Many South African taxpayers earning a salary abroad have for many years been able to benefit from so-called “double non-taxation”. This would be the case where salaries are earned in countries where the employer country would not tax salaries earned in that country, and where a domestic South African income tax exemption would also be available to such South African employees. The UAE for example is renowned therefore that it levies very little, if any, taxes on non-resident employees employed in that jurisdiction. This regime interacts quite well with the South African exemption from income tax provided to South African employees working abroad and in terms of which South Africa would in many cases also not levy income tax on salaries so earned abroad. In other words, a salary earned abroad may potentially not be taxed in either the country of source or residence (i.e. South Africa).
In terms of section 10(1)(o)(ii) of the Income Tax Act salaries earned abroad would be exempt from South African income tax if the salary is earned for services rendered outside of South Africa, and the employee would be absent from South Africa for at least 183 days in a tax year, of which at least 60 are consecutive.
In the annual national budget speech earlier this year, Government warned of its intention to withdraw relief for South African individuals working abroad and effectively achieving double “non-taxation” on salaries so earned. This threat has now been borne out by the proposed withdrawal of the exemption in section 10(1)(o)(ii) of the Income Tax Act, proposed in terms of the draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill published on 19 July 2017. As is explained by the draft Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill,
“It has come to Government’s attention that the current exemption creates opportunities for double non-taxation in cases where the foreign host country does not impose income tax on the employment income or taxes on employment income are imposed at a significantly reduced rate.”
The draft Bill proposes that section 10(1)(o)(ii) be deleted effectively for tax years commencing on or after 1 March 2019. This would effectively mean that South African residents will be taxable in South Africa on salaries earned abroad to the extent that the source country does not levy tax on the income so earned. To the extent however that income is taxed abroad too, South Africa should grant a credit against taxes payable here in terms of either an applicable double tax agreement or the provisions of section 6quat of the Income Tax Act.
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