Daniel Wilkie | 18 May 2021 | 10 min read
It can understandably be confusing to determine the difference between being an Australian tax resident for tax purposes compared to visa residency.
If you’re an Australian citizen who was born and continues living in Australia, then it’s pretty straightforward. You are an Australian for both citizenship and tax purposes.
But what about when things aren’t so clear? Can you be an Australian citizen but not an Australian tax resident? Can you be an Australian tax resident without being an Australian citizen? And what about Visa status? How does this change things?
Citizenship and visa residency are pretty clear cut. You are either a citizen or you aren’t. You either have an Australian residency visa, or you don’t. Tax residency, whilst linked to some degree to having visa residency or citizenship, is not as straightforward.
You are an Australian citizen when Australia is legally your home country. This could be because you were born in Australia, or because you were born to Australian parents, or because you applied for citizenship. As an Australian citizen, Australia is considered to be your default country for all purposes, including taxation. This is why an Australian citizen may, in certain situations, continue to be treated as a tax resident, despite living in another country.
However, what about for those citizens from another country, living in Australia?
Australian Visa Residence
People who are citizens of other countries are only permitted to stay in Australia per the terms of their Visa. There are many different types of visas, ranging from short-term holiday visas, through to permanent residency visas.
The type of visa you hold will play a part in your circumstances when determining tax residency. For instance, individuals on short-term visas are less likely to be considered Australian tax residents, while individuals on long-term or permanent residency visas are more likely to be considered Australian tax residents.
Australian Tax Residency
Despite what your citizenship and visa status is, tax residency is a matter of fact and intention. There is no application form to be completed nor automatic rule to become a tax resident.
When considering whether you are an Australian tax resident the primary factor is whether you, the individual, is living in Australia (see the “resides test” below). Conversely, you may be a foreign resident for tax purposes if you live outside of Australia. Living in Australia is distinguished between having a holiday in Australia, or staying in Australia for an extended period, whether temporary or permanent.
To help distinguish “permanency”, an individual must typically be living in Australia for at least six months to be considered a tax resident. Conversely, Australian citizens who are living overseas are typically still considered to be Australian tax residents if they are living overseas for less than 2 years. Indeed an Australian citizen may be living overseas for up to 5 years and continue to be considered an Australian tax resident if there are sufficient ties remaining in Australia to demonstrate that the nature of their overseas stay is “temporary”.
In order to determine tax residency specific residency tests are considered.
Tests for Australian Residency
To determine whether an individual is a tax resident there are a number of tests that can be applied. Passing any one of these tests will determine residency status.
The first test for residency is the ‘resides test’. If you are physically present in Australia, intending to live here on a permanent basis, and have all the usual attachments in Australia that one would expect of someone living here, then you are a tax resident.
Factors considered include whether your family lives in Australia with you, where your business and employment ties are, where you hold most of your assets and what your social and living arrangements are. If you pass this test then there is no need to consider further tests.
It is possible to be found to be a resident of more than one country. In cases where you are found to be a dual resident, you may need to consider tie breaker rules in any relevant Double Tax Agreement.
If you don’t pass the resides test then you may still be a tax resident if you satisfy one of the three statutory tests instead.
The domicile test states that you will be found to be an Australian tax resident unless you have a permanent home elsewhere. An Australian citizen will have Australia as their domicile by origin. This means that even if an Australian citizen is living or travelling overseas their default home will be Australia.
In such situations residency only changes when there is an intention to permanently set up a new domicile overseas. (For this reason people holidaying overseas or living overseas on a short-term basis can continue to be Australian tax residents even if they don’t step foot in Australia for years). Individuals who were domiciled in Australia but who do not cut their connection with Australia, will continue to be Australian residents.
The ‘183 day test’ is the day count test. This test is typically to capture foreign residents coming to Australia, rather than applying to Australians moving overseas. Individuals who come to Australia from overseas for at least 183 days may find themselves being Australian tax residents. Note that being in Australia for 183 days of the year does not automatically make such an individual a tax resident. Non residents who come to Australia for more than 183 days but do not have any intention of taking up residence in Australia may, depending on their intent and actions, be considered visitors or holiday makers, and therefore not qualify as tax residents.
