Expanding To The USA: Your Payroll Tax Obligations

John Marcarian   |   28 Sep 2023   |   3 min read

The US has similar payroll tax requirements to Australia. From withholding taxes on wages, to payment of payroll taxes assessed on wages paid, and lodgement of employee forms, there is a range of compliance requirements that your company must fulfill.

There are a wide variety of payroll tax considerations, including tax withholding and taxes payable on the amount of wages. These taxes are levied to fund social security, Medicare, unemployment and disability benefits, and other State and Local requirements.

Withholding Taxes

  • Employers are responsibility for withholding taxes from wages and paying this to the Federal government.
  • Some States also require withholding taxes to be withheld in relation to the income taxes on employee wages.
  • Employers must typically make regular payroll tax deposits and file quarterly payroll tax returns with the IRS.
  • State and Local tax agencies often have their own reporting and payment requirements.
  • Withholding taxes go towards the individual employee’s income tax obligations.

Payroll Tax Requirements

Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) Taxes

  • Funds social security and Medicare.
  • Social security tax rate is 6.2% for the employee plus 6.2% for the employer.
  • Medicare tax rate is 1.45% for the employee plus 1.45% for the employer.
  • Additional Medicare is payable at 0.9% for the employee when their wages exceed $200,000 in a year.

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) Taxes

  • Funds state workforce agencies and unemployment insurance.
  • FUTA is payable by the employer and is calculated at 6% on the first $7,000 paid to each employee.
  • Payment of state unemployment taxes can often be used as a tax credit to bring the FUTA tax rate down to as low as 0.6%.

State Payroll Taxes

  • State Payroll Taxes may apply depending on the location of your business.
  • The most common State tax is State Unemployment Tax (SUTA), which is payable by the employer.

Local Payroll Taxes

  • Additional payroll taxes may be payable based on the zip code, county or municipality where your business is located.

Employee Forms

  • At commencement of employment, employees fill out a Form W-4. This guides employers on how much income tax to withhold.
  • At the end of each year, employers must provide employees with Form W-2, which reports the employee’s annual wages and tax withholdings.
  • On commencing employment, employers are required to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the US. This is typically done through the I-9 Form.

Other Payroll Considerations

  • Workers Compensation Insurance
  • State Disability Insurance
  • Paid Leave
  • Health Care Costs for Employees
  • Retirement Plan Contributions 
  • Reimbursements and Stipends

Penalties For Missed Or Late Payments

The IRS may charge a late fee for employment taxes that are not paid on time. This is called a “Failure to Deposit Penalty”.

Payroll tax penalties are:

  • 1-5 days late: 2% of the overdue payment
  • 6-15 days late: 5% of the overdue payment
  • Over 15 days late: 10% of the overdue payment
  • More than 10 days from first notice: 15% of overdue payment

Other Employee Benefits

Other Employee Benefits you may be required, or choose, to pay, can include:

Retirement Plans

One of the tax advantageous retirement savings plans is known as a 401(k). Under this plan you would pay a percentage of each paycheck into your employee’s retirement savings account instead of directly to them.

Health Insurance

Employers must offer affordable health insurance that provides minimum value of 95% to full time employees (working 30hrs or more a week) and their children (until they turn 26).

Stock and Stock Options

Stock and stock options can be offered as a form of equity compensation.

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Expanding To The USA: Understanding Corporate Taxation – Federal, State & Local

John Marcarian   |   20 Sep 2023   |   4 min read

The US has a complex tax system, with multiple taxes, including income taxes, often being imposed on a State level as well as a Federal level. Some types of taxes also apply locally, meaning that even within the same State you can pay very different taxes to other parts of the State.

  • The US Corporate tax system operates on a Federal, State and Local system. This means taxes and other compliance costs may be charged from all three levels.
  • Filing requirements, lodgement deadlines, and available deductions or credits often differ between locations.
  • Due to the complexity of Local variances, compliance with the Local tax laws requires specialised Local knowledge for the area or areas in which your business operates.
  • To optimise your corporate tax strategy, it is recommended that you consult with experienced tax professionals who have a Local understanding of US taxes, as well as international taxes.
  • Tax returns are typically based on a calendar year.

Choosing Your State

Since every State has different laws, it can be important to select the right State for your business operations. You will be required to register in every State that you operate in, however if you have no particular business requirement for which State or States you operate in, then it can be advantageous to select a State that has more well known and simple tax laws.

For instance, Delaware has no state income tax, a fairly straight forward tax system, and well-known corporate laws across the US.

