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As cryptocurrency’s transformation from speculative investment to a balanced portfolio stablemate continues to gather pace, governments around the world remain divided on how to regulate the emerging asset class. Below, we break down the current digital currency regulatory landscape by country.

Key Takeaways

  • As cryptocurrency has become a more significant factor in the global investment landscape, countries have taken different approaches to regulate the asset class.
  • Despite the prevalence of cryptocurrency in the United States, the country hasn’t yet developed a clear regulatory framework.
  • The patchwork of regulations in other countries means that cryptocurrencies are subject to different classifications and tax treatments around the world.

United States

Despite a large number of cryptocurrency investors and blockchain firms in the United States, the country hasn’t yet developed a clear regulatory framework for the asset class. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) typically views cryptocurrency as a security, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) calls Bitcoin (BTCUSD) a commodity, and the Treasury calls it a currency. Crypto exchanges in the United States fall under the regulatory scope of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and must register with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). They are also required to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) obligations.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies cryptocurrencies as property for federal income tax purposes. Crypto investors should closely monitor a high-profile court case between Ripple Labs Inc. and the SEC, for violating “registration provisions of the federal securities laws,” filed in Dec. 2020. More recently, it was announced on Sept. 7, 2021, that the agency threatened to sue leading digital currency exchange Coinbase Global Inc. (COIN), for further regulatory clarity on a new program called Lend. A few days later, Coinbase ended the program.

Canada

Regulators have generally taken a proactive stance toward crypto in Canada. It became the first country to approve a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF), the first launched on Feb. 18, 2021, with the second launched on Feb. 19, 2021, both on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Additionally, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) have clarified that crypto trading platforms and dealers in the country must register with provincial regulators. Furthermore, Canada classifies crypto investment firms as money service businesses (MSBs) and requires that they register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC). From a taxation standpoint, Canada treats cryptocurrency similar to other commodities.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom considers cryptocurrency as property but not legal tender. Additionally, cryptocurrency exchanges must register with the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and are banned from offering crypto derivatives trading. Moreover, the regulatory body has introduced cryptocurrency-specific requirements relating to know your customer (KYC), as well as to the above-mentioned AML and CFT. Although investors still pay capital gains tax on crypto trading profits, more broadly, taxability depends on the crypto activities undertaken and who engages in the transaction.

Japan

The land of the rising sun takes a progressive approach to crypto regulations, recognizing cryptocurrencies as legal property under the Payment Services Act (PSA). Meanwhile, crypto exchanges in the country must register with the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and comply with AML/CFT obligations. Japan treats trading gains generated from cryptocurrency as “miscellaneous income” and taxes investors accordingly.

Australia

The land down under takes a relatively proactive stance toward crypto regulation. Australia classifies cryptocurrencies as legal property, which subsequently makes them subject to capital gains tax. Exchanges are free to operate in the country, provided that they register with the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and meet specific AML/CTF obligations. In 2019, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) introduced regulatory requirements for initial coin offerings (ICOs) and banned exchanges offering privacy coins.

Singapore

Similarly to the United Kingdom, the island state classifies cryptocurrency as property but not legal tender. The country’s Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) licenses and regulates exchanges as outlined in the Payment Services Act (PSA). Singapore, in part, gets its reputation as a cryptocurrency safe haven because long-term capital gains are not taxed. However, the country taxes companies that regularly transact in cryptocurrency, treating gains as income.

South Korea

The country didn’t use to consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender or financial assets. However, in May 2021, the South Korean Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) was tasked to oversee crypto exchange regulation, with operators subject to strict AML/CFT obligations. By September 2021, cryptocurrency exchanges and other virtual asset service providers were required to register with the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit (KFIU), a division of the Financial Services Commission (FSC). A few months later, parliament approved a new tax on digital assets to take effect in 2022. Now any cryptocurrency income earned above 2.5 million won (approximately $2,000 USD) will be taxed at 20%. But anything valued under the threshold will remain tax-free.

China

The emerging global power doesn’t class cryptocurrencies as legal tender; however, it does classify them as property for the purposes of determining inheritances. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) bans crypto exchanges from operating in the country, stating that they facilitate public financing without approval. The world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, initially launched in China but had to relocate its headquarters following the country’s crackdown on crypto regulation. The exact location of the company’s headquarters is unknown, though there are rumors the company is in Malta or the Cayman Islands. Furthermore, China placed a ban on bitcoin mining in May 2021, forcing many engaging in the activity to close operations entirely or relocate to jurisdictions with a more favorable regulatory environment.

India

Like most countries, the subcontinent outlines that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender. Despite this, the country’s Central Board of Direct Taxation specifies that investors must pay taxes on crypto trading profits. In 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned financial institutions from transacting in virtual currencies; however, the Supreme Court reversed this decision in March 2020. Still, regulations remain uncertain in the country. For instance, India proposed a law in early 2021 that would make it illegal to issue, hold, mine, and trade cryptocurrencies other than state-backed digital assets.

European Union

Cryptocurrency is legal throughout most of the European Union (EU), although exchange governance depends on individual member states. Meanwhile, taxation also varies by country within the EU, ranging from 0% to 50%. In recent years, the EU’s Fifth and Sixth Anti-Money Laundering Directives (5AMLD and 6AMLD) have come into effect, which tighten KYC/CFT obligations and standard reporting requirements. In September 2020, the European Commission proposed the Markets in Crypto-Assets Regulation (MiCA)—a framework that increases consumer protections, establishes clear crypto industry conduct, and introduces new licensing requirements.

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