Understanding the Differences Between Australian Citizenship, Visa Residency and Tax Residency

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.

Australian Citizenship

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.

             Resides Test

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.

             Domicile Test

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.

             183-Day Test

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.

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Tax obligations of expats living in Australia on a “Distinguished Talent Visa”

Daniel Wilkie   |   23 Apr 2021   |   5 min read

There are many pathways that you can take when coming to live in Australia on a permanent basis. The “Distinguished Talent Visa”, subclass 858, is one of them. This Visa allows you to stay in Australia on a permanent basis, and permits you to work and study in Australia.

As an individual living in Australia on a “Distinguished Talent Visa”, you need to be aware of your tax obligations. Below we outline the most common questions clients on the “Distinguished Talent Visa” want to know.

Is a person living in Australia on the Distinguished Talent Visa an Australian tax resident?

An individual living in Australia on a Distinguished Talent Visa is most likely an Australian tax resident. 

This visa allows you to live in Australia on a permanent basis. If you choose to live in Australia on a permanent basis and take actions to make this move, then you would be considered to be an Australian tax resident. 

However, if you simply use the visa to stay in Australia on a short term basis while continuing to live in your usual country of residence, then you would remain a foreign resident for tax purposes. 

This means that the Visa itself is not evidence of tax residency, however it is a pathway that could allow you to become an Australian permanent resident, and accordingly, an Australian tax resident. You would still need to actually move to Australia and begin residing here.

If your intentions and living situation changes whilst in Australia, your tax residency status can also change. 

What are the tax implications of moving to Australia on a Distinguished Talent Visa?

Assuming you are coming to Australia on a permanent basis, then moving to Australia on a Distinguished Talent Visa will mean you become a temporary Australian tax resident. This will mean that in Australia you may: 

  • be taxed on your worldwide income, including income that comes from your former home country
  • need to obtain market valuations on any overseas assets you own in order to establish their cost base for capital gains purposes
  • Be required to consider any double taxation issues with the country that you are departing from
  • As a temporary resident you will not be subject to capital gains tax on property you hold overseas.

Since the Distinguished Talent Visa alone is not sufficient to confirm that you are becoming an Australian resident, it is important that you get your residency assessed and obtain adequate tax advice for your specific circumstances. 

Should I sell my assets prior to moving to Australia?

Whether or not you sell your property and investments prior to moving to Australia is a personal decision that you should make based on your investment and financial needs and goals. You should always take financial advice from a qualified financial advisor.

From a tax perspective, you will only need to declare capital gains from the sale of your overseas assets if you become a resident and are not also a Temporary Resident before you sell them. 

In this situation your assets are valued and taken to have been acquired at the time that you become a resident and are not still a Temporary Resident.

Assets that are subject to capital gains tax will be eligible for a 50% discount on the amount that is assessed, once they have been held for at least 12 months.

Getting adequate advice on the tax consequences of choosing when to sell your assets is something that should be done as soon as possible, so that you are able to make more informed decisions.

What happens with the taxes I am required to pay in my home country?

After moving to Australia on a permanent basis it is possible that you will still be required to pay income tax in your former country of residence. 

If there is a Double Tax Agreement (DTA) between Australia and your former country of residence, then the DTA will contain provisions that minimise the potential of being taxed twice on the same income. 

DTAs can minimise the amount of foreign tax that is paid on investment income such as interest. They also include tie breakers for situations where you are deemed to be a resident of both countries. 

Paying Tax in Australia

Whether you are a permanent resident, a temporary resident, or a non resident of Australia, you will be required to lodge an Australian tax return on an annual basis while earning income in Australia. 

Non residents are only required to include income that is sourced from Australia. 

Permanent residents are required to include income from worldwide sources.

Under the Australian tax system your employer withholds some tax from your pay, known as PAYGW (pay as you go withholding). The PAYGW is remitted to the ATO who then offset this against your assessed tax liability for the year. Any excess PAYGW is refunded at this time, or a notice of payment is issued where you owe additional tax. 

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Key tax differences between a Permanent Resident and Temporary Resident

Daniel Wilkie   |   20 Aug 2020   |   4 min read

The rules around tax residency are largely different to the rules around social security, visa residency, as well as citizenship.

Australian Tax Resident

In Australia, for tax purposes, an individual is an Australian resident if they satisfy one of the residency tests. 

However, those people from outside of Australia may not realise that establishing that you are an Australian tax resident is not the end of the story. An Australian tax resident may be a permanent resident or a temporary resident, with different tax implications.

Temporary Australian Tax Resident

A temporary Australian tax resident is an Australian resident who:

  • Holds a temporary visa under the Migration Act 1958
  • Is not an Australian resident according to the Social Security Act 1991
  • Does not have a spouse who is an Australian resident within the meaning of the Social Security Act 1991

The Social Security Act 1991 defines an ‘Australian resident’ as a person who resides in Australia and is an Australian citizen, holder of a permanent visa or a protected special category visa holder.

As you can see this is different to the tax definition of Australian tax resident.

Temporary residents may be considered an Australian tax resident due to a “permanence” in their intention and action of residing in Australia, however, they may not be legally allowed to permanently reside in Australia based on their Visa, which means they will likely return to their home country.

(NZ citizens are a special case, where they can remain in Australia without applying for permanent residency, but are still considered Temporary Residents based on the “Special Category Visas” issued to them upon entry to Australia.)

The Difference Between a Temporary Resident and a Permanent Resident for Tax Purposes

All Australian residents are taxed on their Australian and worldwide income, including any capital gains on foreign property held.

