Tax Considerations Every Australian Expat Should Understand Before Moving To The USA From Australia

February 14, 2021

If you’re an Australian who is moving to the United States, there are many tax issues to be aware of. Here’s a basic overview of what you need to know before considering the move. 

Tax Residency

When moving to another country, the first consideration should be your tax residency. From an Australian perspective, you will be taxed very differently depending on whether:

 i) you remain an Australian tax resident, 

ii) you remain an Australian tax resident, but also become tax resident of the United States, or 

iii) you become a non-resident of Australia and become tax resident of the United States.

As an Australian tax resident you are taxed on your worldwide income, whereas a non-resident is only taxed on Australian sourced income.

For Australian tax purposes, there are a number of tests that determine whether you are treated as a tax resident. Just simply moving to the US does not automatically mean you become a non-resident of Australia. Usually an Australian citizen, or permanent resident, will remain an Australian tax resident unless they move overseas on a permanent basis. While there is no one specific factor that will determine what makes a move permanent, factors that will be considered include the length of time living overseas (minimum 2 years), purchasing or leasing a home overseas, selling Australian assets, and where your personal family ties and business ties lie.

The US, on the other hand, has its own set of rules to determine whether an individual is considered a tax resident in the US. Foreign nationals that are Greencard holders, and those that have been in the USA for over 183 days are generally regarded as ‘resident aliens’ and taxed like US citizens on their worldwide income. Non-resident aliens in the US are only taxed on their US-sourced income.

It is possible that you could be considered a tax resident of Australia under Australia’s rules, and a tax resident of the US under the US rules. In this case, the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between Australia and the US will need to be referred to. This tax treaty exists to help avoid double taxation in both countries.

As the rules and tax treaties in both Australia and the US can be quite complex, it is important to talk to a tax advisor who is experienced in cross border residency issues in order to understand your tax residency status, and to be aware of when your residency status may change.

Living In The US Temporarily – Taxation As An Australian Resident For Tax Purposes

If you remain an Australian tax resident after moving to the United States, then you will continue to be required to lodge an Australian tax return each year. As an Australian tax resident, you are required to declare income from worldwide sources in your Australian tax return. 

The Australia – US DTA will need to be referred to,  to see which country has the taxing rights over certain income categories. The DTA also explains circumstances when foreign income tax offsets are available to offset Australian tax. 

US Tax Return

You will also need to lodge a US tax return as a US non-resident, for any US sourced income. The US has the right to tax non-residents on US sourced income. However, thanks to the Australia – US DTA, Australia will generally treat any US income tax paid as foreign tax credits against the Australian tax liability. This means you will only need to pay Australian tax on any difference between the amount of US tax paid and the amount of Australian tax assessed. If the US tax is higher, then you will not be refunded the excess above the Australian assessment.

Living In The US Permanently – Becoming A Non-Resident Of Australia

If you are moving to the US on a permanent basis you will become a non-resident of Australia for tax purposes. You will need to still lodge Australian tax returns on any income generated from sources in Australia.

Capital Gains Tax Payable When You First Move To The US

One of the first taxation issues to understand when moving to the US is that Australia will treat you as having disposed of your capital assets (excluding Australian real property) at the market value prevalent on the date of your departure, unless you elect to defer the deemed disposal (explained further below). A deemed capital gain or loss will need to be calculated and included in your tax return, as if you had actually sold those assets. Once those assets are sold at a later date whilst you are in the US, there will be no further tax payable in Australia (tax will be payable in the US). 

However, you do have the option not to include the deemed capital gain if you instead choose to report it as a capital gain when you eventually sell the assets. However, the DTA will need to be referred to, to see whether the gain would be taxable only in the US.

In summary, your options are:

Option 1- Declare a “deemed” capital gain in your Australian tax return for your foreign investments when you leave the country. As long as you don’t return to Australia you will have no more Australian tax to consider when you eventually sell those foreign assets.

Option 2- Choose not to declare a deemed capital gain, but wait until you actually sell the foreign investment. If you are still living in the US (or another country that has a similar clause that gives them taxation rights over Australia in this situation), then you won’t need to declare the capital gain in an Australian tax return. If you are living in a country that doesn’t have this clause when you sell the foreign investment, then you would have to declare the capital gain in an Australian tax return at that time.

Australian Sourced Income

As a non-resident for Australian tax purposes you would only be required to lodge an Australian tax return to declare any Australian sourced income that was not already fully taxed under the Double Taxation Agreement. For instance, interest income for non-residents is subject to special withholding rates that are considered to be the full and final tax. This means that the tax withheld is the tax paid for this income. You can’t claim deductions against this income to reduce the tax you have to pay on it, and you can’t claim the tax as a credit against other income being reported in an Australian tax return. As long as your bank has been notified that you are a non-resident they should withhold the correct amount of tax.

Fully franked dividends from Australian sourced companies are also considered to be the full and final tax for the Australian sourced income.

Other Australian sourced income is required to be included in your Australian tax return to be assessed for tax at non-resident rates.

Australian Superannuation

While contributions that you make to your Australia superannuation fund may be deductible against your Australian income, they will generally not be deductible against your US income.

Australian superannuation funds are not subject to the same tax deferral rules in the US. Further advice will need to be sought on whether Australian superannuation fund earnings will be taxable in the US.

Talk To Your Tax Advisor Before Making The Move

Moving overseas can create a large number of potentially complex taxation issues to consider. This article contains a brief introduction to some of the tax issues that may be encountered when considering a move to the US and does not consider your personal situation or circumstance. It is important to speak to a qualified and experienced tax advisor, both in Australia and in the USA, about how the various laws and tax treaties apply to your specific situation.

Please note that the general information provided is accurate at the time of publication, however tax laws do change frequently. To ensure you have reliable information it is therefore important that you seek specialist advice at the time of your potential or intended move, to ensure you have up to date, and personally relevant advice on hand.

Planning ahead ensures you have the information necessary to make informed choices, and prevents you from being surprised with unexpected tax costs.

CST Tax Advisors in Sydney can provide you with advice regarding your Australian tax when it comes to moving, or considering a move overseas. Our US office will be able to assist you with tax advice regarding your US tax.


Dianne Lee

Dianne Lee

Dianne has over 15 years of business tax experience and has experienced the expat lifestyle having worked in New York and studied in South Korea. Her areas of specialty include tax residency, capital gains tax planning, employee share schemes and family trusts.

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