Can An Expat Contribute to Their Australian Superannuation?

Can An Expat Contribute to Their Australian Superannuation? – The ability of Australian expats contributing super whilst living overseas is something we’re often asked about.

There continues to be a great deal of misinformation and uncertainty on the subject and so we have prepared a short guide to dispel some of the myths and to allow Australian expats to make informed decisions with respect to their superannuation contributions.


Impact on Australian tax residency status


An individual’s tax residency status is a question of fact and their specific circumstances will need to be assessed with consideration to all relevant factors.

There is a notion that if a expat contributes to their Australian superannuation that it may result in a non-resident becoming a resident for Australian tax purposes.

This factor in isolation would carry little weight and is highly unlikely to result in residence when considering the weight of other more relevant factors e.g., location of family, workplace, place of abode, etc.

Generally, an Australian expat contributing to super will not have a material impact on an individual’s tax residency status, unless the amounts contributed were significant.


What are the main types of super contributions in Australia?


The main types of superannuation contributions that exist in Australia are as follows:

Each of the above contribution types will have a series of sub-set contribution types, which we will discuss below.

All of the above super contribution types are acceptable as a non-resident Australian expat living overseas.

Careful consideration should be given if you reside in the United States.  See our Contributing to Super while in the US guide here: https://atlaswealth.com/au/news/tax-treatment-of-superannuation-for-us-based-expats/.


Concessional Contributions


Concessional contributions are contributions that are subject to the super funds’ “concessional” tax rate of 15% upon receipt.

Generally speaking, the money contributed has not been taxed before being received by the super fund and so it is taxed within the super fund.

Concessional contributions may include:

  • Super guarantee contributions paid by an employer
  • Salary sacrifice contributions paid by an employer from your pre-tax income
  • Personal contributions claimed as a tax deduction

Australian expats are generally not paid super from their employer and they don’t have the option of salary sacrifice as they are employed by an overseas organisation.

Therefore, the more common type of concessional contribution made by Australian expats is personal contributions claimed as a tax deduction.

If an expat contribtes to their Australian superannuation account this allows thrm to reduce taxable income in Australia by claiming the amount contributed as a tax deduction.

This is often suitable where an expat has a positively geared investment property in Australia generating taxable income.


Suitable for: Not ideal when:
·      When you have taxable ordinary income ·      You have no taxable ordinary income (eg your investment income is subject to withholding tax which can’t be reduced by a super deduction)

·      Part year tax resident with income in the low tax brackets

·      You have a SMSF and are non-resident.

·      US residents should proceed with caution.

Warning:  The deduction you can claim is limited to bring your net income to nil.  You cannot use the super deduction to generate a tax loss.

Contribution Timing and Process


Step 1: Make the contribution – The timing of the contribution is critical.  The contribution needs to be made and received by the superfund prior to 30 June to be eligible for deduction.

Step 2: Submit s290 Notice of Intent to Claim a Tax Deduction – When you submit this form, it converts the contribution from a non-concessional contribution into a concessional contribution.  This notice is essentially putting the superfund on notice that you want to claim a deduction and instructing them to do two things:

      1. Take 15% tax out of the contribution; and

      2. Notify the ATO that you want to claim a deduction for this contribution.

Your superfund will contact you when this has successfully been received.

You can submit or revise this notice up to the earlier of the date you lodge your tax return or 30 June the year after you make the contribution (ie you have maximum 1 year to lodge this notice).

The notice exists on the ATO website here in generic form, but most superfunds allow you to submit this intent via their online portal which is usually quicker and easier as much of the information is prefilled.


Carry forward unused contributions


Often expats are not reaching their prior year caps, and a catch-up contribution can be useful if you want to make a larger contribution than $27,500 in the year (eg if you have a significant capital gain you want to offset).

If you have unused concessional cap amounts from previous years, you may be able to carry them forward to increase your contribution caps in later years. To be eligible you need both:

  • total super balance of less than $500,000 at 30 June of the previous financial year; and
  • unused concessional contributions cap amounts from up to 5 previous years.

The unused cap amounts you can carry forward depends on the amount you have contributed in previous years, starting from 2018–19. You can carry forward unused cap amounts from up to 5 previous financial years, even if you weren’t in the fund at the time, ie this can still benefit someone entering Australia who previously had no superfund.

Unused cap amounts are available for 5 years and expire after this. For example, a 2019–20 unused cap amount that is not used by the end of 2024–25 will expire.

