This is one of my favorite non-work photos from last year, taken when my husband and I spent a weekend in Nyungwe Forest. We’d heard from many people about the beauty of the waterfall hike – and the gorgeous reward at the end – and finally we did it on our third visit to the national park. Completely worth it!
You’ve registered your business in record time at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and now you’re ready to start selling/consulting/whatevering. But don’t forget about paying your national taxes.
Ideally, RDB would give all newly-registered businesses a welcome packet with FAQs about processes like this. When and exactly how to pay your taxes is not clear on RDB’s website or the English website of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (Rwanda’s IRS). Some Rwandan business owners told me the information isn’t clear on RRA’s Kinyarwanda website, either.
What’s a person to do?
Well, you can learn from my mistakes.
I first registered my business in February 2013. My Kigali-based accountant advised me that I needed to pay my national taxes for 2013 at the beginning of 2014. I keep close track of all my income and expenses via a great website called Freshbooks, so when taxpaying time came around, I knew exactly how much I owed. I went to RRA, where a helpful woman asked me how much I earned in 2013 (she didn’t ask for any documentation of this amount, by the way), typed the number into a computer and printed my tax payment form for me. Then I had to run downstairs and get the form stamped and signed by another woman. The second woman almost didn’t sign my form because I didn’t have a business stamp. I kinda laughed and said, “I want to give the government money. Are you not going to let me give the government money because of a stamp?” She smiled and signed off. In all this took me about one hour.
Back in early 2014, the Rwandan government was touting online tax payments. Unfortunately, the system didn’t work for me, so I ended up pulling a bunch of cash and paying my taxes in person at the Bank of Kigali headquarters in town. It was about two weeks before the March 31 deadline and I waited for two hours along with about 20 other people. It was not fun. This was the only time I’ve seen Rwandans get in a tizzy about people cutting in line. I can only imagine the scene if you procrastinate paying your taxes.
As 2014 progressed, I met with my Kigali-based accountant again to make sure I was doing things right. We likely talked about something related to quarterly tax payments, but I didn’t pay close enough attention. My accountant in Rwanda doesn’t actually do my taxes for me – just advise me – so there’s no blame on her, just me for not listening enough. I assumed that paying taxes every quarter was optional, like it is in the United States (where I’m from) – a suggestion to keep you organized throughout the year, not a regulation with consequences.
Oh, the consequences!
More about those in a minute, but first a word about the regulations as I recently experienced them.
During your first tax year in business you pay national taxes only after the end of that calendar year. So if you register your business in August, you don’t pay any taxes until after Dec. 31 of that year. Then you have until March 15 of the next year to pay your taxes for the previous year (or portion of the previous year). In your second and subsequent years in business, you must pay taxes every quarter based on the total amount you paid the previous year. So, if last year you paid a total of 200,000 RWF in national taxes, this year you will pay 200,000 RWF / 4 = 50,000 RWF each quarter.
And now about those consequences.
Each quarter you don’t pay your national taxes you must pay a flat fine of 100,000 RWF plus an additional fine of 60% of the taxes you should have paid that quarter. Plus, you still owe the actual taxes for that quarter.
As an example, let’s say you should have paid 50,000 RWF in taxes in a quarter but you pay late. Your fine amounts to 100,000 RWF + (50,000 RWF x 60%) = 130,000 RWF. That’s in addition to the 50,000 RWF in taxes you should have paid. So when you pay late, you end up shelling out a total of 180,000 RWF for a quarter where you originally owed 50,000 RWF.
In 2014, my second year in business, I didn’t pay any quarterly taxes. As a result, I recently paid almost as much in fines as I did in taxes. It was awful. I was mad at myself for not fully educating myself about the tax regulations. I had to fill out and sign tons of forms where I admitted I didn’t pay quarterly taxes and agreed to pay the penalties. I didn’t even try bothering with online tax payment. I again pulled out a bunch of cash and paid up at the bank.
Please note that I’m not giving tax advice in this blog post. I’m the daughter of an accountant but that doesn’t mean I can help you calculate your taxes owed in Rwanda or give you other tax advice. I’m just sharing my experience for peoples’ benefit.
If you need tax information or assistance you might try talking in person with the mostly friendly and helpful employees at RRA. Also, I highly recommend my Kigali-based accountant, Lindsay Hodgson. Fair warning that she’s pricey – you get what you pay for. She’s the auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Rwanda and she can quote straight from Rwanda’s tax code. Just be sure you carefully listen to her. Be ye not like me.
(Note: Currently you can get a Rwandan national police report only in Rwanda or at a Rwandan embassy. However, you might be able to get it online in the near future.)
1. Gather all the materials you need for your report:
– two passport photos
– copy of your passport information page
– copy of your Rwandan visa page
– copy of your employment letter (if you need the report for employment purposes)
– 1200 RWF
2. Visit Rwanda Revenue Authority in Kimihurura to pay for your report. When you enter the building, the receptionist will direct you up one level to the finance office. You’ll have to leave your ID with the guard at the foot of the stairs/elevator before going upstairs. There’s no receptionist in the finance office. Don’t be afraid to interrupt someone and ask for help. Eventually, someone will help you. He or she will need your passport to create a bill denoting that you want to pay for a clearance report. Once you receive this bill, take it back downstairs to the bank (for those of you who have never been, there’s a bank inside RRA). A person there will take your bill and your 1200 RWF and you will receive a receipt. Don’t lose this! You need the receipt for your next step.
