On this page:
International charitable activities and the Charities Act
Updated September 2008
Charities Services Board has confirmed its position about registering overseas charities and New Zealand based charities that carry out activities overseas.
- Overseas entities can be registered under the Charities Act 2005 if they meet the requirements for registration and are established in, or have a very strong connection with New Zealand.
- New Zealand entities that carry out charitable activities overseas can be registered under the Charities Act 2005 if they meet the requirements for registration.
This information sheet confirms our position about registering charities that are based overseas or carry out activities overseas.
We have divided these charities into two categories:
- Overseas entities – entities that are set up and based overseas and carry out activities here and in other countries.
- New Zealand entities – entities that are set up and based in New Zealand and carry out all or part of their activities overseas.
The Charities Act 2005 does not specifically deal with overseas entities or New Zealand entities that carry out charitable activities overseas.
We assess each application we receive on a case-by-case basis, with reference to the requirements of the Charities Act and decisions made in earlier court cases, to decide whether the organisation applying has a charitable purpose and public benefit. We call this the 'charitable purpose test'.
The key points outlined in this information sheet are that:
- New Zealand entities will not fail the charitable purpose test simply because they have an overseas purpose or their public benefit is directed overseas – for example, a New Zealand entity established with the purpose of relieving poverty in another country.
- To be eligible for registration under the Charities Act, overseas entities must either be 'established in New Zealand' or have a 'very strong connection' to New Zealand so that we are able to monitor them and carry out our enforcement functions.
New Zealand entities carrying out activities overseas
Our Charitable Purpose information sheet summarises the charitable purpose test that we use to decide whether an organisation meets the requirements for registration. A New Zealand entity will not fail the charitable purpose test simply because it has an overseas purpose or its public benefit is directed outside New Zealand.
The Charities Act cannot be applied outside New Zealand because, generally, laws do not apply outside the country in which they are made. So, overseas entities must be either established in New Zealand or have a very strong connection to New Zealand so that we can monitor them and enforce the Act.
We explain the terms 'established in New Zealand' and 'very strong connection' below.
What does 'established in New Zealand' mean?
It is important to note that to be registered under the Charities Act, charities do not have to be incorporated. However, if an overseas entity is an incorporated body, it must be incorporated under New Zealand law to be considered as 'established in New Zealand'.
For example – an overseas company must be incorporated here under the Companies Act 1993.
If an overseas entity is not incorporated in New Zealand, Charities Services will have to decide whether it has a 'very strong connection' with New Zealand.
What does 'very strong connection' mean?
If an overseas charity is not incorporated under New Zealand law, it can still be registered under the Charities Act if it has a very strong connection to New Zealand so that Charities Services is able to exercise its monitoring and enforcement powers in relation to it.
In reviewing the connection an overseas charity has with New Zealand, we will consider matters including:
- whether it has a centre of administration here
- how many of its officers are resident here
- how much of its property is held here
- if it has any other strong connection with New Zealand.
Matters that could help us to decide whether any other strong connection exists for the purposes of monitoring and enforcement include:
- being able to exchange information easily between New Zealand and the overseas entity's home country
- being able to easily get information about the overseas entity, including whether an officer or the charity itself has been found guilty of "serious wrongdoing"
- whether the overseas entity has a purpose aimed at the public of New Zealand or carries out activities in New Zealand.