Filing Taxes as an Expatriate or Global Nomad
Filing taxes as an expatriate can be extremely complicated. Filling out your tax forms and submitting them on time from afar is already stressful enough; add to this the pressure to avoid the scrutiny regarding foreign bank accounts and business transactions that many expatriates deal with, and the entire process can seem overwhelming.
That’s why many expats find that hiring a tax consultant is incredibly helpful. This expert professional can help you navigate the process from start to finish, steering you away from the pitfalls that many expatriates fall into. But how can you find the right person to help you with your tax matters?
Locating International Tax Help Before You Depart
It can be tempting to put off dealing with tax return issues until the time comes to file–but because internationally filed tax returns can easily involve twice the number of issues, preparing yourself before you depart your home country can save you precious time and money once you arrive in your new home. You may still need advice from a professional in your new country once tax time rolls around, but consulting an expert prior to your departure can make the process much smoother in the long run.
A tax professional in your home country—particularly one who is well-versed in expatriate tax filings—can help you spot any potential issues with your return well in advance, giving you plenty of time to prepare. If you already regularly file your taxes on time, you have a head start; if not, your tax expert can help you get up to date. Beginning to organize key documents such as pay stubs and bank statements can also put you in good stead once you arrive on foreign soil and turn to filing your taxes as an expatriate for the first time.
Finding Guidance in Your New Country
No matter how well you prepare before your departure, you might easily find yourself needing a second option regarding your foreign taxes once you settle in your new home country. Choosing the right local advisor to help you navigate all of your tax matters is key, but what should you be looking for as you choose a tax consultant in the country in which you are staying?
Understanding the Help You Need
The first step in locating the right tax expert to assist in your filings is understanding exactly what type of help you’ll need. A simple tax return for an individual involves significantly different issues than the tax filings a business must submit; similarly, those seeking one-time help for a single filing will have different concerns than those who are looking for long-term tax guidance or who already face legal issues stemming from past international tax filings. Taking this first step is crucial to completing the next one: finding the right person with the right credentials.
Locating Someone with the Right Credentials
All countries have their own set of requirements for their certified tax advisors; understanding these standards can help ensure that you select a professional who meets the basic criteria for tax advisement in your new country. Moreover, most countries maintain business associations for their tax professionals. The local office of this association can help you both understand the local guidelines for tax professionals and help you locate a qualified tax expert to advise you based on their publicly-available member directories.
If you have no one else to turn to for tax advice, the directory of your new country’s tax consultant association is an excellent place to start. However, don’t discount word-of-mouth recommendations. If you’ve moved to your new country for work, your co-workers or business partners can potentially provide excellent guidance for locating a qualified tax professional. Otherwise, other expatriates that you meet socially can provide similar recommendations.
Do keep in mind in all cases that your particular tax needs may require specialized help. This leads into the next step: asking the right questions of any potential tax professional prior to hiring them.
Asking the Proper Questions
It doesn’t matter how highly recommended a particular tax expert is; you need to be comfortable that you can trust them with your particular tax issues. Even if all you need to do is file a simple tax return, finding a reliable consultant is important; the issue becomes more critical the more complex your tax issues are. In other words, you need to do your homework prior to committing to any foreign tax consultant. Conducting an Internet search is an excellent start and should reveal any potential red flags such as official complaints lodged against them.
A clean record on the Internet shouldn’t be enough to satisfy you that any particular professional is the right person to handle your taxes, however. Be prepared to ask any potential candidate a number of important questions. Key areas that you should look into include their fee structure, their past experience with similar tax matters (particularly those involving citizens of your home country) and their typical timeframe. In addition, be careful if any tax professional mentions colleagues or external consultants who will be working on your tax filings; this is not necessarily something that should raise alarm bells, but you do want to know that the person you’ve reviewed and hired will be overseeing all of your tax work.
Trusting Your Intuition
Ultimately, you should be prepared to listen to your instincts regarding any particular tax consultant. Many expatriates plan on a long-term stay in their new country; if this is the case for you, you don’t want to have to keep searching for a new tax advisor each tax season. Hiring a tax consultant is like hiring any other skilled professional. If you wouldn’t commit to a doctor or lawyer who doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do so with a tax professional.
By following these few simple steps—both prior to your departure and upon arriving in your new country—you should find that filing your taxes as an expatriate is surprisingly simple and straightforward, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy your new locale.
Companies Offering International Tax Filing Assistance
- Overseas Tax Associates
- H&R Block Expat Tax Services
- UK Expat Tax Advice from Alliotts Chartered Accountants
- MarcumBP International Tax – The China Accounting Experts
- EFPR Group – Expat Tax Advisors
Expat Tax – More Resources:
- International Tax Filing Advice (IRS.gov)
- Tax on foreign income – GOV.UK
- Taxation for Canadians traveling, living or working outside Canada (travel.gc.ca)
- Paying Taxes as a Global Nomad (MakingItAnywhere)