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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

Guide to the US New Zealand Tax Treaty

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Understanding the US New Zealand Tax Treaty is crucial for Americans living in New Zealand and to New Zealanders who have U.S. sourced income. This guide breaks down the treaty's provisions, offering clarity on how it affects personal taxation and helps avoid double taxation.

Executive Summary

  • ​The U.S. New Zealand tax treaty offers mechanisms to prevent double taxation.

  • The treaty includes a "Savings Clause" that maintains the US right to tax its citizens as per its domestic laws and not per the treaty with just limited exceptions.

  • US-sourced passive income, such as interest, dividends, and pensions, may be taxed at reduced rates or exempted for New Zealand residents who are U.S. NRAs (non-resident aliens).

Introduction to the US New Zealand Tax Treaty

The US New Zealand tax treaty, signed in 19983, serves as an agreement between the two countries for determining the taxation of income where both nations may have the legal right to taxation according to their respective laws. The treaty covers, among other topics, avoidance of double taxation, residency tie-breakers and taxation of various forms of income, including business profits, dividends, interest, pensions, and capital gains. This article will focus on some of the key aspects of the treaty that hold particular significance.


Relief of Double Taxation

The New Zealand US treaty provides mechanisms for relief from double taxation, ensuring that income earned in one country by residents or citizens of the other is not taxed twice. Specifically, the treaty allows U.S. citizens and residents to claim a foreign tax credit for the income tax they paid on New Zealand sourced income to New Zealand against their U.S. tax liability. Conversely, New Zealand offers a credit for U.S. taxes paid on U.S. sourced income against it's own tax liabilities.


Example

Jack Taylor, a U.S. citizen living in Auckland, earns an annual salary of $80,000. In New Zealand, he pays $25,000 in taxes for the year. Jack's U.S. tax liability for this income amounts to $22,000. Thanks to the relief of double taxation provision of the tax treaty, he is entitled to claim a foreign tax credit on his US taxes. Jack applies the $25,000 he paid in New Zealand taxes against his U.S. tax obligation, effectively reducing his U.S. tax liability to zero and even generating a $3,000 credit surplus, which may be carried over to subsequent tax years.


The Savings Clause

The New Zealand US tax treaty contains a "savings clause" which allows the U.S. to impose taxes on its citizens according to its own laws, even if this contradicts the treaty. As a result of this clause, the majority of the benefits and reductions offered by the treaty do not apply to U.S. citizens living in New Zealand.


Example

Emma Wilson, a U.S. citizen, resides and works in Wellington, New Zealand, for an American bio-tech company. She performs all her work duties in New Zealand and has no physical presence in the U.S. Although the New Zealand U.S. tax treaty exempts such income from U.S. taxation on the basis that there is no permanent establishment in the U.S., the savings clause overrides this, requiring Emma to declare and possibly pay U.S. taxes on her income. Nevertheless, Emma can take advantage of foreign earned income exclusion or foreign tax credits for the taxes paid in New Zealand to avoid being taxed twice on the same income.

Expert Tip: It's crucial for U.S. citizens to familiarize themselves with the savings clause exclusions in all tax treaties to accurately determine which tax benefits they can utilize.

Tax Residency and the Tie-Breaker Rules

The United States and New Zealand each have their own criteria for determining who is a resident for tax purposes. As such, it's possible for someone to meet the residency requirements of both countries simultaneously. To prevent the problems that dual tax residency could cause, the U.S.-New Zealand tax treaty provides a series of tie-breaker rules. These rules help to decide which country has the primary right to tax the individual's income.

  1. Permanent Home Test: The first consideration is whether the individual has a permanent home available to them in one of the countries. If a permanent home is available in only one country, that country is generally considered the individual's country of residence for tax purposes.

  2. Centre of vital interests Test: If the individual has a permanent home in both countries or in neither country, the treaty looks at where the individuals center of vital interests lies, in other words, where they have a closer personal and economic interests.

