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Christine Bornman

Fiduciary and Tax Specialist

Since the amendments to tax laws targeting the foreign earnings of South Africans came into effect on 1 March 2020, the number of local residents seeking to cease their South African tax residency has increased significantly. Leaving the country could have significant implications for estate planning, however – here’s what you need to know.

South Africans working abroad for more than 183 days during any 12-month period, which includes a continuous period exceeding 60 full days during that 12-month period, were until March 2020 not taxed in South Africa on their foreign employment income. Section 10(1)(o)(ii) of the Income Tax Act 58 of 1962 (ITA) provided a specific exemption for this income.

This has now changed, however. Treasury was of the view that the exemption was creating opportunities for double non-taxation in cases where the foreign host country either doesn’t impose income tax on employment income, or taxes such income at a significantly lower rate. With effect from 1 March 2020, Section 10(1)(o)(ii) was amended to allow the first R1.25 million of foreign remuneration to be exempt from tax in South Africa.

As a result of this amendment, all South African tax residents working abroad are now subject to tax in South Africa on all foreign employment income earned exceeding R1.25 million. However, if tax has been paid on these earnings in the foreign host country, you’ll be able to claim this as a credit in South Africa, limited to the amount of local tax payable on the foreign earnings.


Generally, individuals who live abroad and who did not formally cease their tax residency through the South African Revenue Services (SARS) e-filing system tend to be of the view that they no longer have any obligation towards SARS. They’re under the false impression that they can transfer funds abroad or receive their inheritance freely without obtaining a tax clearance certificate.

Under the new process, you need to inform SARS that you’ve left South Africa permanently in order to cease to be a South African tax resident in terms of the ordinarily resident criteria, and pay the necessary ‘exit’ taxes, i.e. capital gains tax.

After you’ve ceased your South African tax residency, you’ll no longer be taxed in South Africa on your worldwide income but only on South African-sourced income, for example, rental income.


If you haven’t formally ceased your South African tax residency with SARS, how will it impact your estate plan, especially the intergenerational transfer of wealth? What do you need to think about?

Many South Africans are either trustees or beneficiaries of a local trust. If you are a trustee, complications may arise if you wish to relocate. You may in fact need to resign as trustee. The Master of the High Court may require that you furnish security, unless there are grounds for exemption. If no security can be provided, the Master may request that you be removed as a foreign trustee.

What if you don’t know that you are the beneficiary of a trust? In cases where a trust has been set up by parents or grandparents for the purposes of intergenerational planning and preservation of wealth, beneficiaries may not even be aware of their status as such. We can’t emphasise enough the importance of honest and open communication between generations – the financial impact can be significant if decisions about wealth transfer plans are made without the relevant family members’ full knowledge.

Then there are also implications if beneficiaries living abroad are in need of financial assistance, and the trustees authorise trust distributions to these beneficiaries. When a capital gain is distributed to a non-SA resident trust beneficiary, the conduit principle (shifting the tax burden to the beneficiary) will not apply and the trust will pay the taxes at a higher effective rate of 36%.


Punitive taxes imposed by some other jurisdictions present a further potential challenge. If you as a beneficiary are living in the US, UK or Australia and receive distributions from foreign trusts, including South African trusts, those countries may hit you with punitive taxes. If a local or an offshore trust has beneficiaries in these jurisdictions, it’s crucial to obtain expert advice before any distributions are considered.

In broad terms:

  • When an Australian resident beneficiary receives a capital distribution consisting of current or historic capital gains from a South African trust, the capital distribution has to be included in assessable income in Australia.
  • In the case of a US tax-resident beneficiary (typically a US citizen or green card holder), the entire distribution could become payable to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as tax.
  • In the UK, the rules pertaining to the nature and composition of distributions are extremely complex. This may result in additional taxes arising in the hands of UK beneficiaries if the trustees have not kept a careful record of historical income and gains, and kept income and gains separate.

To complicate matters further, the US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requires trustees or the relevant financial institution managing the trust assets to report to SARS that a US resident or green card holder is a beneficiary of a trust, and SARS will report the same to the IRS.

Similarly, resident beneficiaries may be subject to certain Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) requirements directing them to declare to the IRS if they have funds available outside the US.

In terms of the Common Reporting Standards (CRS), the details of settlors and beneficiaries of trusts must be recorded, and this information is available to all CRS member countries, including South Africa, Mauritius, the Channel Islands, Australia and the UK.

Besides setting up a trust, another option for transferring wealth to the next generation is simply to bequeath assets directly by way of a last will and testament. Again, it’s important to understand all the implications. If your children have not ceased their SA tax residency with SARS, they’ll only be allowed to transfer their inheritance offshore after obtaining tax compliance status from SARS.


It should be clear that ceasing your tax residency doesn’t mean an end to all problems. It’s critical to consider the impact on your estate plan (whether it’s your own or an intergenerational plan) when you leave South Africa. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone’s personal circumstances, and therefore estate plans, are unique and it’s crucial to seek professional advice – whether it’s you who is relocating, or your grandchild.

If you need any information or assistance with regard to any aspect of estate planning, please contact Christine Bornman at or Stanley Broun at

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