Australians moving to the USA: Key Differences in the Australian and US tax system

Matthew Marcarian   |   2 Apr 2021   |   5 min read

Like any overseas move, moving from Australia to the United States will mean that you will encounter a brand new taxation system. 

If you’re used to the Australian tax system, the US system may seem a lot more complicated. For a brief overview of the differences see this comparison table:

AustraliaUnited States
Tax Year1 July to 30 June1 January to 31 December
Tax AuthorityAustralian Taxation Office: ATOInternal Revenue Services: IRS
Income Tax (residents)As an Australian you are taxed at a tiered individual income tax rate that ranges from 0% to 45%.Federal Income Tax is charged at tiered individual rates between 10% and 37%. Unlike Australia there is no initial tax free threshold.

Most States also impose a personal income tax which varies between states. Typically the state tax rates are under 10%. 
Income Tax (non-residents)Australia typically only taxes non-residents on income that is sourced in Australia. The tax free threshold doesn’t apply, and the first $120,000 of Australian income is taxed at the rate of 32.5%. (Up to a maximum of 45% for every dollar over $180,000). There may be some limitations and exclusions depending on the relevant double tax agreement. The US typically only taxes non-residents on income that is sourced in the US. Passive income (for example dividends, rent, royalties) is taxed at a flat 30% (unless a specific tax treaty specifies a lower rate). Effectively connected income (income earned through a business or personal services) is taxed at the same graduated rates as for a US person. 
Social Security Tax RateNot applicableThe US charges additional social security taxes, which is payable by both the individual and their employer. There is a cap on the maximum wage that is subject to this tax each year. 
Medicare Australians are taxed for a medicare levy on all of their income, unless they are under low income rate thresholds. The medicare levy rate is currently 2% of taxable income. High income earners are also charged a medicare levy surcharge, unless they have appropriate private health care coverage. The rate of medicare levy surcharge is between 1 and 1.5% depending on the individual’s taxable income level.  In Australia many medical services and public hospital services are provided free for all Australians under the medicare system. This is what the medicare levy and medicare levy surcharge tax levies pays for.The US also charges a medicare tax on all individual income. The rate is currently 1.45%. Employers are required to withhold an extra 0.9% medicare tax when an individual’s wage exceeds $200,000 in a year.   Unlike Australia, the US does not provide universal health care for its citizens. In the US each individual is responsible for funding their own health care. This means that instead of the medicare taxes going towards a general public funding pool for universal healthcare, they go towards your Medicare Hospital Insurance for when you are a senior. Medicaid is available to help support low income earners. 
Health InsuranceIt is optional for an individual to pay for private health insurance, which covers private health care as well as services that aren’t covered by medicare. High income earners will be exempt from the additional medicare levy surcharge if they take out private health insurance with adequate hospital coverage.In the US an individual is responsible for health insurance (most employers do provide health insurance coverage) in order to get their health care services covered, or partially covered, by their insurance provider. Medicaid is available to assist low income earners to access free or reduced cost health care. 
Sales TaxGST is a federal tax charged at 10% on most goods and services. Basic essentials are exempt. Sales taxes apply on most goods and services, and these are levied by the various state governments. These taxes range from 0 to 13.5%. 
Tax Return Due DatesThe financial year ends on 30 June. Individual tax returns are due for lodgement by the 31 of October (however extensions typically apply until May in the following calendar year where an individual uses a tax agent to lodge their return and they have no outstanding obligations). The financial year aligns with the calendar year in the US, meaning the tax year ends 31 December. Tax lodgements are due by 15 April the following year. Self-employed and small business owners are required to make quarterly reports to pay estimated taxes that are reconciled with the annual filing. 
Income from your Australian Superannuation FundTaxation on superannuation income streams and lump sums is taxed differently depending on whether you have reached the preservation age, and the type of super income stream that is paid. Distributions from an Australian superfund are typically exempt from US tax provided the benefits are appropriately claimed and reported. 
RetirementOnce you reach preservation age (60), your retirement benefit from your superannuation fund is tax free.

Aged pensions form part of your taxable income, however if you have no other income then your pension won’t exceed the tax free threshold. 
Your income stream from any 401(k) plan, social security or pension are taxed depending on your income sources and overall level of income.

As you can see, there are a number of key differences in the way taxes are levied and collected in the US. Much of this is due to the additional authority of the states to impose both income and sales taxes for their own jurisdictions. This means that the exact amount of taxes you will be faced with will, ultimately, depend exactly where in the states you are moving to.

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Tax Considerations Every Australian Expat Should Understand Before Moving To The USA From Australia

Matthew Marcarian   |   14 Feb 2021   |   8 min read

If you’re an Australian who is moving to the United States, there are many tax issues to be aware of. Here’s a basic overview of what you need to know before considering the move. 

You can also download our guide: Moving to USA, here.

Tax Residency

When moving to another country, the first consideration should be your tax residency. From an Australian perspective, you will be taxed very differently depending on whether:

 i) you remain an Australian tax resident, 

ii) you remain an Australian tax resident, but also become tax resident of the United States, or 

iii) you become a non-resident of Australia and become tax resident of the United States.

As an Australian tax resident you are taxed on your worldwide income, whereas a non-resident is only taxed on Australian sourced income.

