Taxes for American Expats Living in New Zealand

If you’re an American lucky enough to call New Zealand home, you’ve already discovered the magic of this breathtaking land of kiwis, stunning landscapes, and the warmth of the Kiwi spirit. As you settle into the unique rhythm of life here, it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of one significant aspect: taxes. In this guide, we’ll explore the friendly side of Kiwi finances and help you navigate the world of taxes for Americans living in New Zealand.

If require further assistance in managing your US taxes while residing in New Zealand, don’t hesitate to reach out to Universal Tax Professionals. We offer a comprehensive suite of US expat tax services designed to support Americans living across the globe.

Kiwi Tax Environment

At the core of New Zealand’s tax system is the Inland Revenue Department, affectionately known as the IRD. They ensure everyone pays their fair share to maintain the robust infrastructure and social services that make New Zealand a desirable place to live.

The IRD provides a user-friendly online service to taxpayers for seamless interactions. Kiwis pride themselves on transparency, and the IRD is no exception. They ensure that the tax filing in New Zealand is simple, making it a refreshing departure from the complex tax systems in some other countries.

New Zealand’s tax system lies in the Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) model. Imagine a system where taxes are seamlessly deducted from your paycheck before reaching your bank account. It’s a no-fuss approach, ensuring you effortlessly contribute to the community’s well-being.

Furthermore, the Kiwi tax system encompasses various taxes, including income tax, goods and services tax (GST), and property taxes.

US Tax System

The United States tax system differs significantly from the Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) model used in New Zealand. In the US, the primary system for collecting income taxes is through employer withholding and individual tax filing. Moreover, unlike many countries, the United States employs a global taxation system. This means that US citizens are taxed on their worldwide income, regardless of where they reside. Therefore, Americans working in New Zealand are subject to US income tax on their New Zealand earnings and income from other sources.

In addition to reporting their income, Americans living in New Zealand must disclose details about their foreign financial accounts to the United States by submitting their Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR). This reporting process is supervised by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a US Department of the Treasury branch.

Foreign Financial Accounts of US Expats Living in New Zealand

US citizens and US residents living in New Zealand must report their foreign financial accounts to the US if the aggregate value of those accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.

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Types of Reportable Accounts:

FBAR reporting is not limited to traditional bank accounts. It includes a wide range of financial accounts, such as:

  • Bank accounts (savings, checking, time deposits)
  • Investment accounts (securities, brokerage accounts)
  • KiwiSaver
  • Mutual funds
  • Certain types of insurance policies with cash value
  • Offshore trusts and pension accounts

FBAR Filing Deadline

The FBAR is due annually, and the filing deadline is April 15th. An automatic extension until October 15th is available, but the extension is for filing, not for payment of any taxes owed.

FBAR filings must be submitted electronically through the FinCEN’s BSA E-Filing System. Paper filings are not accepted.

Understanding KiwiSaver for Americans Living in New Zealand in 2023

American Expats Living in New Zealand - Skytower

Enrolling in KiwiSaver is almost as common as saying “Kia Ora” when you arrive in New Zealand. Most employees automatically become members, contributing a percentage of their salary to their KiwiSaver account. As an American living and working in this haven, you can join voluntarily.

Contributing to KiwiSaver involves a synchronized dance between you and your employer. While you make personal contributions from your salary, your employer also chips in, enhancing the overall growth of your KiwiSaver fund. The funds you contribute are locked in until you reach age 65 or meet specific eligibility criteria for withdrawal, such as purchasing your first home. This lock-in period ensures a long-term approach to financial planning, aligning with the Kiwi ethos of building a secure future.

Contributing to a KiwiSaver is a financial decision that fosters your financial well-being but raises questions about how these contributions might be viewed in the context of US taxes. While KiwiSaver contributions are treated favorably in New Zealand, the IRS might perceive them differently. The US government could consider contributions and earnings in your KiwiSaver account taxable income.

Therefore, consulting with tax professionals who understand the New Zealand and US tax codes is important.

The Bilateral Commitment between New Zealand and the US

Formally known as the “Convention between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of New Zealand for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income,” the tax treaty serves as the backbone of fiscal collaboration between these two nations. Its primary goal is to prevent the double taxation of income and ensure taxpayers don’t fall through the cracks of both tax systems.

The treaty covers various aspects of income, including business profits, dividends, interest, and royalties. It provides guidelines for determining which country has the primary right to tax specific types of income, avoiding situations where both nations attempt to tax the same income. The tax treaty also facilitates the claiming of foreign tax credits, ensuring Americans in New Zealand can offset taxes paid against their US tax liability. This mechanism prevents double taxation, fostering a sense of financial fairness for those who call both nations home.

No Totalization Agreement

Totalization Agreements

Unfortunately, New Zealand and the United States do not have a totalization agreement. Therefore, American expatriates may be subject to social security taxes in both countries. This dual taxation dilemma can have implications for the overall financial landscape, adding a layer of complexity to the US taxes of Americans living in New Zealand.


