Financial Planning Issues and Australian Expatriates
Much of the criticism levelled at financial planning in Australia relates to the fact that Financial Plans are often “push button” in nature, driven by standard templates and producing generic recommendations. This has potentially serious implications for clients and none more so than for expatriates, whose circumstances often exist well outside the Australian financial planning “norm”. Here are some examples of situations which are specific to Australian expats and need to be carefully considered in any planning exercise.
As mentioned elsewhere, financial plans will always consider the tax implications of any strategy. Depending on individual circumstances, expatriation can make taxation a much more complicated consideration and one that should involve expatriates only taking advice from a professional tax advisor, and one that is familiar and experienced with offshore issues. Expatriates should also be aware of the advantages of using the Australian tax system to build assets in Australia that can be potentially free from capital gains tax.
Assessing Additional Benefits and Costs
In a traditional expatriate environment, the employer would often provide a range of services within the expat package - including education assistance for the children, health care, accommodation and annual travel to the base country. While this still occurs, other employers are increasingly offering local packages or “cash in lieu” of providing benefits. It needs to be appreciated that, while a package might appear very attractive when viewed from Australia, the cost of the benefits mentioned above - and particularly education (both host country and base country boarding) and housing can be very, very significant. Consequently, issues such as meeting education and healthcare costs, need to be considered well in advance of accepting any assignment.
Part of any financial plan should include a review of how well protected the family's assets and income are in the event of an untimely death, injury or critical illness. While employers in the host country may provide some coverage, expatriates should appreciate that i) any additional insurance cover, if necessary, may be difficult to obtain back in Australia - depending on your particular host country and ii) there is some possibility that the expatriate may be voiding their existing life insurance cover they have back in Australia by virtue of becoming non-resident for a long period.
The planner should consider your particular position in relation to Superannuation. For example, whether you should continue to make superannuation contributions in Australia, opt out entirely in favour of an international retirement structure which is more tax favourable for the period of your non-residency, or “make up” contributions to an offshore structure. Much will depend upon your current superannuation arrangements in Australia, any plans you have in terms of where and when you plan to retire, and regulations within your host country regarding superannuation/pension contributions.
If you are in a Self Managed Superannuation Scheme (SMSF) in Australia, you need to be extremely careful that your residency outside of Australia does not affect the residency of the fund and hence make it non-complying and subject to higher tax rates. The fact that non-concessional superannuation contributions have recently been capped significantly and typically require a “work test” be met from age 65, strengthens the need to plan for superannuation well before any physical return to Australia.