Kristy Baxter and Angela Stavropoulos explain tax rules for New Zealand doctors looking to move to Australia

With agreements in place that allow Australian and New Zealand citizens to easily enter each other’s country to visit, live and work, it is a common choice to make. Many medical practitioners move between the two countries as various opportunities arise.

The rules regarding residency are complicated and you will need specialised tax advice to understand your personal circumstances and your income tax position here in Australia.

There are three main ways you may be taxed based on your residency:

  1. Where you are a non-resident of Australia for tax purposes, you will only be taxed by the Australian Taxation Authority (‘ATO’) on Australian sourced income e.g. your Australian salary and investment income.
  2. Where you are considered a resident of Australia for tax purposes, but are a “temporary resident”, you are generally only taxed by the ATO on your Australian sourced income plus any income earned from employment or services income overseas.
  3. Where you are considered a resident of Australia for tax purpose but not a “temporary resident”, you will be taxed by the ATO on all of your income. This includes income earned overseas.

Note that where you are taxed overseas you will generally be entitled to some level of offset for the foreign tax paid against the Australian tax payable.

Am I a resident of Australia for tax purposes?

This is a key question and one we frequently get asked. The tests to determining residency are complex and every person’s circumstances are different. There are seven keys tests to consider which look at a number of factors, including:

  • How long you have been physically present in Australia.
  • What your intention or purpose is for being in Australia.
  • Whether you have family or business ties in Australia.
  • Whether you have assets in Australia e.g. a house, business etc.
  • What you social and living arrangements are whilst in Australia.
  • Where your domicile is considered to be.
  • Whether you are an Australian government employee who is a member of the CSS or PSS schemes (superannuation schemes).

Your responses to these types of questions will assist with determining if you should be treated as an Australian tax resident.

How do I know if I am a “temporary resident”?

This is yet another complicated assessment. This is affected by a number of factors, including whether you:

  • Hold a temporary visa.
  • Are not considered a resident of Australia under the Social Security Act 1991, or have a spouse who is.

These tests are quite different from the tests of residency discussed above.

How does my Australian tax position change if I am a temporary resident?

If you are classified as a “temporary resident” of Australia, you are:

  • Not assessable on foreign source income other than employment income; and
  • Not assessable on capital gains unless they arise from Taxable Australian Property.

Temporary residents are not entitled to the Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”) 50% discount on taxable Australian property acquired after 8 May 2012. However, if you owned an asset that was taxable Australian property prior to this time, and sell it after that date, the 50% discount may be apportioned.

What does this mean for the property I own back in New Zealand?

If you are a non-resident, then there is no tax payable in Australia on your rental income or on any gain on sale of your New Zealand property. The situation is the same if you are an Australian resident that is a “temporary resident”.

However, if you become an Australian resident and are not a “temporary resident”, then on becoming an Australian resident, any assets you hold outside of Australia (assets that are not taxable Australian property) will generally be treated as being acquired at that time for their market value.  This means your New Zealand property comes into consideration for Australian tax purposes. You will be required to declare any income and expenses related to this property on your Australian income tax return.

If you sell that property as an Australian resident, you will be required to pay CGT on that sale. If you cease to be an Australian resident, you may also pay CGT as you will be considered to have disposed of it at the time of ceasing residency.

What if my circumstances change?

Certain changes in your situation may affect your residency status and therefore have tax implications, for example, if you:

  • Are granted a permanent visa.
  • Become an Australian citizen.
  • Marry or begin to cohabitate with an Australian resident within the meaning of the Social Security Act 1991.

If the above changes occur, then you may no longer be a temporary resident but be still considered an Australian resident for tax purposes.

Alternatively if you return to New Zealand and no longer meet the requirements to be an Australian resident, where you were a “temporary resident”, there should be no adverse tax implications.

However, where you were not a “temporary resident” then you will be taken to have disposed of your assets that are not taxable Australian Property, at the time you ceased to be an Australian tax resident. This may mean you are required to pay Australian CGT on any gain in value of these assets on ceasing residency.

As you can see, residency is a minefield of complications. We recommend you consult your tax specialist when commencing work or business in Australia to ensure you understand your tax obligations.