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Foreign Exchange: Dealing with Uncertainty and Fluctuations

An essential service for expats, the foreign exchange industry hasn’t been spared by the pandemic and fluctuations in stock markets. 

In this article, we speak to Vanna Kadir of XE, our Foreign Exchange E-Team member in Sydney, to get an insight into the movement of money around the world. 

The pandemic hits

“At the start of the pandemic, as the lockdowns started around the world, we did see a drop in international money transfers,” explained Vanna. 

“Many clients were holding their liquidity close, due to increased volatility and uncertainty,” she continued, “planned purchases abroad were put on hold. Business orders were either cancelled or postponed, especially around the early months where we saw COVID-19 hit its peak in China and as a result, affecting importers in the APAC region.”

However, funds transfers continued for ‘essential services.’

Vanna commented, “whilst the pandemic has affected all business in some way, shape or form, a small portion of businesses have actually grown as a result of the pandemic such as the food, tech and healthcare industries.”

“On the individual front, payments being sent home to support families by expats have continued.”

“During increased volatility, we did see shifts in where money was being transferred to and being transferred from,” explained Vanna. 

Start of the recovery

As parts of the world have started to recover whilst other parts are battling a second wave, currency markets have regained momentum. 

“The AUD has remained elevated over the last month as markets have tried to price in a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is despite a renewed outbreak in Australia, albeit only relatively minor compared with the USA,” commented Vanna. 

“As we head towards the end of the year, there are clouds on the horizon as case numbers keep creeping up and US / China relations look like they are set to deteriorate as the US heads towards their Presidential Election on November 3rd.”

Vanna continued, “overall, we see current levels as attractive for expats.”

“Expats should be looking at ways to mitigate their risk against currency fluctuations and speaking to their FX broker prior to the transfer, especially in this current environment where there are still many uncertainties in the local and wider economy. Risk management is paramount and will often leave you with more money,” recommended Vanna. 

The ongoing effect of COVID19

“We have been operating as normal,” concluded Vanna. “The global banking system seems to be coping very well and we expect this to continue.”

Tax Considerations for Australians Living in Singapore

Given the current uncertainty in the world, many Australians living in Singapore may be considering a return to Australia.

For most Australians working in Singapore, a good income coupled with low-income tax usually means that a decent amount of savings will be sitting in the bank at the end of their stint. Whilst tax is low in Singapore, it is certainly not the case in Australia.

Australian’s returning home with significant assets and wealth accumulated while in Singapore, will find the Australian taxation system will hit hard unless they make a plan!

Our Singapore E-team member, CST Tax Advisors will be participating in a webinar with St. James’s Place Wealth Management this Friday to discuss some of the important things you need to plan for while in Singapore to avoid getting bitten by the ATO when returning home to Australia.

Details of the webinar:

Date: Friday 12th June

Time: 1:00 – 1:45pm (Singapore local time)

Please click here to register for the webinar.

Relocations Providers: Outlasting the Pandemic

One of the sectors at the forefront of expat movement, Relocations Providers, have been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With countries closing borders, flights being grounded and expat moves being cancelled or postponed, the demand for their services has virtually dropped overnight. 

In this article, we speak to a group of our Relocations providers to see how their businesses are coping, how they have adapted to the new normal and what they see in the future for the industry. 

As borders closed

As the virus began to spread around the world, countries quickly moved to close borders. Initially to travellers from affected areas and then eventually to everyone apart from their citizens, permanent residents and some exceptions. 

One of the first countries that borders were closed to was South Korea. 

“At the beginning of COVID-19, South Korea was regarded as an unsafe country due to aggressive mass testing and case numbers,” explained Jay Yoon of High Relocation Worldwide, our Group Leader in Seoul.

“Some multinational companies made all their expats repatriate to the US where their HQ is located,” continued Jay. “Initially it was a “Freeze” on any new assignment to South Korea, which affected our business a lot.”

In other countries where the spread of the virus was still emerging the situation was a little different. 

