Nonresident alien investors and Ireland domiciled ETFs

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This page shows why it is better for a non-US investor who is a US nonresident alien (commonly abbreviated to NRA) with poor or no coverage from a US income tax tax treaty, or with poor or no coverage from a US estate tax treaty, to invest in Ireland domiciled exchange traded funds (ETFs) instead of the popular US domiciled mutual funds and ETFs discussed by US-based investors.

This page uses the rate of 30% for any dividend withholding calculations. This is the US dividend tax rate in the absence of a US income tax tax treaty. A poor US income tax treaty is one where the US dividend tax rate exceeds the 15% US/Ireland treaty rate.[note 1]

In addition, US estate taxes begin at just $60,000 of US holding for nonresident aliens, and apply at rates of 26%-40% of assets above that level in the absence of a US estate tax treaty. A poor US estate tax treaty is one that does not increase the US estate tax exemptions for nonresident aliens above the $60,000 rate for countries without a US estate tax.[note 2]

Domicile

Main article: Domicile

In law, domicile[1] is the status or attribution of being a lawful permanent resident[2] in a particular jurisdiction. A person's domicile is often the determining factor for many legal aspects, including investing and taxation. Investment funds also have a domicile, and here this too determines the applicable legislation, including taxation.

US tax treaties

Depending on your country of residence, you may be able to benefit from a US tax treaty for lower rates on dividends from US domiciled ETFs, and higher exemptions from US estate taxes. In that case, some parts of this page may not apply directly.

For a list of US income tax treaties, see: United States Income Tax Treaties - A to Z.[note 1] For a list of US estate tax tax treaties, see: Estate Gift Tax Treaties International.[note 2] Note that for Europeans it has become difficult to buy US domiciled funds due to 2018 European MiFID and PRIIPs regulations.

Why invest in Ireland domiciled ETFs?

A few reasons for US nonresident alien investors to prefer Ireland domiciled ETFs over US domiciled ETFs:

  • Ireland domiciled ETFs can benefit from the US/Ireland tax treaty rate of 15% on dividends and 0% on interest paid to Irish corporations,[3] instead of 30% for US nonresident aliens in countries without a US tax treaty.
  • Ireland domiciled ETFs insulate investors from US estate taxes of up to 40% of the balance of US situated assets above $60,000.
  • US domiciled ETFs holding non-US securities can suffer double tax withholding. The US domiciled ETF pays withholding to international governments, then the US levies 30% of the remaining distributed dividends. Ireland domiciled ETFs avoid this.
  • Complex and constantly changing US tax laws affecting US nonresident aliens. Leave it to iShares and Vanguard Dublin to deal with those.
  • Non-residents of Ireland are not liable to Irish gift tax or inheritance tax.[4][5]
  • Availability of accumulating funds that reinvest dividends and which may help some investors reduce or avoid Level 3 tax.
  • For Europeans it has become difficult to buy US domiciled funds due to 2018 European MiFID and PRIIPs regulations.

For more information about Irish funds, see: Why Ireland for funds?, by Irish Funds.

Caveats of investing in Ireland domiciled ETFs

Some of the downsides:

No Irish taxes of any kind for Ireland domiciled ETFs

Ireland does not withhold or levy any taxes on capital gains from, or dividends paid by, Ireland domiciled UCITS ETFs for non-residents of Ireland.[note 3] According to Dillon Eustace law firm:

Taxation of investors from the perspective of the investment funds (Non-Residents):

... Irish investment funds are not subject to any taxes on their income (profits) or gains arising on their underlying investments. In addition, there are no Irish withholding taxes in respect of a distribution of payments by investment funds to investors or in relation to any encashment, redemption, cancellation or transfer of units in respect of investors who are neither Irish resident nor ordinarily resident in Ireland, provided the fund has satisfied and availed of certain equivalent measures or the investors have provided the fund with the appropriate relevant declaration of non-Irish residence.[14]

— Dillon Eustace law firm

And according to iShares UK:

Distributions from Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) such as Dublin-domiciled iShares are exempt from Irish withholding tax by virtue of the shares issued by Dublin-domiciled iShares being settled via a recognised clearing system (Crest).[15]

— iShares UK

Additionally Ireland does not levy any inheritance, estate, probate, or capital transfer taxes on Ireland domiciled funds held by non-residents of Ireland.[4][5] From Revenue Ireland:

