1. Tax on property purchases (similar to UK stamp duty land tax). After over 20 years in the tax advice business, there are few things which still surprise me. One thing which does still amaze me is just how often people still seem to overlook the fact that the UK is not the only country in the world with taxes. Anyone who invests abroad has a potential exposure to overseas property tax. Wherever you buy, you will face overseas property tax. Foreign property taxes generally fall into five categories; tax on property purchases; annual charges; tax on income; tax on property sales; tax on death or gifts. It is interesting to note that all but one of these categories are likely to apply to a foreign holiday home owned by a UK resident and if the property is ever rented out, all five will apply. This just goes to show that, when it comes to foreign property tax, the investor and the holiday home owner have more in common than you might expect. Many countries impose a tax charge of some kind when property is purchased, usually based on the purchase consideration paid.
2. Annual charges (comparable to UK council tax).These come in many different forms and are often charged by local or regional governments. There may be an annual charge on property ownership on either a flat rate or linked to the property value. Additional charges sometimes apply to properties which are not the owner’s main residence. There may also, or alternatively, be an annual charge on property occupation – either at a flat rate or linked to the property’s value. Another common annual charge is a wealth tax. Many countries impose this charge on non-residents based on the net value of the property and other assets which they hold in the country. Where a UK resident suffers annual charges on occupation or ownership, these may usually be treated as running costs and can be deducted as an expense from rental income or trading profits for UK tax purposes. Such costs are only partly deductible where there is some personal use of the property. The treatment of wealth taxes is less clear. These are often regarded as a personal cost with no deduction available in the UK.
3. Tax on income (similar to UK income tax). Most countries will tax profits and income derived from property whether through letting, development or dealing. Rental income may either be taxed on an accounts basis, based on profits after certain deductible expenses, or as a flat rate on rent received. Where an accounts basis applies, each country will have its own rules regarding what expenses are deductible. Flat rate systems allow for little or no deduction of expenses. In many cases, the tax on non-resident landlords is a simple flat percentage of rent received and may have to be withheld at source (i.e. a withholding tax). Reduced rates of withholding tax often apply under double taxation agreements and must be claimed where available. Profits from property development and dealing are usually taxed on an accounts basis and sometimes also attract additional social taxes like the UK’s national insurance. For UK tax purposes, double tax relief is usually available for overseas property tax on property income or they may be claimed as a business expense.
4. Tax on property sales (comparable to UK capital gains tax). Having spent more than 20 years in the tax advice business and having dealt with many overseas property tax authorities, another thing which does still amaze me regularly is how often people seem to think that they can sell a property abroad and not face a tax liability on it. Wherever you sell, you can expect to face up to foreign property tax. Some countries charge tax on the gain arising when a property is sold. Many countries do provide an exemption for the owner’s main private residence although you will find that this is not generally available to non-residents. Properties held for longer periods are also often exempt. Many countries, like the UK, will treat profits derived from property sales by developers and dealers as income. Double tax relief for overseas property tax suffered on capital gains is usually available against UK capital gains tax. Tax on property sales is often overlooked by UK investors, and they do so to their cost. Bilanz Hattingen