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Navigating Tax Implications for High-Net-Worth Families Leaving Canada

Introduction: Mastering Tax Strategy for Your Move Abroad

As high-net-worth families consider expanding their horizons beyond Canada’s borders, the journey brings with it a complex tapestry of tax considerations. Whether motivated by business opportunities, lifestyle changes, or retirement plans, the financial implications of such a move are significant and require strategic navigation.

I am here to illuminate the path for those of you embarking on this transition. With my extensive credentials as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA), a Master of Tax Law (LL.M in Tax), an MBA, and a Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP), I offer a blend of expertise uniquely suited to guide high-net-worth families through the intricacies of tax planning associated with leaving Canada.  Furthermore, as members of Russell Bedford International, we can file tax returns in 110 countries.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key tax considerations that you should address as you plan your departure:

Section 1: Understanding Resident Status for Tax Purposes – We begin by clarifying what constitutes tax residency in Canada and how altering this status impacts your tax obligations.

Section 2: Tax Consequences of Emigration – Learn about the ‘departure tax’, deemed disposition of assets, and the importance of managing your final tax return with care.

Section 3: Handling Your Canadian Business Interests – We discuss strategies for restructuring your business holdings and the tax implications for your enterprise as you transition to non-resident status.

Section 4: Estate and Trust Considerations – This section covers the adjustments needed for your estate and trust plans to ensure cross-border tax efficiency.

Section 5: Retirement and Pension Plans – Understand how to manage your retirement and pension plans from abroad, considering both Canadian and international tax laws.

Section 6: Planning for a Smooth Transition – We wrap up with best practices for a tax-efficient move, from documentation to maintaining compliance with tax authorities.

The blog is followed by a generic checklist for tax considerations when emigrating from Canda.

With our tagline, “Tell us your ambitions and we will guide you there,” this guide is more than just an overview—it’s a roadmap to your successful relocation. Read on to ensure that your move is as financially sound as it is personally fulfilling, with expert advice to navigate each step of your tax planning.

Section 1: Understanding Resident Status for Tax Purposes

Defining Tax Residency in Canada

When planning to move away from Canada, one of the first steps is to understand how tax residency is defined and why it’s a crucial element of your financial landscape. In Canada, tax residency is not solely based on the number of days you spend in the country but also on significant residential ties you have to Canada. These ties include owning a home in Canada, having immediate family members in Canada, and maintaining a Canadian driver’s license, health insurance, and bank accounts.

The CRA’s Criteria for Tax Residency

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) determines your tax residency status based on a thorough assessment of your residential ties. This assessment is vital as it dictates your tax obligations to the Canadian government. If the CRA considers you a resident for tax purposes, you’re required to report worldwide income and pay taxes accordingly. Conversely, non-residents are only taxed on certain types of Canadian-sourced income.

Implications of Severing Tax Residency

Severing your tax residency in Canada is a significant financial decision. It means you are no longer a tax resident of Canada and will not be taxed on global income by the CRA. However, this transition doesn’t happen automatically when you leave the country. You must take deliberate steps to sever ties, which may include disposing of property, closing accounts, or changing family living arrangements. It’s essential to document these changes meticulously as the CRA may scrutinize them to confirm your non-resident status.

Why Getting It Right Matters

Understanding and correctly establishing your tax residency status is paramount to avoid any unintended tax consequences. Incorrectly reporting your status can lead to audits, penalties, and arrears on taxes owed. It’s not merely about the current year’s taxes but about setting the stage for your financial future outside of Canada.

Expert Guidance for Peace of Mind

Given the complexities of tax residency, seeking the guidance of a seasoned Chartered Professional Accountant, like myself, is more than just prudent—it’s a strategic move towards ensuring peace of mind. With specialized knowledge in tax law, I can help you navigate the process, ensuring that you meet all necessary criteria to successfully transition your tax residency status as you embark on this new chapter abroad.

Section 2: Tax Consequences of Emigration

Navigating the Departure Tax

When you decide to leave Canada for new horizons, it’s critical to understand the ‘departure tax’. This is not a tax you pay at the airport; rather, it’s a figurative ‘exit fee’ on your accumulated wealth in the form of a deemed disposition. Essentially, the CRA treats it as if you’ve sold certain types of property at fair market value right before leaving Canada. This ‘sale’ doesn’t involve an actual transfer of property, but it does trigger a capital gains tax on paper, which you are responsible for paying.

