An Overview of the Singapore Double Tax Agreement

Boon Tan   |   19 Apr 2023   |   8 min read

Like many tax jurisdictions around the world, Singapore has a number of Double Tax Agreements in place to ensure the amount of effective tax that taxpayers pay on their worldwide income is limited to one jurisdiction only.

Double Tax Agreements are the legal framework outlining which tax jurisdiction has taxation rights over tax residents and income sourced in their jurisdiction. In practice, this typically ensures that the maximum tax a taxpayer pays is the tax payable in the jurisdiction with the higher tax rate.

Why Double Tax Agreements are Necessary

Double Tax Agreements are necessary to ensure that the income of a resident of one jurisdiction, that may be sourced in another jurisdiction, is not taxed twice. Without Double Tax Agreements, it would be possible for gross income to be taxed twice – once in the jurisdiction in which the taxpayer is a resident, and again in the jurisdiction in which the income was sourced. 

A Double Tax Agreement provides rules over whether the source country has taxation rights and limits tax rates for certain types of income. This can provide tax relief or limit the total tax payable in a higher taxing jurisdiction. The key benefit of Double Tax Agreements is that any foreign tax paid is treated as a tax credit against any tax assessment that the local country may assess.

Example of Taxation With Foreign Tax Credits

For example, imagine a corporate Singapore resident taxpayer earns $10,000 in Australia.

Let’s assume Australia taxes this at 30%, meaning the resident pays $3,000 in taxes.

Let’s assume Singapore also taxes this income at 17%, meaning the resident pays $1,700 in taxes.

This would leave the corporate taxpayer only $5,300 of their income after taxes.

A Double Tax Agreement helps prioritise who has taxing rights over this $10,000 income. In this example let’s say Australia, as the source country, has taxation rights. This means that the corporate taxpayer is still taxed the $3,000 in Australia. Singapore can still tax the taxpayer, however they allow a credit for the tax already paid in Australia. Since the Australian tax paid exceeds the tax payable in Singapore, they do not pay any additional taxes.

If the scenario was flipped and the company was an Australian resident corporation earning income in Singapore, Singapore would have initial taxation rights. The taxpayer would then pay $1,700 in Singapore taxes. The income could then be taxed in Australia, but the $1,700 already paid would be credited as tax already paid. This means the corporate taxpayer would only have to pay $1,300 in Australian tax so that they have paid a net total of $3,000, meeting Australia’s tax rate.

Tax Treaty with Australia

The Australia-Singapore Double Tax Agreement (DTA) gives tax relief to Australian and Singapore tax residents.

For Australian residents, the DTA covers income tax and petroleum resource rent tax relating to offshore profits.

For Singapore residents, the DTA covers income tax.

Under the DTA the foreign country is only able to tax interest income at 10%. This means that if a Singapore resident earns $1,000 interest income in Australia they will be taxed at the flat rate of 10% and pay $100 in tax. This is much lower than Australia’s usual foreign tax rate. In a similar vein, royalties and dividends have capped, flat rates of tax applied to them.

 Singapore Resident earning income in AustraliaAustralian Resident earning income in Singapore
Interest Income10%10%
Royalties10%10%
Dividend Income15%Exempt

The DTA limits profits of a business enterprise so that they can only be taxed in the country where the business operations are carried out, unless there is a permanent establishment in the other country. This ensures that incidental sales made in the other country are only taxed in the resident country.

An additional provision in the DTA recognises that Singapore authorities may reduce tax payable by a non-resident on interest and royalties to NIL. To ensure the non-resident receives the benefit of this provision, Australia still credits the taxpayer as if they had paid the agreed flat tax rate in Singapore.

Example of where certain income types are taxed

Type of IncomeWhere it is Taxed
Income from Fixed PropertyThe country where the property is situated
Business ProfitsThe country where the enterprise carries out their business
Profits from Shipping and Air TransportThe country where the enterprise carries out their operations
DividendsThe country where the dividends arise. Dividends can be taxed in Singapore as well unless there is a foreign-source dividend exemption
InterestThe country where the interest arises
RoyaltiesThe country where the royalty arises
Personal & Professional Services (Including Director’s Fees)The state where the individual is a resident unless the services are carried out in the other country
Income from Alienation of PropertyThe state where the property is situated
Pension and AnnuityThe state where the individual is a resident
Remuneration paid by the GovernmentTaxed by the government of the country
Payments to Students and TraineesTaxed in the country of residence

Tax Treaty with USA

Singapore does not have a Tax Treaty with the USA.

