Returning to Australia – a tax nerd’s view

Fully vaccinated Australian citizens and visa holders are now able to travel to and from Australia but what are the taxation consequences of doing so? Self-confessed ‘tax nerd’ and BDO Tax Partner Mark Molesworth says six points stand out as the most likely to trip taxpayers up.

Feb 07, 2022, updated Feb 07, 2022

1. Tax residency

Individuals need to first consider their tax residency. Generally, anyone coming to Australia and expecting to live here for at least six months in a permanent location will be considered a tax resident, regardless of their visa status.

However, those on temporary visas (and whose spouse is not an Australian citizen) may be temporary residents. This status comes with certain advantageous tax treatments when compared to Australian resident taxpayers who are not temporary residents.

Temporary residents are only taxed in Australia on Australian sourced investment income, and are not subject to the ‘attribution’ taxation regimes – more on that below.

2. Capital gains tax

Residents of Australia for tax purposes are subject to capital gains tax on all of their worldwide assets (other than those assets which are exempted by the provisions more generally – such as a taxpayer’s main residence).

When a taxpayer moves from being a non-resident to being a resident, special rules apply in relation to setting the cost base of any assets owned at that time. In essence, a non-resident who becomes a resident is taken to have acquired all of their assets (other than Australian real estate) for market value, at the time that they become a resident.

3. Overseas entities

Recent arrivals need to consider the tax residency of overseas entities. Usually, entities formed overseas are not residents of Australia for income tax purposes. However there are certain circumstances where that is not the case.

A foreign company may be a resident of Australia if its central management and control is situated in Australia. A foreign trust will be a resident of Australia where any one of its trustees is a resident of Australia.

Just like Australian resident individuals, resident entities are potentially taxable in Australia on their worldwide income, but there is no temporary resident rule for entities.

So, if a taxpayer arrives in Australia and is in control of a foreign company or trust, they may bring the foreign entity into the Australian tax net.

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4. Tax on dividends

Even where the foreign entities do not become Australian residents any cash received from the foreign entity is likely to be assessable to the Australian recipient – even if it is accounted for as a loan in the entity’s accounts. For this reason it is worthwhile considering payment of dividends or distributions before arriving in Australia.

5. Attribution tax system

Australia operates an attribution system of taxation for certain offshore entities in which Australian resident taxpayers hold an interest.

The attribution tax system, if it applies, has the effect of taxing the income earned by the foreign entity in the hands of the Australian resident taxpayer who owns an interest in the foreign entity. The existence of these entities needs to be declared on Australian residents’ income tax returns.

6. Tax on foreign loans, deposits

Where an Australian resident taxpayer holds loans or other financial instruments, such as bank accounts, denominated in a foreign currency, any realised currency gain or loss will be treated as assessable income or a deductible loss for Australian income tax purposes, unless the account is held purely for private purposes. A realised gain or loss arises each time an amount is converted from one form into another, even if the amounts are not received in Australian dollars. Therefore, the mere use of funds held in a foreign currency bank account will give rise to a foreign exchange gain or loss.

These rules are terribly complex. Whether an individual is coming home, or coming to Australia for the first time, knowing the tax outcomes in advance is vital.

This article was published at on 27 January 2022.

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