7 things you need to know about South Africa’s new ‘expat tax’ according to SARS

South Africans working and living abroad are preparing themselves for the new amendments to the Income Tax Act, which are set to come into effect from March 2020.

Dubbed the ‘expat tax’, the amendments mean that South African tax residents working abroad will only be exempt from paying tax on the first R1 million they earn abroad. Thereafter they will be required to pay tax on any foreign earnings.

However, there is still a lot of confusion about who will be required to pay the tax and whether the tax can be avoided through financial emigration.

To remedy some of this confusion, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has released a new Q&A paper outlining the changes and what they mean for you.

You can find some of the most notable issues detailed below.

Who is a tax resident?

An individual is a resident for tax purposes in South Africa either by way of ordinary residence or by way of physical presence.

The concept of  ‘ordinarily residence’ is not clearly defined and the determination of whether or not an individual is an ordinary resident for tax purposes must be done on a case-by-case basis, SARS said.

A number of factors must be taken into account to make such a determination. An individual can also become a tax resident by way of physical presence.

“It follows that while an individual may qualify as a resident under the ordinarily resident or physical presence tests, that individual will not be regarded as a resident for South African tax purposes if that person is a resident of another country when applying a tax treaty,” SARS said.

What is the impact of financial emigration on tax residence?

Acquiring approval from the South African Reserve Bank to emigrate from a financial perspective is not connected to an individual’s tax residence, SARS said.

“Financial emigration is merely one factor that may be taken into account to determine whether or not an individual broke his or her tax residence.

“An individual’s tax residence is not automatically broken when he or she financially emigrates. The deciding factor remains whether or not an individual breaks his or her ordinary residence.”

Breaking tax residence

The determination of whether an individual breaks his or her tax residence is a factual enquiry on whether or not that person ceases to be ordinarily resident in South Africa, SARS said.

“An individual, who is resident by virtue of the physical presence test, ceases to be a resident when that person is physically outside the Republic for a continuous period of at least 330 full days.

“A deemed disposal for capital gains tax purposes takes place at the time when an individual breaks his or her tax residence. The individual will be deemed to dispose of his or her worldwide assets, excluding immovable property situated in South Africa.”

Exemption before 1 March 2020

SARS said that exemption under section 10(1)(o)(ii) of the Income Tax Act applies to a South African tax resident who is an employee and renders services outside South Africa on behalf of an employer (South African or foreign) for longer than 183 full days in any 12-month period as well as a continuous period exceeding 60 full days outside South Africa in the same period of 12-months.

The exemption does not apply to non-residents.

“If all the requirements are met, the resident will qualify for exemption on the entire portion of the remuneration relating to services rendered abroad,” it said.

“This exemption, however, does not apply to remuneration derived by a person from services rendered outside South Africa for any employer in the public sector, or to a person who holds a public office to which that person was appointed or deemed to be appointed under an Act of Parliament.”

Income received by independent contractors are also excluded from the scope of section 10(1)(o)(ii) as the income they receive is not considered to be remuneration, it said.

Exemption after 1 March 2020

SARS said that residents will still be required to observe the 183 and 60 full days requirements to qualify for the exemption.

Provided the “days” requirements are met, only the first R1 million of foreign employment income earned by a tax resident will qualify for exemption with effect from years of assessment commencing on or after 1 March 2020, it said.

Any foreign employment income earned over and above R1 million will be taxed in South Africa, applying the normal tax tables for that particular year of assessment.

What type of income is covered?

SARS said that the following amounts fall with the scope of the exemption:

  • Salary;
  • Taxable benefits;
  • Leave pay;
  • Wage;
  • Overtime pay;
  • Bonus;
  • Gratuity;
  • Commission;
  • Fee;
  • Emolument;
  • Allowance (including travel allowances, advances and reimbursements;
  • Amounts derived from broad-based employee share plans; or
  • Amounts received in respect of a share vesting.

You could be double taxed

SARS said that double taxation can occur if an individual earns employment income in excess of R1 million and the double tax agreement between South Africa and the foreign country does not provide a sole taxing right to one country.

In such an instance, both countries will have a right to tax the income and the portion of the income in excess of R1 million may end up being double-taxed, it said.

“Generally, under the provisions of the relevant double tax agreement, if an employee renders services in a foreign country exceeding 183 days, both countries enjoy the right to tax the income.

“The country of source enjoys the first right to tax the employment income and the country of residence, in our case South Africa, will provide double tax relief in the form of a foreign tax credit to the extent that tax was paid in both countries, subject to limitations.”

Read: South Africa’s big expat tax is coming – and financial emigration isn’t the quick fix you think it is

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7 things you need to know about South Africa’s new ‘expat tax’ according to SARS