Types of Taxes

Income Taxes (Federal And State)

  • The Federal tax rate for companies is 21% 
  • 44 States levy corporate income taxes. These taxes vary from 0% to 11.5%, with some states assessing taxes on a flat rate and others using tax brackets in the same manner that individual income taxes are assessed.
  • 43 States levy state income taxes, 41 tax wage and salary income, New Hampshire exclusively taxes dividend and interest income and Washington only taxes capital gains income. Seven states don’t impose any individual income taxes. Some states use a flat income tax rate, while others have a graduated tax rate depending on the individual’s income.

Sales Taxes (State And Local)

  • Sales taxes are similar to GST or VAT in certain parts of the world. However, as sales taxes are only imposed on a State level, the rates vary between 0% and 7.25% depending on the State.
  • There are also various Local governments within 35 States that impose an additional sales or use tax, which ranges from 1% to 5%.

Property Taxes (State And Local)

  • Local authorities such as cities, counties, and school boards, typically impose property taxes on the value of the property, including the land and the structure on the land.
  • Each State imposes different parameters on property taxes.
  • Property taxes can also be payable on purchase and/or sale of property.
  • Most States have a “homestead” exemption which reduces or eliminates the cost of property tax on your primary residence, subject to a variety of qualifications or limits, which vary State to State, or even within States.

Payroll Taxes (Federal, State And Local)

  • Federal payroll tax is paid by both the employer and the employee.
  • Some States and Local authorities also require some form of payroll tax to be paid. The most common type is State Unemployment Insurance (SUTA tax), which is payable by the employer.

Franchise Of Privilege Tax (For Doing Business In A State)

  • Some States require certain business organisations to pay a franchise tax, otherwise known as a privilege tax, for doing business in the State.
  • This tax is typically calculated on the net worth of capital held by the entity.
  • Some States use an economic and physical presence test to determine whether a business is taxed, while others have no written interpretation of the basis of their test for determining who is required to pay the franchise tax.

Gross Receipts Tax (State)

  • Some States apply a gross receipts tax on a company’s gross sales, without consideration of deductions for expenses.
  • Gross receipts tax applies to businesses, regardless of whether sales relate to business-to-business transactions or business-to-consumer transactions.

Business Licenses (State, Local, With Some Federal Regulations)

  • Business licences or permits may be required on a Federal, State, or Local level.
  • Business licenses can take some time to be processed, and they should be completed prior to commencing operations. The complexity of the application depends on your industry, as well as the locality managing the license.
  • Licences and permits typically need to be renewed on a regular basis.

Due to the complexity of the wide variety of Local, State, and Federal taxes, it is important that you obtain qualified advice regarding your business. If your business expands into additional locations you will need to get updated advice regarding the new location in which you are operating.

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Expanding To The USA: Choosing A Legal Structure For Your Business

John Marcarian   |   14 Sep 2023   |   4 min read

Expanding to the US means you are entering a complex tax system. From international tax concerns, to different Local, State, and Federal requirements, there are many factors to consider. The type of legal structure you choose will impact your compliance and tax considerations obligations.

Type Of Entities

C Corporation (C Corp)

  • Separate Legal Entity that works like an Australian private company does.
  • Offers some asset protection due to legal structure.
  • Taxed at the corporate level and when profits are distributed as dividends, these are taxed in the hands of shareholders.
  • Has Directors, shareholders (stockholders) and a separate tax identity to the shareholders.
  • Federal income tax rate is currently 21%. State income taxes may also apply.
  • In some instances dividends may have a reduced withholding rate of 5% when paid to foreign shareholders.
  • Allows for capital raising, new shareholders or selling the business completely by selling shareholdings to new investors.
  • High compliance requirements including meetings, quorums, minutes, and other management formalities.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

  • This is a simplified form of a company. In operation it is similar to an Australian partnership where control is in the hands of the members and profits flow through to the owners rather than being taxed at the entity level.
  • Provides similar protection, and more flexibility than a C Corp.
  • LLCs are not managed by Directors. They are managed by the members or an appointed Manager.
  • It is possible for an LLC to have a sole member.
  • Members do not need to be US residents.
  • Tax returns need to be filed if there are two or more members, however the profits are distributed to the members who pay tax on their share of the profits.
  • Can elect to be taxed as a C Corporation instead of being taxed in the hands of the members.
  • Can elect how profits are distributed to members. For instance, profits may be split equally between members, based on capital contributions, or in other agreed ways.
  • If foreign tax is paid on the profits to an Australian member, they can claim the foreign tax paid as a tax credit on their own assessment of profit distribution received.

