Forming A Wholly Foreign Owned Entity (WFOE) In China

Every form of foreign invested enterprise (FIE) in China is subject to its own specific laws and to numerous regulations that apply to all FIEs. Every FIE is formed as a Chinese limited liability company (LLC). This Expert Commentary details the four steps for forming a Wholly Foreign Owned Entity (WFOE) in China and discusses the requirement that every company in China have a stated registered capital.
 
The authors write: Every company in China must have a stated registered capital. This amount is provided in the Articles of Association of the company and is also noted on the company register. Beginning in 2006, this company register is available to the general public. The registered capital includes all of the components of the initial investment in the company, including its start up cash, contributed property, and transferred intellectual property. Where the registered capital is small, the entire amount must be contributed immediately upon formation of the company. A certified public accountant must be engaged to provide certification of the contribution of registered capital. If the amount is large, it may be contributed in installments. There are a number of schedules for the percentage and timing of large amounts of registered capital. It is a crime to state a registered capital amount and then fail to contribute. It is also a crime to withdraw registered capital after it has been contributed. The purpose of registered capital is to provide some notice to creditors of the capital adequacy of the company. Because of this, Chinese regulators take very seriously the rules regarding registered capital.
 
Registered capital is an initial investment that is intended to be immediately used in the operation of the company. It is not a deposit that must just sit in a bank and never be touched. It can be used to pay salaries and rent, to purchase product, or for any other normal start up operating expense. Registered capital may include contributed real and personal property used in operating the business. Many foreign investors think registered capital is some sort of security deposit that they can never utilize. This is not true. On the other hand, some foreign enterprises believe they can simply withdraw their registered capital after the Chinese company begins normal business operations. This also is not true. Once the capital is contributed to the Chinese company, it can never be withdrawn. The only way to get funds from the Chinese company out of China is by repatriating profits or by liquidating the Chinese company. Both of these methods will work, but they both require paying Chinese taxes and meeting other requirements under Chinese law. Investors should also note that the RMB is not a freely convertible currency. For companies that will earn RMB income, the issue of conversion to U.S. dollars or other foreign currency should be carefully considered.
 
We are frequently asked about the legal minimum capital requirement for a WFOE. The answer to this question is clear as a matter of law, but is essentially meaningless in actual practice. Under the new Chinese Company Law, the minimum capital requirement for multiple shareholder companies has been reduced to 30,000 RMB (less than $4,000 US). For single shareholder companies, the amount is 100,000 RMB (a bit over $12,000 US). However, these numbers have no real meaning for the formation of a WFOE in China.