Last year I learned I was being audited by Revenue Canada for 2009. Although there is a tax treaty between Canada and Sweden (whereby the taxes paid in one country can count towards the other), the good folks at Revenue Canada apparently didn’t trust my online tax filing without seeing all the documentation for themselves. I filed in good time before April 2010, but somehow did not get my audit notice until September 2010. At that point they wanted to have all the extra documentation by August. I scraped it all together and sent it in the first week of November. They say it takes up to 15 weeks for them to review a file submitted by mail, and there is no other way to do it. They also don’t want you to call them to see whether they received it or not. In the meantime, they send you notices of assessment with interest etc, which feels a bit stressful. When your tax assessment comes from a different country, RC wants to get the originals, but also a translation into English or French. This year I plan to keep meticulous care of my financial records, particularly since I will be moving to another country again in 2011 and those kind of things can go missing.
Taxes are similar in Canada and Sweden, although there seem to be more services for the money in Sweden. For example, in Sweden there is great healthcare, I get free Swedish lessons, the parks have fantastically maintained trails that are trackset for skiing in the winter, and they stock the cabins with wood for you to grill your marshmallows and hot dogs!
In contrast, US income taxes are really low, and social inequality concomitantly high. I recently read a neat article saying that this might be due to American beliefs about opportunity and social mobility:
Americans, then, are much more likely than the average citizen in our comparison countries to believe that individual characteristics determine success, wide gaps in income are acceptable, and the government should let them be. No wonder Americans tend to vote to cut taxes and services, tolerate unequal educational opportunity, and resist top-down solutions to inequality. They think inequality is good and that individuals will always get what they deserve.
Income inequality is a predictor and likely a cause of most social ills: poor health, unintended pregnancy, crime, etc. There is a great book on this topic written by UK epidemiologists Richard Wilkonson and Kate Picket. The book is (I think misleadingly) named ‘ The Spirit Level‘ and it is a fabulous, fact-packed, non-fiction read.
So I will happily pay my super high taxes in Sweden, and continue to enjoy my municipal composting, free Swedish lessons, pretty-good-considering snow removal and outstanding street cleaning, free public parks and ski trails, extremely low crime rate and high status of women and children. Yay sharing!