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In 2018, China introduced the biggest reform to its IIT system since 2011 with the passing of a new Individual Income Tax Law of China (the IT Law). The amended law brought forward a host of changes to individual taxation in China, including by revising tax brackets, expanding deductibles, and altering residency rules for foreign workers.

Taxpayers and Tax liability

The IIT Law divided IIT taxpayers into two categories: resident taxpayer and non-resident taxpayer. Resident taxpayers refer to individuals who have a domicile in China, or individuals who do not have a domicile in China but have resided in China for 183 days or more cumulatively within a tax year. Non-resident taxpayers refer to individuals who do not have a domicile in China and have not resided in China, or individuals who do not have a domicile in China and have resided in China for less than 183 days cumulatively within a tax year.

A tax year starts from January 1 of a calendar year and ends on December 31. Having a domicile here means habitually residing in China due to household registration, family, and economic interests.

To put it in a simple way, domestic employees and foreign employees who stayed or are expect to stay in China for at least 183 days are most likely to be regarded as resident taxpayers, while expatriates who come to China for short-term (less than 183 days) work, such as commercial performance and training, are likely to be regarded as non-resident taxpayers.

Tax Liability of Resident Taxpayer and Non-Resident Taxpayer

Taxpayer status

Domicile and residence time

Tax liability

Resident taxpayer

  • Having domicile in China
  • Income sourced in China; and
  • Income sourced outside of China
  • No domicile in China; and
  • The number of consecutive years residing in China for 183 days or more cumulatively is over six
  • Income sourced in China; and
  • Income sourced outside of China
  • No domicile in China; and
  • The number of consecutive years residing in China for 183 days or more cumulatively is no more than six
  • Income sourced in China; and
  • Income sourced outside of China but paid by a Chinese enterprise or individual

Non-resident taxpayer

  • No domicile in China; and
  • Residing in China for no more than 183 days in a tax year
  • Income sourced in China
  • No domicile in China; and
  • Residing in China for no more than 90 days in a tax year
  • Income sourced in China that is paid or borne by domestic employer

Six-year rule

Generally, individuals who have no domicile in China won’t be subject to paying IIT on their worldwide income until they reside in China for 183 days or more in a year for more than six consecutive years. According to the official statement, the six-year rule counts starting from January 1, 2019. Besides, the count of the six-year can be reset by living in China for less than 183 days in a tax year, or by leaving China for more than 30 days continuously where their days of residence in China has reached 183 days in a tax year.

Income sourced in China

Generally, the following income shall be deemed income sourced in China, regardless if the place of payment is in China:

  • Income derived from labor services provided in China due to tenure of office, employment, performance of contract, etc.;
  • Income derived from lease of property to a lessee for use in China;
  • Income derived from licensing of various licensing rights for use in China;
  • Income derived from transfer of properties such as immovable property in China or transfer of other properties in China; and
  • Income from interest, dividends and bonuses derived from enterprises, institutions, other organizations and resident individuals in China.

As to employment relationship, income sourced in China is determined by the individual’s ‘actual working period in China’.

Under the amended IIT Law, actual working period is counted in days, which includes actual working days, public holidays, annual leaves, as well as training days occurred inside or outside of China during the individual’s work in China.

For non-domicile individuals who are employed by domestic employer and overseas employer at the same time, or who are employed by overseas employer only, but provide work in China and overseas within the same period, a day in which the individual stays in China for less than 24 hours will be counted as 0.5 day when determining their actual working period in China. The amount of their income liable to Chinese IIT shall be calculated by a set of formulas.

To be noted, the actual-work-time rule does not apply if the individual holds a senior management position in domestic enterprises in China. Their director’s fees, supervisor’s fees, wages and salaries, and other similar income such as bonuses and stock options paid by the domestic enterprise, shall be regarded as income

sourced from China, regardless of whether they actually work in China or not.

IIT taxable income and tax rates

Under the amended IIT Law, the following income of an individual shall be subject to IIT:

  • Income from wages and salaries;
  • Income from remuneration for personal services (20 percent of the income is regarded as deductible expenses);
  • Income from author’s remuneration (20 percent of the income is regarded as deductible expenses, and a further 30 percent discount is available when computing the taxable income);
  • Income from royalties (20 percent of the income is regarded as deductible expenses);
  • Income from business operation;
  • Income from interest, dividends and bonuses;
  • Income from lease of property;
  • Income from transfer of property; and
  • Contingent income.