For Australian tax purposes, there are a number of tests that determine whether you are treated as a tax resident. Just simply moving to the US does not automatically mean you become a non-resident of Australia. Usually an Australian citizen, or permanent resident, will remain an Australian tax resident unless they move overseas on a permanent basis. While there is no one specific factor that will determine what makes a move permanent, factors that will be considered include the length of time living overseas (minimum 2 years), purchasing or leasing a home overseas, selling Australian assets, and where your personal family ties and business ties lie.

The US, on the other hand, has its own set of rules to determine whether an individual is considered a tax resident in the US. Foreign nationals that are Greencard holders, and those that have been in the USA for over 183 days are generally regarded as ‘resident aliens’ and taxed like US citizens on their worldwide income. Non-resident aliens in the US are only taxed on their US-sourced income.

It is possible that you could be considered a tax resident of Australia under Australia’s rules, and a tax resident of the US under the US rules. In this case, the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between Australia and the US will need to be referred to. This tax treaty exists to help avoid double taxation in both countries.

As the rules and tax treaties in both Australia and the US can be quite complex, it is important to talk to a tax advisor who is experienced in cross border residency issues in order to understand your tax residency status, and to be aware of when your residency status may change.

Living In The US Temporarily – Taxation As An Australian Resident For Tax Purposes

If you remain an Australian tax resident after moving to the United States, then you will continue to be required to lodge an Australian tax return each year. As an Australian tax resident, you are required to declare income from worldwide sources in your Australian tax return. 

The Australia – US DTA will need to be referred to,  to see which country has the taxing rights over certain income categories. The DTA also explains circumstances when foreign income tax offsets are available to offset Australian tax. 

US Tax Return

You will also need to lodge a US tax return as a US non-resident, for any US sourced income. The US has the right to tax non-residents on US sourced income. However, thanks to the Australia – US DTA, Australia will generally treat any US income tax paid as foreign tax credits against the Australian tax liability. This means you will only need to pay Australian tax on any difference between the amount of US tax paid and the amount of Australian tax assessed. If the US tax is higher, then you will not be refunded the excess above the Australian assessment.

Living In The US Permanently – Becoming A Non-Resident Of Australia

If you are moving to the US on a permanent basis you will become a non-resident of Australia for tax purposes. You will need to still lodge Australian tax returns on any income generated from sources in Australia.

Capital Gains Tax Payable When You First Move To The US

One of the first taxation issues to understand when moving to the US is that Australia will treat you as having disposed of your capital assets (excluding Australian real property) at the market value prevalent on the date of your departure, unless you elect to defer the deemed disposal (explained further below). A deemed capital gain or loss will need to be calculated and included in your tax return, as if you had actually sold those assets. Once those assets are sold at a later date whilst you are in the US, there will be no further tax payable in Australia (tax will be payable in the US). 

However, you do have the option not to include the deemed capital gain if you instead choose to report it as a capital gain when you eventually sell the assets. However, the DTA will need to be referred to, to see whether the gain would be taxable only in the US.

In summary, your options are:

Option 1- Declare a “deemed” capital gain in your Australian tax return for your foreign investments when you leave the country. As long as you don’t return to Australia you will have no more Australian tax to consider when you eventually sell those foreign assets.

Option 2- Choose not to declare a deemed capital gain, but wait until you actually sell the foreign investment. If you are still living in the US (or another country that has a similar clause that gives them taxation rights over Australia in this situation), then you won’t need to declare the capital gain in an Australian tax return. If you are living in a country that doesn’t have this clause when you sell the foreign investment, then you would have to declare the capital gain in an Australian tax return at that time.

Australian Sourced Income

As a non-resident for Australian tax purposes you would only be required to lodge an Australian tax return to declare any Australian sourced income that was not already fully taxed under the Double Taxation Agreement. For instance, interest income for non-residents is subject to special withholding rates that are considered to be the full and final tax. This means that the tax withheld is the tax paid for this income. You can’t claim deductions against this income to reduce the tax you have to pay on it, and you can’t claim the tax as a credit against other income being reported in an Australian tax return. As long as your bank has been notified that you are a non-resident they should withhold the correct amount of tax.

Fully franked dividends from Australian sourced companies are also considered to be the full and final tax for the Australian sourced income.

Other Australian sourced income is required to be included in your Australian tax return to be assessed for tax at non-resident rates.

Australian Superannuation

While contributions that you make to your Australia superannuation fund may be deductible against your Australian income, they will generally not be deductible against your US income.

Australian superannuation funds are not subject to the same tax deferral rules in the US. Further advice will need to be sought on whether Australian superannuation fund earnings will be taxable in the US.

Talk To Your Tax Advisor Before Making The Move

Moving overseas can create a large number of potentially complex taxation issues to consider. This article contains a brief introduction to some of the tax issues that may be encountered when considering a move to the US and does not consider your personal situation or circumstance. It is important to speak to a qualified and experienced tax advisor, both in Australia and in the USA, about how the various laws and tax treaties apply to your specific situation.

Please note that the general information provided is accurate at the time of publication, however tax laws do change frequently. To ensure you have reliable information it is therefore important that you seek specialist advice at the time of your potential or intended move, to ensure you have up to date, and personally relevant advice on hand.

