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Israel Tax Alert: A Crackdown on Tax Evasion


Israeli money stack of new Israeli banknotes of different colors and denominations

In the face of revenue shortfalls, the Israeli tax authority has recently focused its efforts to crack down on tax evasion by going after Israelis who have left the country without properly breaking tax residency. Although these rules and collection efforts are not new, this new compliance initiative highlights the critical importance for Israeli residents and their employers to understand the tax implications of relocating outside of Israel. Through education and proactive tax planning, unexpected scrutiny and surprise tax bills can be avoided.

Understanding Israeli tax residency

The current crackdown by the Israeli tax authorities focuses on Israelis who have relocated to the Republic of Cyprus (Cyprus). This location is the focus of the Israeli Tax Authority’s (ITA) compliance initiative because Cyprus is considered a tax haven and has attracted many Israelis to move there, purchase real estate, and form companies. In addition, the ITA has limited data because the two countries have not concluded an income tax treaty.

At the heart of the issue is the definition of tax residency for Israeli tax purposes, regardless of whether the taxpayer is relocating to Cyprus or elsewhere. Here, the ITA determines tax residency primarily based on the concept of one’s Center of Life (CoL). In Israel, individuals are subject to taxation based on their residency status rather than their citizenship. And, if your CoL is in Israel, you are considered a resident for tax purposes and taxed on your worldwide income, even if you are living outside of Israel.

The good news is that it is possible to relocate your CoL outside of Israel to potentially achieve non-resident status and reduce your tax obligations. Unfortunately, many departing Israeli’s fail to take the steps necessary to “disconnect” their CoL, which may lead to audits and unexpected financial and legal considerations. For this reason, it is critical for departing Israelis to understand the rules for tax residency.

What is ‘Center of Life’ for Israeli tax purposes?

The determination of CoL for Israeli tax purposes considers various factors, including the location of family ties, economic interests, overall lifestyle, and physical presence (days test). Although subjective, one’s lifestyle and the location of family and economic ties are the critical determinants of an individual’s CoL and tax residency status.

The days test is a secondary factor that may also determine tax residency. Under this test, an individual may be considered a tax resident of Israel if either of the following conditions are met:

  • An individual spends 183 days or more in Israel during a tax year, or
  • An individual spends more than 30 days in the current tax year in Israel and has accumulated 425 days or more in Israel over the past three tax years.

It is important to note that an individual can still be deemed a tax resident of Israel even if they do not meet the days test if the CoL is still deemed to be in Israel when considering all facts and circumstances. 
Why does residency matter?

The determination of residency is critical because Israel subjects its tax residents to tax on worldwide income, regardless of where they are physically located. Non-residents, on the other hand, are taxed only on Israeli-source income. With a top income tax rate, including surtax, of 50%, there can be a significant amount of additional tax due for someone who is unable to break residency upon their departure from Israel.

Employees who retain their tax residency in Israel are responsible for filing an annual tax return to report worldwide income. Failure to do so can result in serious financial and legal ramifications and is considered as a criminal offense.

Do all departing Israeli’s need to worry about these rules?

Although the current enforcement initiative is specific for relocations to Cyprus, the focus on residency status for departing Israelis is not new. A high profile example occurred in 2020 when Bar Refaeli, an internationally known model and television host, and her mother were convicted of tax evasion by an Israeli court.

The case focused on Refaeli’s Israeli tax residence during years when she traveled around the world as a model. In the end, the court disagreed with her position that her CoL had been disconnected and sentenced her to pay millions in fines and back taxes, as well as nine months of community service. 
And it’s not difficult to find fact patterns that reflect the challenges of disconnecting the CoL for Israeli tax purposes:

The Frequent Traveler:

David, an Israeli citizen, travels extensively for work. Although he spends most of his time abroad, he maintains a permanent home in Israel and visits frequently. His CoL remains tied to Israel due to his family, economic interests, and social connections.

The Dual Resident:

Rachel relocates to the United States but continues to own property in Israel. She spends significant time in both countries, leading to dual residency. Despite her efforts to disconnect, the Israeli tax authorities still consider her a resident due to her substantial ties.

The Business Owner:

Avi runs a successful business in Israel. Even after moving to another country, he remains actively involved in managing the business. His economic interests and professional connections keep his CoL anchored in Israel.

Take proactive steps to avoid unwanted tax bills

As the rules and examples clearly show, the critical requirement in avoiding potential tax and legal issues when relocating from Israel is the proactive disconnection of the CoL before departure. Here are key steps to achieve this objective:

  • Transferring economic interests and employment outside of Israel is crucial. This may involve securing employment abroad and transferring business operations. It is essential to ensure that all income-generating activities are conducted outside of Israel to avoid taxation.
  • Sever ties such as memberships in social clubs, religious affiliations, participation in community events, subscriptions, and other affiliations in Israel. This is necessary to strengthen the case for relocation. It may also require notifying relevant authorities, closing Israeli bank accounts, and closing Israeli credit cards.
  • For individuals with family ties in Israel, such as a spouse and children, additional steps are necessary to disconnect their CoL. This should involve relocating the entire family, ensuring children are enrolled in schools outside of Israel, and minimizing familial ties that may indicate ongoing residency.
  • Keep meticulous records of activities and ties in the new country. This includes lease agreements, employment contracts, utility bills, and other documentation that demonstrates a genuine connection to the new jurisdiction.

Relocating from Israel involves more than just packing boxes and booking flights. It requires careful consideration of tax implications, particularly regarding the concept of the CoL.

Remember that each case is unique, and tax residency depends on various factors. By understanding the rules, strategically planning the disconnection from Israel's CoL, and seeking professional guidance, individuals can navigate the process effectively while ensuring compliance with relevant tax regulations.

If your company or employees are facing challenges related to Israeli tax residency during relocation, our experienced team is here to help. We understand the complexities involved in disconnecting one's Center of Life and ensuring full compliance with Israeli tax regulations. Don't hesitate to schedule a consultation call with our advisors, who can provide personalized guidance and strategies tailored to your unique situation. 

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Author: Guest - Ariel Rotman, CPA (Isr.)

Ariel Rotman is the founder of Ariel Rotman, Certified Public Accountants, established in 1995. The firm provides a complete spectrum of accounting services to companies, non-profit institutions and to self-employed individuals in Israel. It is one of the leading firms in Israel in the field of migration and relocation and provides a broad range of personalized consulting and support services that are supplemented by the unique services we have developed over the many years we have been involved in this field.
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