Branch (No New Entity)

  • No separate legal entity, meaning Australian entity is directly responsible for tax and compliance requirements.
  • Branch profits may be subject to US tax as well as Australian tax, depending how the branch is established in the US. In this instance the Australian company can typically claim the foreign tax paid as credits to reduce the impact of double taxation.
  • As there is no additional entity there may be less compliance issues to consider with transferring profits from the US to Australia. 
  • Whether you need to establish a US entity or not, will depend on the nature of the business you are operating.

Taxation Issues To Consider With Your Chosen Legal Structure

Both Australian and US tax laws need to be considered regardless of the legal structure used to establish the US business operations. International tax issues will also need to be considered where members, Directors or owners remain residents of Australia.

Australian Taxation

  • If the US entity is controlled in Australia it may be treated as an Australian tax resident.
  • The Australian parent company will need to consider how the fees paid between the US and the Australian entities are taxed in Australia.
  • US generally imposes a 30% withholding tax on payments to foreign entities.

US Taxation

  • The US may tax income earned from any business established in the US, regardless of whether the operating company is a US or Australian resident.
  • Australian resident members or Directors may be subject to US taxes before considering Australian taxes on income generated from the US branch or entity.

Fees Between Entities

  • US transfer pricing rules require transactions between related parties to be at arm’s length. This means that the value of fees may be adjusted where it is not arm’s length.
  • Proper documentation is essential for consulting or management services between entities, including basis for fees charged. This can assist in ensuring that fees paid between the US and Australian entities are treated as required for tax purposes.
  • Fees must be ordinary and necessary business expenses in order to be tax deductible to the paying entity.

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Expanding To Dubai: What You Need To Know When You Are Ready To Expand Your Business

John Marcarian   |   31 Aug 2023   |   8 min read

Planning a move overseas is a big step, no matter where you are going. There are different social expectations, legal rules, business regulations, tax requirements, and more to figure out.

You need to determine whether you or a key team member is going to make the physical move to head up the overseas expansion, and facilitate this move to be as smooth and efficient as possible. 

Then there are business decisions such as deciding whether to set up a brand-new company, or trade overseas directly under your head company. While there are too many factors to consider in one article, and it is essential to get tailored advice for your situation, you can get a head start by considering an overview of the key concepts that you will need to cover.

1. Operation Zones

Companies in Dubai can choose to operate as free zone companies, offshore companies, or Mainland companies. This decision will have an impact on where you can do business.

If Dubai is going to be your hub for regional or international commerce, then a free zone entity may be the best option. This is because Free Zone Companies can only operate within their Free Zone and abroad, not on the mainland. However, if you are intending to provide goods and services to the UAE, then a Mainland firm would be the required option.

Free Trade Zone Company

There are over 40 zones throughout the UAE that are Free Trade Zones. These zones have special tax, customs, and import regimes. Businesses operating within these Free Trade Zones may be exempt from paying corporate tax as well as import and export taxes. However, they are restricted from doing business with the Mainland.

Mainland

A Mainland business can be set up in Dubai or any other emirates, so they can operate in the UAE as well as internationally.

Offshore Company

If your company is incorporated in the UAE offshore, you can operate with minimal capital requirements and operate on an international basis.

2. Income Taxes

From June 2023 all companies operating in the UAE under a commercial licence are taxed after the first 375,000 AED of their net profits. The tax is charged at a flat rate of 9% and only applies to the profits above this first 375,000 AED. This makes it one of the more appealing corporate tax rates in the world.

Note that Free Trade Zone companies may continue to be exempt from paying corporate tax under their specific free zone incentives. 

In line with the Global Minimum Corporate Tax Rate agreement, multinational firms with profits exceeding EUR 750 million, will have to pay 15% tax. 

From June 2023 businesses operating under the new rules now need to register with the Federal Tax Authority and lodge tax returns for the business on an annual basis.

3. VAT and Excise Tax

Since 2018 a goods and services tax, or a value-add tax, known as VAT, has been applicable at a flat rate of 5%.

There are some exclusions to which items incur VAT, including exports of goods and services, international transportation, some education and healthcare services, investment-grade precious metals, and new construction of residential properties. Some Free Trade Zeons are also exempt from paying VAT for trade within their zones. 

In 2017 the UAE implemented an excise tax. This is an indirect tax that is imposed on goods that are considered to be harmful to either personal health or the environment. This includes a 50% tax on carbonated drinks and a 100% tax on energy drinks and tobacco products.