For resident taxpayers, the first four types of income are consolidated into a new category - comprehensive income, and are subject to yearly computation (but employers are still required to compute and withhold the IIT on a monthly basis). The taxable income amount of comprehensive income of a resident individual shall be the balance after deduction of the standard deduction (RMB 60,000 per year, approx. US$8,500), as well as special deductions, special additional deductions and other deductions determined pursuant to the law, from the income amount of each tax year. The comprehensive income is subject to three to 45 percent of progressive rates on a whole.

IIT Withholding Rates Table for Resident Individuals

Level

Taxable income amount subject to cumulative withholding (RMB)

Withholding rate

Quick deduction ( RMB)

1

≤36,000

3%

0

2

36,000 - 144,000

10%

2,520

3

144,000 - 300,000

20%

16,920

4

300,000 - 420,000

25%

31,920

5

420,000 - 660,000

30%

52,920

6

660,000 - 960,000

35%

85,920

7

>960,000

45%

181,920

 

For non-resident taxpayers, the first four types of income are computed separately per time or per month when it occurs. The taxable income amount for income from wages and salaries of a non-resident individual shall be the balance after deduction of the standard deduction (RMB 5,000 per month, approx. US$710), as well as other applicable deductions. The IIT rates for non-resident taxpayers are generally equal to those for resident taxpayers.

IIT Rates Table for Non-resident Individuals (Monthly)

Taxable income amount (RMB)

IIT rate

Quick deduction (RMB)

≤3,000

3%

0

3,000 - 12,000

10%

210

12,000 - 25,000

20%

1,410

25,000 - 35,000

25%

2,660

35,000 - 55,000

30%

4,410

55,000 - 80,000

35%

7,160

>80,000

45%

15,160

Under the amended IIT Law, the following types of individual income shall be exempted from individual income tax:

  • Awards for achievements in science, education, technology, culture, public health, sports, environmental protection, etc. granted by the provincial people’s governments, ministries and commissions under the State Council, units of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at or above corps level, as well as foreign organizations and international organizations;
  • Interest income on treasury bonds and other financial debentures issued by the state;
  • Subsidies and allowances issued on a unified basis in accordance with the provisions of the state;
  • Welfare benefits, compensation, and relief funds;
  • Insurance claims;
  • Military severance payment, demobilization pay, and decommissioning pay received by members of the armed forces;
  • Settling-in allowance, severance pay, basic pension or retirement pay, retirement allowances, and subsidies given to public servants and workers on a unified basis in accordance with the provisions of the state;
  • Income derived by diplomatic representatives, consular officers, and other personnel of embassies and consulates in China, which are exempted from tax in accordance with the provisions of the relevant laws of China;
  • Tax-exempt income stipulated in international conventions and executed agreements to which the Chinese Government is a party; and
  • Other tax-exempt income stipulated by the State Council.

Deductions

The amended IIT Law allows several deductions – standard deductions, special deductions, special additional deductions, and other deductions determined pursuant to the law – to be deducted from the wage and salaries when calculating the taxable income.

Standard deductions

Standard deduction refers to a fixed amount of money that can be deducted from the individual’s taxable income, which equals to the government’s evaluation of the basic living expenses of the individuals.

Under the amended IIT Law, the standard deductions for all taxpayers are unified to RMB 5,000 per month. Previously, the standard deductions are RMB 3,500 per month for domestic employees, and RMB 4,800 for foreign employees.

Special deductions

Special deductions refer to the basic social insurance premiums and housing fund contributed by the employee in accordance with the scope and standard stipulated by the laws and regulations.

Each region has their stipulated basic contribution rates. Contribution beyond that might not be pre-tax deductible. For example, although employees are allowed to make additional contributions to the housing fund, it’s not pre-tax deductible for the part over 12 percent of their salary.

Special additional deductions

The new IIT system introduced ‘special additional deductions for specific expenditures’ (hereinafter, special additional deductions), which includes:

  • Children’s education expenses;
  • Continuing education expenses;
  • Healthcare costs for serious illness;
  • Housing loan interest;
  • Expense for supporting the elderly; and
  • Housing rent.

