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What you need to know about repatriation from the UAE

With 80 per cent of the UAE’s residents being expatriates, it’s essential to know your means and methods of returning home

Expats need to prepare in advance for what in some cases can be a complicated move.

The United Arab Emirates is a nation of expats. With a population of just over nine million, more than 80 per cent of UAE residents are expats from some 200 territories around the world.  

While many people who live abroad have decided to move away permanently, a significant proportion is likely to eventually return home. For some it may be part of their long-term plan, while for others the decision may be more sudden.

All of which means, you’ll need a break down of the most important aspects underlying the repatriation customs the UAE has in place, and how to plan your subsequent exit strategy.

Early planning is essential

Returning home is not simply about moving out of a house and hopping on a plane. Apart from being ready to return to a country that may not resemble the one they left, expats also need to prepare in advance for what in some cases can be a complicated move.

Depending on the size and nature of your wealth and the scale of your assets, the process may be swift or it could take several months, if not a year or more. The exact amount of time that it takes will depend on your personal circumstances. 

Apart from the fact it can take some time to become mentally prepared to move, if you have investments that you need to liquidate or assets that you want to sell, you may not want to rush into the selling process.

Expats need to prepare in advance for what in some cases can be a complicated move.

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Don’t get caught out by residency rules

When planning your move, it’s important to be mindful of the tax residency rules for your destination country. For example, British expats may not know the residency rules changed in 2013, so they may not realize they can become UK resident much earlier than expected.

As soon as HMRC considers someone to be a UK resident, it will seek to collect taxes on income and capital gains. In some cases, a person will be considered a resident before they arrive back in the UK.

There are many reasons why this may happen. For example, someone who buys a UK property before moving back could become UK resident the moment they stop using their foreign property as their main home.

Similarly, someone who spends a lot of time in the UK preparing for their permanent return could trigger residency if they spend too many days in the country. The precise number of days that causes this to happen will depend on how long someone has been non-resident.

The tax and residency rules for any given country vary, but the UK experience is a prime example of how easy it is to be caught out, so it makes sense to do some research and even plan your return down to a specific date.

For example, an expat who returns to the UK midway through the tax year can be deemed resident and will have to pay tax on their income for the entire year unless they qualify for what is known as ‘split year treatment’.

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Organise your assets

Your finances may be complicated if you have lived abroad for a long period, so it is important to work with a financial adviser who can help guide you along the way. For example, are there gratuity or other tax-efficient investment schemes that need to be sorted out? Do bank accounts need to be opened in the UK and closed in the country you’re leaving? If a property needs to be sold and investments liquidated, is it better to realize capital gains ahead of returning to the UK.

Moreover, while it isn’t always possible to time things perfectly, it can make a lot of sense to return at the beginning of the tax year in your home country. For the UK, this is 6 April, while for Canada the tax year starts on 1 January and in Australia it starts on 1 July. Timing your return this way can make for a simpler accounting process when upon your return, although it is not essential.

Of course, there are certain situations where complications can arise very quickly. If you need to transfer an overseas pension plan back to your home country, this will require expert financial advice.

Similarly, any offshore investment bonds will need to be managed to ensure that they don’t trigger any unwanted tax bills. At the same time, an offshore bond used wisely can provide some flexibility and benefits for those returning to the UK. The use of a portable, flexible offshore bond can provide a tax-efficient investment vehicle that can provide benefits over the short or long-term.

Ultimately, moving back home after a period of time overseas is a complicated process. Navigating residency rules, understanding your tax situation, and determining what to do with your investments and property are all highly complex decisions. A financial adviser will be able to help you achieve the best outcome.

The writer is head of Proposition at Old Mutual International.

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