Understanding Deemed Dispositions

Deemed disposition covers most property you own when you leave Canada, from stocks and bonds to real estate investments. Some personal items, like clothing and furniture, are exempt. The key is to understand which assets are taxable and at what value. The CRA requires you to report the gains from these deemed dispositions on your final tax return as an emigrant, potentially increasing your tax bill.

Potential for Double Taxation and the Role of Tax Treaties

One of the complexities of international relocation is the risk of double taxation—paying taxes on the same income in Canada and your new country of residence. Canada has tax treaties with many countries to prevent this, which may allow for tax credits or exemptions. It’s essential to understand how these treaties work to ensure you’re not paying more than necessary.

Preparing for the Final Tax Return

Your final tax return as a Canadian resident is known as the “emigration tax return,” which will include all your income up to the date you leave and any departure tax owed. This return may be more complex than the annual returns you’re accustomed to, given the additional reporting requirements.

The Importance of Professional Advice

The departure tax and deemed dispositions are complex issues with significant financial implications. Missteps or omissions can be costly. That’s where professional expertise comes in. As a tax expert with a deep understanding of both Canadian tax law and international tax principles, I can guide you through the process, ensuring that all considerations are handled with care. Remember, preparing for your financial future in another country starts with closing your fiscal chapter in Canada correctly.

Section 3: Handling Your Canadian Business Interests

Strategies for Managing Family-Owned Enterprises Post-Emigration

Leaving Canada doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties with your family-owned enterprise. However, it does mean you will need to reassess how you manage these interests from abroad. This is particularly relevant for high-net-worth individuals who have significant business investments in Canada. It’s crucial to consider how your departure will impact both your personal tax situation and the taxation of the business itself.

Restructuring Business Holdings for Efficiency

One option is to restructure your holdings in the business to align with your new non-resident status. This might involve reorganizing corporate structures to optimize tax efficiency or transitioning ownership to family members who remain in Canada. Every business and family situation is unique, so a customized strategy is essential. The objective is to maintain financial growth while minimizing the tax burden under the new circumstances.

Impact on Business-Related Tax Obligations

As you transition to non-residency, you must also consider how this change affects your business-related tax obligations. Non-residents are subject to different rules regarding income sourced in Canada. For instance, passive income from Canadian corporations may be taxed differently once you are no longer a resident. Furthermore, if you remain a director or officer of the company, there may be additional considerations for withholding taxes on any remuneration you receive.

Maintaining Compliance Across Borders

Continued compliance with Canadian tax laws is imperative, even after you’ve left the country. This might involve regular filings, remittances, and staying abreast of changes in legislation that could affect your Canadian business interests. Moreover, depending on the country you move to, you may need to report and possibly pay tax on your Canadian business income there as well.

Expert Tax Guidance to Navigate Transition

This level of complexity in managing cross-border business interests is not something you should handle alone. Engaging with a tax professional, particularly one with specialized knowledge in both Canadian and international tax law, can provide peace of mind. As a Chartered Professional Accountant with a Master in Tax Law, I have the expertise necessary to help you structure your affairs so that you can manage your Canadian business interests efficiently, no matter where your ambitions take you.

Section 4: Estate and Trust Considerations

Adjusting Estate Plans for Cross-Border Implications

For high-net-worth families, estate planning is a cornerstone of wealth management, and relocating outside Canada necessitates a thorough review of your estate and trust plans. Canadian tax law has specific provisions regarding trusts and estates that can affect you differently once you become a non-resident. It’s imperative to understand these changes to ensure that your wealth is transferred according to your wishes while also being tax-efficient.

Understanding Changes in Trust Taxation

If you are the settlor of a trust that remains in Canada, the tax obligations of the trust can change significantly once you cease to be a Canadian resident. For example, a trust may be deemed resident in Canada if its trustee is a Canadian resident, which could lead to the trust’s income being taxed in Canada. This can have far-reaching effects on the financial well-being of the beneficiaries. It’s important to consider the timing of distributions, the type of trust, and the residence of the beneficiaries as part of your emigration planning.

Estate Planning for Non-Residents

Your status as a non-resident also affects your Canadian estate. Inheritance laws and taxes can vary greatly from one country to another, and your Canadian will may need to be updated to reflect your new circumstances. You need to ensure that your will is recognized in your new country of residence and that it works in harmony with any local estate planning you undertake.