“We had situations where some expats tried to fly in, have their needs met, and then fly back to their home country. These were halted by their employers as well as increasing restrictions being placed on international travel and regional directives,” shared Nitin Badhwar of Welcomehome Relocations, our Toronto Group Leader. 

“One major impact on some of our clients is that they were in the process of their relocation, came to Canada, secured housing and schooling for themselves and their families, and then returned to their home city to close out their affairs before permanently moving. They got caught in the travel bans and border closures and are now responsible for housing costs in their new destination cities, while also having similar financial burdens in their current location. Security deposits are being lost, and in some cases, they are bound by the terms of the rental agreements and are required to make payments even though they are not living in their new homes,” explained Nitin. 

The month of May should be the build up towards summer moving in Singapore, but it has been the quietest month due to the lockdowns.

Charlie Scott of SIR Move Services, our Group Leader in Singapore explains, “Individuals and companies have put a hold on most moves unless it is urgent. Even if they wanted to move, they have had to reschedule due to the various versions of lockdowns in governments around the world and their definition of essential services.”

“In Singapore, most people are asking landlords to extend their lease for a few months until they can move. Viewing of houses is not essential, therefore real estate agents cannot physically show houses for lease. While e-viewing is an option, people would rather wait,” said Charlie. 

Steve Wilding from Nuss Removals, our Group Leader in Sydney shares his experience, “at the start, when there was talk of borders closing, we were inundated with calls from corporate and private clients. Many corporate clients were moving their move forward so they could beat the border restrictions. Clients who had planned to move in June or July were now moving in March.”

“We had to work very quickly and often had everything booked in within 24 hours,” continued Steve. “Some private clients were quite desperate to move to be with their families and were finding it difficult to find a provider as many were either fully booked or had stopped international shipping entirely.”

“Interestingly, we are still shipping a small number of people out of Australia even now,” commented Steve.

“The inbound business, those moving to Australia, eventually slowed right down when the borders closed,” provided Steve. “We still have some shipments arriving from customers that left their origin country earlier and their shipments were already on their way, but I expect the numbers to reduce further in the coming months.”

“The fortunate thing for us is that we do local and interstate moves and with Australia reopening slowly, that side of the business should see some demand,” said Steve.

Not so in Nairobi as Cosmas Kamuyu from Nellions Moving & Relocations, our E-Team member in Nairobi explained, “we have partial lockdowns in 4 major areas of Kenya including Nairobi meaning that we cannot freely offer relocation services even within Kenya.”

“Many expats are in evacuation mode, waiting to see what happens next in Kenya while monitoring situations in their own countries,” continued Cosmos. “As a result, our international moving business is down 80%.”

High Relocation, Group Leader of our South Korea E-Team, adapting to the new norms of living with COVID19.

Finding innovative new ways to operate

“Since the curve of confirmed cases has flattened and our government starts to re-open the economy, some multinational companies are starting to recommence movement of employees,” commented Jay, Group Leader of our Seoul E-Team. 

“Although we don’t have the panic buying here, we have seen the toilet paper shortage in some countries, so when we are providing an international move service for Americans we provide some freshly bought toilet paper as a courtesy which they find amusing and express gratitude,” provided Jay. 

Although the pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the Relocations sector, there have been some positives as Nitin, Group Leader of our Toronto E-Team explains, “a great deal of innovation in service delivery under very unique circumstances have been created as a result of the pandemic. With the growing restrictions, servicing our clients in the traditional fashion has become almost impossible.”

Nitin continued, “we are looking at and instituting innovative ways to keep our expats and clients informed, and wherever possible, serviced. Technology is playing an even greater role now than before, and we expect it to be instrumental in how we provide services going forward.”

“One significant technology that has become a lifeline is video chats and meetings. In a very short time, we have become so dependent on technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Meetings, and it has become clear that these are very effective tools that are not only helping us stay connected and working during this crisis, but will become part of the new normal when we do get back to business as usual,” commented Nitin, “and, it may only be a foreteller of how we may “have” to adopt other technologies to help us adapt to the ongoing challenges and realities resulting from this pandemic.”