23.6 Exemption of certain investment entities

CATCA 2003 s.75 provides an exemption from tax for gifts and inheritances of units of certain investment entities (defined in the TCA 1997, Part 27). Units held in collective investment schemes, common contractual funds, investment limited partnerships or investment undertakings are exempt from tax in cases where neither the disponer nor the donee or successor is domiciled or ordinarily resident in the State, at the date of the disposition and at the date of the gift or inheritance, respectively. The CAT exemption applies in the case of the transfer of units in an investment limited partnership notwithstanding that this type of entity has been removed from the definition of “investment undertaking” in section 739B(1) TCA 1997.[4]

— Revenue Ireland

Ireland applies no taxes of any kind on non-Irish residents who hold Ireland domiciled ETFs. Ireland domiciled ETFs are therefore completely 'tax transparent' to investors, making them preferable to US domiciled ETFs for investors in any country with poor or no US tax treaty coverage, and often acceptable to investors even in countries with good US tax treaty coverage.

Multiple levels of dividend tax withholding

Figure 1. Three levels of dividend taxation can apply to ETFs.

Investors that hold funds that hold securities can be taxed on dividends by multiple countries at multiple levels.[note 4]

There are 3 levels of dividend taxation to apply.

  • L1TW: Percentage of tax withholding by a security's home country on dividends distributed by that security to the fund (Level 1).
  • L2TW: Percentage of tax withholding by the country where the fund is domiciled on the dividends distributed to the investor by the fund (Level 2).
  • L3T: Percentage of taxation that the individual investor needs to pay in their home country (Level 3).

Estimating Level 1 dividend tax withholding paid by US domiciled funds

According to the PWL Capital white paper,[note 4] the following are the percentages of tax withholding paid by different types of US domiciled ETFs

Fund Type Fund Used 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 5-Year average
US-listed ETF of [ex-US] developed markets stocks iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) † 7.5% 8.1% 7.6% 7.2% 6.9% 7.5%
US-listed ETF of emerging markets stocks iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) 10.3% 12.2% 10.4% 10.1% 11.1% 10.8%

† Note that iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) excludes the US. You can use that number to approximate Level 1 taxes for the ex-US developed markets portion of the fund in question. If the US domiciled fund you are analyzing has 60% US stocks vs 40% ex-US developed markets, the Level 1 tax withholding will be 0.40 * 7.5% = 3.0% approximately.

Estimating Level 1 dividend tax withholding paid by Ireland domiciled funds

Using annual reports of the most traded funds from iShares and Vanguard, the following is the resulting Level 1 percentages leaked by funds per percent dividend yield. Those figures were calculated for this wiki post. If you find other sources online confirming, please update and reference accordingly.

ETF / Year Inception Date 2011 2012 2013 2014 Average
Vanguard FTSE Developed World UCITS ETF (VEVE) 30-Sep-2014 - - - 12.3% 12.3%
Vanguard FTSE Developed Europe UCITS ETF (VEUR) 21-May-2013 - - - 5.5% 5.5%
Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets UCITS ETF (VFEM) 22-May-2012 - - 9.8% 9.0% 9.4%
Vanguard FTSE All-World UCITS ETF (VWRL) 22-May-2012 - - 10.7% 9.8% 10.3%
iShares Core MSCI World UCITS (IWDA) 25-Sep-2009 12.6% 12.2% 11.9% 11.6% 12.1%
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets UCITS ETF (IDEM) 18-Nov-2005 11.4% 10.0% 10.1% 11.4% 10.7%
iShares US Aggregate Bond UCITS ETF (IUAG) 13-Sep-2011 - - 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
iShares $ Corporate Bond UCITS ETF (LQDE) 16-May-2003 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0%
iShares US Property Yield UCITS ETF (IUSP) 3-Nov-2006 12.6% 12.7% 13.6% 13.4% 13.1%

Keep in mind that each index provider (MSCI/FTSE) has a different definition of "Developed Markets" and "Emerging Markets". Different indices have different allocations of those markets, too.

Calculating dividend tax withholding as a ratio

To better compare different ETFs we can convert the tax withholding percentages into a total annual approximation, let's call it the Tax Withholding Ratio (TWR). This makes it easily comparable to the expense ratios found on funds' fact sheets.[16][note 5]

To calculate the dividend Tax Withholding Ratio (TWR), we need four pieces of information:

  • L1TW: Percentage of tax withholding by a security's home country on dividends distributed by that security to the fund (Level 1). This can be estimated using each fund's annual report, by dividing "Non-reclaimable withholding tax" by "Dividend Income".
  • L2TW: Percentage of tax withholding by the country where the fund is domiciled on the dividends distributed to the investor by the fund (Level 2). If you are a non-treaty US nonresident alien investing in US domiciled ETFs, that number is 30%. If you are investing in Ireland domiciled ETFs and you do not reside in Ireland, you do not have to pay any Irish tax withholding.
  • YIELD: Annual yield of the fund. As you cannot know the amount of future dividends in advance, an approximation based on historical values (gross before withholding was paid) should be sufficient. Dividend yield is used in the formula as the Level 1 taxes are paid on dividends received by fund.
  • TER: The fund's Total Expense Ratio. This can be obtained from a fund's KIID document.[note 6]

