Compliance Essentials for Selling into the US




Transfer Pricing Explained

When venturing into the US market, understanding and adhering to the country’s regulatory framework is crucial for international businesses. “Compliance Essentials for Selling into the US” provides an in-depth look at the key legal requirements in the complex realm of transfer pricing—a pivotal aspect for companies engaged in cross-border transactions with related entities.

“In my years of experience, I’ve found that while many businesses are aware of transfer pricing, they often underestimate its complexity. It’s not just about setting prices; it’s about crafting a strategy that withstands regulatory scrutiny across borders. Equally there’s a lot of companies that simply don’t know they need to know about transfer pricing and this is pretty scary given the implications.”

Thomas Wells

Thomas Wells

Senior Manager, Frazier & Deeter

This guide breaks down the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, documentation, and compliance procedures to ensure that your business not only thrives but also operates within the bounds of US tax law.

With tax authorities vigilantly monitoring these transactions, your company’s ability to substantiate pricing strategies through robust documentation and compliance practices is more important than ever.

Whether you’re establishing new intercompany pricing policies or navigating audits, our comprehensive coverage equips you with the knowledge to mitigate risks and capitalize on the opportunities within the US market.

Arm’s Length Principle

Transfer pricing refers to the rules and methods for pricing transactions between enterprises under common ownership or control. Because related party prices can be manipulated to shift profits and minimize the overall tax burden across different jurisdictions, tax authorities, including those in the UK and US, closely scrutinize these transactions.

When a UK company sells products to a related US entity, transfer pricing comes into play. The price set for these transactions should comply with the arm’s length principle, which means that the transfer price should be the same as if the two companies were independent entities negotiating in an open market.

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Transfer Pricing Methods

Various methods, such as the comparable uncontrolled price (CUP), cost-plus, and resale price methods, are used to determine transfer prices. Each method has its criteria and applicability depending on the nature of transactions.

The CUP method compares the price of a controlled transaction (e.g., a product or service transferred between related entities) with the price of a similar transaction between unrelated parties. This method is preferred when there are comparable uncontrolled transactions available and is often considered the most reliable method because it directly benchmarks prices in open markets. It requires detailed data on comparable transactions, including product specifications and terms and conditions.

The Cost-Plus method determines the transfer price by adding a predetermined profit margin to the cost incurred by the selling entity. This profit margin is typically expressed as a percentage of the cost. The cost base includes direct costs (e.g., materials and labor) and indirect costs (e.g., overhead). This method is suitable for products or services with identifiable costs and is relatively simple to apply. However, it may not account for market dynamics and may require careful allocation of indirect costs.

The Profit Split method allocates the combined profits of related entities involved in a controlled transaction based on the division of profits that would have been agreed upon by unrelated parties in comparable circumstances. It is typically used when it’s challenging to apply other methods due to complex value chains or unique contributions from each entity. Profit allocation is based on functional analysis and the relative contributions of each entity to the overall profit. This method can be complex and may require robust documentation.

The Resale Price method sets the transfer price based on the resale price of the product or service charged by the buyer (related entity) to an unrelated customer, minus an appropriate gross profit margin. This method is often used when a related distributor buys products from a related manufacturer and resells them to unrelated customers. It focuses on the resale margin and ensures that the distributor earns an arm’s length profit. Care must be taken to account for any differences in the functions performed and risks assumed by the distributor compared to unrelated distributors.

TNMM evaluates the profitability of a controlled entity by comparing its net profit margin with the net profit margins of unrelated entities engaged in similar activities. This method considers various financial indicators, such as operating profits or operating profit margins, and adjusts them for differences between the controlled and uncontrolled entities. TNMM is flexible and applicable to a wide range of transactions but requires access to reliable financial data of comparable companies.

Documentation & Compliance

Companies engaged in cross-border transactions must maintain detailed documentation to support their transfer pricing policies. Compliance involves adhering to local regulations and providing the necessary documentation during tax audits.

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Documentation Requirements

Transfer pricing documentation typically includes detailed records of related party transactions, transfer pricing policies, and any analyses conducted to determine arm’s length prices. Accurate and comprehensive documentation is crucial for demonstrating compliance with transfer pricing regulations.

Compliance Challenges

Companies must adhere to local transfer pricing regulations, which can vary by jurisdiction. Compliance may involve submitting documentation to tax authorities, responding to queries during audits, and ensuring that transfer pricing policies align with regulatory changes.

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Advance Pricing Agreement (APAS)

APAs are agreements between taxpayers and tax authorities that establish predetermined transfer pricing methods and pricing levels for a specified period. APAs are generally applicable only to organisations with large value transactions. The APA process involves negotiations and discussions with tax authorities to reach an agreement. Once done, APAs provide certainty and reduce the risk of transfer pricing disputes. They offer companies a level of protection and assurance regarding their transfer pricing policies, helping to mitigate potential tax.

“Negotiating an APA can be intricate and requires a strategic approach. Our experience has been instrumental in helping clients navigate these negotiations to reach successful outcomes.”

Thomas Wells

Thomas Wells

Senior Manager, Frazier & Deeter

Transfer Pricing Audits

Tax authorities may conduct transfer pricing audits to ensure that related party transactions comply with the arm’s length principle and local regulations. Being prepared for audits is crucial to avoid penalties.

Audit Triggers

Tax authorities may initiate transfer pricing audits to ensure that related party transactions comply with the arm’s length principle and local regulations. Common triggers for audits include significant intercompany transactions, unusual profit margins, or inconsistent transfer pricing documentation.

Preparing for Audits

Being prepared for transfer pricing audits involves maintaining comprehensive documentation, understanding the transfer pricing methods applied, and having a strategy for addressing tax authority inquiries. Adequate preparation can help minimize potential penalties and disputes.

Consequences of Non-compliance

Penalties & Adjustments

Non-compliance with transfer pricing regulations can lead to penalties, fines, and adjustments to taxable income. Penalties may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the non-compliance. Companies should be aware of the potential financial consequences of non-payment.

Reputational Risks

Non-payment of transfer pricing-related taxes can also have reputational risks, affecting a company’s image and relationships with stakeholders. Maintaining transparent and compliant transfer pricing practices helps mitigate such risks.

Investor Red-Flag

If an organisation does not have in place a proper TP policy, it may give rise to a meaningful tax liability risk in a given jurisdiction which then is taken into account during the DD process during an investment round. This can impact investor appetite or valuations.

How GTM Global Can Help

Interested in diving deeper into transfer pricing? We invite you to register for our upcoming Virtual Trade Mission events, where you’ll have the opportunity to connect with seasoned professionals from our strategic accounting partner, Frazier & Deeter. For those requiring more immediate assistance, please reach out to our GTM team directly, and we’ll make every effort to arrange a personalised consultation with specialists at Frazier & Deeter.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. Readers should not rely on any information contained herein as a substitute for professional guidance and should seek independent expert assistance when making decisions related to transfer pricing or US expansion.


Ian Collins
Ian Collins
Ian Collins, with an extensive background spanning over 30 years in business development and general management, co-founded GTM Global in 2015. His experience encompasses hi-tech industries such as security, artificial intelligence, business intelligence, and enterprise software solutions. In his career, Ian has started several tech companies, overseen two corporate ventures, executed a management buy-in, and led two business turnarounds. He has also been involved in buying, selling, and merging various of his companies, and has achieved two successful business exits. Ian's expertise is particularly focused on business growth strategies and leading-edge proposition development.