Around the World in 2019 — A Landmark Year for Crypto Taxation
2019 was, without a doubt, a milestone for crypto taxation. Countries around the world realized cryptocurrencies are here to stay and adjusted their crypto tax policies as a result. This year alone, several countries have been busy establishing and amending crypto tax legislation. Governments around the world have published updated guidance, changed crypto tax rules, and used crypto tax benefits to attract high-net individuals, while some even banned crypto completely. Looking at the crypto tax legislation worldwide in 2019, one thing is apparent: No one can deny crypto tax anymore. Crypto is considered an asset and is therefore taxable. Whether you pay them or actively choose to avoid them, you are aware of the implications of your actions.
Let’s take a closer look at 2019 worldwide crypto tax legislation:
United States: New guidance, changing tax forms, and enforcement letters:
It was a hectic year for the Internal Revenue Service.
After sending thousands of letters to cryptocurrency investors to clarify crypto tax obligations, the IRS issued two new pieces of guidance for taxpayers engaged in digital currency transactions. In addition, standard tax form 1040 Schedule 1 has been updated to include a broad declaration regarding crypto holdings or trades.
The new guidance includes Revenue Ruling 2019-24, and 43 frequently asked questions. But not all is clear in the U.S. crypto tax territory: Like-kind exchange, which basically means tax exemption on exchanging one crypto to another, was formally forbidden by the IRS back in 2018, but issues regarding 2017 reports are yet to be cleared.
The messages from IRS representatives on this issue are contradictory, and official guidance has yet to be published.
Bermuda: Tax payments with crypto
Unlike the state of Ohio, which suspended its service for paying taxes with Bitcoin, Bermuda will be the first government to accept its own stablecoin, USD Coin (USDC), for tax payments, according to global financial services company, Circle.
The crypto tax payments are part of a broader initiative that has the Bermuda government supporting “the use of stablecoins and decentralized finance protocols and services.” The Bermudian dollar relies on a U.S. dollar-backed currency, and it seems like the Bermuda’s government is leading the crypto government payments industry. Circle Co-Founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire said:
“Bermuda’s Premier made a broader announcement today about embracing stablecoins as the future of the financial system, with a focus on innovations in fintech that can deliver value not just for Bermudians, but also globally via companies licensed under their Digital Asset Business Act.”
Portugal: No individuals crypto tax
Portugal is one of the few countries that has managed to take advantage of the crypto taxation situation to attract high-net-worth individuals to its territory.
Last August, The Portugal Tax Authority announced that cryptocurrency trading and payments in crypto would not be subject to value-added tax. This announcement follows a ruling from 2018, which declares that proceeds from the sale of cryptocurrencies for individuals will be tax free. Any crypto sale or exchange does not qualify as capital gains, which normally holds a 28% tax rate in the country. In addition, cryptocurrency trading will not be considered investment income, which is also subject to a 28% tax rate under other circumstances.
However, it should be noted that this applies only to individuals, as Portugal-based businesses are still subject to several taxes, including VAT, social security and income taxes.
Will Portugal succeed in establishing itself as a crypto-powerful country? Only time will tell.
UK: The Queen’s traditional approach commences to crypto
The United Kingdom’s tax, payments and customs authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, or HMRC, has recently updated its cryptocurrency taxation policy paper for businesses and individuals.
The authority’s traditional position is reflected in this policy paper, stating that the HMRC does not consider crypto as a currency, and instead uses the term “cryptoassets.”
As in most countries, the policy paper for individuals considers crypto activity as a personal investment subject to capital gains tax. Any sale, exchange, gifts, goods or services of crypto in the U.K. are subject to tax.
Capital gains tax is commonly used to tax crypto activity in many countries, such as the U.S. and Israel. However, while other countries are struggling to draw the line between personal activity and professional trading, the HMRC states that crypto falls into the definition of business activity “only in exceptional circumstances,” continuing:
“HMRC expects individuals to buy and sell cryptoassests with such frequency, level of organization and sophistication that the activity amounts to a financial trade in itself.”
The policy paper goes on to further state that an employee’s salary and mining activity are subject to income tax.