The calculation after that is rather simple:

TWR = (YIELD × L1TW) + ((YIELD × (1 - L1TW) - TER) × L2TW)

The first term in parentheses calculates the Level 1 leakage. The second term uses the remaining dividend, deducts the fund's TER[note 7] and then applies the individual's Level 2 tax to the remaining sum.

You can now add the TWR to the fund's published expense ratio to get a comparable total ratio paid annually. Note that this does not include the dividend tax that the investor pays to their resident-country on the dividends actually received.

Example calculation for S&P 500 ETFs

Let us compare the US domiciled Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO) vs Ireland domiciled Vanguard S&P 500 UCITS ETF (VUSA).

Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO):

  • L1TW = 0%, as it is US domiciled, holding US securities
  • L2TW = 30%, US nonresident alien rate for countries without a US tax treaty
  • YIELD = 2.0%, estimated as we need it for comparison purposes, not exact dollar calculations
  • TER = 0.05%
TWR for VOO = 0 (no L1 withholding) + ((2.0% × (1 - 0) - 0.05%) × 0.30) = 0.59%

Vanguard S&P 500 UCITS ETF (VUSA):

  • L1TW = 15%, as it is Ireland domiciled, holding US securities[3]
  • L2TW = 0%, no Irish tax withholding on UCITS funds
  • YIELD = 2.0%, estimation
  • TER = 0.07%
TWR for VUSA = (2.0% × 0.15) + 0 (no L2 withholding) = 0.30%

L1TW for VUSA can be also calculated using its annual report.[17] For 2014, Foreign Withholding Tax (7,721,652) divided by Dividend Income (52,371,805) = 14.74%. TedSwippet suggests that it's not 15.0% on the dot due to a 2.5% REIT allocation, which may distribute dividends or capital gains at different rates than the US treaty rate of 15% for dividends. A tax drag differing from the treaty rate may for instance be caused by foreign companies in an index, capital gains being taxed differently than dividends and REITs can recharacterize distributed dividends as return of capital, which is not to be taxed.

Including the funds' expense ratios: VOO's total cost is 0.64% for a nonresident alien with no US tax treaty, while VUSA's total cost is 0.37%. For this investor then, VUSA is the better holding.

Example calculation for FTSE World ETFs

Let us compare the US domiciled Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT) vs Ireland domiciled Vanguard FTSE All-World UCITS ETF (VWRL).

Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT):

  • L1TW † = 0% × 52% (US) + 9% × 10.8% (Emerging Markets) + 39% × 7.5% (ex-US developed) = 3.9%
  • L2TW = 30%, US nonresident alien rate for countries without a US tax treaty
  • YIELD = 2.0%, estimation as we need it for comparison purposes, not exact dollar calculations
  • TER = 0.17%

† Ratios of US/EM/DM obtained from VT's Vanguard.com portfolio page.

TWR for VT = (2.0% × 0.039) + ((2.0% × (1 - 0.039) - 0.17%) × 0.30) = 0.07794 + 0.52562 = 0.60%

Vanguard FTSE All-World UCITS ETF (VWRL):

  • L1TW = 10.3%
  • L2TW = 0%, no Irish tax withholding on UCITS funds
  • YIELD = 2.0%, estimation
  • TER = 0.25%
TWR for VWRL = (2.0% × 0.103) + 0 (no L2 withholding) = 0.21%