The Commonwealth Superannuation Test
Australian Government employees in CSS or PSS schemes, who work in Australian posts overseas, will be considered Australian residents regardless of other factors.
Examples of Tax Residency and Foreign Tax Residency
To understand the difference it might help to look at a few examples of different scenarios.
An Australian Citizen who is a Tax Resident
Tom is an Australian citizen who was born in Australia. He has lived in Australia his whole life, and intends to continue living here. During the year he goes on a 6 month holiday, travelling around Europe. At the end of his 6 months he decides to take advantage of another opportunity and stays in Africa for 3 months. After this time, he returns home to Australia.
Tom’s tax residency never changes. Despite travelling overseas for 9 months of the year, he continues to be an Australian resident for tax purposes. This is because Australia is always his home, and his time overseas is not in the nature of a permanent move.
An Australian Citizen who is not a Tax Resident
Jill is an Australian citizen who was born in Australia. She has lived in Australia for her whole life. However, in 2019 Jill accepts an opportunity to take a job in England. The position is a permanent position and requires Jill to move to England on a permanent basis. After acquiring the necessary visa to work and live in England, she sells her home and uses the proceeds to make the move to England, where she buys a new home and settles down. Jill brings her son to England with her, and closes down her Australian bank accounts. She does not expect to return to Australia, other than for occasional holidays.
On the day that Jill departs Australia she becomes a foreign resident for tax purposes. The fact that she is an Australian citizen does not change this. This is because it is clear from her actions and intentions, closing off ties to Australia, and establishing a new home in England, that she is moving to England on a permanent basis.
A Tax Resident Living in Australia on a Permanent Residency Visa
Bob is from the United States of America. While in Australia on a working holiday visa, where he travels around the country, his final stop is at a small country town that feels like home to him. He makes friends and is even offered a permanent job there. Bob’s visa is almost up, so he goes back to the United States as planned, then takes the necessary steps to return to Australia and apply for a permanent residency visa. Bob effectively cuts his ties with the US and intends to make this small country town his new home and moves into a room with one of his new mates.
On Bob’s initial time in Australia under his working holiday visa, he will be considered a non-resident, or a temporary resident, depending on his visa. Even though he started thinking about making a permanent move at this stage, he had yet to take any steps to show this intention. However, on his return, which was made with all the actions necessary to show that this was a permanent move to Australia, he then becomes an Australian tax resident.
A Foreign Tax Resident with an Australian Permanent Residency Visa
Jane is a British citizen who has been living in Australia on a permanent residency visa for the past ten years. She just received news that her parents were in a bad accident and both need permanent care. Jane decides to pack up and move back home to care for her parents. She sells off her assets, closes her Australian bank account, and returns home to live with her parents. She also finds a part time job overseas.
Even though Jane has a permanent residency visa in Australia, she is no longer living here on a permanent basis. This means she is now a foreign resident for tax purposes.
Permanent and Temporary Residents
Even if an individual is deemed to be a tax resident, the ATO further distinguishes between temporary residency and permanent residency. Temporary residency typically occurs when an individual is genuinely residing in Australia on a “permanent” basis, however, are only in Australia on a temporary Visa, as opposed to living in Australia on a permanent residency Visa or obtaining Australian citizenship.
Temporary residents are only taxed on their Australian-sourced income.
Tax Residency is based on your Permanent Residence
As you can see from the above examples, tax residency is based on where an individual is permanently residing. If you are in Australia on a holiday, or only for a short time (less than 6 months), then you would not be considered an Australian resident for tax purposes.
However, holding a permanent residency visa, does not necessarily mean you are a tax resident. If you actually live in another country on a permanent basis, having your social and economic ties in another country, then you will be a foreign resident for tax purposes.
It is important to note that there must be a permanent home elsewhere. If an Australian resident decided to travel the world for several years, although they may think they have departed Australia permanently, as they do not have a permanent home elsewhere, this would not constitute a decision to permanently reside in another country. Australia would continue to be their home, even though they are absent from Australia for a prolonged period of time.
Since determining tax residency can be quite complex, it is important to speak to a tax specialist to understand your situation.