What taxes are applicable in Australia on Pension Transfers?
Some overseas pension funds, those that meet the definition of a "foreign superannuation fund" (FSF), such as those in the UK, can be transferred free of any tax into an Australian superannuation fund within six months of an individual becoming an Australian resident. This is a very short timeframe and there will often be occasions where processing and administrative requirements cause the transfer to conclude after the six month deadline. If this happens then, at the option of the individual making the transfer, then any growth in the fund which has occurred after residency can be taxed within the receiving super fund at a rate of 15%, rather than at the individual's marginal rate.Therefore, the cost attaching to any delay in effecting a transfer needn't be as significant as many individuals assume.
Other funds that don't meet the ATO's definition of a "foreign superannuation fund" (FSF), and this is currently the majority of pension funds in the US, Canada and Asia, may be subject to full Australian marginal tax on accrued earnings and tax advice must precede any transfer to determine whether a pension transfer will be tax effective and whether there are approaches that can reduce taxation, or whether there are preferred times when the transfer should occur - for example, post retirement when income levels might be lower. As mentioned elsewhere, it will also often be advantageous to seek tax advice in relation to the transfer of a pension before becoming an Australian tax resident once again.
The amount of any payment which is subject to tax needs to be calculated by a professional tax advisor and may need to involve a qualified actuary if the transfer is being made from a final salary/defined benefit scheme. In the latter case, the estimation of tax components may or may not be accepted by the ATO as appropriate; depending on the merits of each case. We have had a number of examples where individuals have been in Australia more than a decade before transferring their overseas pension balances - taxes need to be calculated with particular care in these situations.