Choosing a Legal Entity
Foreign companies setting up a presence in Israel can choose from a variety of options, namely three types of legal entities: (a) Subsidiary Company; (b) Branch Office or (c) Representative Office. The choice of entity depends on the company’s business plan and strategic goals.
A. Subsidiary Company
A subsidiary company is a locally incorporated, private limited company owned and controlled by another company. Even if the only shareholder of the subsidiary company is a foreign company, the Israeli subsidiary is considered a separate entity and its liabilities are not extended to the parent company. The Israel Companies Law of 1999 requires the appointment of one or more directors for the subsidiary company.
For taxation purposes, the subsidiary may be treated as an Israeli-based company and, as such, is eligible for the same tax exemptions and incentives available to local companies.
B. Branch Office
An Israeli branch office is also a registered, private legal entity, however, unlike a subsidiary, it acts as a local extension of the foreign company. As a result, the head office (parent company) of the foreign company bears the ultimate responsibility for any and all liabilities arising from acts of delegation or omission from its local, Israeli branch office. According to the Israel Companies Law of 1999, a branch office must appoint an agent to accept services of processes and notices; this person should normally be an Israeli resident. A branch office is considered a non-resident entity and therefore not eligible for the tax exemptions and incentives available to local companies in Israel. A share of the branch office’s income which is determined to be for operations outside of Israel (or derived therefrom) is not subject to taxes; only earnings derived from operations in Israel are subject to local corporate tax rates.
C. Representative Office
Foreign companies which simply wish to research the Israeli market or manage company afairs without conducting any business in-country may set up a representative office in Israel. A representative office is a temporary arrangement without any legal attributes, meaning the entity may not enter into contracts, engage in direct trade or on behalf of the foreign company, lease industrial space, issue invoices, or seek credit from fnancial institutions.
A representative office in Israel may only conduct market research or create feasibility studies on behalf of its parent company and may not earn any income. The office may be run by a representative from the foreign company’s head office, or the company may hire a local representative, who will then hire some local support staf for non- revenue generating operations. Unlike a subsidiary company or branch office, a representative office does not need to register with the Registrar of Companies.
Subsidiary vs. Branch
Given the choice between a subsidiary and branch office, foreign companies often prefer to establish a subsidiary office to conduct business in Israel. Registration of a foreign branch in Israel generally takes longer because of the need to certify and translate corporate documents, including charters. These delays could also extend to opening bank accounts and leasing office spaces.