x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Taxing times ahead for expats in the UAE

The Life:The taxman is increasingly targeting expats in the UAE this year.

Number crunching: some countries are more actively pursuing taxable income earned by expatriates.
Number crunching: some countries are more actively pursuing taxable income earned by expatriates.
The taxman cometh, for a growing number of the UAE's expatriates anyway.

Tax experts say countries such as the US, UK and Canada are hiking up penalties or more aggressively pursuing expats who fail to report taxable income. Other nations are expected to follow suit or possibly even change rules that would allow them to more easily tax non-residents.

"They're all short on cash and they need to be raising it from people," says Gary Dugan, the chief investment officer of private banking for Emirates NBD. "In the years to come, I think the home countries will get tighter and tighter, and they're going to be coming after your Dubai [and UAE] assets or income if you spend any time at all in your home country."

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service in the US announced a new voluntary programme designed to bring more offshore money and undisclosed income back into the country. A similar scheme in 2009 slapped taxpayers with a penalty of up to 20 per cent over a six-year period. But the rules are much stricter this time around: Individuals would have to pay a penalty of up to 25 per cent on the amount in certain foreign accounts over an eight-year period - plus back-taxes, interest and other penalties. And risk-takers who keep hiding assets offshore could later be hit with even higher penalties or criminal prosecution.


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"That's a warning sign," says Virginia La Torre Jeker, a US tax specialist based in Dubai. "That says to me 'if you don't go in this round then forget it. We're not having any mercy'."

As more countries find themselves strapped for cash, experts anticipate that some will adopt similar rules as the US to rake in more revenue. "It may be that more countries will go toward that kind of model," says Mr Dugan.

Already, the Canada Revenue Agency has started questioning expats more often about their non-residency status and applying penalties "more aggressively" than in the past, says Wayne Bewick, an accountant and financial planner for Trowbridge Professional Corporation, which is a member of the Global Tax Network consultancy.

One area the tax agency has recently targeted is non-residents with rental properties, who can pay penalties as high as 25 per cent of the gross rent received if the income is not reported.

In the UK, a recent landmark court case showed that Revenue and Customs is willing to use stricter interpretations in determining whether the income of non-residents is actually subject to tax. "This won't really affect many taxpayers, but I believe it indicates a change in the thought process that the [Revenue and Customs] has towards expats living abroad," says Mr Bewick, who splits his year between Toronto and London while assisting expats with international taxation rules.

Experts recommend expats consult a tax specialist who can highlight any new tax changes.

"People aren't paying enough attention in what's going on in their home country, and the implications or ramifications those changes could have when they go back or while they're still out of that country," says Sarah Lord, a chartered financial planner based in Dubai with Killik & Co.

"If they haven't stayed up to date with the changes they could unwittingly find themselves in a position that they weren't expecting," she adds.

Indeed, experts agree that the longer people wait,the more difficult it becomes to fix things later "and the worse the tax consequences and potential penalties will be", says Mr Bewick. "This is especially true for individuals living in the UAE where there is no personal income tax."