Source of income

The source of income for tax purposes

The term “source” of income in Australian taxation can refer to both the geographic origin and the transaction or means by which income was generated. This definition forms the basis for tax liability determination.

Income doesn’t always have a single source. Take, for example, a business selling goods in Australia. While the immediate income source is the sale of these goods within Australia, the goods themselves might have been sourced from outside the country. In such cases, determining income source requires a careful assessment of dominant factors, sometimes leading to income apportionment among various sources.

Australian tax laws provide statutory guidelines for specific income items like dividends, royalties by non-residents, and natural resource income. However, there are no preset rules for determining income sources in most cases.

The Australian legal system emphasizes the practical and fact-dependent nature of income source. It considers how a practical person would perceive the real income source, evaluating each case based on its unique circumstances.

How to determine the source of income for tax purposes

There are the two factors to consider when determining income source for tax purposes:

Form and Substance Consideration
This factor involves assessing both the legal appearance and economic reality of a transaction. Tax authorities can look beyond the transaction’s surface to determine its true income source, disregarding legal structuring for tax purposes.

Taxpayer Source Country Link
This factor underscores the importance of the connection between the taxpayer and the country seeking to tax the income. This linkage influences income allocation and taxation, depending on the nature of the taxpayer’s activities and ties to the source country.

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Determining source of income across various income categories

Source of remuneration for services rendered

The source of income for services rendered is closely tied to where those services are performed. If you work in a specific location, say Sydney, the income from that work is generally sourced in Sydney. However, it’s not always this straightforward.

Contractual terms

The terms of your employment contract play a significant role. If your contract mandates working in specific locations, this can impact the source determination. For instance, if your contract states that you must work in Melbourne, your income may be sourced to Melbourne, even if you live elsewhere.

Special circumstances

Special circumstances can alter the source determination. If you hold a unique position, like a directorship or a role that doesn’t involve daily work at a particular location, the location of your work may not be the sole factor.

In cases where there’s a creative or intellectual component to your work, the location of the contract or where specialized expertise is utilized may carry more weight in the source determination. This is relevant in fields such as writing or consulting.

Ultimately, the source of income for services rendered hinges on practical considerations. Each case is assessed based on specific facts and circumstances. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule. Tax authorities consider factors like the location of service, contractual terms, special circumstances, and practical income origins.

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Income source in contracts minimizing or excluding services

There are various scenarios where income is derived from contracts that do not involve the rendering of services or the sale of goods. In such cases, the source of income is primarily determined by the contract itself.

Types of contracts involved

Contracts falling into this category often include:

Insurance Contracts
Insurance agreements are a classic example where the primary transaction involves risk transfer and indemnification rather than the provision of services. The premiums paid by policyholders constitute income for the insurance company, and understanding the source of this income is crucial for tax purposes.

License Agreements
Contracts granting rights or licenses for the use of intellectual property, patents, trademarks, or software may generate income without the direct provision of services. Royalties and licensing fees are typical forms of income in these agreements.

Financial Contracts
Certain financial contracts, such as those involving derivatives, options, or financial instruments, may result in income generation without substantial service provision.

Determining the source of income

In cases where services are not the primary income driver, courts and tax authorities often focus on the contract’s terms and the location of its execution to determine the source of income. Here are some key considerations:

  • Contract Location: The jurisdiction where the contract is executed can be a crucial factor in determining the income source. If a contract is created, negotiated, or finalized in a specific location, that location may be deemed the source of income, irrespective of where subsequent activities or transactions occur.
  • Nature of the Transaction: The nature of the contract and the income it generates play a pivotal role. Courts may analyze whether the income stems directly from the contract itself or from more remote transactions that are related but not central to the source of income.
  • Business Operations: Understanding where the taxpayer conducts their business operations is essential. If the income source is closely tied to the taxpayer’s business activities in a particular location, that location may be considered the source of income.

Example scenarios

To illustrate this concept further, consider the following scenarios:

  • In the case of an insurance company, the source of income is often linked to the location where insurance policies are underwritten and premiums are received, rather than where insurance claims are processed or benefits are paid out.
  • For intellectual property licenses, the source of income is frequently the jurisdiction where the licensing agreement is executed, even if the licensed products or services are used or sold in other regions.
  • Income from financial instruments or derivatives may be sourced from the location where the contract is formed, reflecting the importance of the contractual arrangement in generating income.

Source of income from property and shares

The source of income from property, such as real estate or shares, is typically determined by where specific income-generating activities take place. Here’s a concise breakdown:

Real estate rental income

When you earn income from renting out real estate properties, the source of this income is generally the location of the property itself. Income from renting out a property situated in a particular country is sourced in that country for tax purposes.

Dividend income from shares

For dividend income derived from shares, the source is typically the country where the company issuing the shares is incorporated. If you receive dividends from shares in a foreign company, the source is in the country where that company is legally registered.

Interest income from property

Interest income from financial instruments related to property, such as bonds or mortgages, is often sourced in the country where the financial institution or entity that issued the instrument is located.

Capital gains from property sales

When you sell property, including shares, the source of capital gains is typically linked to the location of the property. Capital gains from the sale of real estate or shares are usually attributed to the country where the property is situated or where the shares represent ownership in a company.

Share trading and brokerage fees

If you engage in share trading and earn income from buying and selling shares, the source of this income can be associated with the location where the trading activities take place. Brokerage fees are also sourced in the country where the brokerage service is provided.

