Nik Spyratos

Full guide to working for foreign companies from South Africa

Despite the attempted RTO trend right now, there is still plenty of remote work going around. Some companies have their processes down to a T for this, and others are still finding their feet.

The same goes for workers - it's not as easy as getting another IRP5, throwing it at SARS and calling it a day.

This is my guide on how to handle finances and taxes while working for a foreign company as a South African resident.

I recently had to write this up for a friend who is joining a US company remotely and wanted to know what they'd have to deal with locally in terms of finances, tax, and so on.

It boils down to a few simple steps, but with a lot of nuance and explanation behind them.

This post is oriented towards working remotely for companies in a direct relationship. In other words, when you're working for companies not using Employer of Record (EOR) companies like Deel or Remote.com for their HR and payroll.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial adviser, lawyer, or qualified professional around these matters. Take this information as a launching point to do your own research and consult with professionals.

We'll begin with a quick summary of everything you need to do, and then go into detail.

TL;DR

Getting paid

Let's start with the good part: earning that sweet moolah.

Getting paid has gotten a bit more annoying over the years, given South Africa is on the FATF grey list, and SARB isn't too friendly with forex generally.

You'll mostly be fine once you pass the compliance checks. There are three major ways to get paid which I'll outline.

Method 1: Your company handles payroll

For companies hiring lots of people internationally, they may already be using a global payroll/EOR service like Deel or Remote.com.

Ideally you will be hired by a locally incorporated company of the EOR and will be "contracted" out to the real company. The EOR will handle payroll for the company and you'll be paid as normal, albeit potentially with some international transfer delays here and there.

In this scenario invoicing your company won't be a requirement as it may be for method 2 (this will be further explained later). More often, you'll just be a contractor for the EOR, and they'll handle the payroll. This makes life easier for the company and takes away your own admin burden of getting paid into your ZA account.

Method 2: Using a payments company

If your company does not use and global payroll service, or if you have the option, this is what you'll be doing. On the plus side, it gives you the most control over timing and finances, and the fees and exchange rates are often better than what your bank or a forex company like Western Union. On the downside, it has its own nuances to be aware of.

Some good options for getting paid are Wise, Payoneer and OFX, and PayPal.

For this post I'll be focusing on Wise as I have the most experience using them.

Sign up to Wise (Referral link), go through all the compliance hoops, and send some funds1 through to open a currency account balance in the currency you'll be getting paid in (if available). This will give you "native" account payment details that will let your company pay you faster, as if they were doing an EFT equivalent.

Now, when you get paid into Wise, and then send those funds to your South African account, send the funds as ZAR from Wise directly. In the background, Wise will be converting the funds to ZAR directly and EFTing you from their local forex partner company2. This means you can get funds a little quicker than if you were waiting 3+ days for SWIFT transfers.

Here comes the compliance part. Yearly, you will have to sign a SARB mandate form for each account you receive funds into from abroad. Wise's local partner (currently Bidvest IIRC) will send you this every year to fill out. They will also send this the very first time you are to receive funds. This will likely delay how quickly you receive your money the first time around, so plan accordingly.

Lastly: Never leave funds lying around in any provider, including Wise. Always send money straight through to your actual bank account. There are plenty of horror stories with all providers, including Wise, screwing people over with little to no recourse, especially if they aren't true banks.

With global KYC/AML laws as they are, payment companies are very risk averse and legally obligated not to tell you why you're locked out.

Method 3: Just use SWIFT

This can be the slowest and most expensive option (fees and exchange rate), and likely the most complicated for your company to handle every month to pay you.

If you want to go this way, speak to your company about what they think is the best way to handle it.

Like with method 2, you will have to sign yearly mandate forms for receiving the funds, as well as assign a Balance of Payment (BOP) code to the funds when you receive them.

Now, with how to get paid out of the way, how does your relationship with your company work if they're abroad?

You are now a contractor

Since you will be working for a company that has no legal presence in South Africa3, you can only be a contractor for them. This has a chain of consequences as we'll now see.

Firstly, as a contractor, you are not earning a salary. You are providing services to your client (company) and charging for that. The end result in your bank account might be the same, but it is treated differently.

Most notably, for paper trails and compliance, you will need to send an invoice to your company every month for your agreed upon income. To make life easy, just invoice in whatever currency4 the company is paying you.

Contractors are provisional tax payers

Since you are a contractor/freelancer in the eyes of SARS in this arrangement, you are considered a provisional tax payer, and need to register as such.

This changes how your tax is handled and filed, so I'd recommend getting an accountant to help you with the registration and tax submissions going forward5. For more information see the TaxTim link above.

Provisional tax is a bit more admin in that you're now filing tax multiple times a year. This changes things, but can come with advantages.

Firstly and most importantly: since you are not having your tax deducted from your income when you get paid, you need to plan ahead and save a portion of your income for paying tax. On average I'd say put away 1/3 of whatever you earn for tax.

There is a very nice benefit to this: By saving your tax money in a savings account, you can earn interest on it! The interest is treated the same as any other savings, i.e. taxed after the first R23,800 (at the time of writing) interest earned. It's not a life changing amount of earnings, but it's still "free" money you wouldn't earn as an employee.

Secondly, you can now deduct various expenses as business related. You are an entrepreneur if you're a freelancer, after all. New office supplies? Keyboard? Conference tickets, home internet, or training courses? All tax deductible expenses, so long as they relate to your work.

You are able to deduct other household expenses according to the fraction of your home that is your office, but SARS has far more stringent with this since lockdown, so I wouldn't bother. Speak to your accountant about what you can and can't deduct from your expenses.

Last notes

While it's good practice and technically a compliance requirement, I've never been asked to produce any evidence of the invoices I've sent. Only for the company's sake I've had to create backdated invoices for their own accounting. Your mileage may vary.

In my experience, the benefit of getting paid in foreign currency is mostly around inflation. So long as the Rand continues to tank, you effectively get inflationary raises for free over the long term.

In the short-medium term however, highs and lows even out more than you'd expect. Foreign companies can have deeper pockets than South African ones for some roles, but it's not consistent. You're also going to be lacking employment protections as a contractor, so they can let you go on a dime. This has happened to a few remote workers in my network.

That's it. All my knowledge on getting paid remotely as a South African.


Footnotes

  1. Be aware currently that Investec blocks sending money out to Wise (and likely other similar providers). They give some half-baked excuses of crypto or forex services not being allowed, but it seems obviously to force the use of their SWIFT to me. Just EFT the money to another bank (eg BankZero) and send it to Wise from there.

  2. Because you're just getting a plain old EFT, this also means you can potentially receive international transfers to banks that don't support international transfer, like BankZero and Tyme Bank. Anecdotally, I've done this and have heard from others who have done it for both of these banks. I haven't done this in a little while, but it should still work.

  3. If they do have a local company and are recommending you work for the foreign one, that may potentially be a breach of labour law on their part.

  4. There are some nuances here around when to or not to invoice in ZAR, but they shouldn't affect you until you're earning enough that you actually need to incorporate. Speak to your accountant :)

  5. Be warned that if you're earning more than R1m a year as a contractor, you'll need to register for VAT. This can be done as an individual, but is easier if done as a company. That then means you'll need to incorporate, which is an entire other post worth of content!