Planning ahead ensures you have the information necessary to make informed choices, and prevents you from being surprised with unexpected tax costs.

CST Tax Advisors in Sydney can provide you with advice regarding your Australian tax when it comes to moving, or considering a move overseas. Our US office will be able to assist you with tax advice regarding your US tax.

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Claiming foreign tax credits on capital gains made from overseas investments

Matthew Marcarian   |   3 Mar 2020   |   4 min read

Burton’s case [Burton v Commissioner of Taxation [2019] FCAFC 141] has set an interesting precedent for claiming foreign tax credits on capital gains made from the sale of overseas investments in the United States.

In simple terms, if you own a capital asset in the USA, and you are taxed in the US the capital gain, then you may not be able to claim all the US tax paid as credit in Australia.

The reason for this is because the ATO will only allow you to claim the foreign tax offset that relates to the portion of taxable discounted capital gain being declared in your Australian tax return. The Australia-US Double Taxation Agreement will not assist you in this regard.

Since Burton’s application to appeal the decision was denied on 14 February 2020, the position under the law has been clarified in a situation where an Australian taxpayer makes a capital gains on US real estate (or other assets which are considered effectively connected with the USA).

While some articles claim that this case means the ATO is clawing back the 50% discount on Australian residents with foreign held assets, this isn’t strictly true. It’s actually that not all of the US tax paid would be creditable here.

Example – Comparing the net tax effect on an Australian tax resident selling capital assets owned under different tax regimes. 

To understand the situation let’s consider the example of Jack, an Australian taxpayer who sells a long-term capital asset held in the US, NZ and Australia.

The US taxes capital gains in full, however they tax the capital gain at a different tax rate. NZ does not tax capital gains. Including NZ as a comparison makes it clear that the ruling from Burton does not claw back the discounted 50% capital gain.

For our purposes Jack is an Australian tax resident.

Let’s assume:

  • For ease of calculations Jack makes a capital gain of $1,000,000 on the sale of each of the following assets.
  • Jack’s first $1,000,000 capital gain is on an asset that he held in the US for more than 12 months. While the US taxes capital gains, it applies a concessional tax rate for assets held over 12 months. For ease of calculations we will assume the top concessional rate of 20% applies.
  • The second $1,000,000 gain is on an investment that was held in NZ for more than 12 months. NZ does not tax domestic capital gains.
  • Finally, Jack also sells $1,000,000 investment in Australia, which he has also held for over 12 months. Accordingly, Jack will only be taxed on 50% of the Australian capital gain. For ease of calculations we will assume the flat top marginal rate and Medicare levy applies, 47%.
  • Jack sells all 3 investments in the same financial year for a capital gain of AUD$1,000,000 each.
  • For ease of calculations Jack has no capital losses to apply and he is able to apply the 50% CGT discount in full when preparing his Australian tax return. 
    US owned Asset (AUD$) NZ owned Asset (AUD$)Australian owned Asset (AUD$)
 Capital Gain $1,000,000$1,000,000$1,000,000
a.Foreign Taxable gain after applying any discounts for assessing tax on capital gains$1,000,000 0
b.Foreign tax paid
US 20%
NZ NA on capital gains
$200,000 0
c.Australian Capital Gain$1,000,000$1,000,000$1,000,000
d.Portion of capital gain eligible for discount in Australian assessment$500,000$500,000$500,000
e.Net taxable Australian gain to be taxed (c – d)$500,000$500,000$500,000
f.Australian tax at $47% (including Medicare levy)$235,000$235,000$235,000
g.Net foreign tax paid that is eligible to be claimed as an offset against the Australian taxable portion of the capital gain US: b x 50%
All others: b
$100,0000
h.Australian net tax payable (f – g)$135,000$235,000$235,000
Total foreign & Australian tax (b + h)$335,000$235,000$235,000
Global Tax Paid33.5%23.5%23.5%

As you can see from this example, Jack ends up paying more tax on the US asset. This is because the US taxes the full gain at a discounted rate. Australia then taxes half of the gain at the Australian tax rate and only allows the 50% portion of the foreign income tax credits to be applied.

Conclusion

The net impact of applying this precedent is that Australian taxpayers will end up paying up to 33.5% income tax on capital gains made on US investments that are held for more than 12 months. This is in contrast to the 23.5% income tax that they will pay on capital gains that are limited to only paying Australian income tax.

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Non-Residents Can No Longer Claim The CGT Main Residence Exemption

Matthew Marcarian   |   28 Jan 2020   |   2 min read

On December 5th 2019 the contentious law denying non-residents the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) main residence exemption was passed.

This means that the update we previously provided on this legislation is still in force. If you are no longer an Australian resident, or are permanently moving overseas, and you still own a property that was your main residence in Australia, then you need to know what this means.

Existing Non-Residents with Main Residence Property In Australia

Did you purchase your Australian main residence before 9 May 2017? If you did then you only have until 30 June 2020 to sell your property if you want to claim the CGT main residence exemption.

After this date non-residents will not be able to claim the exemption. Basically this means you will be assessed on the full capital gain.

