It’s easy for NRIs to invest in India but not repatriate

It’s easy for NRIs to invest in India but not repatriate

The run in equities, coupled with high interest rates, makes both the debt and stock markets attractive

(Source Url:  Business Standard), By  Priya Nair  June 15, 2014

The new government at the Centre has led to a revival in investment sentiment in India. Both retail and institutional investors have started putting in money in financial assets. With the general perception about the government changing, even non-resident Indians (NRIs) would be looking to gain from the strong investment scenario.

Investment is expected to soar on the hope that new government will implement infrastructure projects, rationalise the securities transaction tax / commodities transaction tax, along with implementing other reforms.

“Traditionally, NRIs have preferred to invest in real estate. But this would block large funds for a longer period of time. With equity markets aiming higher, investments in stocks fetch better returns in a shorter span of time, with high liquidity,” says Rashmi Roddam, director, WealthRays Securities.

If the Rupee appreciates further in the future, it will be a big positive for NRIs investing in debt now, says Ashish Shanker, head (investment advisory) at Motilal Oswal Private Wealth Management. “Interest rates in India are at an all-time high, amongst emerging markets. The current view is also supportive, since the expectation is that rupee will appreciate two to three per cent. Even though bond yields have come off a bit, with the appreciation in the rupee, debt investments can give nine to 10 per cent, which is a good return for NRIs.”

While there is no restriction on the asset classes that NRIs can invest in, there are some restrictions with regard to repatriation of money, or in the way the money can be remitted abroad. Let us take a look at what these conditions are:

Debt investment
NRIs can invest in either a non-resident ordinary (NROfixed deposit or non-resident external (NRE) fixed deposit. Currently, the rates are eight to nine per cent. In these deposits, the investment is in rupees. You can remit freely from the NRE account. But in NRO accounts, there is a cap of $1 million in a financial year.

Another difference is that the interest earned in NRE accounts is not taxable, while in the case of NRO accounts it is subject to tax.

Even for investment in other asset classes such as real estate, gold or equities, it is essential to open an NRE or NRO account. In this case, you can open a savings or current account.

NRIs can also invest in foreign currency non-resident (FCNR) deposits, where the investment is in foreign currencies such as the dollar, yen, pound and euro. These are only term deposits and the interest is linked to the London Interbank Offered Rate for that particular currency. There is no tax on the interest income from FCNR deposits.

NRIs can also invest in government securities and bonds, Non-convertible debentures issued by companies and company-fixed deposits.

“Investment in debt also looks attractive to lock-in money at higher rates for the medium term, as there is a possibility of softening of rates over the next one year,” says Arvind Rao, a chartered accountant and financial planner.

The debt instruments that are off-limits for NRIs are Public Provident Fund and National Savings Certificates issued by post offices.

Equity investment
NRIs can invest in direct equities through the portfolio investment scheme (PIS) or equity mutual funds. Roddam feels in the current market scenario, with the Sensex touching lifetime highs, mid- and small-cap mutual funds are also good investments.

The condition for direct equity investments is it cannot exceed 10 per cent of paid-up capital of private companies and 20 per cent for public sector companies. These investments should be routed through Portfolio Investment Scheme regulated by the Reserve Bank of India wherein NRE or NRO bank accounts are opened. These can be linked to trading accounts, which can be opened with any stock broker in India. For this, investors will be charged a management fee, usually with a profit-sharing agreement.

Real estate
There is no restriction on the residential or commercial properties NRIs can invest in. But they cannot invest in agricultural land, farm house and plantations in India, unless a family member (blood relation) already owns such land.

“Currently, there is a revival of sentiment in the real estate sector on expectation that the economy will improve. And, real estate is heavily dependent on sentiment. But there is still some time for this to translate into action. Typically, NRI activity is seen in the real estate sector towards the year-end in the November-December period. It could be better this year,” says Ashutosh Limaye, head of research and real estate intelligence at Jones Lang LaSalle India.

While NRIs can buy and sell property without any problem, when it comes to repatriating the money, there are restrictions. For instance, if the property was purchased by funds in the FCNR account, the repatriation cannot exceed the amount paid through this account. If it was purchased using funds in the NRE account, the repatriation cannot exceed the foreign exchange equivalent of the amount in the NRE account. If you purchased the property using the balance in your NRO account, the sale proceeds must be credited to your NRO account and you can repatriate to the extent of $1 million, the condition for NRO accounts.

The taxation rules for an NRI for different asset classes is the same as residents, except for the following differences:


  • Long-term capital gains are tax-free;
  • Short-term capital gains are taxed at 15 per cent;
  • In the case of long-term capital gains arising on shares and debentures (unlisted), they are not allowed the benefit of indexing the cost of acquisition;

Mutual funds

  • Long-term capital gains on equity funds is exempt;
  • Short-term capital gains on equity funds is taxed at 15 per cent;
  • Long-term capital gains on debt funds (10 per cent without indexation and 20 per cent with indexation), whichever is lower;
  • Short-term capital gains on debt funds, according to the slab rates

Bank FDs, real estate transactions and gold are taxed in the same way as for residents.

In all the above cases, there are prescribed rates for withholding taxes as well. For instance, while sale of property attracts long-term capital gains tax of 20 per cent, NRI investors can approach the income-tax assessing officer to get the Tax Deducted at Source lowered or exempted. They can put up a case saying they plan to invest the proceeds in other property and get the exemption. While this can reduce the tax outgo, it does not mean there is no tax.

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