Navigating Financial Transitions: High-Net-Worth Individuals Emigrating from SA to USA

Navigating Financial Transitions: High-Net-Worth Individuals Emigrating from SA to USA

January 16, 2024

As high-net-worth individuals make the monumental decision to relocate from South Africa to the United States, the myriad of considerations extends far beyond the logistics of the move itself. The financial landscape, tax implications, and investment strategies demand meticulous attention to ensure a seamless transition and preservation of wealth. This article aims to offer essential advice for those embarking on this journey, providing insights and resources to navigate the complexities of cross-border relocation.

1. Understanding Tax Implications

  • The foremost consideration for South African high-net-worth individuals moving to the USA is comprehending the tax implications. The USA operates on a worldwide taxation system, requiring individuals to report global income. Seeking counsel from tax professionals with expertise in international taxation is crucial. Resources such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website and tax consultants specialising in cross-border taxation can provide valuable guidance.
  • When you become resident in the US, your worldwide assets titled in your own name will be subject to the US Federal transfer tax system and the income generated by those assets will be subject to the US Federal income tax

2. Wealth Preservation Strategies

  • Diversification is key to preserving wealth across borders. Reviewing investment portfolios and realigning assets to suit the new financial environment is essential. Consider diversifying investments across various jurisdictions and asset classes but be aware of the tax treatment of foreign investment holdings.
  • US resident taxpayers need to guard against investing in investments that could classify as PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company)
  • Under U.S. tax law, any pooled investment that is registered outside of the U.S. would qualify as a Passive Foreign Investment Company, including multiple types of funds, investment trusts, and certain foreign pension investments.

3. Estate Planning and Legal Considerations

  • Navigating estate planning and legalities across borders demands meticulous attention. Seek legal counsel well-versed in international estate planning to ensure compliance with the legal frameworks of both countries. Familiarise yourself with trusts, wills, and other legal tools essential for safeguarding assets and ensuring their smooth transfer to beneficiaries. The American Bar Association and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) can be instrumental resources in this aspect.
  • A careful review of offshore trusts would be required in that assets in some trusts, such as revocable trusts, are treated the same as assets titled in your own name for US estate and income tax purposes.
  • US beneficiaries of foreign trusts are subject to a throwback tax regime and an interest charge when they receive distributions of accumulated income from the trust.
  • To avoid these punitive payments, families often choose to convert or decant the trust to a US domestic trust.
  • Much depends on a close look at the tax residence and financial needs of each of the beneficiaries, alongside a careful examination of the trust's current investments, investment policy and duration. 

4. Currency Exchange and Banking

  • Understanding the intricacies of currency exchange and the most efficient banking practices between South Africa and the USA is vital. Explore options for transferring funds across borders with minimal fees and favorable exchange rates. 

5. Education and Networking

  • Continuous learning and networking within the financial and expatriate communities are invaluable. Attend seminars, workshops, and conferences hosted by reputable financial institutions or expatriate associations. Platforms like the Global Financial Planning Institute and international chambers of commerce often provide educational resources and networking opportunities beneficial for expatriates.


The transition from South Africa to the United States for high-net-worth individuals presents a spectrum of financial considerations. Diligent planning, seeking expert advice, and leveraging available resources are crucial for a smooth transition and the preservation of wealth. Remember, each individual's situation is unique, and personalised financial advice from professionals specialising in cross-border matters is indispensable.

By taking a proactive approach and leveraging the expertise of financial and legal professionals, high-net-worth individuals can navigate this significant life transition with confidence and financial security.


Caleo Capital USA (Caleo Capital NA LLC) are an integrated wealth advisory and asset management firm that serves high-net-worth South African families who have relocated or are planning relocation to the United States. Emigration and relocation is complex both administratively and emotionally, with so many aspects to consider. Financial planning for the average high-net-worth individual is no simple task, but tax, retirement, trusts and estate planning is even more complicated when your financial life spans international borders. Caleo Capital has established relationships with reputable partners who assist with a range of challenges facing newly immigrated clients.

Caleo Capital USA (“Caleo”) is a State Registered Investment Advisor.  Caleo and its affiliated persons only conduct business in those states in which it is lawfully registered or exempted from registration. This material is for discussion purposes only, and Caleo is not soliciting any action based upon it. This material does not constitute, and is not to be considered, an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any product, security, advisory, risk management, or other service mentioned herein. It has no regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situations or particular needs of any specific recipient.  This material is not to be construed as investment advice nor is it intended, to constitute legal  or tax advice. Be sure to consult with  legal and or tax professional before implementing any strategy. For information regarding Caleo’s business operations, services, fees and registration status, please contact the firm or visit and search for Caleo  or for CRD #308542.