Common practices are also changing in Singapore. 

“Most customers have chosen not to be present during a move and have communicated with us via WHATSAPP with instructions,” explained Charlie, Group Leader of our Singapore E-Team. 

“We have had to change the way we operate to ensure we are abiding by the restrictions that have been set out by the government and to give confidence to our clients. For example, our crew take their temperature twice a day and record it so we can show clients.” Charlie continued. “The reduction of people that can be permitted on job sites means jobs can take longer and become more expensive, but we need to remain competitive and therefore look at ways to be more efficient.”

Cosmas, of our Nairobi E-Team, agrees, “Efficiency is higher because we are now getting used to doing more work within less time.”

This is echoed by Steve, Group Leader of our Sydney E-Team, “the changes such as working from home has shown companies that we can operate more efficiently.

House inspections have moved online to give expats a feel for the accommodation options.

The future

“We anticipate a surge of demand (at least initially) once the world recovers from this both for inbound and outbound moves,” predicted Steve. “Not only from those who put their move on hold but also from expats that have been away from their families during the crisis and who haven’t been able to freely get on a flight and see their friends and family.”

Steve continued, “I think a lot of expats will re-evaluate whether they want to live away from family and friends, particularly in times of crisis. I think you may see many expats return to their home country. Then there’s the flip side of people who are in their home country who have been thinking of moving elsewhere. They may have been sitting in their home country and watching how their government has dealt with the crisis. It might be a trigger for them to actually make the move, particularly if they are considering a country that gets through this fairly well.”

Nitin anticipates a change to the industry, “our industry will be changed immeasurably, and the way we all interact will be very different. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that we can very effectively work from home. This will shape the future dynamic of how a lot of companies might opt to operate, and may provide industries like ours with new challenges but perhaps opportunities as well.”

Cosmas expects that some changes will transcend the pandemic, “virtual/video surveys will be more preferred to physical inspections before house moving. Moving companies will get more innovative and bring in other services that could shield them better from such disruptions. Companies will require less office space. There will be a whole process of brand re-definition in terms of services and how they are provided.”

Jay sees it as a permanent marker in history, “we will face a new norm that we would previously not have imagined. There will be the world BC (before corona) and AC (after corona).”

The Visa Dilemma Facing Many Expats

While COVID-19 numbers are continuing to rise and many countries are still in lockdown, Governments have started to adjust their future migration and travel policies. 

Russia is planning to “cut visa red tape” – to ease visa procedures for foreigners and in parallel has announced simplified Russian citizenship approval rules for many applicant categories. On the contrary, the USA has shut down its borders and announced that it will temporarily suspend approval of green cards this year except for health workers or for those who have close relatives in the USA.

Meanwhile, Governments around the world are trying to address and resolve the questions that expats face amid the lockdowns and travel restrictions. The two key issues expats are facing are extensions to their visa and issues arising if their employer ceases their employment.

1. Visa extensions for those within the country

With borders closing, often with very little notice, many expats had very little time to plan whether to stay where they were or return home. With lockdowns in place, many immigration authorities are not operating at all or functioning at a diminished capacity.  In some countries, for example in the UK, special commissions have been formed to deal with expats whose visas are expiring to make sure that they can remain in the country they are in legally and until they plan their next move. 

With COVID-19 classified as a force-majeure, immigration assistance is usually handled through a set of simplified procedures, often available online and free of charge.  For example, in the UK, one can request a visa extension through a Coronavirus Immigration Team website. In China, the visa will be automatically extended for two months. In South Africa, one can re-apply for the same type of visa and have it extended up to 31 July 2020. In Australia, Immigration offices are assisting expats with issuing short-term tourist visas to make the overstay valid.

2. Coping with redundancy on an employer-linked visa

With a sharp drop in revenue, many businesses are struggling to survive and have to cut employees, including expats on an employer-linked visa. In New Zealand, the government is providing wage subsidies to employers so that they can retain as many employees as possible during and for weeks following the lockdown. 

