The exodus of South Africans to foreign jurisdictions has been well publicised, and due to this, much has been written about the so-called “exit tax” that applies when one ceases to be a tax resident in South Africa, as well as matters relating to foreign employment income earned. However, what is often overlooked is what happens when you emigrate but retain your home in South Africa.
The general principle is that when you cease to be a South African tax resident, your home (constituting immovable property in South Africa) will not be subject to the “exit charge”, since that immovable property always remains a part of the South African tax net. This means that should you initially keep your home in South Africa and only sell it a few years down the line, you are only likely to pick up any capital gains tax consequences once you do sell the home.
The question arises, however: What is the interaction is between you having used your home as a primary residence whilst in South Africa and you not having lived there after your emigration? It is important to note that the way in which you used your residence whilst not actually living there while aboard is irrelevant for the consideration below.
In terms of the Income Tax Act, the first R2 million of a capital gain made on the disposal of a “primary residence” is excluded for purposes of calculating your tax liability. However, since you were not resident in your home for the entire time during which you owned the property, it will not constitute as being your “primary residence” for the entire time. An apportionment must thus be made for the time during which you lived in that residence, and the time you used it for other purposes.
Taxpayers are often incorrectly advised that for purposes of the apportionment mentioned above it is the primary residence exclusion of R2 million that must be apportioned on a time basis to determine the capital gains tax exposure. However, paragraph 47 of the Eighth Schedule of the Income Tax Act is clear in that it is the capital gain that must be apportioned on a time basis for the period you were resident and the period in which you were not resident. The gain made in respect of the period during which you did not reside in the property as your primary residence is fully subject to capital gains tax, while the R2 million primary residence exclusion can only be applied to that portion of the gain during which you indeed resided in the property, as your primary residence.
Persons who currently reside aboard or intend to emigrate while retaining their property, which they used as a primary residence at some stage, are therefore encouraged to obtain professional assistance when doing the apportionment calculations to ensure that they are not prejudiced in any way (either through the overpayment or underpayment of tax in respect of the disposal of that property).