Extended business travelers are likely to be taxed on employment income relating to their Icelandic work days.
Liability for income tax
A person’s liability to Icelandic income tax is determined by his or her residence status. A person can be resident or a non-resident for Icelandic tax purposes.
For Icelandic tax purposes the term ‘resident’ generally refers to an individual who is domiciled in Iceland, or is staying in the country for a period exceeding 183 days during any 12-month period. Short stays abroad for leisure or holidays will not be considered as an interruption of the 183 day period. The general rule is that a person who is a resident of Iceland is assessable on his or her worldwide income.
A non-resident of Iceland is generally someone who spends less than 183 days in the country in any 12-month period. Non-residents are generally assessable on income derived directly or indirectly from sources in Iceland. Extended business travelers are likely to be considered non-resident of Iceland for tax purposes, unless they enter into Iceland with the intention of remaining for more than 6 months.
The tax liability ends as soon as the individual leaves Iceland. However, former residents, on the grounds of domicile, remain subject to unlimited tax liability for 3 years after leaving Iceland, unless they prove they have become subject to taxation in another country.
Definition of source
Employment income is generally treated as Icelandic-sourced when the individual performs the services while physically located in Iceland and performs the services for an Icelandic employer or a foreign employer´s permanent establishment (PE).
Tax trigger points
Technically, there is no minimum threshold/number of days that exempts the employee from the requirements to file an Icelandic tax return, nor pay tax in Iceland. To the extent that the individual qualifies in accordance with the dependent personal services article of the applicable tax treaty, there will be no tax liability. The treaty exemption will not apply if an Icelandic entity is the individual’s economic employer. It should be noted that the Icelandic employer approach is neither clear nor developed in Iceland.
Types of taxable income
In Iceland, taxable income is divided into three categories.
- Category A: all income received by an individual in money or money’s worth.
- Category B: income from a business or an independent economic activity; therefore does not apply to an employee.
- Category C: capital income.
For the extended business traveler, category A will most likely apply (i.e. all types of compensation and benefits received by the employee for services rendered constitute taxable income, regardless of where paid). Typical items of an expatriate compensation package, which are fully taxable, include the following:
- salary payments
- bonus payments
- school tuition reimbursements for children
- provision of a car from the employer
- cost-of-living allowances
- housing allowance and housing provided
- employer’s contributions to a pension plan
- provision of domestic assistance
- reimbursement of moving expenses
- the benefit of loans at reduced or zero interest rates provided by the employer
- round sum expenses allowances
- home leave
Individuals pay national income tax and municipal income tax on taxable income.
Taxable employment income is taxed at progressive tax rates ranging from approximately 37.32 percent to 46.22 percent for assessment year 2014. These rates are inclusive of the municipal income tax, on average 14.42 percent (ranging from 13.66 percent to 14.48 percent).
For income year 2014 (assessment year 2015), earnings are taxed at 37.30 percent on the first 3,480,000 Icelandic krona (ISK) of taxable income, and 39.74 percent on the next ISK 5,935,428. An additional rate band of 46.24 percent applies to the remainder.
Remuneration of non-residents for managerial, accounting or committee work is subject to a national tax rate of 18 percent. In addition, a municipal tax of average 14.44 percent is levied (18 percent plus 14.44 percent equals 32.44 percent collectively).
Entertainers, and those with a fixed salary, pay income tax at 18 percent plus the 14.44 percent on earnings, but are not able to claim any deductions and can, in lieu thereof, enjoy the revenues from such activity.
All individual tax payers (except children under the age of 16) are entitled to a personal tax credit against the computed income from all income categories, by the use of a tax card. This credit amounts to ISK 605,977 for income year 2014 (assessment year 2015). If the credit surpasses the tax, the excess will be applied by the State Treasury to settle the municipal tax payable. Any part of a single person’s credit remaining thereafter will be canceled.
Liability for social security
In the case of salaries paid to employees, social security contributions are payable by employers and self-employed persons. Social security contributions are imposed on all employees and self-employed person´s remuneration (for example salaries, benefits and the employer´s part of premiums to the pension funds). The contributions are partly used to finance the social security system. For income year 2014 the general rate is 7.59 percent. An additional 0.65 percent is payable with respect to sailors. If an employee has a foreign A1 certificate the social security contribution is 0.425 percent.
The Icelandic pension system consists of mandatory occupational pension funds and optional private pension funds.
Both employees and employers are required to pay premiums into the mandatory occupational pension funds. Collectively, the minimum payment is 12 percent of gross salary. The employees’ part is usually 4 percent which is deductible from the employment income tax base. Employers provide a minimum 8 percent in addition to the employees’ contribution. Self-employed persons pay both the employee´s and employer´s part of the pension fee.
