Taxation of Australian Residents on "Fly In - Fly Out" (FIFO) Assignments
Up until about a decade ago, section 23AG of the ITAA granted a tax exemption in relation to income earned overseas by Australian tax residents who met certain criteria - in particular that the overseas work assignments be of at least 91 continuous days duration in a location that usually imposed income tax on that income. However, poorly thought through changes to s23AG were made back in 2009 which severely limited the scope of the tax exemption to Aid and charitable organisations, as well as certain Government workers (for example, defence and police force personnel deployed overseas).
Consequently, individuals who remain Australian tax residents while working overseas are typically fully taxable in Australia at resident tax rates. However, income tax paid overseas may usually be claimed as a credit or offset against Australian income tax - but note that this will not extend social security levies, fringe benefit taxes etc.,
Individuals working for aid, charitable and government organisations who believe they still fall within the scope of s23AG need to meet a number of criteria:
In terms of the requirement above that "service must be for a continuous period of at least 91 days" most Australian residents on FIFO arrangements work on monthly rotations, but they can still meet the continual service requirement. In determining the period of continuous foreign service, certain intervals when the taxpayer is absent in accordance with the terms and conditions of the service, such as recreation or sick leave, are included in calculating the 91 days. The period of continuous foreign service need not be measured on a year of income basis.
Where the period of continuous foreign service starts in one income year and terminates in another year, the entire period of service is taken into account in determining the availability of the exemption in each income year. For example, two periods of work can be grouped together as continuous if they are broken by temporary absences that do not exceed 1/6th of the total number of days of foreign service before the absence. But note that these days of temporary absences that are not due to illness, accident or recreational leave do not count towards the 91 days.
As an example, based on the above rules it is possible for an Australian resident to work overseas on a cyclical shift of 5 weeks overseas and then 5 weeks in Australia on leave and the whole period can be counted as overseas service (see IT 2015). Note that in this case that your income is considered “exempt income” and must still be included in your Australian tax return where it is taken into account in determining your Australian tax rate.
There are quite a number of tax complexities involved in these arrangements and, even if you are one of the majority unable to claim the benefits of s23AG, we strongly recommend a tax briefing before you contract to work on overseas on a FIFO basis - particularly if you have a negatively geared investment property. Also note that some flexibility is now available to claim tax deductions with respect to personal superannuation contributions which can be useful in certain situations.