This means that taxpayers who are a resident in one of these countries and earn income in the other could be taxed in both countries.

Both the US and Singapore have unilateral exclusions or foreign tax credit policies in place which help ensure that double taxation is reduced or eliminated.

Tax Treaty with the UK

The Singapore-UK DTA ensures that a foreign resident of either country is allowed tax credits against any tax paid against income derived from the other country.

For UK residents the taxes covered are income tax, corporation tax, and capital gains tax.

For Singapore residents the taxes covered are income taxes.

Example of where certain income types are taxed

Type of IncomeWhere it is Taxed
Income from Fixed PropertyThe country where the property is situated
Business ProfitsThe country where the enterprise carries out their business
Profits from Shipping and Air TransportTaxed in the operator’s country of residence
Dividends15% or 5% where the beneficial owner controls at least 10% of voting power. Singapore tax exemption is given for foreign dividends and dividends paid to non-residents. This is subject to conditions being met. 
Interest(1) Interest arising in a Contracting State and paid to a resident of the other Contracting State may be taxed in that other State.(2) However, such interest may also be taxed in the Contracting State in which it arises and according to the laws of that State, but if the recipient is the beneficial owner of the interest, the tax charged shall not exceed 10% of the gross amount of the interest in any other case.
Royalties(1) Royalties arising in a Contracting State and paid to a resident of the other Contracting State may be taxed in that other State.(2) However, such royalties may also be taxed in the Contracting State in which they arise and according to the laws of that State, but if the recipient is the beneficial owner of the royalties the tax charged shall not exceed 10% of the gross amount of the royalties in any other case.
Personal & Professional Services (Including Director’s Fees)The country where the individual is a resident, subject to certain situations
Employment IncomeThe country where the employment is exercised, subject to certain conditions
Pension and AnnuityThe state where the individual is a resident
Remuneration paid by the GovernmentTaxed by the government of the country unless the official is a permanent resident or citizen of the country where the services are performed.
Payments to Students and TraineesExempt from tax in the visiting country where they are pursuing their education or training.
Payments to Visiting Teachers or ResearchersExempt from tax in the visiting country where they are offering teaching services or conducting research

The Impact of Singapore’s Double Tax Agreements

Double Tax Agreements can vary country to country. This means it is important to look for the specific provisions of the relevant countries in relation to any income earned from the foreign country.

The primary relief offered by DTAs is the provision for foreign tax paid to be deemed a tax credit against any tax assessment in the country of residence.

Additional relief can be found through limits on taxation rates on the foreign source income, exemptions from taxation in the foreign country, tiebreaker rules on determining residency, and other concessions.

Where no Double Tax Agreement exists, Singapore typically applies a unilateral foreign tax credit towards foreign tax that has been paid on any foreign income that is assessable in Singapore. 

Understanding and applying the relevant provisions will help ensure there are limits on the total tax you pay on foreign income.

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What You Need to Know if You Have a Trust and are Moving Abroad

John Marcarian   |   3 Apr 2023   |   8 min read

Many private clients heading to abroad may already have a trust in their home country or a 3rd Country.

Historically trusts have been attractive vehicles because they offer people the potential of protecting their wealth from external attacks, but it can also help lower the burden of taxation on a family group.

For those who do not have a trust as yet but who are considering establishing a trust, a great deal of thought and planning needs to go into it.

We make sure our clients understand the four golden rules of setting up a trust:

  1. Ensure the bank or financial advisory firm managing your money does not own the trustee company that will be the trustee of your trust. This prevents a conflict of interest.
  2. Understand how you can unwind the trust arrangement.
  3. Recognise that long-term solutions require tax contingency planning before you sign on the dotted line. As your residency can change, so can your tax position.
  4. Make sure you understand how you can access trust income and/or capital to pay taxes that may become due on the gains of the trust.

Before delving into some further issues associated with trust management, I will cover just a few central points about how trusts work for those who may not have worked with trusts.

How Trusts Work

A trust is an arrangement whereby a trustee has a fiduciary obligation to deal with property over which they have control for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries who are able to enforce such an obligation.

Beneficiaries may be individuals, corporations, or indeed other trusts (such as a charitable trust).

All trusts have a trust deed. 

At a high level, this is a document that outlines the rules that the trustee must follow in relation to the property they control.

Common objectives for utilising trusts are to protect assets and ensure that beneficiaries are deable to benefit financially from the trust in a manner that suits the family group and in accordance with the wishes of the settlor of the trust.