The oldest available unused cap amounts are carried forward first. For example, unused cap amounts from 2019–20 would be used to increase your cap first before unused cap amounts from 2020–21.

Unused concessional cap amounts are applied automatically once you exceed the cap in any year.


Non-Concessional Contributions


Non-concessional contributions are not subject to tax upon receipt by the super fund as they are made up of post-tax monies (i.e., the money has already been taxed).

Non-concessional contributions may include:

  • Personal contributions not claimed as a tax deduction
  • Spouse contributions
  • Government Co-Contribution
  • Low-Income Super Contribution

Personal contributions not claimed as a tax deduction are most commonly used for boosting super savings and are available to Australian expats.

Spouse contributions, Government Co-Contributions, and Low-Income Super contributions are generally not effective while overseas as eligibility either requires Australian residence (e.g., for spouse contributions) or requires specific Income tests to be met where at least 10% or more of total income must come from employment-related activities in Australia (e.g., for Government Co-Contribution and Low-Income Super contributions).

Careful consideration should be given if you reside in the United States. See our Contributing to Super while in the US guide here: https://atlaswealth.com/au/news/tax-treatment-of-superannuation-for-us-based-expats/.


Downsizer Contributions


The downsizer contribution rules allow individuals who meet certain eligibility to contribute up to $300,000 from the sale of their existing or previous main residence into superannuation, and the contribution does not count towards the contribution caps.

To be eligible to make a downsizer contribution, the proceeds from the sale of the home must be either exempt or partially exempt from capital gains tax (CGT) under the main residence exemption.

This means an individual would need to sell the property as an Australian tax resident and the property cannot be an investment property that was never previously a main residence.

Due to this, the downsizer contribution is generally not available to Australian expats who are non-residents for tax purposes.

You can read more about the downsizer rules here: https://atlaswealth.com/au/news/can-a-downsizer-contribution-strategy-assist-australian-expats/


Small Business Contributions


The small business contributions are available to individuals operating small businesses in Australia who dispose of eligible business assets.

Because of this, small business contributions will be available only to a minority group of Australian expats (if any).

In short, they are capital gains tax (CGT) concessions that allow the reduction of some or all of a capital gain from an active asset used in a small business, with the proceeds contributed to super.

The super concessions include:

  • Small business 15-year exemption
  • Small business retirement exemption

The key benefit of both concessions is the ability to contribute amounts to an Australian super fund without affecting non-concessional contributions limits. This allows more to be placed into the tax-effective environment of super.


Summary of Superannuation Contribution Options


We have summarized the above contributions in table form below:

Contribution Type Contribution Subset Type Available to Expats? Notes
Concessional Super Guarantee (SG) contributions Generally, no. Subject to your employer.
Salary Sacrifice contributions Generally, no. Subject to your employer.
Personal contributions claimed as a tax deduction Yes There are limits, see eligibility rules.
Non-Concessional Personal contributions not claimed as a tax deduction Yes There are limits, see eligibility rules.
Spouse contributions No Only available to Australian residents.
Government Co-contributions No Subject to Income Tests.
Low-Income Super contributions No Subject to Income Tests.
Downsizer Contributions Downsizer contributions No Only available to Australian residents.
Small Business Contributions Small business 15-year exemption Generally, no. Complex area, seek tax advice.
Small business retirement exemption Generally, no. Complex area, seek tax advice.


Concluding Comments


It’s important to note that superannuation and the tax and regulatory rules that govern the system can be highly complex.

The purpose of this guide is to offer a high-level summary of the types of contributions available to Australian expats who are non-residents for Australian tax purposes.

It does not cover all aspects that need to be considered when deciding to contribute to superannuation such as age and contribution limits.

As with all money held within the super fund, individuals will also need to meet a condition of release before being able to access the funds such as attaining age 60 and being retired or attaining age 65.

Therefore, it’s important to consider the suitability of contributing to super as an Australian expat against your situation and financial goals.

For Australian expats looking to return to Australia, superannuation remains a very versatile investment and tax-saving vehicle and Australian expats must understand their options around it.

If you would like to learn more about how you could be using your Australian super more efficiently, please get in touch with us through the Contact tab on our website.


Note – This article is a reproduction on one that was published in 2023 with updated data, figures and content. The original can be found here https://atlaswealth.com/news/australian-expats-guide-to-contributing-to-superannuation/ 

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