I have helped hundreds of people successfully navigate from the US to Canada. If you're thinking of moving or retiring to Canada contact me today to chat about your plans.
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Phil Hogan, CPA, CA, CPA (CO)
Cross-Border Tax and Investment Specialist
This post was created to give some information, perspective and strategies to those Canadian residents that currently hold ROTH IRA accounts either within the US or in Canada (through a designated Canadian broker able to manage US assets).
If you need help moving your IRA to Canada please contact me for more information on options.
ROTH IRA History (What is a ROTH IRA?)
The ROTH IRA as we know it today was initial proposed by 2 senators (one named William Roth) in 1989. The original intent (very similar to current rules) was to allow individuals to invest up to $2,000 into a an account and have the earnings grow tax free.
Some have been critical of the government for letting the accounts maintain into the foreseeable future as the potential lost revenue from these type of accounts could be significant for future generations.
ROTH IRA Rules
Contributions to a ROTH IRA are not deductible against other income and will need to be funded with after tax money. That being said, the internal earnings of the account will grow tax free and any distributions from the accounts will be able to be made tax free. Penalties may apply to early withdrawals.
Other common rules include:
- by meeting several requirements the withdrawals from the account can be made tax free
- you can make contributions to your ROTH after the age of 70 1/2
- you can leave money in your ROTH for as long as you want
- certain contribution limits apply
Can you Bring your ROTH IRA with you When you Move to Canada?
The answer is actually both yes and no. As a newcomer to Canada you’ll be able to keep your ROTH in the US and assuming you make appropriate Canadian tax elections you’ll have full tax deferral on the account.
You’ll only be able to actually move the account to Canada by using a qualified broker that can work within Canadian and US investment accounts. Note that although some investment advisors will attest that they do have this ability many simply do not.
Can Canadians Hold ROTH IRAs?
From a Canadian perspective there are not rules that states that Canadian residents cannot hold ROTH IRAs. However holding these accounts in Canada may be problematic for some US brokers or investment managers. Visit our directory hear to find a cross border investment advisor that can help you with your US ROTH IRA.
Additionally, your ROTH will be considered a foreign financial account that may be required to be reported on Canadian foreign disclosure forms (see the discussion of T1135 reporting requirements below).
What do Canada Revenue Tax Rules Say About ROTH IRAs?
Historically these accounts that been treated as tax free in Canada by virtue of the Canada-US tax treaty. Under Article XVIII of the treaty if a distribution from a pension account (which it would qualify for) is considered to be tax free in the US, it will also be tax free in Canada. Considering that in most cases ROTH distributions are considered tax free in the US it would also be tax free in Canada.
Canadian residents should also consider whether these accounts qualify for reporting under CRA’s T1135 foreign income verification rules. Under these rules regular 401k and traditional IRA accounts are exempt from reporting requirements. It’s currently not clear whether this exemption relates to ROTH accounts as well. Considering the potential penalties involved in not reporting required accounts adding these accounts to your annual T1135 reporting requirements may be a good idea.
Are there any Special ROTH IRA Elections to File with CRA?
Yes, in September of 2010 the CRA announced special rules related to a treaty election that needed to be filed in order to ensure the tax free nature of the account in Canada. These rules are laid out in Income Tax Technical News 43 which can be viewed here. Simply put, you need to outline the following information related to the ROTH and send the election in a timely manner to CRA:
- Your name and address
- Your SIN and SSN
- Name of the plan holder
- Date the plan was established
- Date you become a Canadian resident
- Balance of the ROTH IRA at December 2008 or when you became a Canadian resident
- Amount and date of the first Canadian contribution
- A statement that you are electing to defer tax on the account under paragraph 7 article XVIII of the Canada-US Income Tax Treaty
Note, that after this election is made you will want to ensure not further contributions are made to the ROTH.
For a more detailed explanation on how to make the ROTH IRA election please click here.
Can I late file a ROTH IRA election?
Is there a Canadian Equivalent to a ROTH IRA?
Yes, in fact there is. The Canadian Tax Free Savings Accounts (often referred to as TFSA) is a very similar type of account. Likely to have been created because of the ROTH accounts in the US. Although similar in nature, the TFSA accounts do vary in specific tax rules.
Should I Collapse my ROTH IRA?
If you are planning on moving to Canada or are currently in Canada with a ROTH you may be asking yourself whether you should simply collapse your ROTH. In many cases the opposite is advantageous. Considering you will be able to withdraw any funds from the account tax free in Canada (and for US tax purposes) it’s often advantageous to contribute or transfer as much into your ROTH IRA from other retirement accounts before you move to Canada. Proper planning is required to ensure you transfer the assets in a tax efficient manner. More on these potential transfers below.
