Unpleasant Experience with ATO after Returning from Working Overseas

TLDR;

  • worked in China for 2+ years
  • paying income taxes in Australia through payment plan arrangement
  • system keep sending notices of payment default as I am keeping up with PAYG payments after the first year
  • tax officers & agent not helpful

Anyone else care to share similar experience and how they dealt with ATO?

I returned to Australia after working overseas for more than 2 years. Throughout that period, I have done the right thing by reporting my overseas income. However, through no fault of my own, I have been made to feel like a criminal trying to evade paying my income taxes. It has been extremely nerve-wrecking to receive notice after notice of payment defaults. Each time, I tried to get to the bottom of the issue with the help of the tax officers who did their best to explain the situation to me. After numerous calls, and upon working out my taxes owed and PAYGs for myself, I think I finally understand my tax situation and obligations. No words can describe the unpleasant conversations I had each time I called ATO. I do not know if it was a combination of my ignorance or misunderstanding or the lack of communication with my tax agent that has caused this confusion. As a mid-career professional who is trying my very best to seek legal employment in Australia for several months, I feel defeated and deflated after this experience.

I wish the system would provide better information for returning overseas workers. This experience has been a real eye-opener for me about the lack of preparedness on my part as a tax payer. While I do not expect a red carpet welcome upon returning to Australia, I felt I have been the target of low hanging fruit by the ATO. As I am contemplating whether to seek overseas employment in the future, I expect the minimal effort by ATO to;
i) Educate prospective tax-payers about their obligations when seeking overseas employment,
ii) Make every effort to contact every tax payer working overseas about their past, current and future tax obligations,
iii) Be gentler and more apologetic with middle-aged callers who are trying their best to understand their own financial difficulties.

This issue has impacted me extremely negatively. I want to feel proud that I am doing the nation a real favour by heroically battling financial and health uncertainties and bringing home foreign income and not just recirculating local currencies or worse, sucking hard-working income tax paying Australians. I am left questioning if that heroic effort has been worthwhile.

Does anyone have similar experience with ATO upon returning home from working overseas? Please share.

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Comments

  • +89 votes

    Heroically…battling…what? Everyone's got their problems but no need to exaggerate your own issue to make yourself feel special.

    "Through no fault of your own"
    I mean it sounds like you didn't do your own due diligence or at the very least seek tax accountant advice in your situation. Now you're blaming the ato that the onus is on them to teach everyone…or something.

    In saying that, the ato, like any other government departments, are a pita to deal with. Hence why you should seek advice when you need to.

    • -9 votes

      kudos for such a lucid message typed up at 1am. You the true hero!

    • +3 votes

      I'm imagining a shadow of the colossus scene where the big monster is the ATO.

    •  

      "No good dead goes unpunished"

    • +3 votes

      sucking hard-working income tax paying Australians

      Hero right there.

  • +23 votes

    Correct me if i am wrong, but isn't Australian tax system is residency based as opposed to like the US tax system?

    If you were working in China for 2 years, why would you report your overseas tax income to the ATO?

    • +4 votes

      Yes, it is totally unclear from OP what really happened. Forced to pay tax? Are you in the right or wrong?

      • +3 votes

        as a former accountant, it threw me for a loop quite a bit.

        •  

          Yep i'm an accountant and worked 2 years overseas, had no issues while away and when I came back home with the ATO.

          But I am also a hero

    • +19 votes

      "Residency" as defined in the tax system, is not a simple physical presence in a country.

      You can be working & living overseas, but still deemed by the ATO to be a "resident" of Australia. And, if you are deemed to be a "resident" then you are required to continue to file tax returns in Australia.

      As a very simple summary, you are definitely considered to no longer be a resident only if you move your permanent home overseas and have no clear intentions of returning and cut all connections to Australia. If one of these do not apply, then you might be considered still be an Australian tax resident, even if you are living and working overseas.

      For example, if a person goes overseas on a temporary two-year contract, and intends to return to Australia after two years, then he will continue to be a tax resident.

      Or, if he goes on an indefinite contract, but his family continues to stay in Australia, then he will continue to be an Australian tax resident.

      This ATO webpage explains tax residency:

      https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/coming-to-australia-or-go...

      • +2 votes

        One can easily make a case for not being australian resident for tax purposes.

        Even in the link from the ATO, the examples are not entirely clear cut between the two using domicile tests. I would have thought you would just stop reporting your overseas income haha.

      •  

        Hold up !!

        So an international student/worker is considered a resident for tax purposes but a resident who is overseas and is getting paid by a overseas company is not considered non resident for tax purpose and still has to file tax in AUS ?

        What is that said person also have to pay tax on the foreign country?

        • +2 votes

          I believe you get a credit for overseas tax in that you only need to pay the difference between tax rates if any

        • +2 votes

          Correct. My partner is in this situation. It's actually better than NOT being considered a resident for tax purposes because they don't get the first 18K tax free.

          Sounds like OP hasn't bothered to read up about the difference in definition and had declared themselves a resident which they weren't.

    • +3 votes

      OP thought they were doing the right thing but invited the fox into the hen house.

    • +1 vote

      What OP hasn’t clearly mentioned is, if s/he was on China or Australia payroll. 🤔

      •  

        Makes no difference to the ATO.

    • +1 vote

      There is also domicile test irrespective of if you are physically in Australia or not.

  • +33 votes

    can u pls heroically battle china after you've finished waging war on the ato

    • +1 vote

      Yep. OP is lucky he was considered an Australian resident for tax purposes. I seriously doubt the Chinese version of the ATO is any easier to deal with …

  • +8 votes

    I read everything and i still do not understand your situation, talk to an accountant asap.

    You seem to think the ato owes you something, when it is in fact your responsibility to know the rules and laws that affect you specifically, usually through the help of an accountant. It is not the ato's responsibility to make sure you know what you are required to know. My advice to you is you seem very self involved, consider maybe that other people aren't there to serve your needs. Take responsibility for your own lack of knowledge and educate yourself.

  • +3 votes

    Does anyone have similar experience with ATO upon returning home from working overseas? Please share.

    Nope. x2

  • +22 votes

    Such a hero. We need to declare the 28/5 a national holiday for your sake.

    • +3 votes

      Hahaha…This got me cracking..thanks for making us smile

  •  

    I’m genuinely curious, you did this?

    https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Income-and-deductions/Inc...

    1. Declare overseas earnings
    2. Potentially claim a foreign tax offset
    3. Pay tax owed

    What other traps or issues did you encounter?

  • +5 votes

    It’s definitely worth using an accountant, particularly if your tax situation is complex. You mention a ‘tax agent’ is this your accountant? if it was me I’d be asking the accountant to advise me and submit everything on my behalf.

    Calling any government dept can be frustrating, but I really don’t think it’s up to them
    “contact every tax payer working overseas about their past, current and future tax obligations”. This is a responsibility you need to take on when deciding to work overseas.

    Their information is actually pretty good
    https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Income-and-deductions/In-...

    Good luck with your job search.

  • -1 vote

    Citizens that have the means to change their residency status may want to do so to take full advantage of the system.

    https://youtu.be/omGrsqi7nrQ

  • +12 votes

    Poorly written diatribe. Overly emotive. Unclear and verbose to the point of impenetrable.

    Perhaps these are some of the reasons that got you into strife in the first place. I hear Chinese grammar is significantly less complex so you might have an easier time explaining yourself back there?

    •  

      They have been the target of low hanging fruit? Possibly sour grapes…

  • +1 vote

    Op has gone into hiding after realising he F-ed up.

  • +1 vote

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my rant post and commented.

    I found out the reason why my payment plans were getting in default was that my income tax increased after setting up those payment plans. This caused me to be behind in payment even though I set up direct debit to pay out regularly.

    Learning that my income tax debt keeps increasing is not easy in my current situation. Wish I had been more prepared with my tax knowledge.

    Have a great day everyone.

    • -1 vote

      Yet still no apology….

      •  

        2 years foreign education, enough to adapt to the foreign ways of owning up.

  • +2 votes

    Can I just suggest something? Many ex-pats do employ accountants that specialize in this area again so your point of contact should be with them.

    On another somehow related topic, many ex-pats with very good accountants know how to fail the residency tests as they build their wealth elsewhere in the world (eg: Dubai) so consider that too if you want to build wealth without getting stung in tax considering you don't get medicare and the Govt does little service for you while you're overseas.

  • +2 votes

    Australian Yang Hengjun faces court in China on "espionage" charges after two years in detention but you have a problem with the ATO…

    Yeah, right…

    • +2 votes

      You wonder which team OP plays for eh.

    •  

      At least he's getting a super transparent and fair trial.

  •  

    Appeal to Emotion
    Description: This is the general category of many fallacies that use emotion in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument. It is a type of manipulation used in place of valid logic.

    This sound like OP’s argument in the TLDR.

    Also a common tactic used by that foreign land…

    Looks like OP didn’t get sympathies from this community.

  • +6 votes

    Have they been making you pay with iTunes cards?

  • -1 vote

    A bit off topic but I do wonder sometimes if there are a lot of Australian Chinese being detained in China for random reasons, why do people keep coming back there?

    Please enlighten me? China I don't think is Dubai.

    • -2 votes

      if you behave yourself and don't do anything dodgy (like 99.999999% of the foreigners in China, or any where for that matter) you won't run into troubles. This is a common sense that is valid around the world yet people seem to not realise these days…

      • +1 vote

        ah yes, how dare you express a political opinion and say you like Winnie the Pooh! Off to the gulag with you..

        •  

          If you are dumb enough to do those things where they are deemed unacceptable then u should not be surprised when the consequences hit u in the face. The world is not a fair and free place, it is like people that whine they are victims when they do something stupid but legal, like walk down dark allies with wads of cash and drunk.

        •  

          I tried smuggle a Winnie the Pooh doll and a book that is banned in China in my in-laws luggage years ago in the hopes they would “disappear” but they didn’t work. Even worse they been stuck in Australia now in my house for 2 years now because of Covid.

          Only thing I can do is make Australia like hell to them and try to treat them like garbage as much as possible.

          They are now pretty scared of me, so hopefully when travel is permitted they can return to China and never come back to Australia or face terrible experience here (especially if you are living in my house that I am paying for).

      • +3 votes

        Compared to the number of Australians in China there are very very few being detained.

        One political prisoner is too many.

  •  

    Sensationalist writing with little details.

    • Like many, I'm confused why OP is reporting their non-Australian income to the ATO on a 2-year tenure, i.e. remaining Australian resident for tax purpose. Was this self-assessed or instructed by the ATO?
    • Did OP communicate actively with the ATO by phone or simply relying on emails?
    • What about comparing ATO account balance against payslips/statements?
    • Tax accountant? Seems OP really needs to employ one to help with their issue.
  • +4 votes
    • works overseas for a while
    • stuffs up by not keeping track of tax payments (seriously, if you'd dealt with it after the first or second or even third notice there'd be literally no issue)
    • whinges on OzB about how hard life is for a tax payer, self-identifying as a HERO for the superhuman effort of talking to people over the phone and sorting out correct payments.

    I honestly don't think I've ever heard anyone repeatedly refer to their own actions as heroic - even people that have literally saved someone's life tend not to…

  • +4 votes

    Wait, so your income increased but you did not pay increased PAYG instalments?

    That does not seem like anything hard to understand.

    • +1 vote

      This is what I also comprehend of the situation.

  • +2 votes

    So are you telling me that every Australian who has gone on working holiday visas and worked in pubs in London, New York etc have had to report that income to the ATO? Assuming it's not cash in hand work.

    • +1 vote

      Australian residents are taxed on their worldwide income.

      Residency is based upon the individual facts. A short overseas trip (and yes, this can be for a few years everyone) might still make you a resident of Australia if you've maintained a house here/bank account/etc here, haven't established a permanent place of residence overseas and so on.

      As to whether the ATO knows about an Aussie backpacker's London pub job, and will catch an Aussie who leaves it off their Australian return, that's another matter.

      Most countries have a Double Tax Agreement in place so they agree on which country gets to tax you, how much they get, and whether the tax paid in one country counts as a credit in the other countries' tax return.

    • +2 votes

      Short answer, yes.

      Tax residency is a complex subject but beyond the basic test of actually living in Australia, if you’re living and working overseas, a big part of determining whether or not still tax resident in Australia is intent. Do they intend to come back to Australia or is this a permanent move overseas? Just by virtue of their particular visas ie. “working holiday visas”, implies that it’s only a temporary visa and they intend to come back to Australia after their working holiday, so in most cases they’re still tax resident here. If they went over on a migration/settlement visa, that can demonstrate that they intend to leave australia permanently(they can always change their mind and return later) but because they took steps to make it look like they’re leaving australia permanently, they can be assessed as not an Australian tax resident

      Although like the other commenter said, if go over to uk like a lot of us do, work in pubs, spend most of that money taking holidays around Europe and don’t bring a ton of cash back when eventually coming home, then it’s unlikely that ATO will take a second glance

  • +2 votes

    If you think the ATO is bad just remember you aren't a US citizen dealing with the IRS.

    IMO the ATO is a puppy compared to tax offices around the world.

    • +1 vote

      Try a dual-citizen, AU/USA and you REALLY get the shaft!

      FATCA

      Thanks, Obama.

      •  

        Try a dual-citizen, AU/USA and you REALLY get the shaft!

        But it is your choice to keep your paid membership to the USA citizenship club.

        •  

          Yes that is strictly true, but it can be quite difficult and very expensive to renounce your US citizenship. For starters you must be tax compliant with the IRS for a number of years (at least 3 from memory), when many joint citizens that have lived most of their lives here probably haven't filed a US tax return in decades.

          Then the cost for renouncing citizenship is many thousands of dollars, and that doesn't take into account the fact that the IRS interprets renunciation as a taxable event - as if you had sold off all of your worldwide assets and then owed tax on the capital gains. So you may find that you suddenly owe significant capital gains tax to the IRS on the property that you continue to live in locally, even though you haven't sold it and it is your PPOR.

          My kids were born in the US when I happened to be living there for a few years. For their future tax obligations I wish they were never bestowed US citizenship in the first place, but we didn't have a choice in that matter when they were born on US soil. I also wish it wasn't illegal to renounce your citizenship for taxation purposes.

          •  

            @macca9123: Renounce it in six hours.

            Why I Renounced My U.S. Citizenship & How I Did It
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNJYecWoBcs&t=394s

            •  

              @rektrading: Interesting experience, thanks for sharing. I'm guessing it was made easier for her by already being tax compliant and probably not having any/many assets to start with.

              Anyway, my point is that it can be extremely costly and difficult for older people with reasonable assets, particularly if they have been living abroad for many years with no intention of returning to the US permanently.

              There is a lot more information and discussion on this topic here: http://fixthetaxtreaty.org/

      •  

        Isn't AEOI the same as FATCA?

  • +3 votes

    Dude, just pay your income tax to the ATO. Problem solved!

  • +11 votes

    It is the OzBway or the Huawei…

  • +2 votes

    I want to feel proud that I am doing the nation a real favour by heroically battling financial and health uncertainties and bringing home foreign income and not just recirculating local currencies

    Doing Australia a real favour by paying the taxes that you're supposed to pay…? Wow. What even? I didn't know following the laws are a favour now. Imagine this:

    "Hey Cop, I'm doing you a real favour by keeping to the speed limit."

    through no fault of my own

    True, it could be a problem with your tax agent or if there's a miscommunication somewhere. Either way, you're responsible for meeting your tax duties.

  • +1 vote

    If I was working out of the country for two years no way I would want to still be paying income tax in Australia.

    You should have taken financial advice before you started to structure this properly.

    Maybe too late now, but either way get an accountant to sort it all out, this is not something you want to try and do on your own.

    As soon as your tax situation grows beyond a simple 9-5 PAYE job it is time to get an accountant.

  •  

    Op should friend request Donald trump on LinkedIn. Gina.

  • -1 vote

    ATO is the worst organisation I've ever had to deal with along with the worst service I have ever counted. The problems I had have thankfully been sorted now but I've never been laughed at by an employee of a major company/agency previously. I find the system is so complicated that half of the staff don't understand it when you call the help lines.

  • +1 vote

    What letter is on your cape? and what does the rest of your uniform look like?

    • +2 votes

      Not all heroes wear capes.

  •  

    I'm surprised no one has started attacking the Chinese people or CCP yet

    •  

      Probably because this isn't a thread for a child's stuffed toy :D

    •  

      See below :p

  •  

    Ffs there are some trolls on here. Sorry OP due to one or two poor choices of words in your post the trolling has been relentless.

    I understand your point - you tried to do the right thing, but have been treated far worse than people who have hidden their affairs from the ATO. I agree that's a shit state of affairs for yourself but more broadly is not a great position for the country to be in, where the little people who are trying get pillorised but genuine crime is not chased.

    I worked overseas and was distraught with changes to our tax system (within the last decade) that suddenly made overseas income taxable in Australia. Huge financial implication.

    Many posts on here have been equally shocked. I bet they'd all feel like doing the right thing (i.e. reporting their overseas income) is actually going above and beyond, especially when so many others around them are not and seemingly fine with getting away with it.

    I think it's revealing that in the same thread you got these replies:

    I'm confused why OP is reporting their non-Australian income to the ATO on a 2-year tenure, i.e. remaining Australian resident for tax purpose

    So are you telling me that every Australian who has gone on working holiday visas and worked in pubs in London, New York etc have had to report that income to the ATO?

    If I was working out of the country for two years no way I would want to still be paying income tax in Australia.

    But also

    Doing Australia a real favour by paying the taxes that you're supposed to pay…? Wow. What even? I didn't know following the laws are a favour now.

    The post about OP thinking they were doing the right thing but inviting the fox into the hen house is the most accurate one here imho. And I do empathise with your rant, although I'd agree that your only course of action is to pay up and in the future try to find a good accountant (which could also go awry despite what some of the heros on here trolling you relentlessly might say).

    Some of this might simply be due to anti-China sentiment, which I think is valid atm. Don't take that personally. The China situation is quite scary for a peace loving modern day Australian

    • +5 votes

      I'm unsure how quoting that part of OP's post is trolling or shocking. It's pretty fair to say that paying taxes is an obligation, not a favour.

      You can disagree with the tax regulations or AUS decided to tax foreign income, but that is completely irrelevant to OP's frustration with ATO agents. It also doesn't help that OP was pretty light on the details of exactly what happened.

      OP has also admitted it's an omission on his behalf and wasn't quite prepared with tax knowledge. So you can imagine why so many here criticised OP's story.

    • +2 votes

      I worked overseas and was distraught with changes to our tax system (within the last decade) that suddenly made overseas income taxable in Australia. Huge financial implication.

      What changes within the last decade are you referring to? As far as I know, the tax residency laws have not changed since I was first made aware of them in mid-90s, and if you’re tax resident in Australia, you’re taxed on worldwide income, that hasn’t changed. I’m not aware of any significant recent change to our tax laws with regards to overseas income other than the changes to HECS-repayments and in my opinion, those changes were long overdue

  • +2 votes

    However, through no fault of my own, I have been made to feel like a criminal trying to evade paying my income taxes

    So the ATO hurt your feelings by doing their job and asking questions?

    It has been extremely nerve-wrecking to receive notice after notice of payment defaults. Each time, I tried to get to the bottom of the issue with the help of the tax officers who did their best to explain the situation to me.

    and what did they say when the explained it to you was wrong?

    To me is sounds like you might have been one payment behind all the time, hence why you kept getting default notices when you paid on time (you did pay on time?). As that payment was really for the one due before hand.

    I wish the system would provide better information for returning overseas workers. This experience has been a real eye-opener for me about the lack of preparedness on my part as a tax payer

    What do you want the system to do? You yourself said you didn't prepare yourself. Its not the ATOs job to do that, its yours.

    i) Educate prospective tax-payers about their obligations when seeking overseas employment,

    They have entire website for YOU to educate yourself. If you don't want to do that, then you hire an accountant who is educated in this stuff to work for you.

    ii) Make every effort to contact every tax payer working overseas about their past, current and future tax obligations,

    Not the ATOs job, you moved overseas, you need to find out what you need to do.

    iii) Be gentler and more apologetic with middle-aged callers who are trying their best to understand their own financial difficulties.

    and how has the ATO been mean to you? They asked you to pay money or something?

  • +2 votes

    I can imagine that if you worked at the ATO in a customer facing position you would be fed so much BS. I doubt I'd want to be somebodies buddy either.

  • +1 vote

    I think old mate needs to amend post to reflect "heroically battling" the OzB comments section in this post!

    Oh wait he bailed 8 and a half hours ago….

  • +1 vote

    Ozbargainers do not like to question the system and will put anyone down for not following the rules. Don't feel bad.

    •  

      i occasionally do 84 in 80 zones

      •  

        YOU DESERVE TO LOSE YOUR LICENCE

      •  

        Lol

  •  

    I've found the ATO really helpful everytime I've called, which is not very often. There should be little reason why you would need to be in contact with them unless you've stuffed something up.

    Sounds like you stuffed something up, it's quite difficult to fix, you didn't understand something, and ato has to explain to you.

    You won't get anywhere based on feeling or emotions. The ato is not centrelink.

    For a middle aged person, you should understand by now, and understand it is your responsibility to get things right, not blame something else when things don't go well.

    You've worked in China, honestly, the tax office over there is way more unpleasant.

    I think you might have more success with the ato by being less emotional over the phone (this is what i'm assuming has happened) and base your reactions based on reason.

    Things are what they are, having someone give you a cuddle isn't going to change your circumstances. Accept what you can, and cannot control.

    This will sound harsh, but I think harsh is what you need here.

  • +3 votes

    Let me guess:

    You entered a payment plan for your existing debt.
    You continued to lodge PAYG but didn't pay them in full or on time.
    When the system checked the balance, it was higher than it expected as part of the payment plan, thus defaulting.

    Rant all you like, but all of this is your fault. You haven't been putting the appropriate amount of tax aside to pay for your installments as they come due (I mean otherwise, you wouldnt be in a payment plan, let's be honest).

    It seems you're trying to win sympathy by not telling the full story.

  •  

    LOL that last part made me giggle, what a hero
    but honestly there is this really good dude called an accountant who usually helps me with tax stuff, try paying him to help you with your problem next time instead of DIY you know you can claim what ever you pay him on tax right? i mean please tell me you know at least that much

  • +1 vote

    I mean, accountants get a bad rap sometimes but seeing a good one who knows their stuff can save you a lot of money, time and frustration.
    Even the ASIC chairman did this for his private tax matters, remember this? …albeit using the public's money.

  • +4 votes

    If you have engaged a tax agent, they would generally discuss with the ATO on your behalf.

  • -1 vote

    In your words - seek overseas employment in the future.
    Fight your heroic battle in any other country, we don't need your heroic's or your tax dollars.

  • +2 votes

    Be gentler to middle aged callers?

    Why are you asking for special treatment? Out of curiosity, what do you define as middle age?

  •  

    Been good

  • -1 vote

    The ATO is a collection and enforcement agency, They are not there to educate you, nor should they be, tax payers fund enough unnecessary services as it is. Every tax law is fully published and documented and freely available so you can educate yourself and if you don't feel you can or don't want to then you hire a accountant that understands your particular area of interest.

    Generally the ATO are pretty good and lenient on honest first time mistakes. They are NOT lenient on repeat offenses, nor should they be, what you are describing seems to be many offenses of not paying and not learning from the default notices. Why at that point should they continue to treat you like an honest Tax paying citizen when you haven't made the effort to learn about your obligations?

    • -1 vote

      That's why they don't have many friends. Wonder how many people in a pub would proudly say, "I work for ATO".

      On the other hand, maybe that sort of job gets paid real big for taking into account the stigma. Hmmmm…..

  •  

    It's a tax collection agency. Not Toys R Us customer service.

    The onus is on you to get your information correct by yourself or by using a tax agent.

    Shrug it off and take it as a lesson learnt

  • +1 vote

    Imagine the heroics OP could post about when he gets a credit card and then falls behind in the repayments.

  •  

    Worked overseas for 2 and a half years. The company I worked for paid PWC to figure out all the tax implications and lodge tax returns. Never had an issue.

    Lesson to all in that if your company is not getting you tax experts to figure it all out when working OS then you need to engage your own tax expert.

  •  

    You need to make the effort to understand what your obligations are. The ATO has always been extremely helpful when I've interacted with them.

  •  

    Not sure who you have as your tax agent, but once we take a client on its us the ATO deal with, not the client.

    A good tax agent will figure out what is going on, what the ATO want, what your obligations are and explain them clearly to you.

    Change your accountant imo.

  • -1 vote

    You shouldn't have declared your overseas income in the first place, applying the 183 rule you are not an australian tax resident.

    Your accoutnant should advice you on these kind of things