the lessee.
VAT reporting and filing
VAT-registered businesses are required to file VAT returns (normally bi-monthly) to the tax office. The deadline for filing VAT returns as well as payment of the respective VAT is 1 month and 10 days after expiry of the reporting period.
The company has the right to set off all deductible input VAT in the period against all output VAT in the same VAT period. The net amount output VAT must be paid to the tax authorities. If the input VAT exceeds output VAT, the business is entitled to repayment of VAT from the tax authorities.
iii Other relevant taxes
The registration of transactions involving immovable property in the Land Registry is subject to a stamp duty of 2.5 per cent of the accepted value of the property at the time of the registration.
There are no other stamp duties in Norway.
Imported goods may be subject to customs duties depending on the country of origin and the type of goods concerned. Customs duties mainly apply to textiles and foodstuffs.
Excise duties apply on a number of goods. As an example, there is electrical power tax, air passenger tax, mineral product tax, NOx tax (tax on emissions of nitrogen oxides in energy production from certain sources), excise duties related to vehicles etc.
Real estate tax
Individuals and companies that own immovable property may be subject to municipal real estate tax regulated by an immovable property tax law.4
The financial activity tax
A financial activity tax was introduced from 2017 for the financial sector. Normally, the financial activity tax is applicable to businesses that are engaged in VAT-exempt financial activities.
For enterprises defined as financial institutions, the corporate tax rate will remain at 25 per cent even if the ordinary corporate tax rate is 22 per cent. Financial institutions also have a 5 per cent tax imposed on their total salary costs.
The petroleum tax system
All petroleum-related income on the Norwegian continental shelf is governed by the Petroleum Tax Act; however, the general tax legislation will also apply.
The petroleum tax regime is characterised by a very high marginal income tax rate (78 per cent), which to some extent is offset by relatively generous tax deductions, such as the immediate expense of all exploration costs, fast tax depreciation, an uplift allowance for special tax purposes and a tax deduction for financial costs related to upstream business activity.
Income tax for 2020 comprises the ordinary 22 per cent corporate tax rate and the 56 per cent special tax rate.
There are no field operation ring-fencing arrangements on the Norwegian continental shelf, and all exploration costs may be deducted. Companies may, however, no longer deduct exploration costs abroad from the Norwegian income. Companies in a loss position may choose between a cash refund of the tax value (i.e., 78 per cent) of the exploration costs or to carry the cost forward with interest. When winding up the business on the Norwegian continental shelf, a company will receive the tax value (78 per cent of exploration cost and 22 per cent of all other cost) of any unused losses the company may have.
A norm price, set by a separate norm price board, replaces the actual sales price when calculating the taxable gross income from the sale of crude oil (regardless of the actual sales price being higher or lower).
There is as a main rule no dividend withholding tax on distribution from profits subject to the 56 per cent special tax.
Hydroelectric power production companies
In addition to the ordinary income tax rate of 22 per cent, hydroelectric power production companies are subject to a 37 per cent natural resource rent tax, so that the total tax rate amounts to 59 per cent. An amount equal to the normal rate of return on the investment is shielded against the additional tax. Further, the hydroelectric power production companies are subject to a municipal resource extraction tax of 0.013 kroner per produced kwh.
Tonnage tax system
For shipping companies, the tax on corporate profits may be replaced by a tax based on the tonnage operated by a company.
Elaborate ring-fencing arrangements limit the benefit of tonnage tax on the operation of ships, and companies within the regime may not carry on any other business.
Employers' social security contribution
The rates range from zero to 14.1 per cent depending on the tax municipality of the employer.
An employer resident abroad is required to pay social security contributions in respect of employees working in Norway but is subject to a possible exemption under the EEA or other social security treaties.
Tax residence and fiscal domicile
i Corporate residence
Companies, etc., are considered resident in Norway if these are (1) incorporated pursuant to Norwegian company law; or (2) have their de facto management in Norway.
In assessing whether de facto management is in Norway, it must be considered where the board level management and daily management are carried out, but also other circumstances relating to the organisation and business activities of the company must be considered. A company, etc., will nonetheless be considered not resident in Norway if that company is resident in another state under a tax treaty.
ii Branch or permanent establishment
Norwegian tax legislation does not define a PE and, as a general rule, a foreign incorporated company conducting or participating in business in Norway will be considered as having a taxable presence in Norway. However, most Norwegian bilateral tax treaties are based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Model Tax Convention, and with Norway's extensive network of tax treaties, the PE definition will normally be decisive for a company's taxable presence in Norway.
The allocation of income between a foreign head office and the taxable presence in Norway, a Norwegian PE or branch should be calculated according to the arm's-length principle.
Capital gains on shares realised by non-resident corporate shareholders are not subject to taxation in Norway unless the foreign shareholder has a PE in Norway, and the shares are effectively connected to the PE or presence in Norway and are not covered by the participation exemption.
