x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Keeping the taxman at bay takes effort

Unlike US expatriates, citizens of most other nations generally aren't liable for income earned in the UAE if they've established residency outside their home countries.

Unlike US expatriates, citizens of most other nations generally aren't liable for income earned in the UAE if they've established residency outside their home countries. However, this privilege is not automatic - and it can be a difficult struggle to convince the taxman that you've actually moved away. The basic rule for the UK and Commonwealth nations, as well as India, is that non-residents must spend less than six months back home during the previous tax year. The UK also considers citizens to be residents if they spend 91 days or more at one go in Britain during the previous year, and India does the same if a citizen spends 365 days or more at home over a four-year period.

The full legal picture is much more complicated, as many countries have long lists of exceptions that take into account how many legal ties the expat maintains back home. Owning property often leads tax officials to consider you a resident, especially if you are not renting out the property. In some countries, overseas workers' income may be taxable back home if their spouses or dependents still live there. In a number of places, such as Canada, even holding a driving licence or keeping your car registered might be considered "residential ties".

Sometimes, it can take a year or longer to satisfy your country's non-residency requirements. Recent expats could be liable for taxes back home on their UAE income for these first years, especially if they moved to the Emirates in the middle of a tax cycle. In a few lucky cases, a UAE residence visa is enough to end your tax obligations. In the Philippines, for example, citizens are not liable for foreign income if they leave for permanent work in the Emirates, no matter how late in the tax year.

Remember that citizens of virtually all countries are liable for tax on income earned in that country, no matter where they live. This includes money earned from investments and savings interest. Even if your income back home falls below your country's tax threshold (assuming that exemption still applies for you), you'll probably have to file a tax return anyway. Also consider the source of your current income. If you work for a company based in your home country - or your home government - you may be liable for taxes on income earned here, especially if some or all of your pay goes directly to a bank account back home.

Finally, if you've moved to the Emirates from a third country where you weren't a citizen, you may have to establish your new residency for both your previous host country and your home nation. It pays to consult a tax adviser who specialises in your home tax laws on a regular basis, especially if you've moved to the UAE recently or have made a major change to your financial situation (such as buying a house).

mgimignani@thenational.ae