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6. Opening of a branch

6.2. Branch versus subsidiary

The main differences between a branch and a subsidiary to be taken into consideration from a tax and legal standpoint are summarized below.

 BranchSubsidiary
Minimum capital stockMinimum capital stock
No capital is required to set up a branch, although providing the branch with capital is recommended for practical reasons.
S.A.: €60,000.
S.L.: €3,00028
Legal personalityNo (no separate legal personality but rather the same legal identity as its parent company).Yes.
Managing and government bodyRepresentative resident in Spain (who acts as attorney of the branch in the name and on behalf of the parent company for all purposes, particularly tax purposes29).Shareholders’ meeting and the managing body.
Shareholder liabilityNo limit to the parent company’s liability.The liability of the shareholders of a subsidiary formed as an S.A. or S.L. for the debts of the subsidiary is limited to the amount of their capital contributions (with the exceptions analyzed in Appendix I, section 3).

From a tax standpoint, both the branch and the subsidiary are, in general terms, liable for Spanish corporate income tax (subsidiary) or nonresident income tax (branch) at 25% on their net income (rate applicable from 2016 onwards).

The following aspects in relation to the tax treatment of branches and subsidiaries and of the income paid or remitted by them should be noted:

  • The remittance of a branch’s profits to its head office or the payment of a subsidiary’s dividend to its parent will be taxed in Spain depending on the country of residence of the parent company or head office:
    • If it is not resident in an EU country and is also not resident in a country with which Spain has a tax treaty, remittances or dividends will be taxed in Spain at a rate of 19% from 2016 onwards.
    • If it is EU-resident, remittances or dividends are usually tax-exempt. If the exemption cannot be applied to dividends, the reduced rate under the relevant tax treaty with Spain will apply. If there is no tax treaty with Spain and the exemption cannot be applied, the applicable rate will be 19%.
    • If it is resident in a non-EU country with which Spain does have a tax treaty, the dividends will be taxable at the reduced treaty rate and the remittance of branch profits will, under most treaties, be exempt from tax in Spain.
  • A branch is a permanent establishment for the purposes of nonresident income tax. Nonetheless, a branch is not the only form of permanent establishment. In order to identify whether or not a permanent establishment exists, consideration must first be given to whether or not a tax treaty has been signed between Spain and the country of residence of the interested party:
    1. If a tax treaty has been signed between Spain and the taxpayer’s country of residence, regard must be had to the definition of permanent establishment in that treaty. In general, the tax treaties currently in force are in line with the definition set forth under Article 5 of the OECD Model Convention, which distinguishes between two forms of permanent establishment.

      The first form of permanent establishment is the fixed place of business. This is a place through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. In general, a fixed place of business will therefore exist where the following requirements are met:

      • The facility, center or site must be used to carry on the business.
      • The facility must be fixed or related to a specific place or space, with a certain degree of permanence over time.
      • The activity must be productive and must contribute to the enterprise’s global income.

      This definition of permanent establishment excludes a fixed place of business from which certain auxiliary or preparatory activities, listed in the tax treaties, are carried on.

      The second form of permanent establishment is the dependent agent. This is an agent who acts on behalf of the nonresident entity, who has and exercises powers to bind such entity, and who does not have independent agent status.

    2. If there is no applicable tax treaty, regard must be had to the definition of permanent establishment set forth in Spanish domestic law. Article 13.1.a of Legislative Royal Decree 5/2004, approving the revised Nonresident Income Tax Law has, to a great extent, been brought into line with the aforesaid definition of permanent establishment according to the OECD Model Convention.
  • The Directorate General of Taxes has ruled on a number of occasions that the Special Rules regulated under Title VII of the Revised Corporate Income Tax Law are applicable to permanent establishments located in Spain and belonging to nonresident entities, inter alia, the special rules applicable to small entities (For further information on the special rules, see Chapter 3).
  • Share of parent company overheads: In practice, it is usually easier for these expenses (if any are imputed) to qualify as deductible in the case of a branch than in the case of a subsidiary.
  • Interest on loans from a foreign parent company to its Spanish branch is not tax-deductible for the branch. By contrast, the interest on loans from the shareholders of a subsidiary is normally tax-deductible for the subsidiary, provided that the transaction is valued on an arm’s-length basis and subject to certain requirements, subject to the limits on deductibility established in corporate income tax legislation. The general limit is 30% of the subsidiary’s EBITDA, although deductibility is prohibited in some cases, for example, where the debt is used to acquire holdings in entities from other group entities (unless they are acquired on valid economic grounds) or where the finance costs do not generate any income, or generate tax-exempt income or income taxed at less than 10% at the recipient, due to such income not being classed as a financial return.

28Except in the case of an entrepreneurial limited liability company. For these purposes, please see section 4.2.4 of Annex I.

29Article 10.1 of Legislative Royal Decree 5/2004, of March 5, approving the revised Nonresident Income Tax Law.