Foreign property and income

When dealing with property or shares located in different countries, determining the source of income can become more complex. In such cases, various factors are considered, including the location of income-generating activities, contractual agreements, and applicable tax treaties.

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Source of income from real property

Income derived from real property, which includes land, buildings, and immovable assets, is closely tied to the jurisdiction where the property is located.

This means that the income generated from activities such as rental income, lease payments, or profits from property sales is directly attributed to the specific jurisdiction in which the property is situated.

This fundamental principle provides a clear and unambiguous method for determining the source of income related to real estate transactions.

Comparing real property and shares

A notable distinction arises when comparing income generated from real property to income from shares. In the case of real property, if the sale of the land occurs in one country while the land itself is situated in another, the entire profit is attributable to the place where the property is located.

In contrast, when dealing with income from the sale of shares, the source of profit should be apportioned between the countries involved. For instance, if the sale of shares takes place in one country while the shares are held in another, the profit should be divided between the two countries.

Source of income from trading business

Income derived from trading business activities is primarily determined by where the core profit-generating activities occur. The source of income from a trading business is pivotal in the context of taxation and international business operations.

In cases where trading involves negotiation and sales of goods, the location where these negotiations occur and contracts are finalized typically determines the source of income.

If a trading business predominantly conducts negotiations, sales, and contracts in a foreign country, the source of income is considered to be outside the home country.

Value-Added Principle

The “value-added” principle can be applied to assess the source of income. It attributes income to the place where value is added to goods during transactions.

However, for international trading businesses, tax treaties between countries may dictate the rules for determining the source of income and the allocation of taxing rights.

In some cases, income from trading business operations may need to be apportioned between different sources when activities occur in multiple jurisdictions. The apportionment is often based on a factual analysis of where significant business functions occur.

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Source of interest income

The source of income is determined as a practical matter of fact rather than as a strict legal concept. This approach aims to find the “real source” of income.

Interest income is typically sourced from the place where the obligation to pay the interest originated. In cases involving complex series of transactions leading to interest obligations, all relevant facts and circumstances are considered to determine the source.

Two fundamental principles to determine the source include:

Location of the Loan Contract
The source often relates to where the loan agreement was established or where credit was extended. In essence, it hinges on where the lending arrangement was initiated.

Place of Interest Payment
The location where the interest payment is to be made also holds significant weight in source determination and can affect the tax treatment of interest income.

Application to tax indemnification payments

Beyond loan contracts, the concept of source determination also applies to tax indemnification payments made by a borrower to a non-resident lender. Several factors come into play:

  • Source determination may depend on where the contract was formed, executed, and where its terms are fulfilled.
  • The tax residency of the payer, typically the borrower, can significantly influence source determination.
  • The location from which payments are made and the underlying reasons for these payments are vital considerations in source determination.

Thus determining source of income requires a comprehensive analysis of various factors, and its outcome can significantly impact the tax treatment of income in financial transactions.

Source of dividend income

The primary source of dividend income is the profits generated by a company. These profits result from the company’s operational activities, investments, and other revenue streams.

The source of dividend income is often tied to the location where a company conducts its business operations. If a company earns profits in multiple countries, the source can be linked to each country’s operations.

Legal considerations

Legal frameworks and tax regulations play a crucial role in determining the source of dividend income. Different countries have varying rules for attributing the source of dividends. These regulations can be influenced by factors such as the company’s legal structure, tax laws, and international treaties.

In certain cases, the residence of the shareholder can impact the source of dividend income. This is especially relevant for international investors who may have tax obligations in both their home country and the country where the company is based.

The interaction between the shareholder’s tax residence and the company’s source of income can influence taxation on dividends.

Likewise, international double taxation treaties can modify the source of dividend income. These treaties often specify where the income is sourced and may influence tax liability.

To ascertain the source of dividend income, it’s essential to consider the actual operations and activities that generated the profits leading to dividend distribution.

There is no universal formula for determining the source of dividend income. It varies depending on specific circumstances, legal structures, and applicable tax laws.

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Source of royalties

When dealing with royalties of a capital nature, the determination of royalty income source involves several factors, including:

  • Place where the contract leading to royalties was made.
  • Location of property rights associated with the royalties.
  • Place where the property, giving rise to royalty entitlements, is situated.
  • The role of contractual agreements and operational activities.

It’s essential to emphasize that there’s no universally applicable rule for establishing the source of royalties. Instead, each case is assessed based on its unique circumstances.

Source in double tax agreements

Many of Australia’s double tax agreements incorporate articles that define the source of income, including royalties.

These articles typically stipulate that royalties, subject to taxation rights in Australia, are deemed to originate from Australian sources when considered in an international context.

This provision ensures clarity and consistency when dealing with cross-border royalty income.

Determining the source of wages, salary, and professional fees

The primary principle for establishing the source of income under a typical employment or service contract is the place where the duties or services are performed. This general rule, established in various legal cases and tax regulations, serves as the starting point for assessing the source of such income.


Nevertheless, an exception exists to the general rule. In cases where the work involves the extensive application of creative powers or specialized knowledge, the source of income may not solely depend on the location where the services are performed.

Instead, the dominant source might be the place where the contract for employment or services was made.

Employment termination payments

When considering employment termination payments, it’s essential to recognize that they are more similar to compensation than regular income for services.

Consequently, the primary factors in determining the source of such payments are where the liability to make the payment arose and where the payment was made from, rather than the location where the services were performed.

This article is general information only and does not provide advice to address your personal circumstances. To make an informed decision you should contact an appropriately qualified professional.