France: No crypto to crypto tax
It seems like France’s minister of economy and finance, Bruno Le Maire, is a reasonable voice of crypto taxation.
The French government decided not to follow its Western associates, and in an unusual step, announced that crypto-to-crypto transactions are tax free in France.
As reported in September 2019, French authorities will not tax crypto-to-crypto trades but will tax cryptocurrencies when they are sold for fiat currency.
For those who understand crypto tax practice, this is the only outcome that does not carry double taxation on crypto-to-crypto trading.
In many cases, tax calculation of crypto-to-crypto transactions will lead to double taxation, especially when using calculation methods such as first in, first out, or FIFO.
Denmark: Seeking profits and losses for 2016–2018
Taking a leaf out of the guidance of the U.S. IRS, the Danish tax agency, Skattestyrelsen, has begun sending letters to crypto traders requesting them to provide a full background of all their crypto transactions.
Skattestyrelsen is specifically seeking information about profits and losses from 2016 to 2018 according to the FIFO method.
The Danish tax agency’s focus on crypto holders began late last year when the agency confirmed it was in the process of identifying 2,700 individuals that reportedly owed taxes on Bitcoin (BTC) gains.
Then, in January 2019, the country’s tax council authorized Skattestyrelsen to obtain information on all crypto trades across the three domestic crypto exchanges in the country. By August, the agency received the green light to obtain information regarding crypto trading from 20,000 private individuals.
While efforts are becoming widespread, it is still too early to tell what the future holds for Danish traders.
Australia: In line with leading Western countries
The Australian Taxation Office published a guidance framework in June 2019 classifying cryptocurrencies as “forms of property” that are subject to capital gain tax and require reporting.
Additionally, the ATO views BTC-based transactions as being “barter arrangements” that, while not subject to goods and services tax, are still subject to capital gains tax.
This guidance follows suit with other major Western countries like the U.S. and the U.K., and seems to be the dominant position in the crypto taxation world.
New Zealand: Paying salaries with crypto
The national tax authority of New Zealand, the Inland Revenue Department, has published guidance for salaries and bonuses paid in crypto in August 2019.
While publishing a crypto salary-related ruling may appear as if New Zealand is trying to establish itself as a crypto-friendly country, IRD Commissioner Naomi Ferguson is making it clear that the New Zealand government does not consider crypto to be a currency.
“In the Commissioner’s view, crypto-assets are property. Crypto-assets are not ‘money’ as commonly understood (at least not at the present time). In particular, because crypto-assets are not issued by any government, they are not legal tender anywhere. Further, although acceptance of certain crypto-assets as payment for goods and services is increasing, they are not ‘generally accepted’ as payment.
Given the extreme volatility experienced to date, there are also issues around some crypto-assets’ ability to be a store of value.”
The ruling applies only to salary and wage earners and not to self-employed individuals, and only for services performed by an employee for a fixed amount and as a regular part of their remuneration.
China: Virtual property, but not fiat money
Surprisingly, after China banned crypto trading in 2017, a Chinese court gained legal recognition by formally describing Bitcoin as virtual property in July 2019. This ruling was a part of a dispute between a now-defunct exchange and one of its users who had lost funds.
Currently, there is no specific rule for crypto taxation in China, but this court’s attention to crypto as an asset may trigger the Chinese tax authority to announce a crypto tax policy.
Singapore: No value-added tax for crypto and a welcome VAT exemption
Starting January 2020, Goods and Services Tax, or GST, which is Singapore’s equivalent to value-added tax, will not apply to crypto transactions in the city-state.
In July 2019, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore published the proposed draft e-tax guide exemption for cryptocurrencies that are intended to function as a medium of exchange from GST. Recently, in November, the draft was approved by the IRAS and became official.
Until the end of 2019, cryptocurrencies that function as a medium of exchange were treated as a barter trade. The IRAS notes that Bitcoin, Ether (ETH), Litecoin (LTC) and other currencies meet its definition of a digital payment token designed to function as a medium of exchange. At the same time, stablecoins are excluded from this definition but will also be exempt from GST.
