The World Cup Countries With The Highest (And Lowest) Tax Rates

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will come to an end on Sunday when Croatia faces France in the final. The soccer tournament, held in Russia, saw 32 national teams compete on a world stage (31 qualifying teams and the host team) over a month’s time.

Each team brought a squad of 23 players to the tournament. While some of the players were already household names all over the world (think Neymar, Messi, and Ronaldo), others were not as well known outside of their home countries until now, like goalkeepers Danijel Subašić (Croatia) and Igor Akinfeev (Russia).

The well-known faces tend to sport healthy salaries and big endorsements. Messi and Ronaldo landed at #2 and #3, respectively, on Forbes’ highest paid athlete list, bringing in more than $100 million each. Lesser known players can bring home substantially smaller salaries, depending on where they play and where they live.

Over the past few years, the amount of money that some players pay in taxes – or didn’t pay in taxes – has made the news. (You can read about World Cup soccer players who have been caught up in tax scandals here.)

But exactly how big a bite does the tax man take from players? Depending on the country, top tax rates can range from 13% to over 50%. Here’s a glimpse at the top tax rates for each of the countries in the Round of 16:

Round of 16

A quick peek at the tax rates by country as a bar graph is as follows:

Tax Rates

Or here, by number:

  • France (45%)
  • Argentina (35%)
  • Uruguay (36%)
  • Portugal (48%)
  • Russia (13%)
  • Spain (45%)
  • Croatia (36%)
  • Denmark (55.8%)
  • Brazil (27.5%)
  • Mexico (35%)
  • Belgium (53.7%)
  • Japan (55.95%)
  • Sweden (61.85%)
  • Switzerland (40%)
  • Colombia (33%)
  • England (45%)
  • ** U.S. rate for comparison (37%)

(Data was sourced from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), individual country revenue sites, and Trading Economics. There may be slight differences between sources – so keep reading.)

There are a few things to note. One, these figures reflect the top tax rates which may reflect the rates paid by soccer stars, but may not, depending on factors like residency (not all players live and work in their home country) and type of income (image rights might be taxed differently than salary, for example).

Top tax rates represent the amount that you will pay on the next dollar of income, but not necessarily the rate that you’ve paid on all income, depending on the tax system. The U.S. income tax system is progressive which means that the rate of tax increases as income increases (more on that here). If you’re single, you pay the same 10% on the first $9,525 as every other single person. Then, you pay 15% on the next $27,000 and 25% on the next $50,000 – the same as every other single person. You only pay the top rate (37%) on income over $500,000. So while the top tax rate is 37% in the U.S., the blended, progressive rate is smaller (you can see all of the 2018 tax rates for the U.S. here).

But not all countries have a progressive system: Russia, for example, has a flat tax (even though the country considered a change to progressive taxes as recently as 2014). That means that the same rate applies to all income from the bottom to the top.

Not all income is the same; some may be tax-favored. Capital gains, for example, may be taxed at lower rates even when they are generated by high-income taxpayers. Some countries allow lower tax rates for royalties or image rights, while others, like Russia, may boost rates for certain kinds of unearned income. Still, other income may be sheltered, subject to special tax treaty rules or eligible for an exception (remember the “Beckham law” in Spain?).

In some countries, excise and social taxes are combined to produce the top rate. Following the OECD’s lead, the figures in the charts above generally don’t include those “extra” or all-in taxes, though sometimes they are difficult to segregate. It’s easier to peel away in a country like the U.S. where the top tax rate (37%) reflects an income tax rate which is separate from other taxes like Social Security and Medicare (more on those here), or the Net Income Investment Tax (more on that here).

Top national tax rates typically don’t include state and local taxes. In the U.S., those can vary, but often add up to less than 10%; some exceptions exist like those 13.3% rates for high-wage earners in California. However, in some countries, state and local taxes can make up a significant chunk of taxes payable: In Sweden, for example, rates can top 30%.

Finally, keep in mind that these tax rates don’t include other taxes like real estate, sales, and property taxes. Those can drive your tax burden up – or down – depending on where you live and work. Property taxes, for example, tend to be twice as high in the U.S. as in other OECD with respect to tax collections, while our sales taxes are often less than the VAT (value-added tax) in many countries.

So where does the U.S. fall in the grand scheme of things? (And no, that’s not throwing shade at our men’s team.) The average tax rate for OECD member countries is around 40%. Sweden has the highest tax rate in the OECD, followed by Denmark and Japan (all of which made an appearance in the Round of 16) with rates over 50%. You can see how the U.S. measures up to other OECD countries, including the OECD average, as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) here. (Spoiler alert: Only Chile, Ireland, Korea, and Mexico ranked lower than the U.S. as a percentage of GDP.)

Differences in tax rates can reflect a host of issues, sort of like how your interpretation of a soccer penalty can be influenced by the angle and the player. That’s why an exact tax rate for one country can vary from source to source, just like a referee’s call, even when the answer seems clear and obvious. Taking all of that into consideration, the tax rates listed here should be enough to give you an idea of the top tax rates in your favorite World Cup countries. Enjoy the final!