Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Hungary maintains an open economy and its high-quality infrastructure and central location in Europe attract foreign investment. The GOH actively promotes Hungary to attract FDI, in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors. According to some reports, however, government policies have resulted in some foreign investors selling their stakes to the government or state-owned enterprises in other sectors, including banking and energy. In 2019, net annual FDI amounted to $5.2 billion, and total gross FDI totaled $97.8 billion.
As a bloc, the EU accounts for approximately 89 percent of all FDI in Hungary in terms of direct investors, and 62 percent in terms of ultimate controlling parent investor. In terms of ultimate investor – i.e., country of origin – the United States was the second largest investor after Germany in 2019. In terms of direct investor location, Germany was the largest investor, followed by the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, and then the United States. The majority of U.S. investment falls within the automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors. Approximately 450 U.S. companies maintain a presence in Hungary. According to Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) data, U.S. foreign direct investment produced more jobs in Hungary in 2020 than investment from any other country.
Total, cumulative FDI from Asian sources has approximately doubled since 2010, accounting for over five percent of total FDI stock in 2019. South Korea made several major new investments in the manufacturing sector in 2019. According to HIPA, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and other Asian countries accounted for about 40 percent of the value of new foreign investment projects in Hungary in 2020.
The GOH has implemented a number of tax changes to increase Hungary’s regional competitiveness and attract investment, including a reduction of the personal income tax rate to 15 percent in 2016, the corporate income tax rate to 9 percent in 2017, and the gradual reduction of the employer-paid welfare contribution from 27 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2020. As of 2016, the GOH streamlined the National Tax and Customs authority (NAV) procedure to offer fast-track VAT refunds to customers categorized as “low-risk.”
Many foreign companies have expressed displeasure with the unpredictability of Hungary’s tax regime, its retroactive nature, slow response times, and the volume of legal and tax changes. According to the European Commission (EC), a series of progressively-tiered taxes implemented in 2014 disproportionately penalized foreign businesses in the telecommunications, tobacco, retail, media, and advertisement industries, while simultaneously favoring Hungarian companies. Following EC infringement procedures, the GOH phased out most discriminatory tax rates by 2015 and replaced them with flat taxes. Another 2014 law required retail companies with over $53 million in annual sales to close if they report two consecutive years of losses. Retail businesses claimed the GOH specifically set the threshold to target large foreign retail chains. The EC likewise determined that the law was discriminatory and launched an infringement procedure in 2016, leading the GOH to repeal the law in November 2018.
In 2017, the GOH passed a regulation that gives the government preemptive rights to purchase real estate in World Heritage areas. The rule has been used to block the purchase of real estate by foreign investors in the most desirable areas of Budapest. In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.
In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.
The GOH publicly declared its intention to reduce foreign ownership in the banking sector in 2012. Accordingly, various GOH initiatives have reduced foreign ownership from about 70 percent in 2008 to 40.5 percent by the end of 2020. These initiatives included a 2010 bank tax; a 2012 financial transaction tax levied on all cash withdrawals; and regulations enacted between 2012-2015 that obligated banks to retroactively compensate borrowers for interest rate increases on foreign currency-denominated mortgage loans, even though these increases were spelled out in the original contracts with customers and had been permitted by Hungarian law.
While the pharmaceutical industry is competitive and profitable in Hungary, multinational enterprises complain of numerous financial and procedural obstacles, including high taxes on pharmaceutical products and operations, prescription directives that limit a doctor’s choice of drugs, and obscure tender procedures that negatively affect the competitiveness of certain drugs. Pharmaceutical firms have also taken issue with GOH policies to weigh the cost of pharmaceutical procurement as heavily as efficacy when issuing tenders for public procurement.
The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, encourages and supports inbound FDI. HIPA offers company and sector-specific consultancy, recommends locations for investment, acts as a mediator between large international companies and Hungarian firms to facilitate supplier relationships, organizes supplier training, and maintains active contact with trade associations. Its services are available to all investors. For more information, see: https://hipa.hu/main .
Foreign investors generally report a productive dialogue with the government, both individually and through business organizations. The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) enjoys an ongoing high-level dialogue with the GOH and the government has adopted many AmCham policy recommendations in recent years. In 2017, the government established a Competitiveness Council, now chaired by the Minister of Finance, which includes representatives from multinationals, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders, to increase Hungary’s competitiveness. Many U.S. and foreign investors have signed MOUs with the GOH to facilitate one-on-one discussions and resolutions to any pending issues. The GOH has regularly consulted foreign businesses and business associations as it has developed economic support measures during the pandemic. For more information, see: https://kormany.hu/kulgazdasagi-es-kulugyminiszterium/strategiai-partnersegi-megallapodasok and https://www.amcham.hu/ .