Activities on the Norwegian continental shelf related to petroleum resources will constitute a taxable presence as a PE after a certain number of days of activity, often as little as 30 days within a 12-month period.
Tax incentives, special regimes and relief that may encourage inward investment
i Holding company regimes
The participation exemption, an extensive network of tax treaties and a tax credit system that allows unused tax credits to be carried forward, ensure the avoidance of double taxation and make the Norwegian holding regime one of the most favourable in Europe.
Pursuant to the participation exemption, corporate shareholders are exempt from taxation of dividends and gains on shares (except for a clawback of 3 per cent on dividends, if the receiving company owns less than 90 per cent of the shares and voting rights of the distributing company).
The participation exemption comprises dividends and capital gain on shares in companies resident in Norway, and the EEA. Dividends and capital gain on shares in companies resident outside the EEA, but not in a low-tax jurisdiction, are also tax exempt provided that the shareholder has held at least 10 per cent of the shares and capital for a period of two years. Dividends and capital gains on shares in companies in low-tax jurisdictions outside the EEA are not tax exempt, and losses on such shares will be deductible.
For dividends, 3 per cent of the dividends received are subject to the 22 per cent corporate tax (effective taxation on exempt dividend is 0.66 per cent). The clawback of 3 per cent does not apply to intra-group dividends within a tax group from companies resident in Norway and that have more than 90 per cent ownership in the distributing company, or within the EEA provided that the shareholder has held at least 10 per cent of the shares and capital for a period of two years.
There are no requirements for participation or holding periods for dividends and capital gains on shares of Norwegian or EEA-resident companies for the exemption method to apply. However, companies resident in a low-tax jurisdiction within the EEA must be genuinely established and conduct genuine business within their state of residency (substantial business test) in order for the participation exemption to be applicable. As a general rule, this implies that the business is organised in a similar way as other local businesses of the same kind, and a tax-avoidance motive is not proven.
Capital gains on a partnership's shares will, for a corporate partner, be tax exempt if at least 90 per cent of the partnership's investments at all times during the past two years have been in tax-exempt shares. Losses on the partnership's shares will, for a corporate partner, be deductible only if the partnership's non-qualifying shares have exceeded 10 per cent of the total value of shares during the previous two years (the tax rules regarding gains and losses on a partnership's shares are asymmetrical, and the requirements could lead to double taxation if both the shares owned by the partnership that are not tax exempt and the partnership shares are sold). For corporate partners resident in Norway, this applies irrespective of where the partnership is registered.
Corporate partners receiving distributions from a partnership's shares are, as for dividends from shares, liable to 22 per cent income tax on 3 per cent of the distributions received (after a deduction for the partner's tax on the partnership's share).
With effect from 2016, distributions from companies for which the distributing company has been able to deduct the distribution will not be covered by the participation exemption.
ii IP regimes
There is no special IP tax regime in Norway.
A tax relief may, however, be granted according to the rules of SkatteFUNN R&D tax incentive scheme (see subsection iv).
iii State aid
Norwegian authorities offer a wide range of state aid for investments, R&D (see below), and development and exports through a regional development fund (Innovasjon Norge) supporting businesses establishing in Norway and abroad.
SkatteFUNN is an R&D tax incentive scheme that entitles all enterprises subject to Norwegian taxation to a tax deduction of expenses related to R&D (within certain limits and provided certain conditions are met), provided that the research programme has been approved by the Research Council of Norway.
Withholding and taxation of non-local source income streams
i Withholding on outward-bound payments (domestic law)
Outbound dividends paid to a non-resident shareholder or owner are subject to a 25 per cent withholding tax unless an exemption or lower tax rate applies pursuant to a tax treaty.
There is, as of 2020, no withholding tax on royalties, interest or other payments such as service and management fees, rents or lease payments. However, such withholding tax has been proposed with effect from 1 July 2021. The proposal introduces withholding tax at a rate of 15 per cent on interest, royalties and lease payments for certain types of tangible assets (ships, rigs, planes etc.) paid to related recipients resident in low-tax countries outside the EEA.
ii Domestic law exclusions or exemptions from withholding on outward-bound payments
The participation exemption applies (i.e., no withholding tax on dividend distributions) to corporate shareholders within the EEA provided that the shareholder meets the substantial business test (see Section V.i).
iii Double tax treaties
Norway currently has tax treaties covering almost 100 jurisdictions.
The withholding tax rate on dividends is normally reduced to 15 per cent, and to 5 per cent in parent–subsidiary situations, under a tax treaty. For dividends under the participation exemption (within the EEA) there is no withholding tax. Norway has historically not imposed withholding tax on royalties or interest in general, and some tax treaties, in particular relating to royalties, interest or other payments, provide for a withholding tax rate of zero.
iv Taxation on receipt
Dividends received by, and capital gains from the sale of shares by private and public limited companies and other companies treated equally for tax purposes, are tax exempt pursuant to the participation exemption.
