x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Taxes are still a pain for mostly non-taxed expats

On the Money Despite conventional wisdom, taxes are still an annoyance for expats.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

OK, I admit it: I'm on a roll. Last week, death. This week, taxes. It's no wonder I haven't been invited to any dinner parties lately.

Who cares about tax, I hear you ask? If we don't pay any in the UAE, how can this much-maligned (and some would say deservedly so) topic have any bearing on where we are, let alone what we do?

You'd be surprised. Let's have a show of hands: who pays tax or has to file a tax return in their home countries? I'm not sure I should even count this group, but I see there's a 100 per cent showing of every American who lives in the UAE (well, the ones who read this column, anyway). For once, it's hard not to feel sorry for non-resident US citizens, who are forced to file a tax return every year for Uncle Sam.

But there's also a decent amount of representation from people who rent out their properties in their home countries, which is considered income, and others who have received an inheritance and have to pay death taxes, for instance.

So, even though we live in a tax-free country, taxes still have an impact on our personal finances here. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about it. But, clearly, earning a tax-free salary helps to take the sting out of our responsibilities to governments back home, wherever that may be.

I'm not a fan of taxes, but I do understand they are a necessary evil, sorry, part of our lives to keep infrastructure and all things government-related clipping along, from bloated civil-servant salaries to keeping the president's stationery cupboard stocked. Taxes are meant to pay for the upkeep and building of roads, for health care and simple things such as garbage collections, as well other federal, state and local services that are too many to list here.

Probably the best example of a monumental misuse of taxpayer dollars was in the US during the height of the financial crisis: the controversial US$700 billion (Dh2.5 trillion) Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp). The Bush government magnanimously threw Wall Street the Tarp lifeline in October 2008 to save the country's banks, which then enabled them to continue calling in troubled mortgages from low-income earners or people who had lost their jobs thanks to the sub-prime debacle, caused, of course, by the lenders themselves.

A year ago, Reuters reported that the US government's bailout watchdog said in its quarterly report to Congress that while Tarp was supposed to encourage banks to increase financing for US businesses and consumers, lending had decreased on a month-by-month basis.

Preserving homeownership and promoting jobs were also "explicit purposes" of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that enabled Tarp, Reuters added. But the "unemployment rate remained at 10 per cent and only a small fraction of troubled mortgages have been permanently modified to lower borrowers' monthly payments".

Now that's an interesting way to thank the people, rather than, say, being a little humane about it and giving them back their homes or, at the very least, some breathing space to catch up on their payments.

But back to tax. If you live in Sweden, you are hit with one of the highest rates in the world - an average of 57.77 per cent (but all those benefits from the socialist government does help to ease the pain), Australians pay between 17 per cent and 45 per cent, depending on the level of their income, and in India, you pay from 10 per cent to 30 per cent.

Hong Kong is renowned as a tax-friendly city, with residents paying no more than 17 per cent, while its rival, Singapore, is also up there with the best: a maximum of 20 per cent, according to www.worldwide-tax.com. Monaco, of course, is zero per cent. If you earn £150,000 (Dh890,496) or more in the UK, you will lose 50 per cent of your salary to Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. This drops to 40 per cent on a salary of between £37,401 and £150,000. Pakistan charges a maximum of 25 per cent, the Philippines 5 per cent to 32 per cent and in Canada, federal taxes come in at between 15 per cent and 29 per cent, not to mention the other taxes levied by the country's states and provinces. The US is similar, with taxes levied at 15 per cent to 35 per cent of your salary.

We all have smart tax advisers at home to help us to legally minimise the yearly hit on our salaries.

Luckily, we work in the UAE, which means we can escape the worst of it if we declare ourselves non-residents of our home countries - barring our poor American cousins, of course.

But here's an idea: what if we did pay tax in the Emirates? Would you support it, or are you here solely because there is no income tax and you can (supposedly) save more?

There has been talk of this happening. Back in 2008, the UAE was reportedly considering the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT) as it sought to diversify public revenues.

This has yet to happen and the idea seems to have been forgotten now that the price of oil has recovered.

In the meantime, however, we should enjoy our tax-free salaries - and save as much as possible.