The U.S.-Hungary Business Council (USHBC) – a private, non-profit organization established in 2016 – aims to facilitate and maintain dialogue between American corporate executives and top government leaders on the U.S.-Hungary commercial relationship. The majority of significant U.S. investors in Hungary have joined USHBC, which hosts roundtables, policy conferences, briefings, and other major events featuring senior U.S. and Hungarian officials, academics, and business leaders. For more information, see: https://www.us-hungarybusinesscouncil.com/ .
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign ownership is permitted with the exception of some “strategic” sectors including farmland and defense-related industries, which require special government permits. As part of its economic measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed a decree which requires foreign investors to seek approval for foreign investments in Hungary.
Foreign law firms and auditing companies must sign a cooperation agreement with a Hungarian company to provide services on Hungarian legal or auditing issues. According to the Land Law, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience working in agriculture or holding a degree in an agricultural discipline can purchase farmland. Eligible individuals are limited to purchasing 300 hectares (741 acres). All others may only lease farmland. Non-EU citizens and legal entities are not allowed to purchase agricultural land. All farmland purchases must be approved by a local land committee and Hungarian authorities, and local farmers and young farmers must be offered a right of first refusal before a new non-local farmer is allowed to purchase the land. For legal entities and those who do not fulfill the above requirements , the law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. The GOH has invalidated any pre-existing leasing contract provisions that guaranteed the lessee the first option to purchase, provoking criticism from Austrian farmers. Austria has reported the change to the European Commission, which initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary in 2014. In March 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the termination of land use contracts violated EU rules, opening the way for EU citizens who lost their land use rights to sue the GOH for damages. In 2015, the EC launched another – still ongoing – infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its restrictions on acquisitions of farmland.
The GOH passed a national security law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25-percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain sensitive sectors (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry. The Ministry has up to 60 days to issue an opinion and can only deny the investment if it determines that the investment is designed to conceal an activity other than normal economic activity. In 2020, as part of the measures to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed an additional regulation requiring foreign investors to seek approval from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) for greenfield or expansion of existing investments.
On April 6, Hungary’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) blocked an Austria’s Vienna Insurance Group from buying Dutch insurer Aegon’s Hungarian subsidiary, scuttling a four-country acquisition. The GOH granted the specific power to block this type of sale to the MOI in November 2020 under emergency COVID-related legislation, just one day before the parties agreed to the sale, after months of open negotiations.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Hungary has not had any third-party investment policy reviews in the last three years.
In 2006, Hungary joined the EU initiative to create a European network of “point of single contact” through which existing businesses and potential investors can access all information on the business and legal environment, as well as connect to Hungary’s investment promotion agency. In recent years, the government has strengthened investor relations, signed strategic agreements with key investors, and established a National Competitiveness Council to formulate measures to increase Hungary’s economic competitiveness.
The registration of business enterprises is compulsory in Hungary. Firms must contract an attorney and register online with the Court of Registration. Registry courts must process applications to register limited liability and joint-enterprise companies within 15 workdays, but the process usually does not take more than three workdays. If the Court fails to act within the given timeframe, the new company is automatically registered. If the company chooses to use a template corporate charter, registration can be completed in a one-day fast track procedure. Registry courts provide company information to the Tax Authority (NAV), eliminating the need for separate registration. The Court maintains a computerized registry and electronic filing system and provides public access to company information. The minimum capital requirement for a limited-liability company is HUF 3,000,000 ($10,800); for private limited companies HUF 5,000,000 ($17,900), and for public limited companies HUF 20,000,000 ($71,400). Foreign individuals or companies can establish businesses in Hungary without restrictions.
Further information on business registration and the business registry can be obtained at the GOH’s information website for businesses: http://eugo.gov.hu/starting-business-hungary or at the Ministry of Justice’s Company Information Service: https://ceginformaciosszolgalat.kormany.hu/elektronikus-cegeljaras , and the Tax Authority https://en.nav.gov.hu/taxation/registration/specific_rules.html .
Hungarian business facilitation mechanisms provide equitable treatment for women. They offer no special preference or assistance for them in establishing a company.
The stock of total Hungarian investment abroad amounted to $36.8 billion in 2019. Outward investment is mainly in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, services, finance and insurance, and science and technology. There is no restriction in place for domestic investors to invest abroad. The GOH announced in early 2019 that it would like to increase Hungarian investment abroad and it is considering incentives to promote such investment.