If the participation exemption is not applicable, dividends will be fully taxable. In such cases, the Norwegian parent company is entitled to a tax credit for foreign withholding tax, and (on certain conditions) may claim tax credit for underlying corporate tax paid by the foreign subsidiary.
Royalties, interest and other payments, such as service and management fees, rents and lease payments, are taxable as corporate income.
Taxation of funding structures
i Thin capitalisation
Norwegian tax legislation contains no specific statutory or regulatory prescriptions of thin capitalisation, and as a rule, all interest paid to an unrelated party is deductible. Between related parties, interest deductibility may be limited under the arm's-length principle or the interest deduction limitation rule, both set out under the Norwegian Tax Act.
Limitation of interest deduction between related parties
The interest deduction limitation rule states that net interest expenses exceeding 25 per cent of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) will be non-deductible for tax purposes. For companies that are part of a group, interest expenses on external and internal debt will be subject to the limitation rule, whereas for companies not part of a group, the limitations only apply to interest expenses on debt to related parties.
For companies that are part of a group, there are, however, two alternative escape clauses providing that the company or group can escape the limitations completely if: (1) the relevant company on a stand-alone basis has a debt-to-equity ratio similar to or stronger than the consolidated debt-to-equity ratio in the group that the company is a part of; or (2) the Norwegian part of the group has a consolidated debt-to-equity ratio that is similar to or stronger than the consolidated debt-to-equity ratio in the wider group.
Interest deductions will, however, only be limited to the extent that the net interest expenses exceed certain thresholds. For companies that are part of a group, the limitation rules will only apply to the extent that net internal and external interest expenses exceeds 25 million kroner in total for the Norwegian part of the group.
For companies not part of a group, the limitation rules only apply to the extent that net interest expenses in the company exceeds 5 million kroner. This also applies to companies that are part of a group that has net interest expenses to a related party outside the group.
Parties are considered related when there is ownership or control of 50 per cent or more of one party by another.
External loans guaranteed by a related party of the borrower (tainted debt) will be treated the same way as loans to related parties.
The interest deduction limitation rule applies to limited liability companies, and similar other companies and entities. The rules also apply to partnerships, shareholders in controlled foreign corporations (CFCs) and foreign companies with PEs in Norway. Financial institutions are exempt from the interest deduction limitation rule.
ii Deduction of finance costs
Interest costs on business debt (see above), issue expenses and commissions on loans are tax deductible. The same applies for interest charged for late payment of debt. Even under the participation exemption, companies may continue to deduct interest on debt incurred to finance acquisition of shares giving rise to tax-exempt income.
Excessive interest or business profits paid to the parent company or a related company may, depending on the circumstances, be regarded as dividend distributions and thus not deductible.
Financial acquisition costs may not be deducted from the company's taxable income but have to be capitalised together with the cost of the acquired shares.
iii Restrictions on payments
Dividends may be distributed several times during the year, but only if the company has sufficient net assets to cover the share capital after the distribution of dividends.
iv Return of capital
Paid-in equity may be repaid on a tax-neutral basis through a reduction and return of capital.
Acquisition structures, restructuring and exit charges
Capital gains on the transfer of shares by corporate shareholders (limited liability companies, etc.) are tax exempt, and losses are not deductible pursuant to the participation exemption. The acquisition costs are not deductible even if the transaction is aborted, and any allocation of acquisition costs to the target company is regarded as illegal financial aid.
Asset deals are, for tax purposes, regarded as selling the company's possessions separately, and gains are taxable and losses deductible.
Mergers and demergers may, subject to certain conditions, be carried out without triggering taxation if all the companies involved are resident in Norway. One of the crucial conditions for carrying out a merger or demerger without triggering taxation is that it is done with tax continuity on both company level and shareholder level, and thus maintains the tax positions of the parties.
Cross-border mergers between companies within the EEA may be carried out tax-free if the transaction is carried out pursuant to principles for tax continuity applicable in the state where the assigning company is resident. However, if the transferring company is resident in Norway, the company's assets will be considered realised for tax purposes upon exit (see below) if moved out of the Norwegian tax jurisdiction. Corresponding rules apply for a demerger of a limited liability company resident in an EEA state if the acquiring company is resident in Norway.
Cross-border mergers and demergers will not be tax exempt if one or more of the companies taking part in a merger or demerger are resident in a low-tax country within the EEA, and if the company or companies do not fulfil the substantial business test.