Payments to pension funds are deductible from tax base for up to 4 percent of total salary for the mandatory occupational pension fund, and for up to 2 percent of total salary for payments to the optional private pension funds. Deduction from tax base due to payments to pension funds can therefore total 6 percent.
Social security number
An employee of a foreign company who arrives in Iceland for work purposes must apply for an Icelandic social security number with the National Registry. The social security number is used extensively in Iceland in businesses, universities and in the banking system. The number is also a necessary prerequisite before applying for a tax card.
Employee compliance obligations
Payment for taxes on employment income, benefits, or presumptive wages takes place through monthly payroll withholding at source (that is Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE)) system.
An individual has to file a tax return if he/she has received any income in the tax year in Iceland.
The tax year is the same as the calendar year.
The Internal Revenue Directorate annually decides the last day of filing individual income tax return. Traditionally it is at the end of March, following the tax year-end. An actual tax assessment should be issued by 31 July same year. If the withholding tax paid is higher than the assessment, the employee will receive a refund. If the withholding tax is lower than the assessment, the difference will be collected.
All foreign citizens and stateless individuals, who have a residence permit in Iceland for a specific time, are obligated to file tax returns before leaving the country.
Employer reporting and withholding requirements
Withholdings from employment income are covered under the PAYE system. An employer has a monthly reporting obligation, as well as a withholding obligation related to income while performing work in Iceland.
In addition, employers are obligated to pay a payroll tax (social security tax of 7.59 percent).
Double taxation treatiesh
In addition to Icelandic domestic regulations, Iceland has entered into double taxation treaties with more than 40 countries in order to prevent double taxation, and allowing cooperation between Iceland and overseas tax authorities when it comes to enforcing their respective law.
Permanent establishment implications
There is a risk that a PE could be created as a result of extended business travel to Iceland, depending on the type of services performed and the level of authority the employee has when performing services in Iceland.
Iceland imposes value-added tax (VAT) on most goods and services. VAT registered businesses do not bear the final VAT costs. They are able to charge VAT on the supplies that they make (output VAT) and recover VAT on purchases that they have made (input VAT).
Currently there are two types of VAT: the standard rate (25.5 percent) applies for goods and services, and the reduced rate (7 percent) for groceries, accommodation, CDs and printed material.
Foreign enterprises with business in Iceland are able to apply for and collect VAT reimbursements. A VAT registration number in Iceland is a prerequisite for a reimbursement. This can be done through an Icelandic agent.
The Icelandic parliament recently approved a new provision regarding transfer pricing. Before the change only a general anti-avoidance provision was in force, which allowed the tax authorities to adjust prices of transactions when they could demonstrate that the basis for that price was abnormal.
The new transfer pricing provision is based on the arm’s length principle. If prices are not in accordance with the principle they shall be adjusted using the transfer pricing guidelines issued by the OECD. Related party definition extends to direct or indirect ownership and/or control of legal entities as well as individuals which are considered related by family and/or financial ties.
Companies which total revenue or assets in the beginning of the year or at year end are above 1,000 million ISK are obligated to keep documentation about the nature and extent of transactions with related parties, the nature of the relationship and the basis of price decided. The document obligation referrers to the guidelines issued by the OECD.
Work permit/visa requirements
A residence permit is needed for a foreign citizen intending to stay for longer than three months in Iceland. European Economic Area (EEA)/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nationals may stay and work in Iceland for up to 3 months without any permit, and stay in Iceland for up to 6 months if they are looking for employment. The type of residence permit required will depend on the purpose of the individual’s entry into Iceland.
Citizens of the Nordic countries do not need a residence permit to stay in Iceland. Employees from certain countries must apply for a visa before entering into Iceland.
Local data privacy requirements
Iceland has data privacy laws.
Foreign exchange transactions are subject to capital controls. Salaries paid to non-resident individuals can be transferred out in foreign currency. Foreign residents are authorized to transfer out foreign currency if it is demonstrated that the money is for living expenses. This authorization applies for capital movements within the calendar year, up to ISK 3,000,000 for individuals, ISK 6,000,000 for married couples/cohabiting partners and ISK 2,000,000 for each minor child subject to their custody and who is domiciled with the aforementioned.
Furthermore, an individual is allowed to export foreign currency if it is shown that the funds are proceeds from an accident compensation or inheritance. For expenses when traveling abroad, residents are allowed to purchase or withdraw (in cash) an amount equivalent to, but no more than ISK 350,000 per month, on the purchase or withdrawal date.
Certain obligations are imposed to control tax evasion and money laundering. Legislation requires financial institutions and other cash dealers to give notification of suspicious cash transactions (there is no minimum amount). All currency transfers (in Icelandic or foreign currency) made by any person into or out of Iceland must be reported.
Non-deductible costs for assignees
Non-deductible costs for assignees include contributions by an employer to non-Icelandic pension funds.