On the other hand, if you plan to return to Australia in the future then you may still be able to claim the exemption. If this is the case then you can wait to sell your former main residence once you return to Australia. Once you are a tax resident again then you will be assessed as an Australian tax resident. This means the law will again allow you to claim whatever main residence concession you would ordinarily be entitled to. Given the rise in Australian property prices over the last decade, this change could see an Expat caught unaware, being exposed to capital gains tax of several hundred thousand dollars (if not more), depending on the situation.

For a more detailed look at what the law entails please refer to our “Update on CGT Main Residence Exemption for expats” post.

Seek Tax Advice

The change in law has the potential to significantly impact non-residents. While you can get a general overview from the information provided in our blog, it is important that your specific situation be assessed by a tax specialist. This is important because your individual situation will be dependant on many variables that can’t be adequately covered in a general blog. A personalised assessment will ensure that you understand your options and can make the best decision for your situation.

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Update on CGT Main Residence Exemption for expats

Matthew Marcarian   |   12 Nov 2019   |   8 min read

Update: Since publication of this post the Bill has passed and is now law. The law passed is the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures) Bill 2019. ) It was passed with no further amendments. This means non-residents will not be able to claim the CGT main residence exemption from 1 July 2020. The scenarios below currently apply under the new law.

For the past few years Australian expats have been waiting to see if the axe will drop on their ability to claim the capital gains tax (CGT) main residence exemption.

The current main residence exemption allows individuals to claim an exemption on paying CGT when they sell the home that they have been living in. Under the normal CGT rules, an individual may continue to claim their former home as their main residence for up to 6 years of absence. This applies unless and until the homeowner purchases and moves into another house that becomes their main residence in Australia.

The new measure has been in the works since the 2017-2018 budget, with non-residents potentially becoming ineligible to claim the main residence exemption since May 9th 2017.

Main residence exemption removed for non-residents in new Bill

The shortcomings of this bill have been previously highlighted and continue to be of concern. After the Bill lapsed in April 2019, we have waited to see whether it would reappear. The hope was that a new Bill would be rewritten in a way that was fairer to taxpayers.

Unfortunately it was reintroduced on the 23rd of October 2019 in largely the same form. Like the original bill, it applies retroactively and allows no consideration for long term Australian residents who may end up caught out by the changes.

While many concerns with the original bill remain unaddressed, there are a few changes.

These changes have extended the transitional measures and added in some compassionate exceptions. The transitional measures ensures that existing foreign resident home owners have some time to sell their main residence under the existing rules. Previously they had until 30th June 2019. Under the new Bill they now have until 30th June 2020 to sell under the existing CGT rules. The additional exceptions that the revised Bill introduced means that there are now limited situations in which the main residence exemption may still apply for foreign residents. 

So, if you’re an expatriate with a former main residence in Australia you should consider now what strategy you wish to take. It’s time to consider if you need to sell while you can access the existing CGT exemption.

Summarised below is an outline of what these new laws could mean for you and what you can do about it.

What Happens If I Hold Onto My Australian Home When I Move Overseas?

Once you’re a foreign resident then any Australian property home you own is treated as a CGT asset. You are no longer able to apply the main residence exception that is available to Australian taxpayers.

Basically this means you will be liable for full CGT on any profit from the sale of the property. This applies even if you lived in the home for 20 years before becoming a non-resident. Since the main residence exemption can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars in CGT this is a big change for temporary residents and Australians looking to move overseas.

As mentioned, there are limited situations where non-residents may still access the main residence exemption. This includes the transitional provision that allows you to sell your main residence under the existing CGT exemption if you sell before June 30th 2020. It also includes concessions that equate to compassionate grounds on the event of death, divorce, or terminal illness.

As a Non Resident Can I Use the CGT Main Residence Exemption When I Sell My former Australian home?

Normally when you satisfy the criteria for claiming the main residence exemption for CGT then you can apply this exemption (in part or in full). However, if this bill passes into law, foreign residents will no longer be able to access the main residence exemption. Well, in most situations.

Let’s take a look at when the exemption may still apply:

1- Did you purchase your main residence before or after May 9th 2017?

If you purchased your property after May 9th 2017 then you’re out of luck. You will not be able to claim an exemption for your principal residence if you sell it while you are a non-resident. That’s because you purchased your main residence after these new measures were proposed.

However, if you purchased before May 9th 2017 (and post 20 September 1985) then you are covered by the transitional provisions. This means you have until 30th June 2020 to sell under the current CGT rules and access the main residence exemption. Wait any longer and the exemption is no longer available if you sell your main residence while you’re a non-resident.

The big drawback of selling after 30th June 2020 is that the main resident exemption will not even apply for the period of time that you lived in the property. That means you won’t even get access to a partial exemption.

2- What If a serious life event happens to you within 6 years of becoming a non-resident?

With the new bill being introduced, there are now some situations where a non-resident may continue to access the main residence exemption for CGT. These concessions only apply if you’ve been a non-resident for less than 6 years. As a non-resident you may still be eligible for the main residence exemption if one of the following life events happens:

  • You, your spouse or your child (under 18) get diagnosed with a terminal medical condition.
  • You, your spouse or your child (under 18) pass away.
  • You get divorced or separated.

Basically, if something unexpected happens within several years of becoming a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then you may still be able to access the same concessions that Australian residents can. While no one can factor these contingencies into a tax strategy it’s good to know that this exists if the worst happens.