IIT Special Additional Deductions in China

Item

Applicable scope

Deduction Amount

Deduction method

Children’s education expenses

  • Pre-school education
  • Diploma education

RMB 1,000/month for each child

(or RMB 12,000/year for each child)

  • Standard deduction for each kid
  • 50/50 split between parents, or 100% deducted by one parent

Continuing education expenses

Diploma education

Professional qualification

RMB 400/month, up to 48 months

(or RMB 4,800/year, up to four years)

RMB 3,600 in the year when related certificate issued

  • Standard deduction
  • Parent could choose to claim such expenses for their child if it’s for diploma education

Healthcare costs for

serious illness

Expenses recorded in social medical insurance management system

Maximum RMB 80,000 based on actual basis

  • Deduction on actual expenses
  • Can only deduct the medical cost that is over RMB 15,000 and borne by the individuals
  • Could claim for the spouse and the underaged children

Housing loan interest

First housing loan under taxpayer or spouse’s name

RMB 1,000/month up to 240 months (or RMB 12,000/year, up to 20 years)

  • Standard deduction
  • Could be 50/50 split between the couple, or 100% deducted by one of them.

Expense for supporting the elderly

  • Parent over 60 years old
  • Other legal dependent

RMB 2,000/month

(or RMB 24,000/year)

  • Standard deduction in total, regardless of the actual number of the elderly
  • Could share among siblings, but each one can deduct no more than RMB 1000/month (or RMB 12,000/year)

Housing rent

  • Taxpayer and spouse do not have house in the city where they work

Three applicable deduction amounts based on working locations:

  • RMB 1,500/month (or RMB 18,000/year)
  • RMB 1,100/month (or RMB 13,200/year)
  • RMB 800/month (or RMB 9,600/year)
  • Standard deduction
  • Shall be 100% deducted by one of the couple if they live in the same city
  • The couple can claim this deduction separately if they live in different cities and have no house in both cities

Tax-exempt fringe benefits for foreigners

Expatriates working in China are still allowed to deduct certain ‘fringe benefits’ before calculating the tax liability on their monthly salary during the three-year transition period between January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021, including:

  • Housing expense;
  • Meal fee;
  • Laundry fee;
  • Education expense for children;
  • Language training expense;
  • Relocation expense;
  • Business travel expense; and
  • Home visit expense.

However, foreigners need to choose between the deductible allowances or the six special additional deductions during this three-year transitional period. Once decided, the preference cannot be changed within a given tax year.

To be noted, with the country’s amended IIT Law taking effect from January 1, 2019, the government have considered to roll back the tax exemption on some special fringe benefits for foreigners, partly in a move to equalize benefits between local and foreign tax resident workers.

Currently, tax resident foreigners need to choose between the deductible allowances or the six special additional deductions during this three-year transitional period. Once decided, the preference cannot be changed within a given tax year.

According to the prevailing IIT regulations, it is certain that after the three-year transition period (January 2019 to December 2021), some tax-exempt fringe benefits will be replaced by the special additional deductions for resident taxpayers, while it remains to be seen whether other tax exemption policy for the other fringe benefits will be abolished or not.

Other deductions determined pursuant to the law

The amended IIT Law also allows certain other deductions, such as payment by an individual for enterprise annuity and occupational annuity which comply with state provisions, expenditure of an individual for purchase of commercial health insurance and tax-deferred commercial pension insurance which comply with State provisions, and other deductible items stipulated by the State Council.

 

IIT Calculation

Under the new IIT system, the IIT calculation method for resident taxpayers and non-resident taxpayers are slightly different.

While the ‘cumulative withholding method’ plus ‘annual tax reconciliation’ are adopted for resident individuals, the IIT for non-resident individuals are calculated and withheld on monthly basis, or per each income item.

IIT calculation for resident individuals

When a company pays wages and salaries to an employee who is regarded as resident individual, it must compute the IIT amount using the ‘cumulative withholding method’, and withhold and report the IIT on a monthly basis.

Under the cumulative withholding method, the ‘IIT amount to be withheld for the current period’ should be the balance of the ‘cumulative IIT withholding amount until the current period’, with the ‘cumulative tax credit’ and the ‘cumulative IIT amount that has already been paid’.