Foreign residents are taxed only on their Australian sourced income.

Permanent Australian residents are treated the same as an Australian resident, and taxed on both Australian and worldwide income.

Temporary residents are taxed on their Australian-sourced income only. They are taxed at resident marginal tax rates, however, they do not pay tax in Australia on their foreign-sourced income.

Foreign residents and temporary residents are subject to capital gains tax (CGT) if a CGT event happens to a CGT asset that is taxable Australian property. They are not subject to CGT in Australia on their foreign owned taxable property for CGT purposes. This ensures, for example, that they can reside in Australia on a temporary basis without having to worry about the CGT consequences of a home they maintain back in the country in which they permanently live and are likely to eventually return to.

Taxable Australian Property

‘Taxable Australian property’ are capital assets that include real property situated in Australia, mining rights in Australia, assets of a business located in Australia, and indirect interest in Australian real property through an entity that you hold 10% or more controlling interest in (where such interest is primarily associated with ownership of the Australian real property).

This also includes options over any of the above.

Individuals are taxed on any taxable Australian property, regardless of their residency status.

Overview of Different Tax Treatment


Non-ResidentTemporary ResidentPermanent Resident
Taxed on overseas incomeNONOYES  
Taxed on Australian sourced IncomeYESYESYES   
CGT on taxable Australian propertyYESYESYES
CGT on foreign taxable propertyNONOYES
Entitled to claim CGT main residence exemption on Australian main residence       
NO
              
YES

YES           

Note that a temporary resident’s visa status may change, and they may find that they become a permanent resident, or Australian resident. If a temporary resident becomes a permanent resident, then they are deemed to have acquired any assets (other than taxable Australian property) at their market value on the date that they ceased being a temporary resident and became a permanent resident. Once an individual has become a permanent resident, simply departing Australia, even for more than six months, may not be enough to change their status to a non-resident.

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Are you a temporary resident for tax purposes?

Daniel Wilkie   |   27 Jan 2018   |   3 min read

Australia has a reputation as being a high taxing country. Most people are aware that if they are a resident of Australia they are taxable on all their income – whether from sources in or outside Australia.That is, Australia requires tax residents to declare income and capital gains from sources worldwide, regardless of whether the income is remitted to Australia.

However relatively few people are aware that Australia also has a generous concession for expats on their overseas assets. This is known as the ‘temporary resident exemption’ – which was introduced by the Australian government more than a decade ago.

New Zealand citizens who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001 can also usually qualify under these rules which can give extremely favourable outcomes to New Zealand citizens with overseas assets.

If you are an expat and have the status of a temporary resident for migration purposes (i.e you hold a temporary visa, such as a 457 Visa) then you will most likely also be a temporary resident for income tax purposes. This applies unless your spouse is an Australian citizen or Permanent Resident, in which case you will not be able to benefit from the exemptions.

If you are a temporary resident for tax purposes in Australia then you are not required to declare foreign investment income such as foreign dividends, trust distributions or foreign bank interest, even if you bring this income into Australia. It is also the case that income that would otherwise be taxable under Australia’s controlled foreign company rules is also disregarded if a person is a temporary resident. Generous capital gains tax exemptions also apply to assets which are not Australian real property (i.e real estate) or interests in Australian real property.

These concessions mean that temporary residents are able to live and work in Australia, but often only pay tax on income from employment, while they can continue to hold significant foreign investments. The exception relates to employment related income which may be derived from foreign sources by a temporary resident living in Australia.

We are often contacted by people who wish to clarify their status under the temporary resident rules. Once people understand that they are temporary residents then many of their concerns about Australia’s worldwide approach to taxation tend to drop away.

However, temporary residents who are considering becoming Permanent Residents in Australia still need to be aware of how drastically their tax situation can change if they become Permanent Resident. This is because if you become a Permanent Resident you would be taxable under the normal rules on your worldwide income. We encourage global expats with significant overseas assets to seek tax advice as soon as they determine that they wish to apply for Permanent Residency in Australia.

If you are considering applying for Permanent Residency in Australia and have significant overseas assets our specialist team would welcome the opportunity to assist you with detailed tax advice so that you fully aware of the tax implications. CST’s Strategic Tax Review is an appropriate service for clients in this situation. If you are interested in seeking advice from us please contact us.

CST’s tax advisors have experience with advising high net worth global expatriates arriving in Australia from all parts of the world.

Our specialist integrated Australia/US advisory capabilities can also make a real difference for US expatriates living in Australia who have to lodge tax returns in Australia and the United States.

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NSW Stamp Duty and Land Tax Increases for Foreigners

Matthew Marcarian   |   10 Jul 2016   |   1 min read

Author: Matthew Marcarian

In a bid to capitalise on the strength of real estate prices, the NSW Government has followed other states including Victoria and Queensland by introducing a stamp duty surcharge of of 4% on the acquisition of all NSW residential land by foreign persons after 21 June 2016.
 
That means that foreigners acquiring real estate in New South Wales with a purchase price of AUD $1M will be approximately 8.5% in stamp duty.
 
A land tax surcharge of  0.75% will also apply to foreign owned New South Wales residential land. The land tax testing date is 31 December of each year.
 
Foreign persons do not include Australian citizens living abroad. CST Tax Advisors is able to assist international clients who have questions regarding these changes.
 
It will be interesting to see whether these changes along with tightening of lending policies of the Australian banks will result in any significant long term cooling of the residential property market in NSW. It may be that low interest rates and uncertainty in global financial markets will mean continued strength in property prices in New South Wales.

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