3- Will You Become An Australian Resident Again?

If you come back to Australia and become an Australian tax resident, then the main residence exemption is available to you again under the normal rules. This means you will have the opportunity to apply the CGT main residence exemption, either in part (if the property hasn’t exclusively been your main residence) or in full. Keep in mind that this only applies if you sell while you’re an Australian tax resident.  

This means that if you’re planning to return to Australia then it might be worth holding onto the property so that you can reduce your CGT liability. That’s great news if there’s a chance of returning to Australia to live in your home (or elsewhere) again. Of course, this should not be the only factor to consider when deciding whether to hold onto or sell your former home under the main residence exemption.

What If I Die While I’m a Non-Resident?

You might decide to hold onto your property because you’re planning to come back to Australia. But what if that doesn’t happen?

If you die within 6 years of becoming a non-resident then your estate may still be able to access your main residence exemption. However, when you pass away more than 6 years after becoming a foreign resident then your estate will be caught by the changes and the main residence exemption will not be applicable. That means your estate will be stuck with the full CGT liability.

What Do I Do With My Australian Property Now?

The answer to this is very personal. It depends on your ongoing plans, whether you’re concerned about the tax impact of these legislative changes, what the market is like, and what the best decision is for both your immediate and long term needs.

For instance, selling a property now for a $50,000 profit with no CGT to worry about would still net you less than selling it down the road for a $200,000 profit with a $45,000 CGT liability.

Ongoing income or costs also weigh into your decision, as do any plans to return to Australia down the track. Unfortunately, it also depends on unknown factors, including the unpredictable nature of tax law changes that may happen in the future. As always, it’s important to get tailored advice for your unique situation when considering what to do. Individual situations can involve complexities that extend beyond generic information.

As always, it’s important to get tailored advice for your unique situation when considering what to do. Individual situations can involve complexities that extend beyond generic information.


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Residency – Harding’s Appeal Victory

Matthew Marcarian   |   5 Mar 2019   |   4 min read

The biggest personal tax residency case in 40 years just got bigger. The taxpayer Mr Glen Harding having lost his case in front of a single judge in the Federal Court has won an emphatic victory in the Full Federal Court in a decision handed down on 22 February 2019.

In Harding v Commissioner of Taxation [2018] FCA 837 in a unanimous decision the Court found that Glen Harding was not a resident of Australia because;

  • he did have a Permanent Place of Abode in Bahrain; and
  • he did not reside in Australia;

As we reported last year in our blog (an Appeal to Common Sense) the taxpayer, Glen Harding, appealed from an initial Federal Court decision against him.

The Facts of Harding’s case were, in essence, that Mr Harding, in his evidence, had abandoned his residence in Australia, with the intention never to return. However, in establishing life in Bahrain, he lived in an apartment building called “Classic Towers”. Initially he took a two bedroom apartment because he believed that his wife and children would visit him from time to time.  He remained in that apartment from 10 June 2009 until 9 June 2011.  When his marriage broke down around 2011 and he realised that his wife would not be moving to Bahrain, he moved in to a one bedroom apartment where he remained until 9 June 2012.

The case was all about whether Mr Harding was a resident in Australia for the income tax year ended 30 June 2011 and the single judge in the first instance found that because of the style of accommodation that Mr Harding chose in Bahrain, being a fully furnished apartment, he had not established a permanent place of abode in Bahrain, despite several other factors which demonstrated that he was living in Bahrain.

Several principles of residency law were analysed in detail by the Court. However, the main focus was on the question of what was meant by the phrase ‘Permanent Place of Abode’. A clear understanding of that phrase is critical because of the definition of tax residency in Section 6(1) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936.

That definition says that a person is a resident of Australia if they reside in Australia and includes a person who is Australian domiciled unless the Commissioner would be satisfied that the person has established a Permanent Place of Abode outside Australia.

Most Australian expats who move overseas will remain domiciled in Australia and hence, unless they can show that they have established a permanent place of abode overseas, will remain fully taxable in Australia. It has never been the case that an Australian who is itinerant overseas avoids taxation in Australia.

So the question ‘what is a Permanent Place of Abode?” is critical. In their joint decision,  Davies and Steward JJ with Logan J in agreement, indicated that the word ‘place’ should be read as including a reference to a country or state and they expanded by saying;

In the context of the legislative history, in our view, the phrase “place of abode” is not a reference, as one might have thought, only to a person’s specific house or flat or other dwelling.  If that had been Parliament’s intention it would have used the phrase “permanent abode” rather than “permanent place of abode”.  The word “place” in the context of the phrase “outside Australia” in subpara (i) invites a consideration of the town or country in which a person is physically residing “permanently”.

In taking that approach, the Court referred to the analysis of Sheppard J in Applegate’s case where he indicated that as follows:

“place of abode”’ may mean the house in which a person lives or the country, city or town in which he is for the time being to be found.  I am of the view that the latter is the meaning of the expression used in s. 6(1.) of the Act.  Thus a person might be correctly said to have a permanent place of abode in, say, Vila, notwithstanding that during a given period he lived in a number of different establishments occupying each for only a relatively short period.  His case is no different from one where a person, such as the appellant here, lives, for a substantial period, in the same house.