The discretionary trust is the most common trust used by business owners and investors. 

They are generally set up to hold family and/or business assets for the benefit of providing asset protection and tax-planning benefits for family members.

The Trust Deed: Its Importance

The trust deed is the most important document of a trust as it establishes and defines terms and conditions upon which the trust must be operated and managed.

More specifically, the trust deed sets out the beneficiaries of the trust, as well as the end date of the trust and the conditions upon which the trustee holds the property for the beneficiaries.

Actions undertaken outside the provisions set out in the trust deed can be deemed by a court of appropriate jurisdiction to be null and void. 

The implications of an action being null, and void can reach further than the act simply being treated as if it did not occur.

An invalid act of a trustee can result in unwanted taxation implications for the trustee, and a breach of the trustee’s duties can lead to personal liability for damages or alternatively unwanted consequences for beneficiaries.

The best approach in dealing with trust management and planning is to treat every trust deed as unique and therefore refer to the provisions in the deed prior to taking any action.

How Are Trusts Taxed?

While a trust is regarded as a taxpayer in some countries (e.g., Australia), in other countries this is not the case. 

In some countries, the beneficiary is taxed on gains accruing in the trust; in others, it is the original settlor who suffers the tax burden.

Changing Residency With a Trust

One aspect of trust management and planning to get right when you have a trust is to ensure that assets are not unwittingly ‘exported’ into certain tax jurisdictions when you change your tax residency status.

If you want to set up a trust, then before you move to a particular country it is important to understand how a trust determines its residency status under the laws of that country.

In Australia, a trust is regarded as a tax resident of Australia if one of the trustees is a tax resident of Australia. 

However, in other jurisdictions, the concept of central management and control of the trust is used to determine the residency status of the trust.

It is important to work through all the residency aspects likely to impact your trust when you move around with an existing trust.

The key point to note is that it can be a useful exercise to transfer assets from an individual to a trust prior to changing residency and heading overseas. 

However, like most things, this strategy has its pros and cons.

Trusts Heading Overseas: Residency Determination

In the Australian context, where an individual trustee of an Australian trust changes residence, then, often, the trust will also change its residence.

In these cases, you need to make sure that when the trustee changes its residence, the tax consequences are identified.

Before you depart you need to consider whether it is beneficial to you and your family for the trust to stay a resident in your home country where it was established or if it makes sense for the trust to move with you to your new country.

If the immediate and ongoing tax consequences of keeping the trust in its particular form are not advantageous to you then we can discuss alternative strategies with you.

Such strategies may include replacing the trustee of the trust with a company that is domiciled in the jurisdiction to which you are moving and make the trust subject to the laws of that jurisdiction. 

In other situations, it may be more appropriate for a replacement trustee to be appointed in a third jurisdiction and have the trust reside in a 3rd country.

The purpose of the discussion here is to highlight the fact that planning for a departing trust is very important.

Our approach to this area is to recognise that trusts are long-term family vehicles, and just because a client may move to a new country, it does not mean that they should have to wind up their trust and forgo all the benefits that it has provided them.

Given our international tax and trust knowledge, we will be able to help our client make important decisions such as this.

Trusts Arriving Abroad

Moving around the world while being in control of trusts is complicated and should not be done lightly.

Arriving in another country with a trust and no plan is a recipe for disaster.

Where a new individual client has changed their residence and they are the trustee of a foreign trust, it is clear that this trust is also likely to become a resident of the arrival country.

In other cases, even if the client ceases being the trustee before they change their residence specific jurisdictions tax income on ‘pre-migration transfer of assets’ to foreign trusts. 

It is also likely that the trust deed may need a review as some of its definitions and terms may have no meaning in the new country the trust is being exported to.

Even if the trust is residing in a 3rd country, a review of the trust deed from the perspective of the laws of the new country is warranted.

Other concepts, which might be recognised abroad, such as ‘community title’, might be used in the trust deed, but these concepts might have no application in the arrival country.

The arriving trust may still have reporting obligations in the country in which it was established. 

It may also be the case that there are foreign protectors or other people who have an ongoing role in the management of the trust.

You should consider how they are affected in terms of reporting based on the country you are moving to.

This is particularly important if the arriving trust has a business or significant assets.

Often, the cost base of trust assets must be understood on the day the trust first enters a new country.

Usually this will be the market value of the assets on the day of the trust’s arrival, but not always.

While your move abroad is an exciting time for most people and full of challenges and new opportunities, considering the tax issues of how your trust would be affected by your move is essential.

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