4. Employer Responsibilities

As an employer you are responsible for paying your employees under the local employment rules and regulations. There are a range of responsibilities that you are required to cover for your employees, including:

  • Paying wages in accordance with local laws and regulations. This includes proper job documentation, conditions of labour, and paying wages on time. As there is no individual income tax there is no tax withholding regime to consider.
  • Providing health insurance for employees. This is a compulsory requirement for all employers.
  • Under UAE law the employer is responsible for paying the travel and recruitment costs, including entry visa, of any employee they are recruiting or moving to the UAE.

5. Moving To Dubai When Expanding Your Business

A visa residency through employment is required for any individual moving to Dubai for work purposes. Note that it is the employer’s responsibility to organise and pay for an employment Visa.

The standard work Visa lasts for two years. This requires an employer sponsor to confirm employment in Dubai.  

A “Green Visa” is applicable for freelancers or self-employed individuals. This requires specialised educational qualifications and evidence of your annual income to prove financial solvency. This Visa is for five years.

Finally, the “Golden Visa” is a residency permit that allows foreigners to live, work, or study in the UAE for 10 years without a sponsor. Investors, entrepreneurs, and more can apply for this Visa. This Visa also allows the immediate family to be sponsored so they can move to Dubai as well.

It is also important that individuals moving to Dubai are aware of local expectations, laws, and requirements, which may be vastly different from your home country.

6. Other Business Responsibilities

As with running a business in any other location, there are essential rules, regulations, licensing, and other requirements that your business needs to be aware of as part of your setup and operation.  Some of these are listed below.

Bank Account

It can take two to four weeks to open a bank account for commercial purposes. While the required documents vary according to the bank and the type of account you open, the Business Manager will need to have their own residency visa in order before you apply.

Trade Licence

Every business that operates in the UAE must have a trade licence, or a business licence. This may be a commercial licence, a professional licence, or an industrial licence, depending on your business activity.

Business Entity

You can set up your business as a sole proprietorship, an LLC company, or a branch office. If operating from a Free Trade Zone your business can be 100% foreign-owned.

7. Double Tax Agreements (DTAs)

The UAE is expanding their list of DTAs throughout the countries of the world in order to facilitate strategic global partnerships. These agreements help ensure that the consequences of being taxed in multiple tax jurisdictions is mitigated via exemptions or reductions in taxation on investments from profits.

While the USA does not have a DTA with the UAE, there is currently a DTA between the UAE and Singapore, as well as the UAE and the UK. Australia is in the process of establishing a DTA with the UAE. 

8. Property Taxes

Although there is no capital gains tax or inheritance tax in the UAE, there is a transfer charge on the transfer of property within the UAE. The rate of charge varies in each Emirate, with a 4% charge applying in Dubai. This transfer fee is typically paid by the buyer of the property.

9. Rental Tax

Although there is no individual income tax in Dubai, there is a rental tax. The tax on rental properties varies between Emirates. In Dubai commercial tenants pay 10% and residential tenants pay 5%. In some locations citizens are exempt from the rental tax.

Foreigners In The UAE

As there is no income tax for individuals, both residents and non-residents of the UAE are not required to lodge an income tax return in the UAE.

However, if you remain a resident of your home country then you will need to lodge a tax return in your country of residence, and this may require the inclusion of income earned from the UAE.

Depending on how your business in the UAE is set up, you may also be required to report this income as foreign income in a local company tax return.

Local Taxation Experts

As there is no individual income tax and corporate tax is new to the UAE, there may be limited access to accountants, and limited experience with the UAE tax regime on a local level.  

It is therefore especially important to seek the advice of International Tax Experts who can help you navigate the new requirements in Dubai, as well as the impact of doing business across multiple borders.

CST have been assisting Australian and expat clients for over 30 years. Helping businesses to set up overseas and connect with local tax experts is an essential part of the support we offer clients around the globe. With the UAE now introducing a corporate tax into their tax regime it is more important than ever that you get the right advice for your expansion into Dubai. 

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Dubai: A Popular Choice For Expanding Your Business

John Marcarian   |   28 Jul 2023   |   4 min read

In today’s world we have incredible opportunities to build our business beyond our own shores and reach into expansive international markets. Indeed, the number of expats is growing so fast that if all the expats were members of a country, it would be one of the fastest growing countries in the world.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the most popular destinations for expats. As of 2023 the UAE is called home by approximately 10.2 million people. A staggering 85% of the individuals who comprise that population, are expats. When you look at why Dubai is an attractive market for businesses, it’s not hard to see why this temptation to join the shores of the UAE is hard to pass.