Tax-Efficient Wealth Transfer Strategies

There are strategies to mitigate the tax impact on your estate and trusts when leaving Canada. This could involve altering the structure of your trusts, freezing the value of your Canadian assets, or utilizing insurance policies to cover potential tax liabilities. Each family’s situation is unique, and the right strategy will depend on your specific assets, family dynamics, and long-term goals.

Leveraging Expertise for Effective Planning

Adjusting your estate and trust plans across borders is a complex process that requires careful consideration and strategic planning. As a Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) with a deep understanding of these nuances, I am equipped to guide you through the intricacies of cross-border estate and trust taxation. Together, we can ensure that your wealth management plans are robust, tax-efficient, and tailored to your family’s needs as you transition to life outside of Canada.

Section 5: Retirement and Pension Plans

Planning for Retirement Savings After Leaving Canada

A move outside Canada raises important questions about what to do with your Canadian retirement savings. High-net-worth families often have significant funds in retirement accounts such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), and the decision of whether to maintain these accounts or withdraw funds can have substantial tax implications.

Handling RRSPs and TFSAs as a Non-Resident

As a non-resident, you can still hold your RRSPs and continue to benefit from the tax-deferred growth that these accounts offer. However, withdrawals will be subject to non-resident withholding taxes, which vary depending on your country of residence and its tax treaty with Canada. TFSAs are treated differently, as they are not recognized as tax-free in many jurisdictions outside of Canada, which could affect the tax benefits you receive.

Understanding Pension Income in a New Country

For those with Canadian pensions, understanding how your pension will be taxed in your new home country is crucial. Many of Canada’s tax treaties allow pension income to be taxed only in the country of residence, potentially providing a tax advantage to emigrants. However, this is not a universal rule, and careful planning is needed to avoid unexpected tax bills.

Cross-Border Retirement Income Planning

Creating a cross-border retirement income plan is essential to ensure that you are optimizing your retirement funds for tax efficiency. This may involve strategies such as timing the withdrawal of retirement funds, converting RRSPs to Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs), or planning for the receipt of Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits.

The Role of a Tax Expert in Retirement Planning

With the intricacies of cross-border tax laws, having a knowledgeable tax expert is invaluable. As a Chartered Professional Accountant with expertise in tax planning for high-net-worth individuals, I am equipped to help you understand the nuances of managing retirement and pension plans internationally. We will work together to develop a personalized retirement plan that aligns with your financial goals and new lifestyle, ensuring that your transition out of Canada is as smooth and tax-efficient as possible.

Section 6: Planning for a Smooth Transition

Comprehensive Tax Planning Before Emigration

The decision to leave Canada is more than a physical move; it’s a financial pivot that requires thorough preparation. Tax planning before emigration should be comprehensive, covering all aspects of your fiscal life to ensure a smooth transition. This involves not only settling your affairs in Canada but also preparing for the tax environment of your new home country.

Documentation and Reporting: Your Fiscal Footprint

A critical step in the emigration process is documenting your move for the CRA. This includes filing a departure tax return, reporting the date of your exit, and ensuring all your tax affairs are in order. Proper reporting helps to avoid future disputes about your residency status and tax obligations.

Best Practices for a Tax-Efficient Move

Here are some best practices to consider for a tax-efficient move:

Plan Early: Engage in tax planning well before your move to identify potential tax liabilities and opportunities.

Understand the Tax Landscape: Familiarize yourself with the tax laws of your destination country and how they interact with Canadian tax rules.

Seek Professional Advice: Utilize the expertise of tax professionals who specialize in emigration and international tax law, such as Nizam Shajani of Shajani CPA.

Maintain Records: Keep detailed records of your financial affairs and communications with tax authorities.

Stay Informed: Keep abreast of any changes in tax legislation that could affect your situation as a non-resident.

The Role of a Tax Expert During Your Transition

The complexity of cross-border tax planning cannot be overstated, and the stakes are high for high-net-worth individuals. As a tax expert with a holistic understanding of tax systems, I am here to ensure that you don’t overlook any details that could impact your financial future. From your last tax return in Canada to setting up efficient tax structures abroad, I will provide the guidance needed to navigate each step.

