The Little Island that Could

The Little Island that Could Against Big Bad COVID-19

You know your country is either doing things well or dangerously failing when you see its name splattered across the media.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cyprus has hit global headlines for all the right reasons. Articles from the Associated Press (AP), the New York Post and Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on the country’s successful battle against the coronavirus, a clash spearheaded by a political leadership that has worked alongside the health sector to effectively manage contagion and make it safe for the island to slowly reopen its economy. And these are just a few examples of the many reports lavishing praise on the little island that could stand up to the evil virus.

On the health front, the government’s policy has been driven by early detection, extensive contact tracing and testing, strict quarantine periods and stiff penalties for the naughty. On the economic side, the Nicos Anastasiades administration pushed forward a strong financial package including tax deadline deferrals, guaranteed loans and interest subsidies for SMEs, job retention schemes, special leave provisions, and subsidies and allowances for vulnerable groups, among others.

Statistics back the effectiveness of the Cypriot government’s strategy. For the first time in over two months, on May 23rd, Cyprus had 0 positive cases, a sigh of relief echoing throughout the island. Worldometer’s coronavirus update showed on  May 27th, 939 total cases with only 17 deaths on the island and, most importantly, one of the world’s highest indices of testing with more than 86 thousand tests performed per 1 million people.

Furthermore, Invest Cyprus, the government’s investment promotion agency, confirms that foreign investors have been overwhelmingly satisfied by the country’s efforts to flatten the curve and help the economy weather the storm.

In an April survey carried out by the organization as part of an online discussion on the government’s COVID-19 strategy, “56.9% of investors appeared very satisfied with the measures taken by the government to tackle the pandemic,” while another “35.3% said they were satisfied.” Moreover, “when asked about the degree of satisfaction by service providers (lawyers, accountants, bankers) and their response in ensuring business continuity, 29.8% said they were very satisfied [and] 59.6% satisfied.”

If you add the island’s exemplary handling of the pandemic to its host of other advantages, you have an EU member state that is among the safest countries in the world. Cyprus has perfectly set itself up in a post-COVID-19 world to welcome and cater to foreign investors via its many investment opportunities in key economic sectors such as banking, investment funds, shipping, tourism, innovation, R&D, energy and real estate.

Build Your Second Home in the Mediterranean

Despite some negative press following a few lax decisions early on, the Cyprus Investment Programme (CIP) remains an important option for individuals looking to acquire a second passport and invest in Europe.

With the program’s due diligence rules becoming a whole lot stricter as of the end of 2019, this initiative, one of only a few of its kind in the EU, has offered a significant boost to the country’s economy.

Under this program, interested parties must invest 2 million Euros in either real estate property, a stake in an existing or new Cypriot company, local Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) or any combination of the three, in addition to purchasing a personal residency for 500 thousand Euros and donating 150 thousand Euros to the island’s Research and Innovation Fund and Land Development Corporation.

This program, which has brought billions of Euros into the island’s coffers since its implementation in 2013, can be completed within 6 months and offers investors visa-free travel to more than 170 countries throughout the globe, a welcome addition to high-net-worth individuals looking for greater flexibility and a safe haven from COVID-19. Successful applicants, however, must keep their investments for a period of 5 years following naturalization, hold a Schengen visa to travel to Europe as a non-European national, and have not been rejected by another European member state.

Another option is the Cyprus Permanent Residency (CPR) scheme, one that for a smaller investment of 300 thousand Euros in brand new property offers many benefits. Successful applicants receive their residency visa within 2 months of applying (including for some of their dependents), visa-free travel to Cyprus and easy access to a one-year Schengen visa for travel to any country within the Schengen zone.

Reap the Rewards of a Tax Incentive Country

Cyprus is also a vital tax incentive jurisdiction, one that abides by international rules on transparency, exchange of information, reporting and substance and could offer investors and fund managers a much-needed respite from the current crisis via its many tax savings.

