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In the last five years, many special economic zones (SEZs) focused on cryptocurrencies and blockchain have been created, offering attractive incentives for this specific industry with the intention of attracting innovative companies. In this article, we want to introduce you to the most interesting ones.

Thibault Serlet, our research and business intelligence partner for SEZs at Adrianople Group, has told us about the best zones for crypto companies around the world.

A special economic zone (SEZ) is a commercial area that is exempt from a range of government regulations and taxes to encourage economic growth.

There are more than 7500 SEZs in 70 countries around the world. Typically, SEZs focus on areas such as manufacturing, logistics and transportation. However, with the growth of the crypto industry and cryptoassets, more and more zones have specialised in this field.

The new cryptocurrency special economic zones promise to allow businesses to develop, albeit in a highly regulated environment for the time being. This article is a guide to the main crypto SEZs that currently exist.

Right now, there are only three active zones focused specifically on cryptocurrencies and financial technologies (or fintech): Cayman Enterprise City, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and Belarus High Technologies Park. However, dozens of zones are being planned to catch up with these activities. Special mention should be made of the Próspera special zone in Roatán, Honduras, which, although not a special zone, is very interesting for cryptocurrencies.

Active cryptozones

Cayman Enterprise City

Cayman Enterprise City is a business park in the Cayman Islands that opened in 2011 and has provided a regulatory sandbox for cryptocurrency projects since 2017. This SEZ hosts a wide variety of companies, and aims to reach out to fintechs as well.

Cayman Enterprise City is renowned for having an exceptionally friendly, talented and efficient team. The zone is currently home to 250 tenants: crypto companies such as Brave and Binance are headquartered there.

Cayman Tech City is a subdivision of Cayman Enterprise City that focuses on fintechs, crypto and blockchain. Companies based there benefit from numerous incentives.

A large number of taxes have been completely abolished, including corporate income tax, personal income tax, capital gains tax, VAT and sales tax. In addition, there are no state reporting requirements or forms for many activities regulated in the US by the SEC (the Securities and Exchange Commission). Finally, all companies located in the area can issue an unlimited number of business visas for employees or contractors.

Cayman Enterprise City’s infrastructure is typical for a special economic zone business park. The area is home to the University College of the Cayman Islands and has access to an international airport with direct flights to most cities on the east coast of the United States.

The most notable aspect of the infrastructure is the area’s location near a coastal resort area. The cost of electricity is USD 0.22/kWh – higher than the world average of USD 0.14/kWh – so we do not recommend this destination for mining activities.

The main risk of setting up in Cayman Enterprise City is the reputation of the Cayman Islands as a tax haven. Despite this bad reputation, the country was removed from the EU’s list of official tax havens at the end of 2020. Corruption, crime and property rights pose no significant risk if you set up there: the Cayman Islands should be considered a low-risk country.

Setting up a business there takes on average 4 to 6 weeks and costs about USD 20,000. As the cost of living in the Cayman Islands is high, it is one of the most expensive areas on the list.

Dubai Multi Commodities Centre

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre is located in the heart of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The zone was opened in 2002 to serve the commodities industry. In May 2021, the zone announced that it would expand the incentives offered to attract crypto and blockchain companies. Although the promotion of cryptocurrencies and blockchain is recent, the zone has long had a reputation as one of the world’s largest special economic zones.

Dubai Multi Commodities Centre is one of the largest industrial park-type SEZs in the world, home to more than 18,000 companies. Prominent tenants include companies from a variety of sectors, such as Google, Blackstone, Glencore, Cargill and Mitsubishi.

Tenants benefit from exemption from corporate tax and import and export duties. VAT has been reduced to 5% and companies in the zone can be 100% foreign. The rules for repatriation of capital abroad have also been simplified. Companies from the zone receive preferential treatment when applying for business visas.

A special crypto-business centre in the zone was established in May 2021, and simplified rules for issuing securities and utility tokens will apply to companies participating in it. The zone will also start using decentralised ledgers for its internal activities. Companies will also receive preferential treatment when dealing with the UAE’s National Securities and Exchange Commission.

The area itself consists of 28 office buildings, a shopping mall and a park surrounded by greenery. The area is less than an hour from Dubai International Airport. The price per kWh is USD 0.08 – below the world average of USD 0.14 per kWh – but still too high to compensate for mining activities.

The risks of moving to the UAE are essentially low. Dubai is considered a hub for a wide range of businesses and is well placed in terms of corruption for foreign companies. Overall, Dubai can be classified as a low-risk area.

The minimum capital required to set up a company in the zone is USD 14,000 and the process takes 7-8 weeks. It is worth noting that several other zones in Dubai are also planning to launch similar programmes to attract crypto and blockchain companies, such as Dubai Airport Free Zone, Dubai Silicon Oasis and Dubai International Financial Centre.

Belarus High Technology Park

Belarus High Technology Park is an industrial park located in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The park was opened in 2005 for the technology industry in general. In 2018, the government Decree on Development of the Digital Economy was passed to facilitate business in the park, which includes many regulations targeting the cryptocurrency market.

