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Navigating Global Taxes for International Employees


animation of multiple heads around the globe asking questions and reporting back

In an interconnected world where people cross borders for both work and personal reasons, the complexities of international taxation pose significant challenges. This is especially true for individuals with bank and financial assets in multiple countries. As assets become scattered across continents, understanding the tax implications becomes paramount.

Complexities arise when individuals move into or out of the United States while maintaining financial investments around the globe. This article will shed light on the nuances of tax consulting and compliance for international individuals, focusing on the unique circumstances faced by individuals who are US citizens, green card holders, or tax residents in the US.

Why Proper Reporting of International Assets Matters

At the heart of this discussion lies a critical need—ensuring accurate and compliant reporting of income and gains derived from international activities on US tax returns, including interests in foreign trusts, corporations, and partnerships. Individual taxpayers often find themselves in uncharted territory and turn to domestic tax professionals who may lack the specialized knowledge required to navigate the intricate landscape of global taxation. The consequences of incorrect reporting can be severe, leading to hefty fines from the IRS.

For US tax residents with wealth invested in assets outside of the US, all income earned around the world must be reported to the IRS every year they are considered US tax residents. This reporting includes all foreign financial investments and income from those investments on special information reporting forms like FinCEN 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, and Form 8938 – Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets. Failure to report international assets and income can lead to significant fines and penalties from the IRS if discovered during an audit.

Likewise, those planning to move to the US from non-US locations may have tax-efficient investments in their current Home countries that need to be restructured to avoid losing those benefits under the US tax system. Proactive tax planning is key prior to establishing US residency.

Check out our new resource center dedicated to educating mobile employees. It contains guides and insights covering global tax requirements, foreign reporting, and cross-border compliance so your mobile employees have the information they need to be successful.

Unique Needs for Cross-border Taxpayers

Access to Professionals Experienced in Multinational Tax Filings

One of the primary concerns faced by taxpayers is the scarcity of professionals well-versed in the intricacies of filing tax returns in multiple countries. Traditional domestic tax preparers don’t often have the experience required to navigate the complexities of international tax laws. This absence of expertise can leave individuals vulnerable to misreporting and, consequently, stiff penalties.

Awareness of Tax Reporting Laws in Multiple Countries

The global nature of financial portfolios often means that taxpayers must adhere to the tax reporting laws of multiple countries even if they are only living in one country. Lack of awareness regarding these diverse regulations can lead to inadvertent non-compliance. Understanding the tax obligations in each jurisdiction where assets are held is critical to avoiding legal repercussions and financial setbacks.

Handling of Complex Reporting Requirements Across Different Countries

Each country has its own set of reporting requirements, adding layers of complexity for individuals with international investments. Navigating through the maze of varying regulations demands a level of expertise that goes beyond what a standard tax preparer may possess. The intricate details of reporting income, gains, and losses across borders require a specialized skill set to ensure accurate and compliant reporting as well as to ensure that appropriate credits are claimed so the same income is not taxed multiple times across multiple countries.

Real-Life Examples of Complex International Tax Implications

To truly comprehend the gravity of international tax challenges, let's explore real-life scenarios faced by individuals grappling with the complexities of cross-border investment reporting obligations. These examples underscore the importance of seeking professional guidance and the potential consequences of overlooking intricate tax reporting requirements.

Example 1: Unaware US citizen living in Denmark

Imagine an individual residing in Denmark who suddenly realizes they are required to file tax returns in the US to report their worldwide income because they are a US citizen by birth. This individual, however, has never lived or worked in the US. US citizens are required to file an annual tax return in the United States, even if they have never lived, worked, or visited the US. Unaware of the obligation to file US tax returns to report global income, this individual now faces the dilemma of navigating complex international tax laws. This scenario highlights the importance of understanding tax obligations as a US citizen, regardless of country of residence. 

Example 2: UK citizen's tax-efficient investments pose reporting challenges

A UK citizen moves to the US for a 5-year work assignment, holding investments through tax-efficient International Savings Accounts (ISAs)—i.e., a tax efficient retirement saving account in the UK. While these investments may be advantageous from a UK perspective, the US tax implications are complex and not tax efficient. Special care needs to be taken with a “Stocks & Shares ISA” which may be invested in a mutual fund, as opposed to a more straightforward “Cash ISA.” Foreign mutual funds are considered Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFICs) for US tax purposes and require additional and detailed reporting for each fund on IRS Form 8621. The taxes calculated on these foreign mutual funds are more punitive than taxes on US mutual funds and the reporting requirements associated with each fund are onerous. Had the individual been aware of these challenges beforehand, strategic financial adjustments could have been made to mitigate tax complexities prior to their international assignment.

Example 3: US citizen working in Australia and superannuation contributions

Consider a US citizen working in Australia under a local contract, where contributions to an Australian superannuation fund are mandatory. Australian superannuation is a mandatory retirement account in Australia that employers are required to contribute into for each employee working for the Australian company. Unbeknownst to the individual, these employer contributions are considered taxable income for US tax purposes and should be reported on their US income tax returns. This example emphasizes the need for awareness regarding the tax implications of foreign employment benefits.

Example 4: US tax resident owning multiple rental properties in India

An Indian national is on a temporary assignment in the US and establishes tax residency in the US. The individual has multiple rental properties in India generating significant rental income and pays taxes in India on this rental income. The US tax resident is required to report all rental income and expenses on their US tax returns. To avoid paying taxes in both countries on this rental income, they must ensure that appropriate foreign tax credit is claimed on the US returns for the income tax paid in India on this rental income.

In these examples, we witness the unexpected tax consequences that individuals with international assets may encounter and illustrate how overlooking these intricacies can be financially burdensome. Individuals may also find themselves exposed to risk when an inaccurate tax return without proper disclosures is filed in any country.

How to handle the challenges of cross-border taxes

Cross-border tax reporting considerations present significant hurdles for taxpayers with international assets and income sources including scarcity of expertise, lack of awareness of diverse regulations, and complex multinational reporting requirements. These hurdles can lead to noncompliance, penalties, and unnecessary tax burdens if not addressed appropriately. While daunting, measures can be taken to mitigate these risks, such as working with a tax provider specifically trained in international tax filings, who understands tax laws and obligations across different countries, and leverage technology tools and software to handle multijurisdictional reporting requirements.

With proper preparation and the right professional guidance, the challenges of international tax compliance can be managed effectively. The key is being proactive in understanding obligations, accessing specialists, and utilizing appropriate financial tools to integrate complex multinational reporting.

GTN’s experienced mobility tax professionals have extensive experience in managing international tax filing and compliance needs for individuals and providing the expertise required to navigate cross-border reporting successfully. Schedule a call with our team to learn more about how we can help manage and simplify your tax situation.

Mobility tax specialists

Author Swati Choudhary

Swati joined GTN in 2019 and is a director with over 20 years of experience working in expatriate tax. While she has spent the majority of her career managing expatriate tax programs for multiple clients, her specialty within mobility tax has always been managing individual tax compliance for C-suite executives. At GTN, she is leading the private client services group that aims to help all individuals who have income reporting requirements in multiple countries.
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