You may be liable to pay South African income tax as an expat. This guide covers the SARS income tax system, income tax brackets for South Africa, deadlines, allowances and income tax calculators for South Africa.
Income tax in South Africa is collected by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). All residents living and working in South Africa are typically liable to pay income tax in South Africa, although how much SARS income tax you must pay depends on your tax residency status and earning amount.
South African income tax is levied on residents’ worldwide income, with appropriate relief to avoid double taxation for certain foreigners, plus exemptions and allowable deductions. Non-residents, however, are only taxed on their income from South African sources.
This detailed guide covers the main aspects of individual income tax in South Africa, including who must pay South African income tax, income tax brackets, SARS income tax deadlines, income tax deductions and allowances, SARS income tax calculators and how to fill out your South African tax return.
Who has to pay income tax in South Africa?
South Africa operates on a residency-based taxation system, meaning that residents (whether permanent or temporary) pay tax on their worldwide incomes.
Residents are those with citizenship or residence permits, but you are also considered a resident for tax purposes if you have been living in South Africa for more than 91 days in total in each of the last five tax years, or at least 915 days in total across those five years. Find out your tax residency status in South Africa in our guide to tax in South Africa.
Those classified as non-residents will pay South African income tax only on income earned inside the country.
Tax is collected by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and working residents must obtain a SARS income tax number and submit an annual South African tax return.
What earnings are subject to SARS income tax?
Income tax in South Africa includes individual and business income tax. Business or corporate income tax in South Africa is dealt with separately in our guide to these taxes.
SARS income tax applies to the following type of earnings:
- employment income including salaries, bonuses, overtime and taxable benefits and allowances (in most cases deducted from wage payments by employers through a pay-as-you-earn or PAYE scheme);
- profits or losses from a business or self-employed trade;
- director’s fees;
- rental income;
- investment income such as interest or dividends;
- pension income (excluding foreign pensions);
- certain capital gains.
There is also an additional dividends tax in South Africa imposed on dividends payments to shareholders at the rate of 20%. This is a separate tax that is withheld from the dividend payment by the company making the payment.
Income tax brackets South Africa
Income tax brackets in South Africa are progressive like elsewhere, where you pay a higher income tax rate the more you earn.
The income tax in brackets South Africa for 2019 (1 March 2018 – 28 February 2019) are listed below:
- Up to R195,850: 18% of taxable income
- R195,851–R305,850: 26% (R35,253 plus 26% of taxable income above R195,850)
- R305,851–R423,300: 31% (R63,853 plus 31% of taxable income above R305,850)
- R423,301–R555,600: 36% (R100,263 plus 36% of taxable income above R423,300)
- R555,601–R708,310: 39% (R147,891 plus 39% of taxable income above R555,600)
- R708,311+: 41% (R207,448 plus 41% of taxable income above R708,310)
- R1,500,001+: 45% (R532,041 plus 45% of taxable income above R1,500,000)
The are different income thresholds for certain age groups, up to which earnings are exempt from SARS income tax on. These are currently:
- R78,150 for those under 65 years
- R121,000 for those aged 65–74 years
- R129,850 for those aged 75 years and over
Filing your South African income tax return
The South African tax year runs from 1 March to 28 February. The tax season, when people are required to file their income tax returns, is July to November. The deadlines for submitting income tax return forms in South Africa for the 2019 tax year are as follows:
- 24 November 2019: at a SARS branch (provisional and non-provisional)
- 24 November 2019: SARS eFiling (non-provisional)
- 31 January 2020: provisional taxpayers via eFiling
If you are employed in South Africa, your employer will deduct your SARS income tax contributions from your salary, but you will still need to complete an annual South African income tax return. The only exemptions are for those earning under R350,000 gross salary from a single employer and who have no additional sources of income or deductions they want to claim. Read Expatica’s guide on social security in South Africa to find which tax contributions are deducted from your salary.
Those receiving income other than employment salary are liable to pay their tax via the South African provisional tax system. This is done in order to spread the tax liability across the year. The taxpayer will pay two upfront installments during the year, based on estimated taxable income. The final balance owed will then be submitted along with the tax return form.
Those submitting a late South African income tax return or making a late payment will be liable for an admin penalty, which is outlined by the SARS income tax authority.
