Capital Gains Tax (CGT): Guide for Non-Residents

Whether you’re an experienced investor or just beginning your investment journey, a solid understanding of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is crucial when investing in Australia. CGT is a tax imposed on the profits generated from selling or disposing of various investment assets, including stocks, real estate, and other investments. 

By understanding CGT, you can make informed decisions about your investments and optimize your after-tax returns.

What is Capital Gains Tax? A Layman's Guide

In simple terms, CGT is the tax you pay on the profit you make when you sell or dispose of an asset. These assets could be anything from real estate, and shares, to collectables.

How is CGT calculated in Australia?

CGT is calculated by subtracting the cost base (purchase price + certain other costs) of the asset from the sale price. The resulting profit is called the capital gain, and it’s added to your taxable income for the year you sold the asset.

For example, let’s say you bought a property for $500,000 and sold it later for $700,000. This capital gain of $200,000 would be subject to CGT, which means you would need to pay tax on that amount.

Capital Gains Tax Exemptions

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in Australia provides exemptions that can mitigate or eliminate tax liabilities on certain assets. Here are some significant exemptions to be aware of:

  • Main Residence Exemption: Your primary residence, the home you reside in, is generally exempt from CGT. However, ensure it genuinely serves as your main residence and adheres to applicable size limits.
  • Small Business CGT Concessions: Small businesses can leverage concessions that significantly reduce or eliminate CGT. These include the small business CGT 15-year exemption, small business retirement exemption, small business rollover, and small business CGT discount.
  • Personal Use Assets under $10,000: Assets acquired for personal enjoyment, like furniture, artwork, or jewelry, costing $10,000 or less, are usually exempt from CGT.
  • Private-Use Cars: CGT exemption applies to cars used solely for private purposes.
  • Collectibles under $500: CGT exemption is granted to collectible items, such as stamps, coins, or antiques, purchased for $500 or less.
  • Inherited Assets: CGT is generally not applicable until you dispose of inherited assets. In such cases, the cost base is typically reset to the market value at the date of inheritance.

Keep in mind that each exemption has specific eligibility criteria and conditions. Furthermore, exemptions may undergo changes. 

Australian CGT Rates

The actual rate you’re taxed is the same as your individual income tax rate. Here is a general breakdown of how it works:

  • Calculate your capital gain or loss: This is generally the difference between what it cost you to own an asset and what you received when you disposed of it.
  • Include the gain in your income: You need to report capital gains and losses in your income tax return and pay tax on your capital gains. Though it’s referred to as capital gains tax (CGT), this is actually part of your income tax, not a separate tax.
  • Discount method of calculating CGT: If you’re an individual, you may be able to discount a capital gain if you owned the asset for more than 12 months before you disposed of it. The discount can reduce the capital gain you include in your income by 50% for resident individuals (including partners in partnerships) and by 33.33% for complying super funds and eligible life insurance companies.

We will cover the calculation of capital gains tax for foreign residents at a later point in this article.

What Triggers CGT Events? An Exhaustive List

CGT events are triggered by specific actions or occurrences, resulting in capital gains or losses. Here is a comprehensive list of common CGT events in Australia:

  • Sale or disposal of assets: This encompasses the transfer or sale of assets such as real estate, shares, collectibles, or business assets.
  • Asset gifting: When assets are given away as gifts or transferred without any payment, it constitutes a CGT event.
  • Creation of contractual rights: Granting someone an option to purchase an asset or establishing a right for someone to acquire the asset in the future triggers a CGT event.
  • Expiry, cancellation, or surrender of CGT assets: Terminating contracts or relinquishing rights associated with CGT assets results in a CGT event.
  • Compulsory acquisition: Government-enforced acquisition of assets, often for public infrastructure purposes, constitutes a CGT event.
  • Death: Upon the passing of an individual, CGT events may occur on the assets left behind. In most cases, the cost base of inherited assets is adjusted to their market value at the date of inheritance.
  • Demolition or destruction of assets: If an asset is demolished, lost, or becomes completely worthless, it triggers a CGT event.
  • Capital distributions from trusts: Receipt of distributions from a trust that include a capital component can result in a CGT event.
  • Changes in residency status: Becoming or ceasing to be an Australian tax resident can trigger CGT events for certain assets.

Please note that this list covers common CGT events, and it’s advisable to consult a tax professional or refer to the latest ATO guidelines for accurate and current information tailored to your specific circumstances.

CGT for Non-Residents

There are many upsides to this. For instance, you’re not required to pay tax in Australia on your foreign income. However, one of the downside is your capital gains tax obligations.

Who Qualifies As A Non-Resident For Tax Purposes?

If you are living outside of Australia and don’t intend to return for living or working purposes, you might be a non-resident for tax purposes. Generally, a non-resident is someone who lives outside Australia and does not pass the ATO’s residency tests.

