5 Tips For US Citizens Working in New Zealand
New Zealand, sometimes referred to as an “incubation nation,” has attracted a number of American immigrants in recent years, particularly those with adventurous mindsets and a thirst for a friendly populace and innovative culture.
For US citizens living and working in New Zealand, it’s important to understand that US taxes need to be considered on annual basis.
In this blog, we offer 5 basic tips for US citizens working in New Zealand, which elaborate on the obligation to file annually with the IRS, as well as other key insights.
Tip #1 – The Tax Obligations of US Citizens Working in New Zealand Endure
Often, expats mistakenly believe that moving abroad means that their US tax obligations end. This is a fundamental error in understanding the US tax system.
US citizens, even those residing outside the United States, are considered to be US residents for tax purposes and are therefore subject to US tax reporting on their worldwide income. As such, US citizens living and working in New Zealand must annually report all of their income to the IRS, whether the income is US sourced or New Zealand sourced, or sourced to any other country.
Tip #2 – Information Reporting to the IRS
US citizens working in New Zealand who hold accounts or other assets overseas are subject to a number of specific filing requirements in the form of informational forms. Some of these forms are submitted to the IRS as attachments to the personal income tax return (Form 1040), while others are submitted to other governmental departments, including the US Treasury Department. The failure to file any of these forms can result in large penalties, such as a $10,000 penalty per form per year, or even have criminal consequences, if fraud is involved.
Some of the more common forms include:
Foreign Bank and Financial Account Report (FBAR)
Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets (FATCA Reporting)
Form 3520, Foreign Trust/Pension and Gifts
Form 5471, Foreign Corporation Ownership Reporting
Tip #3 – Activities in New Zealand with US Tax Implications
With each item of income that an expat earns and with each foreign asset that is owned or acquired, special considerations need to be addressed. This is especially true for US citizens working in New Zealand.
For instance, PTY Limited Companies, a popular business vehicle, may trigger the US anti-deferral regimes, such as the controlled foreign corporations (“CFC”) regime. CFC classification that can potentially have significant US tax implications. For instance, a 10% or more US shareholder of a CFC must include currently in his or her gross income the CFC’s so-called “subpart F income,” which generally includes passive-type income, such as interest, dividends and rental income (meaning, for tax purposes, a CFC’s subpart F income is considered to be earned directly by the shareholder prior to an actual distribution to the shareholder). Under the CFC regime, company loans to an expat owner can trigger a so-called “Section 956 inclusion,” i.e., current inclusion of the loan amount in a 10% or more US shareholder’s gross income. Starting with the 2018 tax year, certain non-subpart F income will also be required to be included currently at the shareholder level under the new so-called “GILTI” rules.
Another good example is participation in a New Zealand KiwiSaver, the very popular voluntary retirement fund. Despite having tax-advantaged status in New Zealand, a KiwiSaver may be considered by the US to be a direct investment by the plan owner in a passive foreign investment company (“PFIC”), which must be reported as such on form 8621 (Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company). PFICs can be very tax disadvantageous as, absent certain elections, “excess” distributions and dispositions of PFICs are taxed at the highest marginal rate with an additional interest charge.
For self-employed individuals, it’s important to note that the US does not have a so-called totalization agreement with New Zealand, so there is a significant risk that self-employment income can be subject to double taxation. Tax planning for self-employed individuals is critical in order to prevent this onerous outcome.
Tip #4 – US Tax Benefits Are Available to US Citizens Working in New Zealand
The good news for expats living in New Zealand is that both US domestic tax law and US-New Zealand bilateral agreements contain a number of provisions that are designed to prevent “double taxation,” or taxation on the same income in both countries. These include the foreign earned income exclusion (“FEIE”), foreign housing exclusion (“FHE”), and foreign tax credit (“FTC”).
These provisions, in many cases, can reduce or even eliminate the US federal income tax that would otherwise be due by the expat taxpayer. Keep in mind, however, that even if no US tax is owed, a US tax return still generally must be filed and the failure to do so can result in severe penalties.
Tip #5 – FATCA Has Expanded the Reach of the IRS
FATCA stands for the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.” FATCA is a relatively new designed to combat offshore tax evasion by requiring US citizens to report their holdings in foreign financial accounts and their foreign assets on an annual basis to the IRS. As part of the implementation of FATCA, starting with the 2011 tax season, the IRS requires certain US citizens to report (on Form 8938) the total value of their “foreign financial assets.”
In order to further enforce FATCA reporting, starting on January 1, 2014, foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) (which include just about every foreign bank, investment house and even some foreign insurance companies) became required to report the balances in the accounts held by customers who are US citizens. To date, we have seen several large foreign banks require that all US citizens who maintain accounts with them provide a Form W-9 (declaring their status as US citizens) and sign a waiver of confidentiality agreement whereby they allow the bank to provide information about their account to the IRS. In some cases, foreign banks have closed the accounts of US expats who refuse to cooperate with these requests.
If you are a US citizen working in New Zealand, it is essential that you remain compliant with your continuing US tax obligations. Our experts at Expat Tax Professionals are available to help you understand your US tax filing requirements and to assist you with all of your US tax compliance needs.