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Semeyi Zake of Business Day recently interviewed finglobal.com CEO, Ryno Viljoen, to discuss some of the options available to South African emigrants around their retirement savings as well as the legalities and implications of transferring proceeds offshore.

Business Day Interview with Ryno Viljoen, January 2017

Business Day Interview business transcription

If you have trouble watching the video, you can read the business transcription below.

Semeyi Zake: Hello and welcome to the show, I am Semeyi Zake. Emigration at, or even before retirement, means you have to consider what laws might affect your hard-earned savings and the ideal route for moving your money. What are some of the things you should consider if emigration has crossed your radar regarding your retirement plans? Joining me in studio is Ryno Viljoen, founder and CEO of finglobal.com. Ryno, thank you so much for your time. We’re talking about emigration and financial emigration, just give us a quick distinction between the two.

Ryno Viljoen: Semeyi, financial emigration is the process South Africans go through when they exit financially from South Africa and take funds out of the country. In terms of exchange control, South African law stipulates that you cannot simply move your money – you have to go through a financial emigration process.

Semeyi Zake: Can one leave the money behind? 

Ryno Viljoen: You can leave the money behind if you reside offshore. There’s no law prohibiting you to do so. 

Semeyi Zake: Now, let’s look at something people don’t always think about – the implications of how this might affect your retirement fund if you were to take the money out.

Ryno Viljoen: It’s a good question. We deal with a lot of South African expats who have already left with retirement savings still left in South Africa.  In 2008 some laws changed, which allows the withdrawal of retirement annuities before maturity date. In terms of other retirement funding, your pension funds and preservation funds, if you’ve made a previous withdrawal, obviously the funds are locked into South Africa and you’ll have to wait till retirement date before you can move those funds. 

Semeyi Zake: Let’s look at some of the laws. You mentioned some have changed in 2008. What are the ones specific to this issue people should be aware of when considering emigrating?

Ryno Viljoen: Specifically referring to retirement annuity policies, you were not allowed to make any early withdrawals from your retirement annuity in the past due to your contractual arrangement with the insurance company. The tax act changed in 2008 which now allows for retirement annuities to be extracted and that’s where financial emigration is required. The financial emigration process, is where you approach the Reserve Bank with an application and obtain a tax clearance from SARS for emigration purposes. You basically declare your assets and liabilities from a South African point of view. Once they rubber stamp your emigration you are deemed a non-resident for exchange control purposes, and you can move your money out of the country.

Semeyi Zake: Tax and fees one can expect to pay for this sort of exercise?

Ryno Viljoen: With regards to retirement annuities, in terms of fees, if you surrender a retirement policy early there are usually penalties and fees associated with the early surrender. So it’s advisable to establish what the penalty or fees are before you go through this process. In terms of tax, if you surrender a retirement annuity early, it’s also subject to withdrawal tax, which you can verify using the withdrawal tax table. 

Semeyi Zake: Is it a more or less risky exercise to emigrate with your retirement savings?

Ryno Viljoen: If you look at the volatility of the Rand, it doesn’t really make sense to keep your retirement savings in South Africa if you’re living abroad and want to exchange your retirement savings for foreign currency. Emigration and moving your retirement funds to the country you want to retire therefore makes sense from our point of view. We advise clients to reinvest their money in the country they wish to retire which gives them more control over their retirement funding. You have the same options in any other country that you have in South Africa in terms of investment options. Tax obviously plays a role. If you do retire early from a retirement annuity for instance, you will not be privy to the R500 000 tax rebate available for those who wait till retirement age. But considering the Rand’s performance against major currencies, it makes sense to move your money and bet on the currency you plan to retire in.

Semeyi Zake: Finglobal.com has been in operation for some seven years. If I’m considering financial emigration, is it a process I should handle on my own or do you advise that I approach cashkows? 

Ryno Viljoen: This is a frequent question. What we’ve learnt over time is that you can do it yourself but that it’s advisable to gather proper professional advice and have a proper financial migration plan. Immigration is complex and you need to consider exchange control and tax implications, both in South Africa and abroad, as well as opportunities. South Africa has double taxation agreements with various countries offshore which provide opportunities.  So it makes sense to consult a professional. You can still make your own choices and decide how you want to deal with it, but at least be informed.

Semeyi Zake: It’s very interesting that you raise the opportunities aspect of it. You don’t often think about that, do you? It’s always, “I want to move my money from this jurisdiction to this jurisdiction” and that’s it. Just explain the opportunities front, and what you guys have seen there.

Ryno Viljoen: In terms of double taxation agreements, for instance, when you move money between countries, if I can use Australia as an example of tax opportunities – Australia has their retirement savings wrapped up in a superannuation, which is the equivalent of our retirement funding. South Africans can move their liquidated assets to Australia and reinvested into that fund free of tax. Once you retire from this superannuation in Australia, it’s tax free. You therefore enter into that fund without paying any tax and once you retire out of the fund your return is also tax free. You may also qualify for tax refunds, depending on how long you’ve been out of the country. When you retire from your fund in South Africa there’s a refund methodology one looks at to see what is taxable in which jurisdiction. You may therefore be able to claim tax back in South Africa and abroad.

Semeyi Zake: Alot to look at when it comes to opportunities and the cost of moving that money. Let’s look at legislation – if you benchmark us against other jurisdictions, in as far as moving your money across jurisdictions, how do we compare? 

Ryno Viljoen: From what we’ve seen in dealing with 75 countries so far, is that South Africa – although penal in terms of exchange control – compared to the rest of the world, has a first world tax legislation. Exchange control somewhat hinders us compared to people from other countries considering migration.

Semeyi Zake: Earlier on you mentioned a financial migration plan, tell us more about that and why one should consider having such a plan. 

Ryno Viljoen: Finances play a big role when you start thinking about migration. So it’s important to look at your total asset base in South Africa to determine what you’re moving across and to consider the timing of moving assets to your new home. Our financial migration plan considers what assets you can move across, the most cost-effective way as well as compliance with exchange control limitations. 

Semeyi Zake: Ryno, some final thoughts on financial emigration? 

Ryno Viljoen: Financial emigration is a complex subject. There’s not a lot of information on this subject and that’s why we are in this space. It’s our aim to serve South African expats all over the world and to stand in the gap. We want to make a difference. If advice is free you may as well ask before you just put your foot in it. Get proper advice and then you can still make your own decisions.

Semeyi Zake: Thank you, we’ll leave it there. 

Ryno Viljoen: Thank you. 

Semeyi Zake: That is Ryno Viljoen, he is founder and CEO of finglobal.com

If you have any questions regarding financial emigration, simply leave your details below and one of our financial consultants will contact you.
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