In this article we’ll look at the appeal of Dubai as a destination to expand your business to, and what you need to know when you’re ready to expand your business to Dubai.

The Appealing Business Market of Dubai

The simplified and diversified economy of Dubai makes it an attractive place to set up your international business. Some of the key reasons that Dubai is particularly appealing include:

1. Minimal Tax Regime In The UAE

One of the most appealing benefits of doing business in Dubai is a minimal tax regime. Company taxes are low and there is no income tax on individuals and no capital gains tax. 

2. Free Trade Zones

The UAE includes a number of Free Trade Zones, with about 20 located in Dubai. Free Trade Zones are geographical locations where people from any other country can come in and set up their international business, without requiring a local connection. Businesses located in Free Trade Zones can operate their business within their zone and internationally. Each Free Trade zone has their own rules, regulations and incentives. 

This differs from Mainland zones. Mainland Zones have more rigorous entry requirements, including local sponsorships, before your business can set up and operate. These Zones are regulated by the Department of Economic Development (DED). However, a business operating in a Mainland Zone is able to trade within the UAE, as well as internationally.

3. A Robust, Yet Simplified and Diversified Economy With A Strong Exchange Rate and Access To Resources

Balancing a safe and robust standard of governance, with minimal taxation responsibilities,       Dubai offers a world-class infrastructure and is well known as a world-class financial hub for business operations. The local economy is strong and the UAE has a solid exchange rate. 

As a popular location for expats around the world, there is also a rich and diverse supply of experience and professional skills on location. 

Furthermore, the local government is a strong advocate for developing ideas and facilitation of growth and progress. As a technologically advanced nation, Dubai also has access to significant beneficial resources.

4. Limited Restrictions and Regulations On Your Company

There is no restriction on capital repatriations. This means that your company can return any investments to foreign owners, without limitations. 

Share capital requirements are minimal, with no minimum amount of capital required for limited liability companies. This ensures that your company can be established with the flexibility to suit your purposes. 

Unlike many countries, there is no requirement to have a physical office established to operate in Dubai. 

Due to the minimal amount of regulations, when compared to other onshore jurisdictions the costs of setup in Dubai are low.

5. Geographically Ideal Location

Geographically, Dubai provides a strategic position for businesses looking to expand to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. As such it is an ideal location to set up a range of businesses including import/export, logistics, tourism, and more. 

For transportation, Dubai offers access to the largest sea and airports in the world.

6. Strong Connections With the Worldwide Economy and Worldwide Business Standards

The UAE has signed up with the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), as part of the global standard for the exchange of information, including allowing countries to exchange tax data between participants. This helps with the prevention of fraud, and aids in the management of business matters across international borders. 

In essence, Dubai is an appealing place to run a business because of the ease and convenience of doing business there, solid business standards, access to resources, and the simple and low tax regime that applies.

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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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Setting up or expanding your business overseas

John Marcarian   |   17 Mar 2023   |   11 min read

Setting up your business overseas is one of the most exciting things that many of us will do in our business career.

Not only are we, as business Founders or C Suite executives, moving with the business – but the idea that we are taking our business proposition to a new foreign market is a thrill and a bit daunting in many respects.

Establishing my business in Singapore in March 2004 was a completely foreign experience in so many respects. There were many logistical challenges to deal with including adjusting to a new business environment, a new regulatory regime and building a totally new market for our product and services.

For most of you setting up or moving a business you will be pre-occupied with establishing revenue earning operations.

This means that often tax and other planning is left until you arrive.

This, of course, is way too late.

This article covers some issues to address ahead of time.

Expecting The Unexpected

Make sure you really examine how to manage a number of common risks as you expand into your new markets including:

  • The real financial cost of expansion (it will take longer and cost a lot more to break even)
  • The cultural divide between domestic and foreign markets (get a copy of the book The Culture Map by Erin Meyer) which is to say that the way people understand communication and make decisions is often a major reason why the business will not succeed in the new location
  • Regulatory differentials between domestic and foreign markets (expect the approach of the regulator in your new country to be vastly different from your home country)

Setting Up Business

Planning your overseas expansion generally requires you working with your accountants in both countries for between six and twelve months before you head overseas.

One of the key things to understand is that if a subsidiary or a branch pays tax overseas there is some form of tax credit when profits are remitted to the parent company.