To calculate the cumulative IIT withholding amount until the current period:

  • First, calculate the taxable income amount subject to cumulative withholding by deducting various items – including the cumulative tax-exempt income, the cumulative standard deductions, the cumulative special deductions, the cumulative special additional deductions, and cumulative other deductions determined pursuant to the law – from the taxpayer’s cumulative income from wages and salaries for the tax year derived from employment up to the current month; and
  • Second, apply the applicable withholding rates and quick deductions stipulated in the IIT Withholding Rates Table for Resident Individuals.

Where the IIT amount to be withheld is a negative value, a tax refund will not be made in the interim. Where the balance amount at end of the tax year is still a negative value, the taxpayer will, through completing annual tax reconciliation for consolidated income, obtain a tax refund for excess tax paid and make retrospective payment if there is under-paid tax.

IIT calculation for non-resident individuals

When a company pays wages and salaries to a non-resident individual, it is required to withhold and report IIT on a monthly basis, or for each payment, in accordance with the following methods:

  • First, calculate the taxable income amount by lessening standard deduction (RMB 5,000) and other deductions – special deductions (where it is applicable), special additional deductions (where it is applicable), tax-exempt fringe benefits (where it is applicable) – from the non-resident taxpayers’ monthly income amount liable to Chinese IIT;
  • Second, apply the applicable tax rates and quick deductions stipulated in the IIT Withholding Rates Table for Non-resident Individuals.

Annual Calculation and Settlement

The amended IIT Law introduces the annual tax reconciliation mechanism to the IIT system, under which resident taxpayers are required to make a settlement during the period between March 1 and June 30 the following year.

This mechanism applies specifically to the following scenarios:

  • Taxpayers deriving comprehensive income from two or more sources, and the balance after deducting special deductions from the amount of annual comprehensive income exceeds RMB60,000;
  • Taxpayers deriving one or more items of comprehensive income from labor services, author’s remuneration or royalties, and the balance after deducting special deductions from the amount of annual comprehensive income exceeds RMB60,000;
  • Taxpayers whose total tax paid in monthly IIT filings within a tax year that is less than the tax payable amount; and
  • Taxpayers who apply for a tax refund.

IIT Declaration

The amended IIT Law changed the circumstances in which taxpayers are required to make a tax declaration. The reform removed some old circumstances: a taxpayer, for example, is no longer required to declare annual income over RMB 120,000. But it also added some new circumstances: taxpayers are now required to make an IIT declaration upon emigration. 

For ease of reference, we have detailed the circumstances under which taxpayers need to make a tax declaration below:

  • Taxpayer obtains taxable income but there is no withholding agent;
  • Non-resident individual derives income from wages and
  • salaries from two or more sources in China;
  • Taxpayer obtains comprehensive income and needs to process annual tax reconciliation;
  • Taxpayer obtains taxable income but the withholding agent does not withhold tax;
  • Taxpayer obtains overseas income;
  • Taxpayer has migrated overseas and cancelled his/her household registration in China; or
  • Any other circumstances stipulated by the State Council.

Preferential IIT policies in Special Regions

To attract global talents to contribute to the development of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and Hainan Free Trade Port (Hainan FTP), the nine mainland GBA cities and Hainan province all introduced similar preferential IIT policies – the Circular about the Implementation of Individual Income Tax Preferential Policies in the GBA (Yue Cai Shui [2019] No.2) and the Circular about Individual Income Tax Policy for High-End and Urgently Needed Talents at Hainan FTP (Cai Shui [2020] No.32).

To lower the IIT rate and offset the difference with Hong Kong, nine mainland GBA cities have introduced IIT subsidies from 2019 to 2023. During this period, the portion of the IIT that exceeds 15 percent of the taxable income paid of the qualified overseas talent will be refunded as fiscal subsidies.

Hainan FTP also lowered its IIT rate to 15 percent from 2020 to 2025, but the policy is open to both overseas and domestic talents. Moreover, from 2025 to 2035, Hainan FTP will continue to reduce IIT rates to three, 10, and 15 percent (three tax brackets) for eligible talents’ taxable income earned in Hainan, although qualified foreign or Chinese talents have to stay in Hainan for no less than 183 days a year.

Gain insights on other types of incentives available for businesses in China.

 

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