Introduction to Expatriate Taxes

This page and the related links discuss in general terms some provisions of the U.S. federal income tax law that apply to U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live or work abroad and expect to receive income from foreign sources.

As a U.S. citizen or resident alien, your worldwide income generally is subject to U.S. income tax regardless of where you are living. Also, you are subject to the same income tax filing requirements that apply to U.S. citizens or residents living in the United States. However, several income tax benefits might apply if you meet certain requirements while living abroad. You may be able to exclude from your income a limited amount of your foreign earned income. You also may be able either to exclude or to deduct from gross income your housing amount (more later). To claim these benefits, you must file a tax return and attach Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income. If you are claiming the foreign earned income exclusion only, you may be able to use the shorter Form 2555-EZ, Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, rather than Form 2555.

You may be able to claim a tax credit or an itemized deduction for the foreign income taxes that you pay. Also, under tax treaties or conventions that the United States has with many foreign countries, you may be able to reduce your foreign tax liability.


You may qualify for an exclusion from tax of up to $70,000 in income earned while working abroad. However, you must file a tax return to claim the exclusion. In general, foreign earned income is income received from services you perform outside of the United States. When we use the term United States, that includes, Puerto Rico, Northern Marina Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam and American Soma. While not all of these governments are part of the United States, they have special tax status. Excluded from gross earned income is your allowance housing costs that are over a certain base amount. Generally, you will qualify for these benefits if your tax home(defined below) is in a foreign country, or countries, throughout your period of Bona-fide foreign residence or physical presence and you are one of the following:

1) A U.S. citizen who is a bona-fifed resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes a complete tax year, or

2) A U.S. resident alien who is a citizen or national of a country with which the United States has an income tax treaty in effect and who is a bona-fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year, or

3) A U.S. citizen or a U.S. resident alien who is physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.


Generally, your tax home is the area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work. You are not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period during which your abode (the place where you regularly live) is in the United States. However, being temporarily present in the United States or maintaining a dwelling there does not necessarily mean that your abode is in the United States. For details, see Publication 54.

A foreign country, for this purpose, means any territory under the sovereignty of a government other than that of the United States, including territorial waters (determined under U.S. laws) and air space. A foreign country also includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas adjacent to the territorial waters of the foreign country and over which it has exclusive rights under international law to explore and exploit natural resources.

Waiver of time requirements. You may not have to meet the minimum time requirements for bona-fide residence or physical presence if you have to leave the foreign country because war, civil unrest, or similar adverse conditions in the country prevented you from conducting normal business. You must, however, be able to show that you reasonably could have expected to meet the minimum time requirements if the adverse conditions had not occurred. See Publication 54 for a list of foreign countries that individuals have had to leave due to these conditions.


If you violate U.S. travel restrictions, you will not be treated as being a bona-fide resident of, or physically present in, a foreign country for any day during which you are present in a country in violation of the restrictions. (These restrictions generally prohibit U.S. citizens and residents from engaging in transactions related to travel to, from, or within certain countries.) Also, income that you earn from sources within such a country for services performed during a period of travel restrictions does not qualify as foreign earned income, and housing expenses that you incur within that country (or outside that country for housing your spouse or dependents) while you are present in that country in violation of travel restrictions cannot be included in figuring your foreign housing amount.

Currently, these travel restrictions apply to Cuba, Libya, and Iraq.


If your tax home is in a foreign country and you meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, you can choose to exclude from gross income a limited amount of your foreign earned income. Your income must be for services performed in a foreign country during your period of foreign residence or presence, whichever applies. You cannot, however, exclude the pay you receive as an employee of the U.S. Government or its agencies. You cannot exclude pay you receive for services abroad for Armed Forces exchanges, officers' mess, exchange services, etc., operated by the U.S. Army, Navy, or Air Force.


If you claim the exclusion, you cannot claim any credits or deductions that are related to the excluded income. You cannot claim a foreign tax credit or deduction for any foreign income tax paid on the excluded income. Nor can you claim the earned income credit if you claim the exclusion. Also, for IRA purposes, the excluded income is not considered compensation and, for figuring deductible contributions when you are covered by an employer retirement plan, is included in your modified adjusted gross income.


If your tax home is in a foreign country and you qualify under either the bona fide residence test or physical presence test for all of 1995, you can exclude your foreign income earned during the year up to $70,000. However, if you qualify under either test for only part of the year, you must reduce ratably the $70,000 maximum based on the number of days within the tax year you qualified under one of the two tests.


A limited amount of the foreign income tax you pay can be credited against your U.S. tax liability or deducted in figuring taxable income on your U.S. income tax return. It is usually to your advantage to claim a credit for foreign taxes rather than to deduct them. A credit reduces your U.S. tax liability, and any excess may be carried back and carried forward to other years. A deduction only reduces your taxable income and may be taken only in the current year. You must treat all foreign income taxes in the same way. You generally cannot deduct some foreign income taxes and take a credit for others.


If you choose to credit foreign taxes against your tax liability, complete Form 1116, Foreign Tax Credit, (Individual, Estate, Trust, or Nonresident Alien Individual), and attach it to your U.S. income tax return. Do not include the foreign taxes paid or accrued as withheld income taxes on line 55 of Form 1040.


Your credit cannot be more than the part of your U.S. income tax liability allocable to your taxable income from sources outside the United States. So, if you have no U.S. income tax liability, or if all your foreign income is exempt from U.S. tax, you will not be able to claim a foreign tax credit.

If the foreign taxes you paid or incurred during the year exceed the limit on your credit for the current year, you can carry back the unused foreign taxes as credits to 2 prior tax years and then carry forward any remaining unused foreign taxes to 5 later tax years.

Foreign taxes paid on excluded income. You cannot claim a credit for foreign taxes paid on amounts excluded from gross income under the foreign earned income exclusion or the housing amount exclusion, discussed earlier.


If you choose to deduct all foreign income taxes on your U.S. income tax return, itemize the deduction on Schedule A (Form 1040). You cannot deduct foreign taxes paid on income you exclude from your U.S. income tax return.

More information. The foreign tax credit and deduction, their limits, and the carryback and carryover provisions are discussed in detail in Publication 514, Foreign Tax Credit for Individuals.

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