Transferring Overseas Pension Funds to Australian Superannuation
Australian expatriates returning from abroad, or migrants moving to Australia, may be in a position to transfer their pension fund balances into Australian superannuation without attracting tax if the transfer is effected within 6 months of their becoming resident in Australia. The major prerequisite is that any transfer come from a pension fund that qualifies as a " foreign superannuation fund" (FSF) for the purposes of Australian income tax legislation. In that situation, you can also elect for earnings accumulated within the fund after you have become resident in Australia ("applicable fund earnings") to be either taxed at your marginal rate, or within the fund itself at a rate of 15%. This is analogous to the tax that would have been paid had the funds been in a superannuation fund during that period.
In this context it is obviously important to understand how any pension fund being transferred will be treated for Australian tax purposes. Hence, while UK pension funds qualify as FSF, there is much less clarity about how other funds, such as 401(k)'s and IRA's from the US, Canadian RRSP's and LIRA's and European funds, stand from an Australian tax perspective. In these cases Australian tax advice must preface any decision to transfer a pension - otherwise there is some prospect that all earnings within the fund may be subject to marginal Australian tax on transfer.
In any event, much of the impetus behind pension transfers in very recent times has however been the recent changes to superannuation rules in Australia, most particularly those providing tax free status to certain income streams post age 60. While it may often be advantageous to transfer a pension into Australian superannuation, rather than receive a foreign pension taxed at your marginal tax rate, it does not mean this is always the case and you need to invest some time in carefully considering the issues in your particular situation.