Tax on money transfers to Australia

Understanding the tax implications of international money transfers (IMT) is important when transferring money into Australia from overseas. Let's explore what you need to know to manage your transfers wisely and ensure you’re on the right side of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Tax implications for money transfers to Australia

Money transferred from overseas does not directly incur taxes, but it can draw attention from the ATO and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). 

These authorities are keen to identify transfers that might indicate undeclared taxable income, such as earnings from foreign investments or business activities.

In other words, it’s not the transfer itself that triggers a taxable event, it’s how you got those overseas funds in the first place. That’s why it’s important to understand your tax obligations related to overseas income, whether or not you transfer it to Australia.

Understanding your tax responsibilities

It's important to know what to report to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) when you have income from overseas. Here's what Australian residents need to include on their tax returns, whether or not the money is moved to Australia:

  • Overseas business income. Profits from any business activities outside Australia.
  • Income from overseas property. Whether it's rental income or profits from a sale, if it's from property outside Australia, it needs to be declared.
  • Wages or salary from overseas employment. Earnings from jobs abroad must be included on your tax return.
  • Foreign investment income. This includes things like bank interest and dividends from investments outside Australia.
  • Overseas pensions or superannuation. Any pensions or super payments from outside Australia should also be declared.

Reporting these correctly, in the tax year you earn them, ensures you stay on the right side of the law and helps avoid any penalties. That’s where good record keeping becomes important, and for anything tricky, don't hesitate to get advice from a tax professional. 

What international money transfers don’t I have to pay tax on?

Certain types of funds received from overseas are not taxable. Here are a few examples of where you won’t have to pay tax on international money transfers:

  • Gifts and inheritances. Money received as a gift or inheritance from overseas is usually not taxable.
  • Personal assets. Funds from the sale of personal assets, like a home abroad sold before moving to Australia, aren't taxed on arrival.
  • Windfalls. Lottery winnings and similar one-time gains from overseas are generally not taxable.
  • Scholarships. Scholarships for education from foreign sources are typically exempt from tax if used for educational expenses.
  • Taxed income. Money on which you've already paid tax in another country may not be taxed again in Australia, depending on the tax treaty between the two countries. 

It's always wise to consult with a tax professional to clarify your specific circumstances and ensure you stay compliant.

What happens if I don’t declare my taxable money transfer? 

If your money transfer isn’t exempt from tax but you fail to declare it on your annual tax return to the ATO, then you could be hit with a fine or face even more severe consequences, including jail time. The maximum penalty for evading tax is 10 years’ imprisonment. 

International Money Transfer tax tips

Bear in mind the lists above of taxable and non-taxable events are merely guidelines rather than hard and fast rules that will fit every Australian’s situation. So to make sure you’re taking the right approach with your IMT tax, here’s a few wise steps to follow:  

1. Receipts, receipts, receipts

Keep records of all overseas transactions, such as the details of any foreign assets (e.g. property) you’ve purchased or sold. You should also take this precaution with any money you send or receive that you think is non-taxable, because the ATO may still ask you about those funds. 

2. Seek expert advice

Doing your taxes at the end of every financial year is difficult enough, let alone figuring out the nuances of tax for money transfers across borders.

So to avoid any nasty surprises later on, get in touch with a tax professional before transferring a lump sum to Australia.  

3. Choose a reputable money transfer provider

The rule of thumb is to check whether or not your IMT provider is regulated and authorised by ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission). If so, they should have their AFSL (Australian Financial Services Licence) number on their website, usually in the footer. 

All the providers on Mozo’s website are accredited providers, so you can have full confidence in using our IMT comparison table.

This number essentially tells you that the provider is legitimate, and abides by AUSTRAC regulations and obligations such as reporting their financial transactions and any suspicious activity.

For more information, check out our article on how to boost the safety of your money transfer.

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FAQs about tax on international money transfers

How much money can I transfer to Australia without paying tax?

Theoretically you can transfer as much as you want without paying tax on money transferred from overseas. That’s because it’s not the transfer itself that triggers a tax event. It’s how you obtained those overseas funds in the first place. 

If you’ve already paid taxes on those funds before you became an Australian tax resident, or if you’ve already declared and paid taxes on them before transferring them (such as in the case of a savings account), you can transfer as much as you want tax-free. Same thing with actual gifts and other funds listed in the section above titled ‘What international money transfers don’t I have to pay tax on?’.

If someone transfers money into my bank account, do I need to pay tax?

If someone transfers money into your bank account, you don't necessarily have to pay tax on it. The key factor is what the money represents. If it's a gift, an inheritance, or lottery winnings, these are usually not taxed. 

However, if the transfer is your salary, business income, or an investment return, then it's considered taxable income. 

Again, the act of transferring the money isn't what's taxed; rather, it's the nature of the funds themselves. That’s why it’s important to keep good records about where the money came from, as this information may be needed for tax purposes.

Do I have to pay tax if I transfer money from a business account to a personal account?

Simply moving money between your own accounts for business reasons, like managing cash flow, isn't a taxable event. We may sound like a broken record, but the critical aspect here is the nature of the transaction. If the money represents your salary or dividends from your business, it needs to be declared as personal income and is therefore taxable. 

If I sell property overseas, do I need to pay tax when I bring the money to Australia?

If you sell property in another country and then move that money to Australia, whether you'll be taxed depends on when you made the sale. If you've sold your place, say in the UK or USA, before you officially call Australia home for tax purposes, then bringing that money over is usually not taxed—it's all about the timing.

On the flip side, if you've already settled into the tax resident status in Australia and then sell your overseas property, it's a different story. That sale could be part of your global income, which means you might have to include it in your tax return, possibly paying capital gains tax. 

That’s why it’s important to keep a clear timeline of these events and maybe get a tax expert to weigh in, just to be on the safe side.

Do I need to declare money transferred from overseas?

If you're bringing money into Australia from overseas, you don't need to declare the transfer itself. However, if the money was earned during the current tax year as income—such as from a job, a business, or investments—you need to declare this on your tax return. 

It's not about when you transfer it, but when you earned it. Money that comes as a gift or inheritance, or from selling personal items before you became a resident, generally isn't something you need to declare. It's always a good idea to keep a record of the money's source, just in case the ATO asks.