Capital Gains Tax for Property: A Special Case for Non-Residents

When considering Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rules in Australia, non-residents encounter specific provisions, particularly regarding property transactions. Here’s the breakdown:

  • CGT on Property in Australia: If you’re a non-resident and sell property in Australia, you’re liable to pay CGT on any profit made from the sale. This holds true whether the property is a residential house, commercial building, or even an empty plot of land.
  • Exclusion from CGT Discount: Unlike residents of Australia who might be entitled to a 50% reduction on capital gains for assets they’ve held for over a year, non-residents don’t have access to this benefit. They are responsible for paying tax on the entire amount of any capital gain.
  • Obligatory FRCGW Payment: In situations where a non-resident sells an Australian property worth more than $750,000, the buyer has a legal obligation to retain 12.5% of the buying price. This amount is then paid to the Australian Taxation Office as the Foreign Resident Capital Gains Withholding tax.
  • Changes in Exemptions for Former Residents: In the past, individuals who used to be Australian residents but later became non-residents could claim exemption from Australian CGT for property, assuming the property wasn’t used to generate income. This policy changed in May 2012, and this exemption is no longer available.
  • Main Residence Exemption Alterations: As of 9 May 2017, the Main Residence Exemption, which allowed Australian residents to avoid CGT when selling their primary home, is no longer available to non-residents. This applies to properties purchased after this date, as well as properties purchased before this date but sold after 30 June 2020.

Remember, tax regulations can shift, and the rates and rules might change. For current and personalized advice, it’s wise to get in touch with Odin Tax or the Australian Taxation Office directly.

CGT Implications on Selling Shares or Other Financial Assets for Non-Residents

As a non-resident, the disposal of shares or financial assets can also be a CGT event. However, certain exemptions apply, particularly if you owned the shares before becoming a non-resident. 

Here’s a general overview:

  • CGT on Shares and Financial Assets: Non-residents are subject to CGT on any capital gains made from the disposal of shares in companies or interests in trusts that are ‘taxable Australian property’. This might include shares in a company that owns significant Australian real property.
  • Exemptions: In some circumstances, non-residents might not have to pay CGT on Australian shares. This is generally the case if you owned the shares before becoming a non-resident and the company in which you hold shares has less than 50% of its total asset value in ‘taxable Australian property’.
  • Non-final withholding tax: Non-residents selling shares may also be subject to the non-final withholding tax. This involves the buyer withholding a percentage of the purchase price and paying it to the Australian Taxation Office.

Understanding these nuances is critical to effective tax planning. 

CGT Discount for Non-Residents

Non-residents are generally not eligible for the CGT discount. Prior to July 8, 2017, non-residents could access the CGT discount in Australia. However, the Australian government introduced changes to the rules, and since then, non-residents are generally excluded from benefiting from the CGT discount.

Under the current rules, non-residents are subject to a flat CGT rate of 32.5% for individuals or the applicable company tax rate for companies on their capital gains made from Australian assets. This means that non-residents do not receive any discount on the capital gains they make, regardless of the duration of their asset ownership.

Active Asset Discount: How to Qualify

The active asset discount applies to small businesses and allows for an additional 50% CGT discount on active assets. This can significantly lower your CGT obligation if your investment qualifies as an active asset.

To be eligible for the Active Asset Discount in Australia, certain qualifications must be met. These include:

  • Small business entity: You must meet the criteria of a small business entity, which typically involves having an aggregated turnover below a specified threshold, such as $50 million (as of September 2021).
  • Active asset test: The asset being sold must be actively used in your business operations. Assets such as equipment, vehicles, land, and buildings are generally considered active assets, while passive assets like investments or rental properties may not qualify.
  • Ownership and usage period: Depending on whether the asset was acquired before or after September 20, 1985 (pre-CGT or post-CGT asset), you must have owned it for a minimum period (e.g., 15 years for pre-CGT assets) and used it in your business for at least half of that time or a specific duration (e.g., seven and a half years for pre-CGT assets).
  • Maximum net asset value test: The total value of your assets (excluding certain exemptions) must not exceed a specified threshold, such as $7.5 million. This assessment is made just prior to the capital gains tax event.
  • Active asset reduction: Even if your net asset value exceeds the threshold, you may still qualify for a partial Active Asset Discount if your business’s aggregated turnover is below a certain amount, such as $2 million.

Please note that these guidelines are subject to specific regulations, and there may be additional considerations or exceptions applicable in certain circumstances.

Retirement Exemptions: CGT Relief for Those Over 55

The CGT retirement exemption provides relief of up to $500,000 for taxpayers over 55 who dispose of a small business asset. This is a boon for older business owners seeking to secure their retirement.

The 15-Year Exemption: A Long-Term Benefit

If you’re a small business owner and have owned an active asset for 15 years, you could be completely exempt from CGT under the 15-year exemption. This long-term benefit could play a crucial role in your retirement planning.

Capital Gains Tax Exemptions: The Comprehensive List

There’s an array of CGT exemptions available that can considerably reduce your tax obligation. From main residence exemptions to exemptions for inherited property, understanding these provisions can save you a fortune.