Without a Totalization Agreement, seeking advice from tax professionals well-versed in US and New Zealand social security systems is crucial. These experts can guide individuals through the intricacies, helping them understand their obligations, potential pitfalls, and opportunities to optimize their tax situation.

Navigating the Tax Maze for Americans Embracing Kiwi Life

Living as an American in New Zealand offers a remarkable blend of adventure, cultural immersion, and the embrace of the Kiwi lifestyle. However, navigating the intricate maze of taxes can be challenging amidst the stunning landscapes and warm hospitality. Here’s a summary of key considerations for Americans residing in the Land of the Long White Cloud:

Residency Status Matters

When it comes to taxes, your residency status plays a pivotal role. New Zealand determines tax residency based on factors such as the time you spend in the country and your permanent place of abode. Understanding your residency status is crucial for determining your tax obligations, both in New Zealand and the United States.

Filing US Taxes while living abroad

The IRS requires all US citizens to file annual tax returns regardless of their global location. This includes reporting income earned abroad. To avoid any complications, consider enlisting the expertise of a tax professional specializing in expatriate taxation. They can guide you through the nuances of reporting foreign income ensuring compliance with US tax laws.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)

The good news for expatriates is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, a provision allowing you to exclude a certain amount of foreign-earned income from your US taxable income. This exclusion, however, comes with specific criteria and limitations. Understanding how to leverage the FEIE can significantly impact your tax liability.

Foreign Tax Credits (FTC)

In addition to the FEIE, Americans in New Zealand may utilize tax credits and deductions to reduce their US tax liability. The Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) allows individuals to offset US taxes with income taxes paid to New Zealand. The FTC is calculated based on the lesser of the foreign income tax paid or the US tax attributable to the foreign income.

Tax Treaties and Double Taxation

The US-New Zealand tax treaty aims to prevent double taxation and ensure a fair distribution of tax obligations. Familiarize yourself with the details of this treaty to optimize your tax situation. These agreements can help you avoid paying taxes on the same income in both countries. Note that there is no totalization agreement between the US and New Zealand, so plan accordingly and seek professional guidance to help you optimize your tax situation.

Obligations Beyond Income Tax

Beyond income tax, be aware of other potential tax obligations, such as property taxes, goods and services tax (GST), and specific local taxes. Staying informed about the full spectrum of taxes ensures you’re not caught off guard and allows for effective financial planning.

US and NZ Investments

Americans residing in New Zealand often encounter a complex financial landscape due to the differing investment taxation regulations of the United States and New Zealand.

The treatment of New Zealand’s KiwiSaver accounts under US tax law poses a significant challenge, primarily because of the absence of clear directives from the IRS regarding their classification. US tax considerations pertaining to foreign investments and savings plans are governed by various regulations, notably those concerning Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFICs) and foreign trusts. The PFIC regulations specifically aim to prevent US taxpayers from deferring tax obligations or exploiting preferential tax rates by investing in foreign entities generating passive income.

Moreover, with their characteristics resembling retirement savings plans, KiwiSaver accounts raise questions about their classification as foreign trusts for US tax purposes, potentially triggering additional reporting obligations such as filing Form 3520 or Form 3520-A.

The specific tax implications are unique to each individual, depending on factors such as the details of the KiwiSaver scheme and the taxpayer’s overall tax profile. The lack of definitive guidance from the IRS further adds to the uncertainty, requiring taxpayers to navigate based on their interpretation of the law or guidance from tax advisors.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Foreign Investment Fund (FIF) regime targets offshore investments held by New Zealand tax residents, encompassing investments in the US. The FIF rules come into play when the total cost base of foreign investments exceeds NZD 50,000. Tax calculation methods include the Fair Dividend Rate (FDR) method, which taxes 5% of the market value of investments at the beginning of the tax year, or the comparative value method, which taxes the increase in value of investments over the tax year, adjusted for gains and costs. This regime aims to tax “deemed income” from investments regardless of whether actual income or dividends are received.

The intersection of these regulations can pose significant challenges for American expats in New Zealand. Complying with New Zealand’s FIF rules by liquidating US investments may trigger substantial US capital gains taxes. Conversely, opting for New Zealand mutual funds to circumvent FIF taxes may expose investors to the US PFIC regime.

Universal Tax Professionals

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Embracing Cultural Insights

While navigating the tax landscape is essential, embracing the Kiwi way of life involves more than financial considerations. Engage with the local community, immerse yourself in cultural events, and build connections. A holistic expatriate life approach includes financial savvy and a genuine appreciation for the unique Kiwi culture.

Being an American living in New Zealand is an enriching experience, and understanding the tax maze is a crucial part of this adventure. By staying informed, seeking professional guidance, and embracing the opportunities KiwiSaver presents, you can confidently navigate the complexities.