Sometimes the best country to pay tax in is where the majority of shareholders live. 

This is so that shareholders might be able to get a credit for tax paid by the company.

Foreign tax paid at the company level is generally not something that shareholders in another country get a tax credit for.

You need to spend some time thinking about the best form of business structure also. 

In my experience, while the main forms of business entities can vary from country to country, those countries with English common law regimes, generally have similar types of structures.

Many countries have structures that provide limited liability to owners but are treated as ‘flow-through’ vehicles for tax purposes, so only the owners are taxed. A classic example is a US LLC (limited liability company).

Other Tax Issues To Consider

Your focus should be on the key issues to consider on departure such as:

Issue 1: How does the foreign country tax system work?

In a number of countries, the US being a prime example, there can often be three levels of tax. For example, in New York, there is federal tax, state tax and city tax to contend with. In other countries like Hong Kong, foreign income is exempt from tax.

Issue 2: Transfer pricing issues

What transfer-pricing issues will you have to deal with. Having prices above or below market value for transactions between related companies is a major tax risk in the present global environment.

As an example, recently a prospective client in the global travel business told us that they had a ‘back office’ for their IT department in San Francisco. 

They then told us that their previous accountant had told them they did not have to worry about filing a US tax return – because the branch was not charging any expenses back to Australia and they were just covering their direct costs!

Great news, they thought, until we had to tell them that it was totally incorrect.

Upon a review of the facts of the case, it actually turned out that they had a ‘permanent establishment’ in the US. This gave them a US tax filing obligation.

The previous accountant also completely missed that transfer pricing rules demand that a market price be charged by the San Francisco office to the head office for the services being provided to head office.

Our client had no idea about these issues.

This is one of the challenges we regularly face when dealing with clients coming to us from domestic-only focused firms.

Firms that focus only on single country tax systems with little or no expertise in international tax, nonetheless, often seek to advise clients going overseas. 

Rather than admitting ‘they don’t know what they don’t know’ and looking to work with a specialist firm to get some outside help, they try to do it in-house.

Usually, this leads to expensive mistakes.

Issue 3: Using debt or equity to fund the foreign expansion

In using capital to start your foreign business, one of the key issues to consider is how to get money into your foreign business operation and then how to get profits out.

Many people are tempted to take the view that lending money into the foreign business is easier because it can be ‘repaid’ with little or no complexity. 

The general thinking being that money that goes in as a loan can come out as a loan, right? 

Well, it is not always that simple.

Many foreign countries have rules that require the payment of interest on inter-company loans.

Issue 4: How to send profits to the home country

Having considered how to fund your foreign business and make it profitable, the next question to think about is how profits can be remitted to your home country.

There are a number of techniques that can be used to send profits home. These include dividends, interest, or royalty payments. 

Other techniques include management fees and head office recharge. 

One of the issues to consider here, includes the likely imposition of a foreign withholding tax on payments out of the country. 

Planning profit repatriation is a key issue to consider.

Issue 5: Review your intercompany pricing model don’t assume

Many businesses – especially large American businesses adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Rather than take a country-by-country approach to looking at how to price transactions between group companies, larger businesses just assume they can apply a Group Policy across the board.

That is not acceptable in most advanced tax regimes.

Consider the real-life case study that I dealt with recently.

CabinetMaker Inc (not their real name)

‘We don’t do things that way’ was what the US-based CFO told me when I suggested they get an arm’s-length review of their ‘global transfer pricing model’ by an Australian transfer pricing specialist.

‘CabinetMaker Inc’, was supplying IT products and services from the US to Australia.

They decided that the Australian company would, ‘just like all other overseas subsidiaries’, receive an 8 per cent payment from the US office for the services it provided the US office from Australia.

A couple of months before, the CFO had called me following a referral from a US client.

Given we have a US–Australia tax specialisation, they called us to see if we would prepare their Australian income tax return for their sole Australian company.

The company in Australia had a ‘representative office’ function.

Its purpose was to source leads in the Australian market and then refer those leads to the US office to complete the sales process and the forming of the business relationship.

The US company was being very careful that what it did in Australia did not give it a ‘taxable presence’.

All reasonably standard stuff they thought.

When I asked how they arrived at the 8 per cent, they mentioned that they had a pricing model in Chicago.

They said that the ‘Chicago model’ was used globally to justify how 8 per cent was ‘payment enough’ for sourcing sales in Australia.

I persisted with a few questions, as follows:

Question 1:     Are Australian products sold in the marketplace at the same price as New Zealand?