Should I Transfer my 401k or Traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA?
As with most tax planning questions the answer to this question will vary depending on the facts of the individual asking. That being said, some general considerations for transferring your 401k and traditional accounts to a ROTH are as follows:
If may be advantageous to transfer 401k and IRA money to your ROTH if in that particular year you feel like your income is below average. Paying a lower rate of tax on money withdrawn out of a traditional IRA or 401k and contributing to a ROTH will allow you to withdraw the funds at a later date tax free. This transfer can be often be quite beneficial for those thinking of moving to Canada. Transferring money to your ROTH before you become a Canadian resident can potentially save a fair amount of future tax dollars.
It’s important to remember that these transfers need to be reviewed by an investment professional before being made. Particularly when it comes to cross border investment issues.
Can I Give (through my will) by ROTH IRA to my eventual beneficiaries?
Yes, you can gift the ownership of your ROTH to named beneficiaries. This is particularity advantageous as the recipient will be able to stretch the payments over their lifetime.
The account needs to have been owned by you for more than 5 years to ensure the transfer is tax free however.
Assuming the the inheritance is considered tax free in the US it should also be considered tax free for Canadian purposes pursuant to the Canada-US tax treaty.
Can I transfer my ROTH IRA to my RRSP?
Unfortunately there are not Canadian tax provisions that allow you to transfer or convert your ROTH IRA to an RRSP. Rules do exist however that allow you to rollover your existing traditional IRA or 401k to an RRSP.
Do I Pay Tax on ROTH IRA Distributions in Canada?
In most cases you will not pay tax on ROTH distribution in Canada assuming the two following are correct:
- the full amounts of the distribution is also not taxable in the US
- you have made a proper election under Article XVIII of the Canada-US tax treaty as described above
How Can I Get More Information on ROTH IRAs from a Canadian Perspective?
Cross border tax rules and how they relate to Canadian and US law can be difficult to understand and interpret. The penalties for mistakes made on filing, transferring between retirement accounts and making incorrect distributions can be significant.
If you have questions about your cross border investments, tax plan, or any other cross border matter please contact our cross border investment advisors and they will be glad to assist in any issues you may have.
Thanks for this great summary of Roth IRAs, wish I had read this before moving to Canada!
“Note, that after this election is made you will want to ensure not further contributions are made to the ROTH.”
Regarding the above, what happens if no late file election was made after arriving and a rollover “contribution” from a non-Roth IRA was made. Is it still worth doing a late filed election and how will the Roth IRA be treated after this?
Also the “here” in:
“For a more detailed explanation on how to make the ROTH IRA election please click here.”
does not seem to be a valid hyperlink, what should that point to?
Hi Phil – love your website and podcasts!
I’m a Canadian citizen (not a US citizen, no longer a green card holder) who moved back to Canada with a Roth IRA after working in the US for 15 years. I filed the the treaty election with CRA and have not made any Canadian contributions.
My question for you: can I buy and sell stocks/ETFs with the existing assets in my US Roth IRA account without triggering any tax consequences or forms? I gave up my green card so that I will no longer have to file taxes in the US, but I’m concerned any activity in my US Roth may trigger some kind of tax form?
Thanks in advance for any info you can provide!
Hi Kay, thanks for the kind words about the website and podcasts. Yes, as long as you have filed the Canadian ROTH election you should not be taxable on any internal earnings of the ROTH or future distributions in either Canada or the US. Assuming of course that you don’t take early withdrawals what will be subject to penalties. Hope that helps!
I’m interested in learning more about transferring a US IRA to a Canadian RRSP. I understand that IRA’s are retirement accounts in the US, and that RRSP’s are retirement accounts in Canada, but I’m not sure what the process is for transferring funds from one to the other. Does anyone have any experience doing this, or any advice on how to go about it? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I recently tried to transfer my ROTH IRA to Canada and had a really frustrating experience. I contacted several financial institutions, but none of them seemed to have a clear process in place for transferring a ROTH IRA to Canada. I spent hours on the phone trying to get information and feeling like I was being passed around from one representative to another.
Finally, I found a financial advisor who was able to help me navigate the process and successfully transfer my ROTH IRA. It was a huge relief and I’m grateful for their expertise and assistance. If anyone else is considering transferring their ROTH IRA to Canada, I would definitely recommend seeking the help of a financial advisor. It may save you a lot of headaches and frustration in the long run!