What is the physical presence test from SARS?

As a South African who lives or plans to live abroad, you need to establish if you have to pay tax in South Africa, as South Africa has a residence-based tax system. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) uses two separate tests to determine whether a natural person is a tax resident in South Africa, namely the ordinarily resident test and the physical presence test.

The ordinarily resident test is conducted first, and only if the outcome is negative, the physical test is used to determine if you are a tax resident.

The physical presence test, with its parameters set by the Income Tax Act, is an objective test, based on the number of days you were physically present in South Africa, over a specific period. It must be performed annually to determine whether you were a resident for the tax year under consideration.

The test consists of the following requirements:

You must be physically present in South Africa for a period or periods exceeding:

  • 91 days in aggregate during the tax year under consideration,
  • 91 days in aggregate during each of the five tax years preceding this tax year, and
  • 915 days in aggregate during the above five preceding tax years.

You have to meet all three requirements before you will be deemed a resident. You will not be seen as a South African tax resident if you are no longer an ordinary resident and were outside of South Africa for a continuous period of at least 330 full days.

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