Including the fund expense ratios: VT's total cost is 0.77% for a nonresident alien with no US tax treaty, while VWRL's total cost is 0.46%. For this investor, VWRL is the better holding. Note that as allocation to countries changes over time, the tax drag will change over time as well. Also note that as yield changes over time, the tax drag will change over time as well.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 The countries with poor US income tax treaties, ones that provide a US dividend tax rate that is above the 15% US/Ireland tax treaty rate, are Greece, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, India, Israel, Philippines, Tunisia, and Turkey.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The countries with poor US estate tax treaties, ones that appear not to raise the exemption above the standard $60,000 for nonresident aliens, are Ireland and South Africa.
  3. A reply received from Saxo Bank customer support dated March 2015: "Our corporate actions team replied that on VWRL there has previously been 0% tax. On Irish ETFs in general they can’t give an answer – it may be different on different ETFs."
  4. 4.0 4.1 From a Canadian perspective, according to PWL Capital: PWL Capital - Foreign Withholding Taxes: How to estimate the hidden tax drag on US and International equity index funds and ETFs "Investors are potentially subject to withholding taxes levied by the countries where the stocks are domiciled, whether that is the US, developed markets outside North America (western Europe, Japan, Australia), or emerging markets (China, Brazil, Taiwan). We refer to this as Level 1 withholding tax. When international stocks are held indirectly via a Canadian-listed ETF that holds a US-listed ETF, investors may also be subject to what we've called Level 2 withholding tax. This is an additional 15% [30% if no tax treaty] withheld by the US government before the US-listed ETF pays the dividends to Canadian investors. You can think of Level 1 foreign withholding tax like a departure tax you pay when taking a direct flight to Canada from a foreign country (including the US). Level 2 tax is like a second departure tax you pay when an overseas flight to Canada has a layover in the US."
  5. For more about this method, see "Tax withholding calculation indirectly mentioned by Canadian Couch Potato", in post "Foreign Withholding Tax Explained". Also, "Foreign Withholding Taxes: How to estimate the hidden tax drag on US and International equity index funds and ETFs". PWL Capital. https://www.pwlcapital.com/resources/foreign-withholding-taxes-estimate-hidden-tax-us-international-equity-etfs/. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  6. Background info for KIID: UCITS IV: Key Investor Information Document-KIID, from PwC Luxembourg
  7. Some countries allow funds to subtract the fund's TER before paying the dividends, others do not. Please review the taxation of the country where the fund is domiciled.

See also

References

  1. "Domicile (law)". Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domicile_(law). Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  2. "Residency (domicile)". Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residency_(domicile). Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ireland Tax Facts 2020". PwC. https://www.pwc.ie/publications/2020/tax-facts-2020.pdf. Retrieved July 25, 2020. Appendix 2, "Withholding tax on payments to Ireland".
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Part 23 - CAT Exemptions". Revenue Ireland. https://www.revenue.ie/en/tax-professionals/tdm/capital-acquisitions-tax/cat-part23.pdf. Retrieved September 21, 2020. Section 23.6, "Exemption of certain investment entities".
  5. 5.0 5.1 "An Overview of the Taxation of Irish Regulated Funds". A&L Goodbody. http://www.algoodbody.ie/media/InFocus-Taxation-Irish-regulated-funds1.pdf. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  6. "Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG)". iShares. https://www.ishares.com/us/products/239458/ishares-core-total-us-bond-market-etf. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  7. "US Aggregate Bond UCITS ETF (IUAG)". iShares. https://www.ishares.com/uk/individual/en/products/251750/ishares-us-aggregate-bond-ucits-etf. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  8. "Historic ETFs and ETPs Statistics". London Stock Exchange. http://www.londonstockexchange.com/statistics/historic/etf-etp/etf-etp.htm. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  9. "ETF Screener". justETF.com. https://www.justetf.com/uk/find-etf.html?dc=IE&replicationType=replicationType-full&replicationType=replicationType-sampling&groupField=none&sortField=ter&sortOrder=asc&query=USD&fsg=more100&quoteCurrency=USD. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  10. "Commissions". Interactive Brokers LLC. https://www.interactivebrokers.com/en/index.php?f=1590. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  11. "Trading Rates". Saxo Bank. http://www.saxobank.com/prices/. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  12. "Trading Account Pricing: Commissions, Fees and Margin Rates". Swissquote. https://en.swissquote.lu/pricing/trading-account. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  13. Bogleheads® forum topic: Help needed. US ETFs vs UCITS ETF for an Irish resident
  14. "Ireland: Taxation Of Collective Investment Funds And Availability Of Treaty Benefits". Dillon Eustace. http://www.mondaq.com/x/125934/sales+taxes+VAT+GST/Taxation+Of+Collective+Investment+Funds+And+Availability+Of+Treaty+Benefits. Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  15. "TAX IMPLICATIONS OF iSHARES FAQ". iShares. https://www.ishares.com/uk/institutional/en/literature/tax-information/tax-implications-ishares-en-uk-pc-faq.pdf?siteEntryPassthrough=true.
  16. Bogleheads® forum post: Re: ETF portfolio for non-resident alien with no tax treaty, by Micks (and Galeno).
  17. "Annual Report, Vanguard Funds plc - S&P 500 section". Vanguard. https://www.vanguardinvestor.co.uk/rs/gre/gls/1.3.0/documents/959/gb. Retrieved July 25, 2020.

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