“A digital payment token must not have a value that is based on the value of anything else. Therefore, any digital token that is denominated in any fiat currency or with a value pegged to any fiat currency (e.g. stablecoins) will not qualify as a digital payment token.”
It could be that the IRAS is getting ready for Libra’s release, as the guide specifies the GST exemption is for stablecoins backed to a basket of currencies.
“Instead, tokens that are pegged to or backed by any fiat currency, a basket of currencies, commodities or other assets are derivatives that are currently exempt under paragraph 1(j) of Part I of the Fourth Schedule to the GST Act. Supplies of these tokens continue to be GST exempt.”
Thailand: Blockchain use for taxes
While Bermuda accepts crypto for tax payments, the Thai government refunds taxes using blockchain.
On Nov. 25, Director-General Patchara Anuntasilpa told the Bangkok Post that the Thailand Excise Department will change its current tax refund practices by introducing a blockchain-based tax payback system, which it hopes to implement by the middle of 2020.
Anuntasilpa explained that the future tax payback system will require oil exporters to pay excise tax and claim overpaid taxes after they have shipped fuel. Blockchain technology will help the department more efficiently inspect the tax payments.
Currently, oil exporters are required to submit documents for a tax waiver, but inspection is not as thorough as it could be.
Iran: Tax carrot and stick for crypto mining
In their battle against illicit crypto mining, Iranian authorities are offering a bounty to anyone who exposes unauthorized mining operations in the country. Conversely, Iranian mining companies who are authorized will enjoy tax benefits.
In September, the Iranian National Tax Administration announced that domestic mining firms are eligible for a tax exemption if they agree to repatriate their overseas earnings.
As reported, the INTA introduced a repatriation tax exemption similar to the one it offers non-oil exporters.
The INTA considers cryptocurrency mining a taxable business like any other industrial activity, and as such, believes it should follow the requirements set by the Central Bank of Iran in repatriating their overseas earnings.
Georgia: No value-added tax and prohibition on crypto payments
The government of Georgia is joining the list of countries that choose to exempt crypto from VAT. In June 2019, Georgia’s Finance Minister Nodar Khaduri signed a bill aimed at regulating the taxation of entities that trade or mine cryptocurrency. However, the exemption does not apply to mining companies who still need to pay VAT, unless they are registered abroad.
In Georgia, foreign currencies cannot be used as a means of payment, and for that reason, the country will not allow the use of crypto for payments.
Brazil: An obligation to report every crypto transaction
The Brazilian government has every intent to closely monitor crypto traders in Brazil.
In May 2019, The Federal Revenue of Brazil instructed all Brazilian citizens involved in crypto to report on their transactions. This new measure applies to individuals, companies and brokerages regarding all kinds of crypto-related activities, including buying and selling, barters, deposits, withdrawals and others.
As reported, the RFB believes that the digital currency market in Brazil has more investors than Brazil’s second-oldest stock exchange, which reportedly has about 800,000 customers. Taking the market size into consideration, it’s no wonder that the RFB requires monthly reports of crypto activity, which is considered a heavy burden as far as tax reports go.
The rules also require local crypto exchanges to inform the RFB of all operations. There is no minimum threshold for reporting requirements. Crypto traders on foreign exchanges or anyone who trades peer-to-peer have a minimum threshold and will only have to report on transactions on amounts higher than 30,000 Brazilian reals per month.
By applying this measure, the authority intends to combat illicit activities such as money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing, and those who do not comply will face penalties of up to 3% of the amount of the unreported transaction.
2019 will be marked as the year of crypto tax policy changes. After 11 years of Bitcoin’s existence, countries around the world are creating clarity for taxpayers regarding the crypto activity. Now, we only need to wait and see if, after all has been said and done, 2020 will be the year that finally shows a significant increase in tax filings.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Or Lokay Cohen is a vice president at Bittax, a crypto tax calculation platform. Or has 10 years’ experience with regulation, managing a leading tax consultant firm. She holds a LL.M. law degree, a B.A. in communications and an M.A. in management and public policy. In her work at Bittax, Or promotes the goal of bridging between cryptocurrency to the taxation reality to enable tax reporting under a clear regulatory framework and specific identification methods.