Filing US taxes from South Africa
Despite the fact that every US citizen and green card holder is required to file a tax return with the IRS even when living abroad, many expatriates still fail to do so. Many are unaware of these obligations, thinking that as an expat they do not need to pay or file tax returns in the US. You do! For more information and help filing your US tax returns from South Africa, contact Taxes for Expats and see our guide to taxes for American expats.
South African income tax allowances and deductions
Certain forms of income are exempt from tax in South Africa. These are set out in Section 10 of the 1962 Income Tax Act South Africa.
Tax residents can make the following deductions from their taxable income in South Africa:
- Tax threshold allowance of R78,150 (R121,000 for those aged 65–74 and R129,850 for those aged 75 and over).
- Medical tax credit of R310 per month (plus R310 per month for the first dependent and R209 per month for each additional dependent).
- Exemption on interest payments up to R23,800 (R34,500 for those aged 65 and over).
- Tax relief on retirement lump sum benefits up to a total of R500,000 across a lifetime.
- Tax relief claims against work-related travel and vehicle allowance.
- A tax-free allowance for settling in costs up to one month’s basic salary for relocation costs may be provided in some cases where an employee and his/her family are relocated to South Africa for employment purposes.
South African income tax for foreigners
Foreign residents pay the same income tax in South Africa as local citizens. However, those classed as non-resident taxpayers are only taxed on income earned in South Africa and not worldwide.
For both South African residents and non-residents, there is no tax on overseas pensions in South Africa. However, those retiring to South Africa who are receiving a South African pension will be liable to pay tax on annual earnings above R116,500, and at least the minimum 18% tax on lump sum payments above R500,000. More information about taxes and retirement in South Africa is available from the South African Revenue Service.
South Africa has tax treaties with Australia, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, amongst others. These have been set up to help ensure that individuals moving from one country to another don’t have to pay double taxation on income earned in their home country.
How to fill in a South African tax return
You will first need to be registered as a South African taxpayer and have a SARS income tax number. This will typically be done by your employer; otherwise, read how to join South African social security.
Once you have your SARS income tax number, you can complete your tax return on paper or online. You can obtain a paper copy of the form from your local SARS office. To complete a South African tax return online, you will need to register for eFiling.
The South African income tax return for individuals is called form ITR12. To complete the ITR12 form, you will need:
- your bank statements;
- information on all forms of income and allowances/deductions you are including in the form;
- your tax number;
- your employee tax certificate (IRP5/IT3a), if applicable;
- certificates (IT3b) for any investment income;
- medical aid certificate for details of contributions made that do not appear on your IRP5/IT3a certificate.
Income tax calculators South Africa
Using an income tax calculator in South Africa will help you calculate the amount of South African income tax you have to pay. There are a number of income tax calculators online, including those from:
In place of using a SARS income tax calculator, you can also work it out using the following simple steps:
- Determine gross income: calculate all forms of taxable income and any employment-related benefits and allowances (worldwide income for South African tax residents, or income earned inside South Africa only for non-residents).
- Deduct any forms of exempt income as detailed in Section 10 of the 1962 Income Tax Act South Africa.
- Deduct all allowances and deductions to calculate you your taxable income.
- Multiply your taxable income by your tax rate, depending on your tax bracket.
- Subtract any rebates owed: the annual rebate plus any rebates from overpayments in past years, or applicable rebates for foreign taxes allowed by double-taxation agreements
Once your ITR12 has been assessed by SARS, you will receive a Notice of Assessment (ITA34) that will detail any outstanding tax that needs to be paid. A guide on how to complete your ITR12 form can be found on the SARS website.
Appealing your income tax assessment
If you are not happy with the income tax assessment made by SARS, you can appeal the decision by filing a dispute. Details on how to appeal a decision is available from the South African Revenue Service.
South African income tax advice
- South African Revenue Service (SARS)
- SARS income tax tool
- Tax deductions in South Africa
- SARS holds free tax workshops at most of their branches between January and March, where you can see advice on filing your South African income tax return.
- UK government guide on South African income tax for expats.
It’s important to be aware of potential scams asking for your personal information; SARS will never request your banking details in any form of communication, such as post, email or SMS. Only for the purpose of telephone calls and authentication purposes, SARS will ask for your personal details. Importantly, SARS never link to other websites online, even those of banks, so be aware if you are asked to leave SARS website if filing online.