What’s Your Tax Issue?: Returning To Canada

The Tax Issue:

My first question to anyone who wants to move to Canada from the Bahamas: WHY?

My wife and I have been expats for 12 years.  We would like to know if we come back to Canada can we keep our Bahamas IBC corporation that holds all our stock and bonds and pays us a yearly income? We presently only spend about 50% of our income, which is of course tax-free.

Or if we return to Canada, do we have to close the IBC and hold our investments personally,(or even keep the IBC) and still declare and pay taxes on all our annual income?

The Answer:

Well, it’s good that you only spend about 50% of your income, because, you may have to start paying just about that amount to Revenue Canada. From the time that you return to Canada, you will be subject to Canadian income tax on your world income.

There is no requirement to close your IBC when you return to Canada, but it may not be such a bad idea.

If you maintain your ownership of shares in your IBC as a Canadian resident, you will be subject to tax personally on all the income earned by the IBC, regardless of whether it is paid to you or not. This is known as “Foreign Accrual Property Income”, or “FAPI”. FAPI is what prevents a Canadian taxpayer from sheltering investment income through an offshore company.

On the other hand, if you wind up your IBC before entering Canada, all your investments may benefit from a “step-up” in cost, meaning that, for future capital gains purposes, the tax cost of each investment will be equal to its value at the time you enter Canada.

The annual income from your investments will be taxable to you either way as its earned, but holding them personally as a Canadian resident will likely be much simpler and less costly in the long run.

Before doing anything drastic, though, I would strongly recommend that you review your particular situation with a tax advisor.

Offshore Trusts – Is The Sun Setting?

So often, I see tax strategies fall short, not due to faulty planning, but faulty execution. It is so easy to fall into complacency with regard to documentation. But I’m not going to ask you to take my word for it. I’ll let you read a great excerpt from the Tax Court of Canada in the case of Antle (2009 TCC 465). This case, by the way is one of the two recent “Barbados trust” cases involving the use of offshore trusts to escape tax on large capital gains.

Parenthetically, the other case, Garron Family Trust, (2009 TCC 465) calls into question the long-standing notion that a trust is resident in the jurisdiction where the majority of the trustees reside. This absolute certainty, like the shape of our globe, once considered to be flat, has given way to the reality that the residence of a trust should be determined based on the set of circumstances in question, and that the place where management and control takes place is now the overriding factor.

But I digress. I want to get to this great quotation, because the lawyers involved in this case must be pulling out their hair. When Mr. Antle was about to sell his shares, he decided he could avoid the capital gains tax by following a few simple tax planning steps, as follows:

Step 1: Set up a spouse trust with a trustee resident in Barbados.

Step 2: Transfer shares to a spouse trust (tax free under Canadian law)

Step 3: Trust sells shares to Mrs. Antle (tax-free under Barbados law and Canadian-Barbados tax treaty)

Step 4: Mrs. Antle sells shares with stepped-up cost base

Forget the fact that GAAR also applies to this transaction. The court, in fact made another fun statement in this regard, calling the strategy “a classic law school model of what GAAR was intended to capture”.

But again, I digress. The point is, don’t lose your case for a client before it gets out of the starting block through sloppy paperwork and poor execution. In Antle, the court stated:

“With certainty of intention and certainty of subject matter in question and, more significantly, no actual transfer of shares, there is no properly constituted trust: the Trust never came into existence. This conclusion emphasizes how important it is, in implementing strategies with no purpose other than avoidance of tax, that meticulous and scrupulous regard be had to timing and execution. Backdating of documents, fuzzy intentions, lack of transfer documents, lack of discretion, lack of commercial purpose, delivery of signed documents distributing capital from the trust prior to its purported settlement, all frankly miss the mark — by a long shot. They leave an impression of elaborate window dressing. In short, if you are going to play the avoidance game, it is not enough to have brilliant strategy, you must have brilliant execution.”

So true. Both the Garron and Antle cases are being appealed.


The Tax Issue:

I was wondering If I earn money offshore and do not repatriate any of it back to Canada do I have to pay tax on it. (i.e. Work, Investments, etc…)?

The Answer:

The short answer is YES!

With all the talk recently about UBS, offshore bank accounts and tax evasion, this question comes at a crucial time for any Canadian taxpayer with funds offshore.

Generally, if you are a Canadian resident, you are obligated to declare and pay tax on your world income. So, if you go off to Dubai and earn revenue as a systems consultant there for a few weeks, deposit the funds in a Swiss bank account and never bring the money into Canada, you are still obligated to report the income earned on your Canadian income tax return for the year.

Similarly, any investment income earned while that money sits in an offshore account is taxable in Canada as it is earned.

If the income is from employment, and you meet certain criteria, you may be eligible for an overseas employment tax credit to be deducted on your return. You should consult your tax advisor if you were employed on a long-term project offshore at any time in the year.

The Canadian system operates on the basis of residency alone. So, if you leave Canada permanently, you will no longer be subject to Canadian income tax from the time of departure. As a non-resident you will generally not be subject to tax in Canada, even if you are a Canadian citizen.

So, if you’ve read my previous post on the UBS affair and how it affects us here in Canada, you should be aware that any funds deposited in any offshore account that contains proceeds from taxable earnings you derived while a resident of Canada is subject to the scrutiny of the CRA at any time.

Update: See the case of Bensouilah v. MNR (2009 DTC 1327) for an illustration of Canadian resident taxpayer failing to report employment income earned in Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s Quieter Campaign

With the UBS ordeal making loud news across the border, Canada , in addition to continuing to piggy-back on the success of the IRS, quietly pursues its own ongoing campaign against off-shore tax evasion. While some may see the CRA’s efforts as slow to the point of non-existent, it is real, and it is progressing.

The Minister of Finance announced last week that it has signed its first Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with a non-treaty tax jurisdiction. The sharing of tax information is normally included in Canada’s treaties, but this is different – it applies to non-treaty, traditionally low tax jurisdictions such as Bahamas, Caymen Islands, Jersey and the like. Last week’s agreement with the Netherlands-Antilles is the first in a long list of agreements that will be signed over the next five years.

The bad news, of course, is that these countries will now be happy to turn over information to the CRA that is necessary to help enforce Canadian tax law. Anyone doing business in these jurisdictions would be well advised to start thinking about the future and ensure that they have, in fact been complying with the rules.

The good news is that these countries will become more attractive jurisdictions for foreign business operations from a Canadian tax point of view. Any country that has signed a TIEA with Canada will be eligible for favourable treatment with respect to dividends coming back to Canada. The current rule is that any dividend paid from a non-treaty country is not eligible for exemption under our foreign-affiliate system. Now, any country that has a TIEA with Canada will also qualify for this treatment. So, earnings from active business in these countries can be repatriated to a Canadian parent company on a tax-deferred basis.

Now, back to the bad news. For those countries that do not sign a TIEA with Canada within five years from the day that Canada invites negotiations, active business earnings will not only fail to qualify for tax exempt repatriation, it will also become subject to Canada’s Foreign Accrual Property rules, better known as “FAPI”.

The bottom line? Expect Canada to put the pressure on many tax haven jurisdictions to sign these agreements, allowing the CRA to quietly cast its net over an ever-increasing area of the tax world.