The island offers individuals looking for tax planning, company registration and investment opportunities one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the EU at 12.5%, a 2.5% effective income tax on intellectual property, and an 8% tax rate with a minimum tax payable of 10 thousand Euros for senior AIFs executives relocating to Cyprus and participating in the profits of RAIFs, among others.

Cyprus currently has double tax treaties (DTTs) with 65 countries including China, Canada, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the USA. This vast range of DTTS strengthens the country’s popularity as an investment funds destination and gateway into Europe.

Jumpstart Your First (or Second) Business in Cyprus

In an effort to diversify its economy following the 2013 financial crisis, Cyprus made a considerable push to foment innovation in business, entrepreneurship and an environment conducive for start-ups. As a result, funding is widely available to both local and foreign entrepreneurs looking to chase their dreams of innovation on the island.

The Cyprus Entrepreneurship Fund, for instance, provides SMEs financial risk-sharing products and loans with favorable financing terms.

Furthermore, the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) set up the Innovation Hub as a platform for FinTech and RegTech firms to share knowledge, exchange ideas and help them wade through the regulations and comply with their requirements.

The Cyprus-start-up-visa allows non-EU citizens to set up a qualified, innovative company on the island with an initial investment of 50 thousand Euros and benefit from reduced income tax, deductions and tax exemptions.

Foreign investors also gain access to the Cypriot governmental funding portal, which lists national and international incentive and employment programs, and Horizon 2020, the EU’s extensive research and innovation program that grants nearly 80 billion Euros to highly innovative SMEs.

Invest in Cyprus’ Budding Funds Sector

Cyprus has developed an experienced and comprehensive investment funds sector that is complemented by skilled financial service professionals who are fully equipped to guide investors beyond the ongoing pandemic.

During the past years, the investment funds sector in Cyprus has grown exponentially, reaching in the fourth quarter of 2019, €8.3 billion, recording an 8% increase compared to the 3rd quarter of 2019 and the UCIs, managed by the Management Companies had a Net Asset Value (NAV) of €6.4 billion.  Thanks to its geographic location, Cyprus has established itself as an entry point into Europe for non-traditional investors from countries such as China, Japan and India, while continuing to serve neighboring markets in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa. The island has also started preparing to welcome UK fund managers who are in search of a new gateway into the EU following Brexit. Moreover, Cyprus funds can be listed on processing platforms such as Clearstream’s Vestima and Refinitiv, granting access to these products to thousands of industry professionals.

Spearheaded by the offering of EU-regulated Undertakings of Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS), AIFs and the newly introduced Registered Alternative Investment Funds (RAIFs), the local market caters to small and medium fund managers via plenty of flexibility in its upgraded regulatory framework and a strong focus on investor protection. Looking forward, AIFs are expected to remain the local funds market’s strongest and most popular component with UCITS attracting attention from more specialized groups.

n particular, the introduction of RAIFs has strengthened the Cypriot funds sector as it has decreased the time and cost required to set up an AIF in the country. Via this process, a RAIF skips the application and licensing step with CySEC and is supervised solely by the fund manager. Additionally, RAIFs do not have minimum capital requirements and can be structured in multiple ways, offering interested parties greater flexibility when setting up. To date, 27 RAIFs have been registered in Cyprus.

Furthermore, the island’s favorable tax regime for funds, which includes a tax of carried interest or performance fee for AIFs and UCITS fund managers, the streamlined processes set up by single regulatory body CySEC, and the overall lower set-up and management costs offer fund managers and potential investors additional advantages over other European markets.

Despite the current pandemic, the Cyprus Investment Fund Association (CIFA) believes conditions are ripe for the continued expansion of the local funds market and the generation of new long-term investment opportunities. CIFA, however, encourages fund managers to ramp up communication with investors, analyze how to assess their portfolio’s post-COVID-19 value, and prepare for a greater number of investors withdrawing from the market.

With all of these opportunities in mind, Cyprus—the little island that could—has emerged as an excellent and safe investment destination in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original version of this article will be featured in the June issue of Citizenship Navigation Magazine.

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