A tax haven is a state, country, or territory where, on a national level, certain taxes are levied at a very low rate or not at all.It also refers to countries which have a system of financial secrecy in place. It should be noted that, financial secrecy can be used by foreign individuals to circumvent certain taxes (such as inheritance tax on money, and income tax of the interest on the money you have on your bank account). Because the requirement of paying taxes on these funds cannot be transmitted, as the funds themselves are invisible to the country the individual is from, such taxes can be avoided. Earnings from income generated from real estate (i.e. by renting houses you own abroad) can also be eliminated this way. Despite this occasional abuse, the countries themselves stand in their right to have a system of financial secrecy in place, and it is up to the individual to fill in the required paperwork (i.e. double taxation forms). If the proper double taxation forms are filled in, and taxes are paid, companies can avoid much taxes, even if they hence pay their taxes legally. This is because the tax rates on income can be much lower than the tax rate in their own country. It should be noted that some taxes (such as inheritance tax on the real estate, VAT on the initial purchase price of the real estate -aka Transfer tax-, annual immovable property taxes, municipal real estate taxes, ...) can not be avoided or reduced, as these are levied by the country the real estate you own is in, and hence need to be paid just the same as any other resident of that country. The only thing that can be done is picking a country that has the smallest rates on these taxes (or even no such taxes at all) before you buy any real estate.Individuals or corporate entities can find it attractive to establish shell subsidiaries or move themselves to areas with reduced or nil taxation levels relative to typical international taxation. This creates a situation of tax competition among governments. Different jurisdictions tend to be havens for different types of taxes, and for different categories of people or companies. States that are sovereign or self-governing under international law have theoretically unlimited powers to enact tax laws affecting their territories, unless limited by previous international treaties. There are several definitions of tax havens. The Economist has tentatively adopted the description by Geoffrey Colin Powell (former economic adviser to Jersey): ""What ... identifies an area as a tax haven is the existence of a composite tax structure established deliberately to take advantage of, and exploit, a worldwide demand for opportunities to engage in tax avoidance."" The Economist points out that this definition would still exclude a number of jurisdictions traditionally thought of as tax havens. Similarly, others have suggested that any country which modifies its tax laws to attract foreign capital could be considered a tax haven.According to other definitions, the central feature of a haven is that its laws and other measures can be used to evade or avoid the tax laws or regulations of other jurisdictions. In its December 2008 report on the use of tax havens by American corporations, the U.S. Government Accountability Office was unable to find a satisfactory definition of a tax haven but regarded the following characteristics as indicative of it: nil or nominal taxes; lack of effective exchange of tax information with foreign tax authorities; lack of transparency in the operation of legislative, legal or administrative provisions; no requirement for a substantive local presence; and self-promotion as an offshore financial center.A 2012 report from the Tax Justice Network estimated that between USD $21 trillion and $32 trillion is sheltered from taxes in unreported tax havens worldwide. If such wealth earns 3% annually and such capital gains were taxed at 30%, it would generate between $190 billion and $280 billion in tax revenues, more than any other tax shelter. If such hidden offshore assets are considered, many countries with governments nominally in debt are shown to be net creditor nations. However, despite being widely quoted, the methodology used in the calculations has been questioned, and the tax policy director of the Chartered Institute of Taxation also expressed skepticism over the accuracy of the figures. Another recent study estimated the amount of global offshore wealth at the smaller - but still sizeable - figure of US$7.6 trillion. This estimate included financial assets only: ""My method probably delivers a lower bound, in part because it only captures financial wealth and disregards real assets. After all, high-net-worth individuals can stash works of art, jewelry, and gold in 'freeports,' warehouses that serve as repositories for valuables—Geneva, Luxembourg, and Singapore all have them. High-net-worth individuals also own real estate in foreign countries."" A study of 60 large US companies found that they deposited $166 billion in offshore accounts during 2012, sheltering over 40% of their profits from U.S. taxes.