So here we see, for the first time, a definite focus by the Federal Court on the permanence in a particular jurisdiction as being of paramount importance rather than the particular ‘type’ of accommodation that a tax payer chooses to live in within that jurisdiction.

If this decision stands, it would be a victory for common sense, because if a person is living permanently in a particularly city it should not be critical what type of accommodation the person chooses to live in.

Author: Matthew Marcarian

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The Road to Oz

Matthew Marcarian   |   8 Feb 2019   |   1 min read

Our Principal, Mathew Marcarian, together with our Managing Director in Singapore, Boon Tan, were recently featured in the STEP Journal* (a publication produced by STEP for its members) discussing the local taxation laws that apply to Trust beneficiaries relocating to Australia.

STEP is an organisation that focuses on improving the public understanding of the issues families face in relation to inheritance and succession planning.

Read the full article.

* Matthew Marcarian and Boon Tan, ‘The road to Oz’, STEP Journal (Vol27 Iss1), pp.41-43

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Permanent Place of Abode – Harding Appeals to common sense

Matthew Marcarian   |   24 Jul 2018   |   8 min read

The taxpayer, Mr Harding has appealed to the Full Federal Court of Australia from a decision handed down on 8 June 2018 by Justice Derrington, in Harding v Commissioner of Taxation [2018] FCA 837. In that case His Honour, found that Mr Harding was resident of Australia for tax purposes under the Domicile Test, because he failed to establish a ‘permanent place of abode’ in Bahrain during the relevant year, even though he left Australia permanently in 2009 and lived in Bahrain until 2015, before moving to Oman.

We believe the decision creates significant uncertainty and we are glad to see it appealed.

What happened in the case?

In 2009 Mr Harding departed Australia to take up full time employment in Saudi Arabia. He chose to live in Bahrain (as is commonly done) and obtained a visa to do so. Mr Harding and his wife Mrs Harding had previously lived overseas in the Middle East.

On the facts outline in the case, Mr Harding seemed to have lived in the one apartment in Bahrain for almost 2 years from June 2009 to 9 June 2011, including almost all of the year ended 30 June 2011 – which was the year in dispute in the case.

Matters were apparently made complicated for Mr Harding because on this occasion his wife (and his children) did not accompany him to Bahrain initially and after going so far as to enrol his youngest son into the British School in Bahrain, Mr Harding’s marriage did not survive.

There is a some suggestion that Mr Harding only secured a two bedroom apartment when he initially moved to Bahrain, perhaps because he knew that when his family moved (as he intended that they would) more suitable accomodation would be required. His Honour also appeared to be completely convinced that Mr Harding had departed Australia permanently – even going so far as to list the things which he considered were evidence of that fact.

What was the problem?

The problem for Mr Harding was that even though His Honour was convinced that he had left Australia permanently (and was not resident according to ordinary concepts), His Honour was not convinced that Mr Harding had established a ‘permanent place of abode’ in Bahrain. Consequently since Mr Harding was an Australian domicile – he was still a tax resident of Australia.

This is because of the operation of the ‘Domicile Test’ in Australia’s residency laws. The Domicile Test treats all persons who have their domicile in Australia as being tax resident, unless they can show that they have a ‘permanent place of abode’ outside Australia. We believe that the concept of Permanent Place of Abode is a settled concept under Australia’s tax law and has been so for over 40 years since FC of T v Applegate 79 ATC  4307 (Applegate). The concept of ‘place of abode’ has its ordinary meaning and the use of the word ‘permanent’ in connection with an abode simply implies a place which is not temporary.

Given that the Court agreed that Mr Harding;

– made his life in Bahrain;
– had a visa to reside in Bahrain and in fact resided in Bahrain;
– owned a car in Bahrain;
– had exclusive use of an apartment in Bahrain which he leased (which the Court agreed was not short-term accomodation; see para 75);
– travelled every day from Bahrain to his full time place of work in Saudi Arabia;

we find it difficult to see why Mr Harding was found not to have a permanent place of abode in Bahrain.

The factors that seemed to be held against Mr Harding were that he did not own many possessions (given the apartment was fully furnished) and it was reasonably easy for him to move between apartments in the same complex which he did in July 2011 (after spending almost 2 years in the fist apartment) when it became apparent that Mrs Harding was not going to move to Bahrain.

It also seemed to weigh strongly on His Honour’s considerations that Mrs Harding did not seem to want to live in the original apartment Mr Harding had chosen (even though it was big enough to house the family) and that Mr and Mrs Harding together looked at alternative accomodation when she visited him in Bahrain.

A relevant fact also apparently was that Mr Harding’s postal mail was not sent to Bahrain, but continued to be sent to his former home in Australia. In relation to this His Honour remarked in his closing remarks (para 149) that “It is indicative of an intention to reside at premises permanently or, at least, not temporarily if that place is used as the address for correspondence. Were a person to use their apartment address as that to which important correspondence is to be addressed it can be thought that they are intending to remain there for an extended period of time.” We cannot understand why His Honour considered that the receipt of postal mail in Australia was of material significance, when by contrast His Honour did not see it as particularly significant that Mr Harding had continuing financial arrangements with Australia (paragraph 85).

