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How to invest offshore

Investors can invest in offshore investment funds using either a local or an offshore administrator.

There are various reasons why South African investors choose to invest money offshore which includes diversification of your investment portfolio, foreign currency exposure, concerns about the current economic state of our country or planning to emigrate in a few years’ time.

This article provides you with information on how you can invest offshore. It is however of utmost importance to take your personal circumstances into consideration and to discuss the options with a qualified financial adviser to ensure that you choose the correct offshore investment strategy for your specific needs.

Foreign investment allowance

South Africa is subject to Exchange Control Regulations, i.e. the flow of money both in and out of South Africa is ‘controlled’. In the 2015 national budget speech, Treasury announced that the annual foreign investment allowance for individuals would increase from R4 million to R10 million, effective 1 March 2015, while an additional discretionary allowance of R1 million per annum would still apply. The discretionary allowance may be used for offshore purchases (direct and online), offshore travel and/or investment purposes. Thus, each individual may externalise a total of R11 million offshore, less any offshore spend.

The individual foreign investment allowances are currently available for natural persons who are taxpayers in good standing and over the age of 18 years. Natural persons are regarded as South African residents if they are domiciled or registered in South Africa for income tax (for example if they were born in South Africa and lived in the country all their life) or foreign nationals who have taken up permanent residency in South Africa and have been living in the country for more than five years.

Legal entities, trusts, partnerships, foundations, clubs, natural persons under the age of 18 years and natural persons who are not taxpayers in good standing, don’t qualify for the foreign investment allowance.

Obtaining Sars approval

If you intend to use your once-off R1 million discretionary annual allowance, you only need to notify the South African Revenue Services (Sars) that you are using this allowance by completing a form.

In order to transfer amounts exceeding R1 million offshore, investors are required to obtain a Sars tax clearance certificate. Once Sars has confirmed that they are satisfied with your application and that your tax affairs are in order, they will issue you a clearance certificate. This process can take 4 to 10 weeks, depending on the completeness of the documents submitted as well as additional information required by Sars.

Once the tax clearance has been obtained, the investor can convert their rands to the foreign currency in which they choose to invest. This conversion can be done through a bank or any authorised foreign exchange service provider. Most foreign exchange service providers will also facilitate the tax clearance process on your behalf at a nominal or no fee.

If an investor wishes to transfer more than R11 million per annum offshore, they can request special clearance from the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) to do so.

How do I invest offshore?

Investors can invest in offshore investment funds using either a local or an offshore administrator. The documentation required in order to facilitate the investment will depend on the administrator as well the country in which the administrator is domiciled. The underlying investment structure and chosen investment currency will also affect the information required.

Most administrators offer investment funds in US dollars (USD), British pounds (GBP) and euros (EUR), while others offer additional currency options like Australian dollars and Swiss francs. One can also choose a different reporting currency than the investment currency.

What currency is required for offshore investments?

Offshore exposure can be obtained or offshore investments can be done in various ways. For example, you can invest in foreign currency in offshore funds or you can invest in rands (which requires no Sars approval) with foreign currency exposure using a Rand Feeder Fund /rand-denominated offshore unit trust.

Let’s explain this in more detail.

Foreign currency offshore funds

Direct offshore investments (unit trusts or individual stocks), offer individuals the opportunity to invest in offshore asset classes by converting their rands into foreign currency and physically transferring money offshore. The money is then invested in an offshore investment structure through either a local or an offshore administrator. Investors can also approach an offshore investment manager directly but there are challenges for example the offshore investment manager may require a high minimum investment amount for direct investments and there is an extensive range of offshore investment managers available which can be confusing to an investor.

Rand-denominated offshore funds

Rand-denominated offshore funds (also known as Asset Swap or Feeder Funds) offer individuals and local entities the opportunity to invest in offshore asset classes through a locally administrated unit trust that invests in offshore assets. Thus, there is no need for the investor to convert their rands into foreign currency as the investor is effectively using the unit trust’s offshore allowance instead of their own. There is also no limit on the amount that you may invest through a rand-denominated offshore fund as you do not require any Sars tax clearance for these investments. The investment returns as well as the reporting of the investment is done in rands. Any funds added to the investment or withdrawn from the investment, is also in rands.

Offshore products

Except for offshore funds (unit trusts or individual stocks) there are also other offshore products that you can invest in, like a life wrapper or an international retirement plan. Each product differs with regards to liquidity, income tax, fees and currencies.. We compare two products e.g. a unit trust versus a life wrapper to illustrate some of the differences. Please note that it is not a fully inclusive list of the differences.

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