However, if an expat has been made redundant, with the increase of unemployment after the lockdown, they would be struggling to find a new position to extend their visa. 

In Australia, the government is creating new visa types to assist those expats that have been left without a job due to the shutdowns, to find a new position in industries that have a workforce shortage.

Demand for expats in post COVID-19 world

Given the speed with which COVID-19 has ravaged the world – Governments have had to move quickly. With many increasingly looking to safeguard the health and livelihoods of their own citizens and permanent residents, the expat population in many cases was not top of mind.

As the situation progresses and as countries regain some control over the virus, issues such as visa and immigration will become more of a focus for governments  – providing some certainty to expats. 

It is already becoming clearer that the dislocation caused by Covid 19 will dramatically shift global supply chains in a wide variety of industries. 

The silver lining for expats is that as some countries look to boost their own internal capabilities – more expats will be needed across a range of industries. 

Countries that were comfortable importing key strategic goods and services will now need to develop an in-house capability and attract foreign labour to develop these domestic industries.

That could mean more movement in Expatland in the years to come.

IRS Announces Extension for All American Taxpayers

In response to the growing concern over the Coronavirus pandemic, the US government has announced a deadline extension for filing federal income tax returns and tax payments. The deadline has been extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. All US taxpayers—including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as those who pay self-employment income tax—can defer payments until July 15, 2020.

You don’t need to file for an extension or call the IRS to qualify for the extended deadline. The relief is automatically provided to all taxpayers. 

As a US expat, you normally receive an automatic extension until June 15, hence, this year you have one additional month until the deadline and all your taxes are extended without interest or penalties. In case you require extra time beyond June 15 to file your taxes, you are eligible to extend your tax return due date until October 15 by submitting IRS Form 4868.

You are eligible for an additional two-month extension, which is specially designed for US expats. This extension is until December 15; however, it is a discretionary extension and not automatically granted. Thus, it is best not to rely on this and only use as a last resort in case you face unexpected circumstances.

Meanwhile, you can stay ahead of updates and follow the IRS coronavirus page where information about the taken measures helping Americans affected by the outbreak is published.

Expatland Member of the Year 2019 Announced

Steve Wilding of Nuss Removals receiving the award from John Marcarian, Founder of Expatland Global Network and Geraldine Chapman, General Manager of Expatland Global Network.

The Expatland Member of the Year is Nuss Removals from our Sydney E-Team. 

“Nuss Removals is a founding member of the Expatland Global Network,” commented John Marcarian, Founder of the Expatland Global Network.

“They have provided instrumental assistance with the global agreement between Harmony Relocation Network and our Expatland Global Network which has seen our network grow and the opportunities for our E-Team members increase,” John continued. 

The global agreement with the Harmony Relocation Network gives members that hold FAIM certification the opportunity to co-lead E-Teams around the world. 

A member of the Harmony Relocation Network themselves, Nuss Removals is a co-group leader of our Sydney E-Team. 

Nuss Removals have been helping expats move for over 120 years. From shipping and storage to school and property search, they provide the essential initial services expats need when making their move. 

They even maintain a removal truck from 1924 at their Lane Cove facility which was first used in the 1920s and is still roadworthy to this day.

“The Expatland Global Network has enabled us to connect our clients to service providers they need when arriving into Australia that we are unable to help them with,” explained Steve Wilding of Nuss Removals and Co-Group Leader of our Sydney E-Team. 

“For our outgoing clients, we are able to introduce them to a team of people that can assist once they move to their new city,” Steve continued. 

“It’s an additional value add for our customers who are increasingly demanding more from a relocations company.”

The Expatland Member of the Year award, voted by their peers, recognises the member that has shown outstanding contribution throughout the year.

Relocate Migrate (UK) – Job Opportunities Abroad

Expatland E-Team members Canstaff and Heartland Immigration, are running a roadshow to assist UK residents looking for work abroad.