Factors suggesting Mr Harding did have a Permanent Place of Abode was in Bahrain

The strangeness of the decision here is compounded by the fact that although Mr Harding’s contract of employment was only for 12 months, when Counsel for the Commissioner argued that Mr Harding’s presence in Bahrain was ‘somewhat tenuous’ because of this, His Honour responded by remarking (correctly in our view) on the permanent nature of Mr Harding’s departure from Australia, his intention never to return to Australia to live, and his working history which demonstrated that was ’eminently employable’, effectively dismissing the Commissioner’s argument that the short term nature of the employment contract was a material weakness in the case.

Indeed at para 147 His Honour remarks that “An associated argument advanced by the Commissioner was that as Mr Harding’s employment in the Middle East might be terminated at short notice, his presence there was necessarily of a transitory nature. That submission, however, fails to take into account that Mr Harding was intent on remaining in the Middle East, although not necessarily in Bahrain, and his presence there was not, necessarily, tied to his continued employment with TQ Education.”

The decision in this case is all the more puzzling given that His Honour accepted that Mr Harding took leases of the apartments as extended term propositions also accepting that“that Mr Harding made his life in Bahrain. It was the place from which he commuted daily to his work in Saudi Arabia. He formed friendships there and it was where he attended restaurants and bars after work. He also went to the beaches there and engaged in go-carting at the local grand prix track. In general terms, he pursued the expatriate lifestyle with which he had been familiar for many years.”

Implications for Australian Expats

We hope that the decision in Harding is overturned on appeal. The answer to question of whether a person has established a ‘permanent place of abode’ overseas should be arrived at simply and in a common sense fashion, by considering whether the taxpayer has only a temporary place of abode in the country.

For residency purposes if a place is not temporary then it must be permanent otherwise a person cannot have any certainty.  Surely we cannot have a third class of residency, being a state of being somewhere in the middle of temporary and permanent.

If the Court accepts that Mr Harding ‘made his life in Bahrain’ it should accept that he had a permanent place of abode there, regardless of where his postal mail is sent to.

It is pertinent to conclude by reflecting on the often quoted words of Fisher J in Applegate who said;

“To my mind the proper construction to place upon the phrase ‘permanent place of abode’ is that it is the taxpayer’s fixed and habitual place of abode. It is his home, but not his permanent home..Material factors for consideration will be the continuity or otherwise of the taxpayer’s presence, the duration of his presence and the durability of his association with the particular place.”

We look forward to a common sense judgement from the Full Federal Court in Mr Harding’s case.

UPDATE: On 22 February 2019, the Full High Court handed down a decision on the Harding v Commissioner of Taxation [2018] FCA 837  case. Please see Residency – Harding’s Appeal Victory for the decision.

Author: Matthew Marcarian

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Australian Expats still awaiting decision on CGT change

Matthew Marcarian   |      |   3 min read

In our blog of 25 February this year we reported on what we consider to be highly inequitable capital gains tax changes that the Government has introduced into parliament. The changes are contained in the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 2) Bill 2018.  

The Bill, as drafted, denies foreign residents (including Australian expats) access to the capital gains tax (CGT) main residence concession if they sell their former main residence while they are living overseas. In short, no CGT relief would be available to Australian expats who sell their property while they live overseas even for the period of time they lived in their home before departing Australia. 

The Bill has still not been passed and seems for now to be held up in the Senate, which we hope augurs well for Australian expats.

Main Residence Exemption Removal still possible

Unfortunately despite a number of sensible submissions to the Senate (including our own CST Tax Advisors Submission), the Senate Committee has recommended that the Government proceeds with the proposals as announced.

Essentially the Committee indicated that it ‘considers that the measures contained in these bills will form an essential part of the government’s comprehensive and targeted plan to improve outcomes for Australians across the housing spectrum’.

The Committee did not explain why it thought that removing the CGT main residence exemption is a targeted plan to improving housing outcomes. We believe the natural reaction for most Australian expats to a potential loss of the CGT exemption would be not to sell their property until they one day return to Australia. Essentially a lock-in effect will be created rather than improving the quantity of housing stock available for sale. The Senate Committee Report can be access by following this link.

Our Recommendations

We sincerely hope that despite the Senate’s recommendation to proceed that the Government will rethink their proposal to ensure that Australian expatriates are treated equitably.

We strongly urge the Government to fix the Bill by ensuring that amendments are made so that:

  • all Australian expatriates who were already non-resident of Australia when the changes were announced on 9 May 2017, should continue to be able to access the absence concession regardless of where they reside; and
  • all persons should be able to access the partial CGT exemption for at least that part of the ownership period during which they lived in the property and were resident of Australia.

If the Government does not fix the equity issues in the Bill, at the very least we hope that the Government can extend the transitional period end date from 30 June 2019 (way too close) out to 30 June 2020 or 2021 to give people sufficient time to consider their options. Expecting Australians living overseas to be aware of ‘legislation by press release’ is not satisfactory.

Given that the changes are so fundamental in our view the Government owes a minimum duty to write to all foreign residents taxpayers who are lodging tax returns in relation to Australian rental income, in the event that these fundamental changes apply to them.