When the company ceases to be resident in Norway for tax purposes and relocates to a state outside the EEA, or a low-tax jurisdiction in the EEA in which the substantial business test is not met, all business assets and liabilities are regarded as realised at market value and are subject to tax or tax deduction. If the company relocates to other states, tax on tangible assets except for merchandise may be deferred upon certain conditions.
When assets are moved within the EEA, the tax payable on tangible assets (except for merchandise) may, subject to certain conditions, also be deferred. The exit tax for tangible assets is then annulled if the asset is not realised within five years.
For intangible assets and merchandise, the exit tax is definitive and payable on the day of exit.
Anti-avoidance and other relevant legislation
i General anti-avoidance
Norway has an expansive anti-avoidance doctrine, with both general and specific anti-avoidance rules.
The courts have developed a general anti-avoidance doctrine that ensures that the tax authorities can cut through structures and dispositions whose primary motive is to achieve tax benefits and are deemed 'disloyal' to the tax legislation. This doctrine was set out in the tax legislation with effect from 2020.
The tax legislation also contains a specific anti-avoidance rule that states that if a company has tax positions that are unrelated to any asset or liability, and the ownership of such company changes by merger, demerger or other transaction with the predominant motive of exploiting that position, the tax position will be void.
ii Controlled foreign corporations (CFCs)
The CFC taxation rules imply that the shareholder of a company is taxed on a yearly basis for its proportionate share of the company's income, whether distributed or not. The rules apply to shares in companies incorporated in a low-tax jurisdiction controlled by Norwegian shareholders (Norwegian control, directly or indirectly, over at least 50 per cent of the shares or votes).
A low-tax jurisdiction is defined as a country with an effective income tax rate lower than two-thirds of the effective tax rate in Norway for the same type of business (the Ministry of Finance has published a non-exhaustive 'white list' and 'black list').
The CFC legislation does not apply to companies that are established in an EEA country and that meet the substantial business test (see Section V.i).
If the company is resident in a Norwegian tax treaty country, the CFC legislation only applies if the company's income is predominantly of a 'passive' character (financial or rental income, royalty, etc.).
iii Transfer pricing
Intra-group transactions are to be priced in accordance with the arm's-length principle.
If the income of a Norwegian-resident company is reduced owing to transactions with a related party, the tax authorities may adjust the income of the company in accordance with the arm's-length principle.
Reporting documentation requirements apply, and group companies must, in their tax return, give information on intra-group transactions. The taxpayer must, with some exceptions, be prepared to file transfer pricing documentation (type and volume of the transactions, functional analysis, comparable analysis and a report of the transfer pricing method used) within 45 days of a written notice from the tax authorities.
iv Tax clearances and rulings
Advance rulings may be obtained from the Directorate of Taxes and from local tax inspectors in respect of direct taxes, social security contributions and VAT. These rulings will be binding for the tax authorities, but optional for the taxpayer.
Year in review
In a white paper issued in April 2019, it was proposed to implement rules that codify the non-statutory legislation on anti-avoidance (see Section IX.i for a further description of these rules). The rules entered into force from 1 January 2020 and apply for both tax and VAT.
The government proposed the introduction of withholding tax on interest, royalties and certain lease payments with effect from 1 July 2021. This followed up on a long dormant proposal, tailoring it to the economic realities of 2020 meaning that the scope of the proposed legislation was limited.
Previously, importation of goods was exempt from VAT and customs duties, under certain conditions, provided the value of the shipment from abroad was less than 350 kroner. However, with effect from 2020 the VAT and customs duties exemption are removed. As a result, VAT and customs duties shall be paid on all imports, as a rule.
The government has established a simplified registration and reporting system (VOEC) for calculation and payment of VAT on importation of goods (e-commerce) below 3,000 kroner to private individuals. The new rules entered into force with effect from 1 April 2020.
Moreover, private individuals are entitled to import clothes and textiles from foreign suppliers and online shops, without paying customs duties provided the value of the shipment is below 3,000 kroner.
The new registration and reporting system does not apply in connection with imports made to Norwegian businesses and to the public sector.
Due to the covid-19 virus situation, the government has this year introduced certain amendments to the tax and VAT regulations, such as deferral with payment of taxes and VAT, reduced VAT rate from 12 per cent to 6 per cent etc., to ameliorate the economic impact of covid-19.
Outlook and conclusions
The main features of the tax system have been fixed for some time. However, as many expect a possible change of government in 2021, the coming years may see a number of changes to wealth tax rules, dividend taxation, the possible reintroduction of inheritance tax, etc.
1 Anders Nordli and Kari-Ann Mosti are partners at the law firm Advokatfirmaet Grette AS.
2 Council Regulation 2001/2157/EC of 8 October 2001 on the Statute for a European Company.
3 The profit element of these contracts is recognised as taxable income according to the completed contract principle.
4 Law of 6 June 1975, No. 29.