Here are some examples:

  • Main Residence Exemption: Many countries offer exemptions or relief for capital gains on the sale of a primary residence or main home. These exemptions can exclude or reduce the taxable capital gain from CGT.
  • Inheritance Exemption: In some jurisdictions, inherited assets may be exempt from CGT. When assets are received through inheritance or bequests, the beneficiary’s tax basis is often reset to the fair market value at the time of the original owner’s death. This step-up in basis can eliminate or reduce the capital gain upon subsequent sale.
  • Small Business Relief: Certain countries provide CGT exemptions or concessions for small business owners or entrepreneurs. These exemptions may apply when selling or transferring business assets or shares in qualifying businesses, subject to specific conditions and eligibility criteria.
  • Rollover Relief: Rollover relief allows taxpayers to defer CGT by reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of one asset into another qualifying asset. This provision aims to postpone the tax liability until the final disposal of the new asset.
  • Government Bond Exemptions: Some jurisdictions exempt capital gains derived from specific government bonds or securities from CGT. These exemptions are often designed to incentivize investment in government debt instruments.
  • Retirement Accounts: Contributions made to retirement accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or superannuation funds, may enjoy CGT exemptions until the funds are withdrawn during retirement.

CGT exemptions can vary widely between countries and even within different regions or states of a single country. Remember, tax laws are subject to change, so it is advisable to consult with our qualified tax advisors.

Deferment and Avoidance: Can You Defer CGT in Australia?

In Australia, there are mechanisms in place that provide opportunities to defer the payment of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) under specific circumstances. One common method to achieve CGT deferral is through the utilization of rollover relief. This approach allows taxpayers to postpone their CGT obligations by selling one asset and acquiring another qualifying asset.

These are some instances where CGT deferral via rollover relief may be applicable in Australia:

  • Small Business Rollover: If you sell an active asset, such as a business or shares in an eligible company, and utilize the proceeds to procure another active asset, you may be eligible for small business rollover relief. This provision permits you to defer the CGT liability until you dispose of the newly acquired asset.
  • Replacement Asset Rollover: When you dispose of a CGT asset and use the resulting funds to acquire a replacement asset, such as upgrading equipment or machinery, you may qualify for replacement asset rollover relief. This enables you to delay the CGT liability until the replacement asset is eventually sold.
  • Marriage or Relationship Breakdown Rollover: In situations involving a marriage or relationship breakdown, where assets are transferred between spouses or former partners, rollover relief may be accessible. This allows the CGT liability to be deferred until the receiving spouse ultimately disposes of the asset.

While these rollover relief provisions can defer CGT obligations, they do not eliminate them entirely. The CGT liability will arise when the replacement asset is sold or when the new owner disposes of the asset.

Avoiding CGT: Legal Methods Explored

There are various legal ways to avoid CGT, such as investing in tax-free assets like your main residence or taking advantage of CGT concessions for small businesses.

Here are a few legal methods that you can consider to effectively handle CGT:

  • Familiarize Yourself with CGT Exemptions and Concessions: Thoroughly understanding the CGT exemptions and concessions provided by tax authorities in your jurisdiction is crucial. Governments often offer these provisions to reduce or eliminate CGT liabilities for specific situations, such as the sale of primary residences or asset transfers through inheritance.
  • Strategic Asset Disposal Planning: Timing the sale of assets strategically can have an impact on CGT liabilities. By thoughtfully planning the timing of asset disposals, individuals can optimize the CGT implications by leveraging exemptions, concessions, or taking advantage of lower tax rates.
  • Capital Loss Offset: Capital losses incurred from the sale of assets can be offset against capital gains, reducing overall CGT liabilities. Conducting a thorough review of investment portfolios can help identify capital losses that can be utilized to offset gains in a particular tax year.
  • Leveraging Tax-Advantaged Accounts: Tax-advantaged accounts, such as retirement accounts or superannuation funds, may provide potential CGT benefits in certain jurisdictions. Contributions made to these accounts could be tax-deductible or subject to preferential tax treatment, aiding in effective CGT management.

It is vital to emphasize that responsible tax planning aims to meet obligations and legal requirements. Engaging in legal tax planning, while respecting the intentions of tax laws, can assist individuals in effectively managing their CGT liabilities.

You’re now armed with a wealth of knowledge about Australian CGT. With these insights, you’re well-equipped to make informed decisions, understand tax implications, and optimise your property investments. Remember, a solid tax strategy is the cornerstone of successful investing.

Odin Tax's Streamlined CGT Lodgement Process for Expats and Foreign Residents

Lodging your CGT return shouldn’t be a complicated task. At Odin Tax, we’ve refined the process, offering a digital solution that makes CGT lodgement hassle-free for Aussie expats and foreign residents. Step into a world of smart, seamless taxation with us.

Contact us today for a confidential consultation.

Freqeuntly Asked Questions (FAQs)

Since May 8, 2012, foreign residents are typically ineligible for the CGT discount. However, partial discounts may apply under certain circumstances.

Yes, CGT can be deferred through careful planning and strategies such as reinvesting in a small business or upgrading your main residence.

Foreign investors are subject to Australian CGT when they dispose of real property in Australia. However, several exemptions and discounts can reduce the tax obligation.

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