  3. Habitual Abode Test: If the individual has a center of vital interests in both countries or in neither country, the treaty looks at where the individual has a habitual abode; in other words, where they live regularly. This could be where they spend more time or where they have a regular presence.

  4. Nationality Test: If the individual has a habitual abode in both countries or in neither, the next factor considered is nationality. If the person is a citizen of only one of the countries, that country is typically considered their country of residence for tax purposes.

  5. Mutual Agreement Procedure: In the rare case that the individual is a citizen of both countries or of neither, and the above tests do not resolve the issue of residency, the competent authorities of the United States and New Zealand will determine the individual's residency through a mutual agreement, taking into account the person's facts and circumstances.

Taxation of US Sourced Passive Income

Passive income from U.S. sources, which is not tied to a U.S. trade or business, is generally taxed at a flat rate of 30% if earned by a non-resident alien. However, the US New Zealand tax treaty lowers this rate or even totally exempts it from US taxation for certain types of income. We've summarized some of the tax treaty rates in the table below. It's important to note that that these rates generally do not apply to U.S. citizens due to the savings clause mentioned earlier.

​Tax Rate

Treaty Article Citation

​Interest

10%

11(2) / PVII

​Dividends - Paid by U.S. Corporations

15%

10(2) / PVI

Dividends - Qualifying for Direct Dividend Rate

5%

10(2) / PVI

Pensions

0%*

18(1)

Social Security

30%**

18(1)(b)

*The rate applies to both periodic and lump-sum payments.

**Applies to 85% of the social security payments received from the U.S. Government.


Income Earned While Temporarily Present in the US

Generally, income earned from work performed in the US would be considered US source income and would be subject to US taxation. However, the US New Zealand tax treaty lists certain exemptions where such income is not subject to US taxes. It's important to note that these exceptions generally do not apply to U.S. citizens because of the savings clause mentioned earlier. We've summarized some of these exceptions in the table below:

​Income Type

​Maximum Presence in U.S

Required Employer or Payer

Maximum Amount of Compensation

Treaty Article Citation

​Employee

183 days

Any foreign resident

No limit*

15

Contractor

183 days

Any U.S. or foreign resident

No limit

14

​Public entertainment

No limit

Any U.S. or foreign resident

$10,000

17

​Full-Time Students - remittances or allowances

No limit

Any foreign resident

No limit

20

*The exemption does not apply if the employee's compensation is borne by a permanent establishment that the employer has in the United States.


Social Security Taxes

Self-employed individuals in New Zealand are subject to U.S. Social Security taxes, in addition to their obligations to New Zealand's social security system. This is due to the absence of a totalization agreement between New Zealand and the United States, which would otherwise prevent the double taxation of social security for those working across both nations.


State Taxes and Tax Treaties

The adherence to the U.S. tax treaties provisions varies by state, some may recognize them, while others may not. This means that an individual or business with international income could be subject to different tax rules at the state level compared to federal tax obligations.

​Expert Insight: Always check with a tax professional about how state tax laws interact with the treaty, as this can vary significantly from state to state.

Need Help Navigating the US New Zealand Tax Treaty?

At CPAs for Expats, we specialize in helping US expats stay compliant with their US taxes. Our low fees and 4.9/5 rating on independent review platforms attests to our commitment to excellence and client satisfaction. Contact us today, and let our tax experts simplify your life and taxes.




Frequently Asked Questions

Does New Zealand have a tax treaty with the US?

Does New Zealand have a totalization agreement with the US?

Do New Zealand citizens pay tax on US capital gains?


Article by Lewis Grunfeld, CPA

Lewis is a seasoned expert in international and U.S. expat taxation. With over 10 years of international tax experience, he specializes in applying tax treaties to benefit expats, handling complex tax scenarios and ensuring significant tax savings for his clients. Lewis's expertise in international compliance and U.S. expat tax returns has made him a trusted advisor in the expatriate community.

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