A:                     No.

Question 2:     Are the costs of servicing sales in New Zealand the same as the cost of servicing sales in Australia?

A:                     No.

Question 3:     Have you done a review of what companies in Australia not owned by you might charge you for performing the same service?

A:                     No.

So, with three questions, I could see that CabinetMaker Inc. was relying on a home country pricing model developed with no understanding of the Australian market.

A fatal mistake to make when you are a new company expanding abroad.

I attempted to acquaint them with the realities of doing business away from the US.

They were in another country now and they had to adapt to the differences in the market.

Needless to say, when the CFO hit me with the comment, ‘I will take it to the Board of Directors and come back to you’, I heard nothing more from them.

The aftermath to the above is that recently a story broke in the Australian media that the company, a subsidiary of a US tech company, was being audited by the Australian Taxation Office.

The media reports noted that their transfer pricing practices were suspect.

The global giant failed to adapt its pricing model between group companies and did not want to listen to advice.

They did not want to unlearn what they thought they knew.

They persisted in trying to apply an overseas model without adapting to their new surroundings. 

As a result, their business practices were found wanting in Australia and abroad.

The above mistake is reasonably common; that is, companies expanding abroad believe they can bring their own way of doing business with them. 

Nine times out of ten that is incorrect.

When companies expand to a new country, it pays to go back to first principles, get proper advice and assume nothing. 

Adapting to your new surroundings is essential.

We understand that business owners and entrepreneurs require specific advice from experienced professional advisers in multiple jurisdictions and that a migration tax plan has to be prepared for a company – just as it does for an individual.

Examples Of Unintended Arrival

Example 1 

A foreign company establishes a branch in the arrival country.

This occurs when senior directors of a foreign company remain directors of the foreign company and they change their personal tax residence.

As is commonly the case, the directors continue to ‘run the foreign company’ from their new location. They often do this without realising that they have unwittingly brought the foreign company into the purview of their arrival country.

This triggers tax filing and other reporting obligations.

Example 2

Shareholders leave their home country to live abroad, and while they may not be directors of the foreign company, they remain nonetheless individual shareholders.

In this instance, many tax regimes will demand that tax be paid on the earnings of the foreign company as the profit belongs to the shareholders now living in their new country.

This tax exposure would arise by the ‘controlled foreign corporation’ legislation that many countries have.

If one or both of these unintended actions has occurred, then there is a need to value the assets of the company and understand the value of the shares in any foreign company.

Often, the ‘starting cost base’ of the company assets is relevant because that is the basis upon which future capital gains are calculated. 

Most clients miss this step unless properly advised.

Companies that ‘arrive’ on an unintentional basis now have two tax returns to do one in their home country and one in their arrival country!

Planned Arrivals

When we have an opportunity to work with clients ahead of their departure, we can plan how best to ‘move the company’.

Taking your business abroad is an exciting time for most people. Full of challenges and new opportunities, it is often a make-or-break time for a corporate group.

My view is that if you undertake a proper tax planning exercise covering some or all of the above issues before you leave, then the thrill of setting up your business overseas will not be overshadowed by unintended tax and business issues.

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Key tax issues you need to consider when arriving in a new country

John Marcarian   |   20 Feb 2023   |   3 min read

Similar to the need for you to plan your departing tax issues on the way out of your home country there is a major need to plan what your tax profile will be when you arrive in your new country. 

Sometimes, however, it is easy to assume that arriving in another country has no tax consequences and that can make things difficult.

A recent client example springs to mind.

David Smith (not his real name), an expat relocating from Singapore to the US (upon his retirement), decided to access his Australian superannuation fund.

What a mistake that was.

In Australia, pension payments for those over 60 years of age are tax free.

This is, however, not the case in the US.

David had worked out that he and his wife could afford to live in the US the way they envisaged, based on paying no US federal or state tax.

They were quite shocked when we told them that the US would tax David’s Australian-sourced pension stream.

It was not a great conversation.

Key Items To Consider

Set out below are some of the key things you need to consider ahead of your arrival:

  • Complying with the requirements of more than one tax jurisdiction (are tax credits available for any foreign tax paid?)
  • Accounting for a new tax and legal system (are you moving to a country that has a civil law regime or a common law regime?)
  • Understanding the tax issues associated with moving to the arrival country (does the country you are moving to have a general anti avoidance regime that targets tax planning?)
  • Considering how foreign assets are accounted for (is foreign income exempt or is it non-taxable there is a big difference between the two)
  • Locating other professional service providers to work with (do not assume your foreign tax advisor has international tax experience as this is often not the case)

How Will Your Assets Be Treated?

