Leaving Australia

Leaving Australia for work? Beware of your tax residency status

Thousands of Australians head offshore each year to expand their horizons and a lucky few will fund their adventure by working overseas. Some may live overseas and work for an extended period, but there can often be confusion about the tax implications for taxpayers who take advantage of such offshore opportunities.

Why is tax residency important?

A person who is a “resident” for Australian tax purposes is taxed on their Australian sourced and worldwide income, whereas a person classed as a “non-resident” is taxed only on Australian sourced income.

Further, an individual who is a non-resident is not eligible for the $18,200 tax-free threshold, so all assessable income is taxed right from the first dollar. There are also variances in the marginal tax rates applied.

In cases where an Australian individual goes overseas for employment, even for some years, the individual’s tax residency status is a key factor in how much tax that person is required to pay in Australia. Another factor to keep in mind is the tax law of the country in question, or whether there exists a “double taxation agreement”.

If you remain an Australian tax resident

Any income that comes from working outside Australia

– including salary, wages, commissions, bonuses and allowances – is typically regarded as foreign employment income. Such income may be paid by a foreign or an Australian employer. As an Australian tax resident, this foreign employment income is normally taxable in Australia and has to be included in your Australian tax return.

However, if you have paid tax on that employment income overseas, you should be able to claim some or all of the foreign tax as a credit against your Australian tax liability. This ensures that you are not double-taxed (as noted, you will need to consider the operation of any double taxation agreements). This credit is referred to as a “foreign income tax offset”.

You can claim this for the Australian-dollar equivalent of the foreign tax paid on income, profits or gains (including gains of a capital nature) that are included in your Australian assessable income. In some circumstances, the offset is subject to a limit, which broadly equates to the amount of Australian tax that would be payable.

To be entitled to a foreign income tax offset:

  • you must have actually paid, or be deemed to have paid, an amount of foreign income tax
  • the income or gain on which you paid foreign income tax must be included in your assessable income for Australian income tax purposes.

If you cease Australian tax residency

 As a tax non-resident, you will only need to submit an income tax return if you have Australian-sourced income — and there is no need to lodge a return if the only Australian-source income you receive is interest, dividends or royalties that has had the correct amount of non-resident withholding tax deducted and remitted.

All Australian-sourced interest, dividends and royalties derived after you ceased to be an Australian resident are subject to the non-resident withholding tax provisions. Basically, the payer of the income has to withhold tax (at varying rates) on your behalf and you receive the income net of the withholding tax. As the withholding tax is a final tax, the income should not be included in your Australian tax return.

As a tax non-resident, if you dispose of assets you would only be subject to capital gains tax (CGT) if the asset qualifies as “taxable Australian property”. This includes Australian real property and certain holdings of shares in companies that have a majority of their assets as Australian real property.

Further, when you become a non-resident, you are deemed to have sold all your CGT assets that aren’t taxable Australian property (i.e. shares) for their respective market values at that time. So it is theoretically possible to pay the tax before you sell the asset, although you can generally elect to defer any capital gain or loss until you later sell the asset. If you make such an election, your CGT assets are taken to be “taxable Australian property” and so will fall within the Australian tax net if it is later subject to a taxing event (such as disposal).

And remember, non-residents for tax purposes are not required to pay the Medicare levy, so you can claim the number of days that you are not an Australian tax resident during an income year as exempt days in your tax return.

How can we help?

Tax residency status can be confusing and complicated. We have significant experience in these matters. If you are thinking of leaving Australia for a period of time, you should talk with us as soon as possible to avoid any later ATO issues.

If these issues affect you, you can contact Caxton Pang on (02) 9299 4520 or one of the team members in Linton Solutions – www.linton.com.au for a confidential discussion.

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