Part 1 of 3 – The 5th Protocol to the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty – U.S. Residents Moving To Canada With a ROTH
This is the another post describing an aspect of the September 21, 2007 5th Protocol to the Canada U.S. tax treaty. This post describes how the owner a Roth IRA can maintain significant advantages from a Roth IRA which has been funded prior to a move to Canada. In my next post I will argue that the same provisions should apply to a TFSA that was funded prior to a Canadian resident moving to the United States.
Introduction – The United States taxes ONLY one thing! Everything!
The United States has one of the most (if not the most) comprehensive and complicated tax systems in the world.
1. Who is subject to U.S. taxation?
The United States is one of only two countries to impose taxation on its citizens who do NOT live in the United States. In practical terms, (in a world of dual citizenship), this means that the United States imposes taxation on the citizens and residents of other nations. This is to be contrasted with a system of “residence based taxation” – a system where only “residents of the nation” are subject to full taxation. A system of “residence based taxation” assumes that the purpose of taxes is so that the government can provide services to residents. A system of “citizenship-based taxation” assumes that the purpose of taxation is so that taxpayers can fund the activities of the government. (It’s interesting that the United States is (1) the only modern country with “citizenship” taxation and (2) a country that provides comparatively few services to its residents.
2. What is the source of the income that is subject to U.S. taxation?
The United States (along with Canada and most other countries) uses a system of “worldwide taxation”. In other words a U.S. citizen who is a tax-paying resident of France, is expected to pay taxes to the United States on income earned anywhere in the world. This is to be contrasted with “territorial taxation”. A country that uses a “territorial tax system” imposes taxes ONLY on income earned in the country.
3. What are the rules that determine how the tax owed is calculated?
The American citizen living in France as a French citizen is subject to exactly the same rules in the Internal Revenue Code that Homeland Americans are subject to. The problem is that the Internal Revenue imposes a different kind of tax regime on “foreign income” and “foreign property. In effect, this means that the United States imposes a separate and more punitive regime on people who live outside the United States. (This has the effect of making it very difficult for American citizens living outside the United States to engage in rational financial and retirement planning.)
The Impact of Tax Treaties in General and the “Pension Provisions” in Particular
4. What about tax treaties? How do they affect this situation?
In general (except in specific circumstances) U.S. tax treaties do NOT save Americans abroad from double taxation. In fact, the principal effect of most U.S. tax treaties is to guarantee that Americans abroad are subject to double taxation. This is achieved through a tax treaty provision known as the “savings clause“. Pursuant to the “savings clause”, the treaty partner country agrees that the United States can impose U.S. taxation, according to U.S. tax rules on the residents of the treaty partner countries who are (according to the USA) U.S. citizens.
In practice this means that the United States imposes “worldwide taxation” on residents of other countries. In fact, the United States imposes a separate and punitive tax system on those who reside in other countries.
5. The specific problem of pensions are recognized in many tax treaties
Many U.S. tax treaties address the issue of pensions. The Canada and U.K. tax treaties give strong protection to the rights of individuals to have pensions. The Australia tax treaty has very weak pension protection. The problem of how the Australian Superannuation interacts with the Internal Revenue Code has been the subject of much discussion. The “Pensions Provisions” are found in Article XVIII of the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty (as amended over the years).
The 5th Protocol – effective September 21, 2007 – made numerous changes to the pensions provisions (Article XVIII of the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty)