SA Revenue Services (Sars) will start tracking expatriates who have been flying under the radar, even those who have been out of the country for decades, according to News 24.

Sars formed the Foreign Employment Unit in 2020 to focus on South Africans working abroad.

The tax agency will have enhanced powers to track South Africans abroad, due in large part to improved global data sharing among tax authorities. Jonty Leon, legal manager at Tax Consulting SA, is quoted as saying that Sars is under pressure to meet revenue targets, which explains the tougher stance on expatriates.

He advises South Africans planning to relocate to another country to follo the formal exit procedures and make sure their tax affairs are in order before leaving.

The obligation to declare worldwide income is no longer determined by where you live outside the country or how long you spend abroad – but by tax residency status.

As Moneyweb reported, the Tax Administration Bill seeks to criminalise mistakes by assuming that any act or omission in filing tax returns was “wilfully done”. This provides a much lower bar of proof for Sars in chasing after taxpayers who may have made innocent mistakes in making their tax declarations. It remains to be seen whether this passes Constitutional muster, and a court challenge against Sars on this issue is a virtual certainty.

Leon says Sars is pursuing expatriates by calling for audits of individuals, “wanting them to prove they are non-residents and justify their intentions” while some are being asked to prove they had an Emigration Tax Clearance Certificate when leaving SA.

Sars is also able to audit offshore income through common reporting standards, says New 24.

Options available to expatriates and those planning to move abroad including using double taxation agreements between the chosen country and SA, and urgently applying for financial emigration before March 2021.