3. Go to the National Public Prosecution Authority‘s office between 7 a.m. and noon, which is when they accept applications for police clearance reports. The NPPA is next to the Ministry of Justice and directly across from Parliament. When you’re facing the NPPA’s entrance, turn right and walk along the small path parallel to the building. The first door on the left is where you want to go. Fill out your application form and attach all your other paperwork to it, including the RRA receipt.
4. In about a week you should be able to pick up your police clearance report.
– If for some reason you can’t bring your passport to RRA, the copy of your passport information page should suffice.
– Arrive at NPPA as early as you can to turn in your application. By 7:30 a.m. the place is crowded.
– Check your police report right away for errors. My husband and I saw after the fact that the NPPA misspelled both our names: they spelled my middle name the French way and jumbled up his last name. We had to go back and wait about 30 minutes for the mistakes to be corrected.
Today is Kwita Izina, the annual Rwandan ceremony for naming new baby mountain gorillas. Last year my husband and I got one of the many free invitations to the event and I recorded our experiences. This was my first time producing an audio story where I was part of the story, a la This American Life. I learned a lot in making this piece and hope to create more in the future. What do you think?
(*Not real gorillas. Listen to the story or see the pictures for details.)
Here’s a list of jobs I held between 2006 – 2008, when I was launching my photography career after two years of graduate school and one year on a fellowship. They’re listed in the order I landed the jobs:
- Person setting up and breaking down a kiddie obstacle course
- Person slicing up granola bars and handing them out at trade shows
- Person handing out dietary supplement samples at a food and music festival (perfect for seeing how fast people can run from you)
- *Part-time receptionist at a dental school (quit after eight months)
- *Full-time photographer for a small studio (laid off after four months)
- Freelance photographer at a wonderful mid-sized newspaper
- *Part-time substitute teacher (moved to D.C. at the end of the school year)
- Adjunct photography instructor at a wonderful two-year college
- Waitress (fired after two weeks)
- Freelance photographer for a couple NGOs
*These are the jobs that actually paid me just enough to live on if I had no other work.
I wrote this list to show that sometimes you have to take non-photo work to pay your bills – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when I held all the jobs listed above, I did feel something was wrong. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make it as a photographer, something I thought was my calling, especially when other photographers I knew seemed busy and successful. Everyone says the photo industry is hard. Then why don’t we talk about what we do when the going gets hard – i.e. how we get by when photography skills alone can’t pay our bills?
If I’d been on Facebook back in 2006-2008, I’d probably have felt even more depressed than I already did.
I applied for almost 100 photojournalism jobs in eight months and got three interviews, no offers. I was living with my parents for the first time in 12 years in an area of the country where I had no friends. One cold winter’s night, when it became clear I wasn’t going to get a job for which I’d been told I was a frontrunner, I went for a 3-mile run at 9 p.m., sobbing the whole time.
“Why did I switch from business reporting to photography?” I screamed in my head. “Why did I think I could be a photographer?”
I was hungry for photo experience. I thought of applying for an unpaid internship or volunteer job, but I’d never worked an unpaid journalism job and I couldn’t imagine starting now. Anyway, it was out of the question. I had bills to pay: car loan, car insurance, gas, school loan, food, camera equipment, photo paper and ink (why did some job applications still require print portfolios???), and a big, unexpected medical bill from the previous year. True, my parents did graciously allow me to live in their home for several months (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but I paid them a small rent. They couldn’t help me financially, and I didn’t expect them to. All my work had to be compensated.
So non-photo jobs paid my bills for two years. I pursued my own photo projects and sought career guidance everywhere. That one-hour ride on a commuter van to and from the receptionist job? I photographed an essay on the commuter’s life. That video story I needed to submit for a job application, even though I knew nothing about video? I cold-called the lone video journalist at the local paper and asked for an in-person learning session, to which he agreed.
I also took a calculated risk I hoped would boost my career and pull me out of my depression: I scraped together enough money to move to Nepal for three months. I worked on a couple personal projects, published a couple stories and earned the equivalent of half the cost of my plane ticket. I felt less depressed, but my career was the same when I returned.
And yet, slowly, things changed. I attended an inexpensive photo workshop in my area. One of my pictures won best of the workshop and I picked up regular freelance work for the excellent local paper, where a couple editors helped me when they could. A two-year college asked me to teach a photo course. I still relied on non-photo jobs to pay my bills, but my confidence grew in my career prospects.
When I was living through those two years, especially the first year, I felt awful. I wish I could say I was grateful for what I had. I wasn’t.
But now I’m grateful for how much I learned, like how terrible receptionists get treated and how hard teachers work. I’d always thought of myself as an empathetic person, but my reserves of empathy and humility permanently swelled while working these non-photo jobs. I think that’s served me well as a photographer and as a human being. Also, I grew faster as a photographer during that time than any other, maybe because I was so desperate. I learned to separate my identity from my career. I learned how nice it could be living near my family, which I hadn’t in years. I learned comparing myself to others is no good. Every career has its own progression, ups and downs. I’m OK with that.