Key tax issues you need to consider before (not after) you move abroad

John Marcarian   |   24 Jan 2023   |   4 min read

Moving abroad is one of the most challenging things that many of us will do.

My move to Singapore in March 2004 was a completely foreign experience in so many respects. There are so many logistical challenges to deal with that often tax planning is left until you arrive.

This of course is way too late.

This article covers some issues to address ahead of time.

Exit Taxes

An example of an issue that frequently arises is the issue of ‘exit tax’; that is, the act of leaving one country may trigger the deemed sale of all your assets held in your home country. 

Hence, it pays to know if the country you are leaving has an ‘exit tax’ as this can have quite serious consequences for you.

Tax Elections

It is also worth considering whether you can exercise any ‘tax elections’ as to how you may be able to obtain concessional tax treatment as you depart your home country.

For example, in Australia, one of the things to consider depending upon the particular asset, is whether you choose to be treated for tax purposes as ‘retaining some of your assets’.

Though you may move abroad, that does not mean that all your assets need to go with you.

Lodging an election to retain some of your assets for tax purposes in your home country, may give you a bit more flexibility as to the tax treatment available when you decide to sell them.

Creating a Trust in a 3rd Country

For a number of reasons, including tax planning, asset protection and risk mitigation, many people wish to hold their assets in a third country, through some type of trust.

Part of the planning you may choose to do before your move to a new country, is considering whether you should establish a pre migration trust in a 3rd country before you move to the country where you will work.

Often this will lead to a better tax outcome than ‘taking all your assets’ with you.

Many countries do not have tax regimes which tax foreign trusts, and therefore, income accumulating therein is not taxable in the country of your tax residence.

Tax Regime For Expats

In the planning phase of where you might go to work overseas, one important consideration is to consider whether the country you are moving to has a ‘concessional’ or ‘modified’ tax regime for expats.

Some countries, have particularly favourable tax regimes for expats.

As an example, some concessional tax regimes e.g., Japan, Belgium, Korea to name a few, may only tax expats on income arising in their country during the first five years of the expat’s tax residence in the country. 

These transitional rules are generally designed to provide an incentive to work in their country.

Other countries, such as the US, tax expats living in the US on passive income accruing in their home country structures.

Unique Residency Status

Another factor for you to consider when planning your move abroad, is the type of residency that you, the ‘departing expat’, will be taking up in your new country.

In some countries, there are unique residency statuses that can have different tax implications for you. 

An example of this includes the ‘temporary resident’ status in Australia.

This type of residence status imposes a different tax outcome as compared to general residence, and they can provide some additional flexibility in your tax position upon arrival.

Restructuring Your Existing Company or Trusts

It is vital to understand how your existing tax structures may have to be ‘restructured’ before you leave the country.

In some cases, a restructure may only involve changes to the office holders of a company or trustee of a trust.

For example, the residency of the trustee determines the residency status of a trust in Australia. 

If the intention is to keep the trust a tax resident of Australia, then this may be achieved simply with the resignation of the current trustee (the departing expat) and the appointment of another individual who will remain in Australia.

In other cases, it may be possible to issue or transfer shares to a family member to ensure that the company you have in your home country is not caught by the controlled foreign corporation rules when you arrive in your new country.

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