Belarus High Technology Park currently has 758 companies and some of the world’s most interesting legal incentives for the cryptocurrency market. Residents are fully exempt from most taxes, including VAT and corporate income tax, until 1 January 2049.

The Decree on Development of the Digital Economy also explicitly recognises the validity of smart contracts, making Belarus the first country to do so. Rules for cross-currency transactions have also been simplified. Tenants receive preferential treatment when applying for business visas for employees or contractors.

Belarus High Technology Park is a 50-hectare mixed-use industrial park. In addition to office buildings, it also has hotels, restaurants, a specialised clinic and a sports area with a swimming pool. The cost of electricity, at USD 0.08 per kWh, is lower than the world average of USD 0.14 per kWh, but not low enough to justify mining activities in the area.

Moving to Belarus carries many significant risks: Belarus is a dictatorship and its citizens suffer from major corruption problems and human rights violations. In 2020, mass protests against the government were violently repressed by the police. And now, the situation towards Ukraine has become more tense and poses an added risk. Belarus is currently under similar sanctions  to Russia, posing significant compliance risks.

The country is a political ally of Russia, making it a potentially risky destination for US companies. Finally, Belarus has a reputation as the home of fraudsters, which may pose a reputational problem for companies in the region.

Companies considering relocating to Belarus should be cautious: it is a medium to high risk country. No data is available on training costs or training time.

Special cryptocurrency zones in the pipeline

Cagayan

Cagayan, a region in the northern Philippines, is home to a special economic zone focused on cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Of all the planned cryptocurrency SEZs, this is by far the most advanced.

The zone will be developed around an international airport with a commercial area. The zone is planned to offer licences for “offshore virtual currency exchanges”. The licences will allow companies to conduct cryptocurrency exchange and fintech activities abroad. Although the zone is still incomplete, 40 companies have already obtained the necessary licences.

In early 2020, officials in charge of managing the zone were accused of corruption. They were blamed for taking bribes to grant licences to potential tenants. Although there have been promises that the zone will become more transparent in the future, serious corruption problems remain. These charges have also led to significant delays, causing many investors to withdraw from the project.

Shenzhen

Shenzhen is China’s first special economic zone. It was founded by Deng Xiaoping in 1980 and is considered one of China’s main economic success factors over the last 40 years. The zone has grown from a small fishing village of 65,000 inhabitants to a megalopolis of 14 million people.

Companies in Shenzhen enjoy a wide range of regulatory advantages compared to those operating in other parts of mainland China.

In August 2019, the Chinese government announced that Shenzhen-based companies will receive numerous incentives to promote research into blockchain technologies applied to fintechs, although the incentives that companies would receive were not specified.

Recently, there have been rumours that China will ban all foreign cryptocurrencies or mining altogether. With the fate of cryptocurrencies in China still up in the air, the status of Shenzhen’s fintech blockchain pilot programme is far from clear.

Armenia

In 2018, the Armenian government approved the creation of an SEZ for cryptomining. The specific regulations for tenants are unclear, as the three years following the announcement of the creation of the zone have been quite difficult for Armenia.

Only weeks after the announcement of the new zone, the incumbent government was overthrown by a peaceful revolution. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Armenia went to war with Azerbaijan. Finally, in 2021, the current government was overthrown by a counter-revolution.

Due to the country’s recent political instability, the current fate of this project is unclear.

Russia

Russia has a troubled history with respect to cryptocurrencies: until July 2020, it was unclear whether owning cryptocurrencies was illegal or not. Finally, the government clarified that holding cryptocurrencies is not illegal for ordinary citizens, but only for members of the government.

As Russia has one of the cheapest electricity prices in the world, there have been many proposals for the creation of special economic zones dedicated to mining. It has been rumoured for several years that Russia will open a special cryptomining economic zone near its border with China.

Recently, the large Russian mining company BitRiver announced that it would fund with tokens the creation of a mining SEZ in Siberia.

Iran

Iran’s low electricity prices have sparked a lot of interest among investors looking for destinations to set up cryptomining operations. Several existing SEZs have already started to allow cryptocurrency mining activities in Iran.

There are also rumours that Iran will soon announce an SEZ for cryptocurrencies. Iran’s confusing political situation and the dubious legal status of cryptocurrencies in the country make the future of these projects uncertain.

Other projects

Many other projects have been proposed, but none of them have yet materialised. These include a planned cryptocurrency zone in Nevada, a project initiated by pop star Akon in Senegal, rumours of the creation of special mining economic zones in Mong La Special Administrative Region, Myanmar; and the announcement of the establishment of mining activities on Margarita Island, Venezuela.

Several smaller companies are also planning to establish cryptocurrency special economic zones, although none of them show significant progress yet. These include Ledger Atlas, Bluebook Cities and House of DAO.

Concluding

As you can see, there are many zones that can be interesting for those who want to start a cryptocurrency business. In case you are interested in exploring any of them, you can contact us.

Whether you want to understand which option makes the most sense for your business or you simply want to learn more about the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, we encourage you to book a consultation with us. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we also accept crypto payments.

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