Tier One: Leaving Canada? Meeting Tax Requirements and Buying Life Insurance When You Depart

by Jay Judas at lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com

At Life Insurance Strategies Group, we are increasingly engaged to help plan the acquisition of life insurance for affluent Canadian tax residents who are planning to emigrate from Canada.  Given the high tax rates in Canada – both at the federal and province levels – the number of Canadians paying an exit tax and cutting (most) ties is growing.

Life Insurance

From a life insurance perspective, this move can open the door to a broader range of available products and companies.  Canadian tax residents are required to purchase Canadian tax-compliant life insurance policies. This means purchasing:

  • Life insurance from domestic insurers in Canada like Sun Life, Great West and Manulife, or,

  • Policies from other jurisdictions that meet the Revenue Canada’s definition of being tax compliant.

If the life insurance is purchased from a non-Canadian insurer, not only must the policy be Canadian tax-compliant, but there needs to be an actuarial assessment and resulting letter to attest to that compliance every year.  Even skipping a year could, technically, give cause to Revenue Canada not considering the policy Canadian tax-compliant…even if it structurally is.

If the policy fails compliance, the inside build-up is subject to taxation.

For example, most U.S. tax-compliant life insurance policies are Canadian tax-compliant.  Unfortunately, Canadian tax-residents who buy U.S. policies will fail to obtain the annual letter mentioned.  Sometimes, these clients think that buy buying policies inside an irrevocable life insurance trust domiciled in a U.S. state where the policyholder is the trust, make a difference.  They do not.  Revenue Canada will look through a U.S. trust structure to the Canadian tax resident involved and Canadian tax-compliance of the policy is required.

Once someone has given up their Canadian tax residence status, they are free to purchase policies elsewhere.   For example, many of the former Canadian tax residents we work with at Life Insurance Strategies Group rotate living between Canada, the United States and Grand Cayman, where there is a growing Canadian expatriate community.  The time spent in the United States and Canada does not trigger any tax residency connection.

These clients may then purchase policies from Bermuda, Cayman, Barbados and other jurisdictions.  Sometimes, depending upon financial ties, from the United States.   Many of these policies can be purchased U.S. tax-compliant and that can be helpful if someone eventually settles in the U.S., perhaps to be around adult children and grandchildren.

In addition, many of these policies purchased ‘offshore’, can be Canadian tax compliant.  Since some Canadians who emigrate may decide to permanently return to Canada someday, it is advised these folks get written, annual confirmation of Canadian tax-compliance.  The portability of many ‘offshore’ policies make them a good fit for a wide range of stateless nomads.


When you decide to leave Canada and transition into a non-resident status, it’s important to be aware of the tax implications that accompany this decision.  Departing from Canada triggers what is known as a departure tax, which involves the deemed disposal of all your assets at their fair market value and subsequent reacquisition of these assets at the same value. This process can lead to capital gains on these assets.

Several types of properties are exempt from this rule, including:

  1. Canadian real or immovable property, such as land and buildings.

  2. Canadian business property, including inventory, provided the business operates through a permanent establishment in Canada.

  3. Pension plans.

  4. RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan).

  5. RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan).

If you own shares in a corporation and are departing from Canada, these shares may also fall under the deemed disposition rules.  However, you have options to manage the tax implications effectively.  One option is to apply for a tax payment deferral by providing security, like shares of the company, to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This deferral allows you to postpone the tax payment until you actually sell the property.