Infinity recently hosted a webinar on tax planning for Australian expats in partnership with the SMATS Group. Matt Heron, General Manager of Global Operations and Pau Lam, Director of Taxation gave us the lowdown on tax planning for Australian expats. In our previous post we summarised the advice they had for expats while they are living abroad.
But what about if you are returning to Australia? That brings a whole set of new considerations into play that you really need to think about in advance of your return. Here are the main elements of your financial planning that should be taken into account if you are an Aussie heading home after a stint overseas.
- Plan ahead
It is advisable to talk to a professional tax adviser at least 12 months in advance of your return to ensure that you are approaching the move in the best way.
- Value all overseas assets when you move
Ensure that you obtain valuations of all overseas assets and employee shares on or as close as possible to your date of return to Australia because the market value at that time will serve as a cost base for the calculation of capital gains if/when you sell later down the line.
- Sort out past benefits before you return
If you have past benefits outstanding related to your employment abroad, such as ongoing leave or a termination payment for your job overseas, it is best to receive all payments prior to your return. Get everything paid and transferred before you leave to avoid any complications with the Australian tax authorities. Any income received before arriving back in Australia is classed as personal savings and remains tax-free whereas foreign payments received after your return could be deemed foreign income and be liable for tax.
- Cash in tax credits
Expats can accumulate tax credits on Australian properties if an asset costs them more than it earned in the tax year. This is a common tax mitigation strategy used by Australians living abroad to reduce their tax burden once they return. Debt is kept high and cash redirected towards other investments in an expat-specific version of negative gearing. Once you return to Australia and are resident, these credits can be used to offset income tax or CGT and add up to significant tax savings, sometimes over a number of years.
- Reconsider superannuation
Superannuation is not the best vehicle for the savings of Australian expats living abroad but should be reconsidered once you are living back on Australian soil. If you are cashing out a retirement fund overseas and repatriating funds or other lump sums you may want to put these into a superannuation fund. Your financial planner can help you work out the most advantageous strategy for you.
Lump sum payments into Australia are not taxable and foreign pension funds transferred into Australia within six months of expats moving back home maybe tax free. One exemption to this is a Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) from Hong Kong. The Australian tax authorities view this as an investment fund rather than a retirement fund (because expats leaving Hong Kong can withdraw a lump sum earlier than retirement age) so earnings on the fund are taxable although the contributions themselves are not. Strategies are available to expats repatriating to Australia from Hong Kong but you are strongly advised to seek professional advice on this.
- Reduce housing debt
While it can be advantageous to keep debt high while living overseas to accumulate tax credits, as soon as you are back in Australia you will want to minimise debt, paying off your primary residence as quickly as you can as this will be one of your biggest costs of living.
- If you sell your previous place of residence wait until you are home
Given the legislation change brought in on 30th June removing the exemption on capital gains tax on a main home for non-residents, it makes sense to wait until you are permanently resident back in Australia to sell a previous place of residence in order to avoid punitive CGT.
- Assess need to retain negative gearing
If you are returning to Australia with a view to retiring in the near future, you don’t want to remain in a negative gearing state. Take a careful look at your financial plan to start paying down debt in the run up to retirement.
To sum up, Australian tax is very specific to the individual and while the experience of others may be useful as a general guide, the approach that is best for your friend or colleague may not be suitable for you. It really is essential to seek professional advice on financial planning and tax issues, especially when relocating, to ensure that the strategies that you implement are the most advantageous ones for your personal circumstances. Why not give us a call and speak to the experts?
Infinity would like to thank Matt Heron and Pau Lam for the information provided during this webinar. The SMATS Group are international leaders in providing Australian taxation, ﬁnance and property investment services to Australian expatriates, foreign investors and intended migrants. No other company offers the same range of services, accessibility, global expertise and experience. Please note that this information is of a general nature. Always seek professional advice relating to your individual circumstances before making major financial decisions. If you need further information regarding your Australian tax planning please get in touch with your Infinity financial adviser who will be happy to put you in touch with an expert from the SMATS Group.
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