The heart of Google's international operations is a silvery glass office building in central Dublin, a block from the city's Grand Canal. In 2009 the office, which houses roughly 2,000 Google employees, was credited with 88 percent of the search juggernaut's $12.5 billion in sales outside the U.S. Most of the profits, however, went to the tax haven of Bermuda.
To reduce its overseas tax bill, Google uses a complicated legal structure that has saved it $3.1 billion since 2007 and boosted last year's overall earnings by 26 percent. While many multinationals use similar structures, Google has managed to lower its overseas tax rate more than its peers in the technology sector. Its rate since 2007 has been 2.4 percent. According to company disclosures, Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM—which together with Google make up the top five technology companies by market capitalization—reported tax rates between 4.5 percent and 25.8 percent on their overseas earnings from 2007 to 2009.
"It's remarkable that Google's effective rate is that low," says Martin A. Sullivan, a tax economist who formerly worked for the U.S. Treasury Dept. "This company operates throughout the world mostly in high-tax countries where the average corporate rate is well over 20 percent." The corporate tax rate in the U.K., Google's second-largest market after the U.S., is 28 percent.
In Bermuda there's no corporate income tax at all. Google's profits travel to the island's white sands via a convoluted route known to tax lawyers as the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich." In Google's case, it generally works like this...
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