Many South Africans working abroad have made the decision to return to their home country. For many, the pandemic was the roll of the dice that sealed their fate. For others, the thought of being away from extended family was the drawing card that made their hearts ache.
Whatever the reason, repatriation following a global pandemic may cause you to reassess certain financial aspects of your life.
Am I ready for the change back in South Africa?
Unraveling from a country where one has lived and worked, and then reintegrating into a country from which one has been absent for a long time, can be a challenge. Terminating contracts, closing bank accounts, preparing for an international move and selling assets like cars or houses are some of the administrative tasks when leaving a country.
In kind, the cancellation of these tasks in a host country, is met by its reverse in South Africa.
International work experience makes you a sought-after asset by employers, especially larger companies with an international footprint. Employing a qualified South African familiar with foreign work environments and technological advancements can also create employment opportunities for others.
Am I covered in an emergency?
Before moving, the most important question to ask yourself is whether you or your family are adequately covered against the unexpected in South Africa. It is best to have a policy with a company that understands the nuances of risk coverage in the country where you reside. If you have international life cover, engage with a financial adviser who understands the cover requirements for expats returning to South Africa.
The inescapable reality of death has not only caused people to change their way of life, but it has also put an emphasis on health and safety. This forces medical aid or the hospital to cover another tender topic to discuss with your partner. The public health system in other countries can vary significantly from that of South Africa. At some point, you have to consider the difference in medical care and medical fees between the two countries.
For expats in limbo, travel insurance can cover you and your family during transit, and even for the first two months back in the country.
This gives you and your advisor ample opportunity to work your way through the risk hedging options available.
What should I do with my savings?
In many cases, those who return do so with a small pool of savings earned abroad. If you invest it in the wrong investment or spend it recklessly, you could lose most of the money you’ve worked so hard to save for your retirement.
Returning home while maintaining foreign assets in the form of offshore trusts, property, or foreign investments can be a great way to maintain a diversified portfolio or plan for retirement. However, it is important to understand the nature of each investment, as it may have tax implications or be exposed to volatile exchange rate fluctuations and other unnecessary costs.
Expats are often determined to invest in real estate upon their return to South Africa. Buying a home will eliminate rental obligations and give you a sense of certainty about your immediate future. While home ownership isn’t a bad idea, it doesn’t have to be your only investment option. A financial adviser or investment specialist can advise you on a host of available options, both local and international, that might best suit your specific needs.
Are my tax affairs in order?
Re-entering the local workforce makes you liable for income tax to the South African Revenue Service (Sars). It is therefore important to know your tax residency status. If you have requested relief under a double taxation agreement between South Africa and the host country, you should notify your adviser.
Assuming you remain tax compliant abroad, there should be little to no concern when returning to South Africa.
If for some reason you haven’t reported foreign income or neglected to submit your tax returns, you could find yourself in trouble with Sars. He’s not as forgiving as he used to be.
When your tax affairs have fallen behind, consult a tax professional with legal experience to help you seek relief under the Voluntary Disclosure Program. It’s always best to establish a clean slate with Sars before he contacts you for answers.
Chris Nel is an investment specialist at Africorp Advisory Services.