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Freelancing and Independent Contracting

Understand the distinctions and regulations for freelancers in Bhutan

Difference employees and contractors

Bhutan's legal framework regarding the classification of employees and contractors isn't codified under a single statute. Several legal sources inform this distinction, including The Employment Act of Bhutan 2006 (EBA) and The Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2009 (CSA). In the absence of specific legislation, Bhutanese courts may refer to common law principles established in other jurisdictions for guidance.


Employees in Bhutan are under significant control of their employers. This includes setting work schedules, dictating work methods, and providing specific tools and equipment. On the other hand, contractors have more autonomy in how they complete the assigned task. They use their own tools and methods, and employers generally don't control the day-to-day execution of their work.


Employees are considered an integral part of the organization. They typically work exclusively for one employer and wear uniforms or adhere to specific dress codes. In contrast, contractors are independent businesses. They can work for multiple clients simultaneously and have their own branding or business structure.

Financial Dependence

Employees receive a fixed salary or wage, often with benefits like health insurance and paid leave. Employers withhold taxes from their salaries. Contractors, however, are responsible for their taxes and social security contributions. They invoice for their services and are not entitled to employee benefits.

These are just some of the key factors considered in Bhutan. In ambiguous situations, the Bhutanese courts may examine the totality of the circumstances to determine the worker's classification.

Independent contracting

Independent contracting offers a flexible work arrangement for both businesses and skilled individuals in Bhutan. It's important to understand contract structures, negotiation practices, and prevalent industries for independent work to navigate this landscape effectively.

Contract Structures for Independent Contractors in Bhutan

There's no standardized independent contractor agreement in Bhutan, but some key elements should be present for clarity and protection:

  • Scope of Work: This outlines the project/service deliverables, timeline, and milestones.
  • Payment Terms: This specifies the payment method (fixed fee, hourly rate), invoicing procedures, and payment schedule.
  • Confidentiality: This protects sensitive information shared during the project.
  • Termination Clause: This outlines the terms under which the contract can be terminated by either party.

It's recommended to consult a Bhutanese lawyer familiar with contract law to ensure the agreement adheres to local regulations.

Negotiation Practices for Independent Contractors in Bhutan

Bhutanese business culture emphasizes respect and relationship building. Here are some pointers for effective negotiation as an independent contractor:

  • Research Market Rates: Understand the standard fees for your skills and industry in Bhutan.
  • Be Clear About Your Value: Articulate the specific expertise and experience you bring to the project.
  • Prepare a Counteroffer: Be ready to negotiate on the initial offer presented by the client.
  • Maintain Open Communication: Clearly communicate your expectations and be receptive to the client's needs.

Building trust and a positive working relationship can lead to long-term collaborations.

Common Industries for Independent Contractors in Bhutan

Several industries in Bhutan benefit from the expertise of independent contractors:

  • Information Technology (IT): Bhutan's growing IT sector creates demand for web developers, programmers, and IT consultants.
  • Creative Industries: Graphic designers, writers, and translators can find freelance opportunities in advertising, marketing, and media.
  • Construction: Specialized construction workers, architects, and engineers can contract their services for specific projects.
  • Education and Training: Bhutan's education sector may utilize independent trainers, educators, and curriculum developers.

This list is not exhaustive, and new opportunities for independent contractors emerge as Bhutan's economy continues to develop.

Intellectual property rights

Intellectual property (IP) ownership is a critical aspect for freelancers and independent contractors in Bhutan who create original works. It's essential to understand these rights to protect their creative output and ensure proper ownership.

The General Rule of IP Ownership

According to the Copyright Act of Bhutan 2002, the "first owner of copyright" is the person who creates the work. This implies that a freelancer or independent contractor will typically own the copyright to the original work they produce, even if it's commissioned by a client. For instance, if a graphic designer creates a logo for a company, the designer retains the copyright to the logo unless otherwise specified in a contract.

Exceptions to the General Rule

There are exceptions to this general rule:

  • Work Made for Hire: The Act allows for situations where the copyright can belong to the commissioning party if the work is considered "a work made for hire". This applies when a specific agreement exists beforehand, stating that the copyright will be transferred to the client upon creation of the work. For example, if a company hires a writer to create marketing materials under a contract specifying the company as the copyright owner, the company owns the copyright to the marketing materials.

  • Employee vs. Contractor Distinction: The classification of a worker as an employee or independent contractor is crucial. Employees' creations typically become the property of their employer under the terms of their employment contract.

It's important to note that the onus falls on the commissioning party to prove that a work falls under the "work made for hire" exception.

Safeguarding Your Rights as a Freelancer/Contractor

To safeguard your ownership of IP as a freelancer or independent contractor, it's vital to:

  • Have a Written Contract: A clear and concise contract outlining IP ownership is crucial. Specify if you retain ownership or if rights are transferred to the client.
  • Specify Deliverables: Clearly define the deliverables (e.g., source files) and the extent of the client's rights to use them.
  • Consider Copyright Registration: While not mandatory in Bhutan, registering your copyright with the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) provides additional legal protection.

Tax and insurance

Freelancing and independent contracting in Bhutan come with their own set of tax responsibilities and insurance considerations.

Tax Obligations for Freelancers and Independent Contractors

According to Bhutan's Income Tax Act of 2001 (ITA), self-employed individuals, including freelancers and independent contractors, have specific tax requirements.

  • Income Tax Filing: Freelancers and independent contractors are required to file income tax returns annually by the deadline set by the Bhutan Revenue & Customs Authority (BRCA).
  • Taxable Income: All income earned from freelance or contracting work is considered taxable income. However, freelancers can deduct legitimate business expenses incurred while generating income.
  • Tax Rates: Bhutan's income tax operates on a progressive system, meaning tax rates increase with higher income levels.

It's advisable to consult a Bhutanese tax professional to ensure you comply with all filing requirements and to understand the deductions you may qualify for.

Insurance Options for Freelancers and Independent Contractors

Securing appropriate insurance, while not mandatory, can provide financial security for freelancers and independent contractors in Bhutan. Here are some options:

  • Health Insurance: Bhutan's public healthcare system provides subsidized coverage. However, freelancers may consider private health insurance for more comprehensive coverage.
  • Professional Liability Insurance: This protects you from financial losses if a client sues you for negligence or errors in your work.
  • Life Insurance and Disability Insurance: These can provide financial support in case of unexpected events that impact your ability to work.

It's recommended to explore various insurance plans offered by Bhutanese insurance companies to find coverage that suits your needs and budget.

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