In this regard we note the Committee’s recommendation that it “recommends that the Australian Government ensures that Australians living and working overseas are aware of the changes to the CGT main residence exemption for foreign residents, and the transitional arrangements, so they are able to plan accordingly.“(Recommendation 1, Paragraph 2.34 of the Senate Committee Report on Page 17).

Want to make a Submission?

If you wish to make a submission to the Government it would not be too late to write to the Federal Treasurer. Alternatively you can contact CST for more information.

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Removal of CGT Main residence exemption for Australian expatriates – disastrous tax changes now imminent

Matthew Marcarian   |   25 Feb 2018   |   6 min read

As we reported in our blog last year – the Australian Government announced that it would remove the CGT main residence exemption for foreign residents.

It was said that this reform was being introduced as part of measures to address housing affordability in Australia. Due to other legislative priorities a bill to enact the change was not introduced and we had hoped that the Government would have taken the time to ensure grandfathering of all existing properties.

However the bill was re-introduced earlier this month as Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 2) Bill 2018, apparently unchanged after the exposure draft consultation period last year.

The Bill has now been referred to a Senate Standing Committee which represents the last opportunity to lobby for changes to be made to the Bill. Submissions close 5 March 2018.

What is the problem?

In trying to tighten our CGT laws, the Bill denies Australians living abroad access to the “CGT absence concession”. This existing concession gives many Australian expats the opportunity to retain the CGT exemption on their former home for up to 6 years, even if they rented their home out after they had moved overseas. This exemption will be removed.

Disastrously though, the changes seem to be more fundamental. The Bill, as drafted, denies even a partial CGT exemption by providing no CGT relief even for the period of time when the person had lived in their home before departing Australia. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill makes this alarming problem crystal clear (see Example 1.2 which is extracted below). We do not believe this was the Government’s intention.

The only way out under the draft Bill is that taxpayers seem to be allowed to move back into the property after returning to Australia (as a resident) and to then sell the home on a CGT free basis (assuming the absence exemption otherwise applies). This creates a tax-driven ‘lock-in’ effects which is likely to create significant issues for taxpayers and rather than assist housing supply could in fact create further supply constraints.

Does this apply to you?

If you are an Australian expatriate then the Bill provides that unless you sell your former home prior to 30 June 2019, you will be subject to CGT on the sale of the property if you sell it after that date while you are still a non-resident of Australia for tax purposes. Unfortunately, as currently drafted, the Bill would not even provide you with a partial CGT exemption to recognise the period of time that you lived in your home prior to your departure. To preserve your CGT exemption you would be left with the choice of either selling prior to 30 June 2019 or else keeping the property until you one day return to Australia.

The tightness of the 30 June 2019 deadline has seen concerns expressed in the Australian Financial Review recently about a fire sale in expat owned property. While predictions of a fire sale may not be true, it is nonetheless a highly unfair position to put home owners in and the Bill represents poor policy implementation.

Artificially ending the absence concession by using a ‘drop dead date’ on 30 June 2019 is highly equitable. It will mean that failure to sell by 30 June 2019 could mean that an Australian living overseas could be exposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax, given the increases in Australian property over the last 3 years.

What should be done to fix this?

We strongly urge the Government to fix the Bill by ensuring that amendments are made so that:

  • all Australian expatriates who were already non-resident of Australia when the changes were announced on 9 May 2017, should continue to be able to access the absence concession regardless of where they reside; and
  • all persons should be able to access the partial CGT exemption for at least that part of the ownership period during which they lived in the property and were resident of Australia.

We believe that the flaws in this Bill are an oversight that will be rectified once these problems are better understood. In our experience most Australians living abroad who keep their home in Australia do pay taxes and continue to contribute to the Australian economy.

If the Government wishes to persist with the change of law to only permit CGT exemptions for those who are tax resident in Australia –  then they should ensure that they are fair to the thousands of Australians who have moved overseas (most of whom will return) but who have retained their former homes in Australia.

Final submissions are now being requested and we strongly recommend that interested parties make a submission on this inequitable change.

You can contact your local member of parliament and forward this blog.

If you are concerned about the unfairness of this change submissions can be made to.

Committee Secretariat contact:

Senate Standing Committees on Economics
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: +61 2 6277 3540
Fax: +61 2 6277 5719
economics.sen@aph.gov.au

Extract from Explanatory Memorandum to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 2) Bill 2018

Example 1.2 — Main residence exemption denied

Vicki acquired a dwelling in Australia on 10 September 2010, moving into it and establishing it as her main residence as soon as it was first practicable to do so. On 1 July 2018 Vicki vacated the dwelling and moved to New York. Vicki rented the dwelling out while she tried to sell it. On 15 October 2019 Vicki finally signs a contract to sell the dwelling with settlement occurring on 13 November 2019. Vicki was a foreign resident for taxation purposes on 15 October 2019. The time of CGT event A1 for the sale of the dwelling is the time the contract for sale was signed, that is 15 October 2019. As Vicki was a foreign resident at that time she is not entitled to the main residence exemption in respect of her ownership interest in the dwelling. Note:

This outcome is not affected by:

• Vicki previously using the dwelling as her main residence; and

• the absence rule in section 118-145 that could otherwise have applied to treat the dwelling as Vicki’s main residence from 1 July 2018 to 15 October 2019 (assuming all of the requirements were satisfied).

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