Offshore Bonds are collective investments in which the investments of many individual investors are pooled. They are technically single premium life assurance contracts and therefore normally have nominal life cover attaching, however they can also be written on a capital redemption basis without a life assured. A wide choice of funds is available ranging from managed to specialist funds.
A number of companies market offshore life policies, particularly single premium bonds. The most popular are those issued by subsidiaries of well known UK life offices in countries such as Luxembourg, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
The income and gains of an offshore bond fund will normally be free of tax in the relevant jurisdiction. Hence they are often referred to as benefiting from “gross roll-up”.
Whilst there will normally be no tax in the particular tax haven that the insurer is based, the fund is likely to suffer some withholding taxes on its underlying investments. There may be scope to reclaim some of the tax under double taxation agreements but it is unlikely that an offshore fund with equity content will ever be truly gross.
The ability to defer tax is greater under an offshore bond than an onshore bond, therefore the longer it is held the greater the compounding effect of the tax deferment. All things being equal an offshore fund will create a greater return than an onshore one over the longer term. However, the greater the level of withholding tax and management expenses (an offshore fund has no tax from which it is able to deduct management expenses) the less an individual will benefit from gross roll-up.
To be eligible to invest in an investment bond, an individual investor must be 18 years of age or over. The investment can also be made on a joint basis, or by a company or trustee(s). The nominated life (lives) assured is usually the applicant/investor but could also be an individual aged under 18.
The minimum lump sum is usually £5,000 but this may be higher or lower depending on the provider. The maximum limit will be set by the provider.
Offshore bond gains are liable to tax and the rate will depend on the policyholder’s personal tax position. The personal allowance, the starting rate band for savings income and the personal savings allowance can all potentially be offset against offshore bond gains to receive some or all of the gains tax free.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results