Conclusion: Charting Your Fiscal Course with Confidence

As we’ve navigated the complexities of relocating beyond Canada’s borders, it’s clear that such a move is as much about financial foresight as it is about geographic change. Tax considerations for high-net-worth individuals and family-owned enterprises are multifaceted and demand a thorough, tailored approach. From understanding your residency status to restructuring your business and estate for international compliance, each step requires diligent attention and strategic planning.

At Shajani CPA, we understand that behind every financial decision is a personal ambition waiting to be realized. Our expertise is not just in interpreting tax laws but in applying them to help you achieve your goals with confidence. Whether it’s ensuring your estate is managed according to your wishes or optimizing the tax efficiency of your retirement plans, our team is here to provide the bespoke guidance that your unique situation demands.

Embracing change can be daunting, but with Shajani CPA, you can look forward to new beginnings with the assurance that your financial affairs are in capable hands. We invite you to extend the conversation and allow us to be a part of your journey. Our commitment to excellence and our comprehensive tax expertise are the compasses that will guide you there.

As you contemplate the next steps on your path, remember that the right partnership can make all the difference. Reach out to us at Shajani CPA, and let’s discuss how we can turn your aspirations into a tax-efficient reality as you embark on this exciting new chapter.

Additional Resources

Also see CRA’s Guide for Leaving Canada

Shajani CPA Checklist for Emigrating from Canada

Two Years Before Departure

  1. Research and understand the immigration requirements for your destination country.
  2. If you’re not a Canadian citizen, check the status of your visa, permanent residence, or citizenship application.
  3. Consult with a cross-border tax professional about your Canadian tax residency and potential tax residency in your new country.
  4. Compare the tax implications in Canada with those in your destination country for income, estates, gifts, and property.
  5. Inventory your assets and expected income sources after the move.
  6. Learn about the tax consequences of ceasing Canadian tax residency, such as deemed dispositions and non-resident withholding taxes.

Tax Planning Opportunities Before Departure

  1. Consider income timing strategies to minimize tax liabilities.
  2. Manage stock options, bonus, and stock compensation with regard to residency changes.
  3. Maximize contributions to retirement savings plans and understand the implications of withdrawals as a non-resident.
  4. Review and adjust investment portfolios to avoid punitive taxation or reporting complexities.
  5. Realize capital losses or gains strategically based on the anticipated tax landscape.
  6. Plan property sales, particularly for the principal residence, to maximize exemptions and minimize non-resident withholding taxes.
  7. Evaluate the long-term strategy for private corporation shares or partnership interests.
  8. Discuss the implications of trust or estate duties and beneficiaries’ status.

Close to Departure Date

  1. Finalize immigration documentation for your new country.
  2. If employed, understand your contributions to social security or similar schemes.
  3. Obtain taxpayer identification numbers for all family members.
  4. Confirm your departure and entry dates with your tax professionals.
  5. Notify financial institutions and pension administrators of your departure.
  6. Consider tax implications for withdrawing or liquidating securities, especially in tax-advantaged accounts like TFSAs.
  7. Obtain fair market value reports of assets for tax filing purposes.
  8. Set up non-resident tax accounts if retaining Canadian income-generating properties.
  9. Gather documentation for credit history and explore cross-border banking options.

Upon Arrival in the New Country

  1. Establish identification, open bank accounts, and secure medical insurance.
  2. Update your address with the CRA and change direct deposit instructions if necessary.
  3. Consult with legal professionals to update your will and other legal documents.

In the Year Following Departure

  1. File your final Canadian tax return, including all required forms for emigration.
  2. Establish tax residency with your first tax return in the new country.
  3. Report foreign financial accounts to the relevant authorities, if required.
  4. Complete any required tax filings for assets held outside Canada during the year of your residency.


This information is for discussion purposes only and should not be considered professional advice. There is no guarantee or warrant of information on this site and it should be noted that rules and laws change regularly. You should consult a professional before considering implementing or taking any action based on information on this site. Call our team for a consultation before taking any action. ©2024 Shajani CPA.

Shajani CPA is a CPA Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer firm and provides Accountant, Bookkeeping, Tax Advice and Tax Planning services.

Nizam Shajani, Partner, LLM, CPA, CA, TEP, MBA

I enjoy formulating plans that help my clients meet their objectives. It's this sense of pride in service that facilitates client success which forms the culture of Shajani CPA.

Shajani Professional Accountants has offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. We’re here to support you in all of your personal and business tax and other accounting needs.