African legislative consequences of ceasing residency in South Africa
Section 9H of the Income Tax Act deals with matters relating to the cessation of residency in South Africa.
This section essentially states that where a person that is a resident ceases to be a resident during any year of assessment, that person must be treated as having disposed of his assets on the date immediately prior to ceasing his residency, and re-acquiring the same assets on a date immediately thereafter. This is referred to as a “deemed disposal”. Similarly, the year of assessment will be deemed to have ended immediately prior to the cessation and to have started on the next day.
Such a “deemed disposal” does not relate to the immovable property that such a person may hold in South Africa.
As a result of his ceasing to be a South African tax resident (an event simply declared by ticking a box on the annual income tax return when submitted), a so-called “deemed disposal” (also sometimes referred to as an “exit charge”) will be activated in terms whereof all the individual’s assets will be deemed to have been disposed of, at market value, on the day before he ceased to be a South African tax resident.
This event, therefore, potentially gives rise to capital gains tax incurred on the deemed disposal. Excluded from this regime, as stated above, is South African immovable property, cash and (although not explicitly stated, though included on a very technical basis) accumulated retirement-related funds. Apart from these assets, all remaining South African and other worldwide assetsare included in the “deemed disposal” regime.
Before a taxpayer decides on cessation of tax residency, an investigation should be done into possible tax treaty relief the individual may qualify for. SARS has stated that “an individual who is deemed to be exclusively a resident of another country for purposes of a tax treaty is excluded from the definition of “resident”. It follows that while an individual may qualify as a resident under the ordinarily resident or physical presence tests, that individual will not be regarded as a resident for South African tax purposes if that person is a resident of another country when applying for a tax treaty.”
Based on this, it is clear that section 9H of the Income Tax Act immediately becomes applicable to a taxpayer in the case of financial emigration or the cessation of tax residency, for whatever reason, and may increase tax liability in the current year of assessment in which the cessation of residency occurs. One must, however, always remember the exemptions described above, and in the event that emigration and/or ceasing to be a tax resident is considered, pre-emigration planning is of utmost importance to ensure that a smooth and fluid transition plan is formulated.