What Is Repatriation?

Repatriation refers to converting any foreign currency into one’s local currency. Repatriation sometimes becomes necessary due to business transactions, foreign investments, or international travel.

Repatriation in a larger context refers to anything or anyone that returns to its country of origin, which can include foreign nationals, refugees, or deportees.

Understanding Repatriation

In the corporate world, repatriation usually refers to the conversion of offshore capital back to the currency of the country in which a corporation is based.

In the global economy, many corporations based in the United States generate earnings abroad. However, today many companies choose not to repatriate their offshore earnings in order to avoid corporate taxes charged on repatriated funds.

Individuals might also repatriate funds. For example, Americans returning from a visit to Japan typically repatriate their currency, converting any remaining yen into U.S. dollars. The number of dollars they receive when they exchange their remaining yen will depend on the exchange rate between the two currencies at the time of the repatriation.

Some U.S. corporations repatriate funds from overseas translating the cash back to U.S. dollars. Those funds are typically used for share buybacks, dividends, investing in new technologies, and fixed assets like property, plant, and equipment.

Risks Associated with Repatriation

When companies operate in more than one country, they generally accept the local currency of the economy that they transact business. For example, though Apple is a U.S. based corporation, an Apple store in France will accept euros as payment for product sales since the euro is the currency that French consumers transact in and get paid from their employers.

When a company earns income in foreign currencies, the earnings are subject to foreign exchange risk, meaning they could potentially lose or gain in value based on fluctuations in the value of either currency.

If Apple earned 1,000,000 euros in France from product sales, at an exchange rate of 1.15 dollars per euro, the earnings would equal $1,150,000 or (1,000,000 euros * 1.15). However, if the next quarter, Apple earned 1,000,000 euros, but the exchange fell to 1.10 dollars per euro, the earnings would equal $1,100,000 or (1,100,000 euros * 1.10).

In other words, Apple would have lost $50,000 in earnings based on the exchange rate decline despite having the same amount in sales in euros for both quarters. The volatility or fluctuations in the exchange rate is called foreign exchange risk, which companies are exposed to when they do business internationally. As a result, the volatility in exchange rates can impact a company's earnings.

Key Takeaways

  • Repatriation refers to converting any foreign currency into one’s local currency. Repatriation sometimes becomes necessary due to business transactions, foreign investments, or international travel.
  • In the corporate world, repatriation usually refers to the conversion of offshore capital back to the currency of the country in which a corporation is based.
  • Repatriation in a larger context refers to anything or anyone that returns to its country of origin, which can include foreign nationals, refugees, or deportees.


Example of Repatriation

In the U.S., the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in late 2017, cut the corporate repatriation tax from its former rate of 35%. For a limited time, the new law allowed U.S. companies to repatriate money earned overseas at rates as low as 8%.

At the time that the law was passed, Apple had the largest amount of cash holdings abroad of any U.S. company, totaling $252.3 billion. As a response to the new tax law, Apple agreed to a one-time tax payment to the IRS of $38 billion to repatriate its foreign cash holdings.

As of September 2018, U.S. corporations had repatriated $465 billion of cash they had stored overseas. However, the amount of repatriated is only a portion of the estimated $3 trillion in total cash that U.S. corporations have abroad.