In some jurisdictions the moment you arrive in the country you are treated as having bought all your foreign assets at the market value of the date you became a tax resident.

This means that a ‘cost base’ has been established for your foreign assets.

Then when you sell those assets in future – a gain or loss can be worked out in relation to those assets. Australia is one such jurisdiction that treats your assets this way.

Other jurisdictions such as the US – do not give you this ‘step up’ in value.

This is a serious problem as you can end up paying a lot of tax to the Internal Revenue Service – based on the original cost of your assets which may have been many years ago.

This is grossly unfair, as most of any gain will have happened while you were a US non-resident – particularly if you sell the asset shortly after you arrive in the US (you may want to sell foreign assets to buy a house in the US for example!)

Your arrival must be carefully planned as the ramifications of an ill-prepared arrival can be costly. 

If you undertake a proper tax planning exercise before you leave, then the thrill of arriving in your new country is not shaken up by the bad news of unintended tax issues. 

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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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Planning what happens with your Pension Fund or Superannuation when moving abroad should be a top priority

John Marcarian   |   27 Oct 2022   |   4 min read

Most expats moving overseas will have some form of pension or superannuation plan.

In my experience changing one’s tax residence does not of itself impact how that pension plan is treated in most jurisdictions. However, some particular complex jurisdictions, like the United States of America, have egregious tax laws that often cause unintended consequences for arriving expatriates.

A US Example

One of my clients moving to the US was adversely affected by the international tax rules of the US with respect to foreign pensions. My client, Peter, had built up a sizeable superannuation (pension fund) balance in Australia. It was the product of 30 years working in the film and entertainment business. Over the previous ten years, Peter had been a senior executive working for a chain of movie theatres in Singapore. As such, international tax had not crossed his mind much. Peter and his wife, Helen, had grandchildren living in Santa Monica. They were keen to retire and enjoy the good life in a new location. Peter had calculated that he would be able to fund his future Santa Monica lifestyle through a combination of personal savings and by accessing his Australian pension. Everything was set.

Pension payments in Australia were tax free, so Peter thought that Uncle Sam would also not tax them. Unfortunately, that was not the case. In the US, such income streams are taxable if you are a US tax resident. We stopped Peter sending his pension to the US in the nick of time. We collapsed Peter’s Australian pension and enabled Peter to take his capital to the US and invest it in the US tax efficiently. Disaster averted.

This case study highlights why, in order to enjoy your pension, you must consider the impact of foreign tax laws when you are changing jurisdiction

Countries have different rules

In delivering service to clients, we consider the impact of any overseas move on their home country pension. The underlying motivation for establishing a pension fund is typically based on a desire to save funds for retirement so that there is no reliance on government pensions. 

Thus, it means that having the maximum amount available in the pension plan that is not eroded by taxation, is a primary objective. It is folly to think that a tax-advantaged regime in one country with respect to pension funds will axiomatically apply in another country. That is rarely the case.

Moving your Pension Plan

We have extensive knowledge of the taxation issues relevant to pensions and superannuation. 

This enables us to assist clients with compliance and planning in relation to this important area of their lives. When expats leave their home country to move abroad, there are many aspects of tax that need to be considered prior to departure and pension fund planning is often a priority.

For those expats that have their pension fund in the UK, it may actually be worthwhile moving their pension with them. There are particular rules to address this. A Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) is an overseas pension scheme that meets certain requirements set by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). A QROPS can receive transfers of UK pension benefits without incurring an unauthorised payment and scheme sanction charge.

In Australia, for example, pension funds are only considered to be complying under the governing legislation if they remain within the Australian tax jurisdiction. This means, that the trustee must remain an Australian resident. Therefore, in the case of an expat, relocation can inadvertently trigger a tax liability. Steps need to be taken prior to departure.

Complying in multiple countries

Similarly, many expats arrive in a new country with their home country pension fund in place.  Therefore, they must adhere to the rules in their home country and their arrival country in relation to this pension fund. One of the specialist skills we possess is in advising clients how foreign pension plans will be treated as they move around the globe. We can assist clients on QROPS and other similar regimes.

Moving abroad is an exciting time for most people. If you undertake proper planning with respect to your pension plan before you leave, then the thrill of arriving in your new country is not shaken up by the bad news that you have created unintended tax issues by leaving your home country in an unplanned way.

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