The roadshow will run throughout the UK in 6 key locations and will provide information and assistance regarding immigration, property search, foreign exchange and expat insurance in addition to job placement.

The Roadshow location and dates are as follows.

March 16, 2020 – Glasgow

March 17, 2020 – Middlesbrough

March 18, 2020 – Sheffield

March 19, 2020 – Birmingham

March 21, 2020 – Swindon

March 22, 2020 – London

For more information visit the website.

Change in Capital Gains Tax Exemption All Australian Expats Need to Know

The proposed removal of the main residence exemption on capital gains tax (CGT) for non-residents was met with criticism when it was first introduced in 2017. Although the Bill lapsed, a recent reworking was brought back on October 23rd, 2019. 

So, what’s new? More importantly, what does this mean for Australian expats who still own a former main residence?  

Changes with the main residence exemption for non-residents 

As a revisal of the original Bill, this new proposed measure delays the inevitable loss of the CGT exemption. Two primary changes have been introduced. The first is simply an extension of the transitional concessions. 

This concession applies for expats who owned a primary residence on May 9th, 2017. Existing Australian expats now have until June 30th,2020, to sell their main residence under the existing rules. (Previously they had until June 30th, 2019). 

The new Bill also introduced some exceptions whereby a non-resident may be able to access the main residence exemption. These exceptions apply in the event of death, terminal medical conditions, or divorce. However, these events must occur within 6 years of becoming a non-resident. This ensures that the 6-year absence rule can still be accessed by expats who face such unexpected life events.  

Retrospective application means there will be no expat CGT main residence exemption for any foreign resident.

It’s not all that often that major tax changes are applied retroactively. In this case, it does. Anyone who purchased their primary residence before a hint of these changes existed will still be caught by them. 

Were you a foreign resident with a main residence property held on May 9th, 2017? The main residence exemption will only apply for non-residents if you sell prior to June 30th, 2020. Of course, you still need to meet the usual requirements for main residence CGT exemptions. If you wait, then you’ll miss out. You won’t even be able to apply for a partial main residence exemption.  

No relief for long-term main residence

Imagine this scenario. 

You purchase and live in a home from 1989 through to 2019. You’re then given the opportunity of a lifetime and make a permanent move overseas. You put your home up for sale immediately. However, by the time your property sells, you are a non-resident for Australian tax purposes. This means you are hit with a CGT bill on the capital gain. It doesn’t matter how long you previously lived in the property. You don’t qualify for any exemption. On top of this, you’re missing out on potential capital gains reductions. That’s because you didn’t think it was necessary to keep the relevant records for the 20 years that you lived in the property.  

Anyone who purchased their main residence after May 9th, 2017 will be caught under the new laws when they sell as a non-resident. Whether they sell now or next year, they will be subject to the full CGT. 

Time To Act

While the Bill hasn’t passed into law yet, it is important to strategise. Be prepared for what it may mean for your situation and plans so that you have your contingencies ready and, if necessary, put any immediate plans into action. While CST Tax Advisors and other accounting bodies will continue to address the concerns with this measure, it’s important that you understand how these measures could impact you. 

 

Contact CST Tax Advisors to discuss your current situation and assess your options.

IAM Comments on Proposed New Rule Affecting Expats Moving to the USA

The president of the International Association of Movers (IAM), Charles White, recently submitted comments on the Customs and Border Protection Bureau regarding the Proposed Rule: Customs Broker Verification of an Importers’ Identity.

The proposed rule requires importers to provide additional information to U.S. customs brokers with the purposes of verification of the importer’s identity. The rulemaking requires the following details:

  • Email and business website
  • Business registration details
  • Recent credit report 
  • License with state authorities

In the submitted comments IAM challenges that the proposed elements are not applicable for individuals who don’t own a business and are just importing their used household goods and personal effects into the U.S. 

IAM states that “These requirements are clearly written for companies that import goods into the U.S. but do not recognize that people like our clients import goods as well.”

Expatland is a member of the IAM and we fully support the view that individuals moving their personal possessions to the U.S. should be exempt from these new requirements.