Though non-resident Indians (NRIs) earn their living abroad, their obligation to file tax returns in India doesn't end. With the July 31 deadline for filing returns barely a month away, NRIs need to gear up to file their return if they have income in India that exceeds the basic exemption limit.
Determine tax residency status: An NRI first needs to determine his tax residency status, that is, whether he falls in the category of resident or non-resident Indian (NRI) for tax purposes. While there may be no ambiguity regarding the status of an NRI who has lived abroad for a long time, those who have moved abroad recently or have returned to India after a long stay abroad need to ascertain their residency status properly.
Residency status for tax purposes is decided by the number of days of physical stay in India during a financial year. According to tax laws, an individual is considered to be a non-resident if he meets the following criteria: He should have been present in India for less than 182 days in a year; or, he should have been present in India for less than 60 days in a year or cumulatively for less than 365 days in the preceding four years.
Taxable income: Any income of an NRI that originates in India or is received in India is taxable here. This usually includes salary income, rental income from property owned in India, and income from sale of securities and assets held in India. "If an NRI has performed his job in India, his salary income will be taxable here, irrespective of where the salary is credited to his account. On the other hand, if an NRI has worked abroad but received his salary in India, this will be included in his taxable income here," says Jiger Saiya, partner-direct tax, BDO India.
Interest income from an NRO account (but not from an NRE and a FCNR account), deposits and debentures is taxable in India. NRIs also have to pay tax on capital gain from sale of house property.
Filing an income tax return in India becomes mandatory for an NRI as soon as the sum total of his taxable income from all sources (before claiming any deduction) exceeds the basic exemption limit of Rs 2.5 lakh. According to an announcement made in Budget 2016 and applicable from 2016-17, even gain on sale of securities held for more than 12 months and sold on a stock exchange, which is non-taxable, has to be included when calculating total taxable income. "Filing of income tax return also becomes mandatory for an NRI even if his total taxable income does not cross Rs 2.5 lakh, if he claims benefit under a tax treaty," says Saiya.
Besides not having to file tax if their income is less than the basic exemption limit, NRIs are excluded from filing return under a couple of other circumstances. "An NRI who has chosen to be covered by the special provisions of Chapter XII-A may not file tax return if his income consists only of capital gains. Similarly, those having only interest income (given in Section 115A) may also not file. This is provided tax has been deducted at source for such income," says Suresh Surana, founder, RSM Astute Consulting.
Avail of deductions: Like resident Indians, NRIs are entitled to avail of tax deductions. Says Arvind A Rao, financial planner and founder, Arvind Rao & Associates: "Most of the commonly known deductions (under Chapter VIA of the IT Act) are available to both residents and non-residents." The deductions, he informs, are the exceptions that NRIs don't enjoy: Section 80DD for maintenance, including treatment, of disabled dependant; Section 80DDB for medical treatment of specified diseases for self or dependants; Section 80U for person with disability; Section 80C for the specific investments not available to NRIs, like PPF, NSC, 5-year post office deposit, and senior citizen savings scheme; and Section 80CCG for investment in Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme.
Enjoy benefit of DTAA: India has signed the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) with around 90 countries. NRIs need to first determine whether a particular income of theirs is taxable in India. They must then furnish a tax residency certificate (TRC) issued by the tax authorities of the country where they currently reside. In addition, they may also be required to provide a self-declaration in Form 10F. Next, depending on the type of income, they may get relief under DTAA: the income may be entirely exempted or it may get taxed at a lower rate. If the income is taxable under DTAA, they have to pay tax in India and claim credit for the tax paid here against the tax liability in their home country.
For claiming a lower tax rate under DTAA, NRIs had to earlier provide their PAN number to avoid the higher withholding tax of 20 per cent under Section 206AA. The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has through a recent notification introduced rule 37BC, which allows NRIs to furnish alternative documents and information instead of PAN to avoid paying the higher withholding tax. These include name, email ID, contact number, address, TRC and Tax Identification Number (TIN).
TAX FILING TIPS
If you have earned salary income, obtain Form 16 from your employer, which reflects the details of salary and TDS deducted
Check data for TDS on income appearing in Form 26AS. Claim credit for TDS
Provide details of savings and current accounts held at any time during the financial year
If total taxable income exceeds Rs 50 lakh, disclose details of assets located in India (land, building, cash, vehicles, etc) along with their costs in the ITR form. Also, report related liabilities
- E-filing of return becomes compulsory if taxable income exceeds Rs 5 lakh in the previous financial year