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🚩 Red Flag | Expat Edition | TaxGPT's Newsletter

Published on
June 13, 2024
Updated on
June 14, 2024
Tax Responsibilities for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Living Abroad
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Worldwide Income Taxation for US Expatriates

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As a US citizen or resident alien living abroad, one of the most crucial aspects of your tax obligations is the requirement to report your worldwide income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This means that regardless of where you reside or earn your income, you must disclose all sources of income, including wages, interest, dividends, rental income, and any other forms of earnings, on your US tax return.

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The concept of worldwide income taxation stems from the US tax system's principle of citizenship-based taxation, which differs from the territorial taxation system employed by most other countries. While this approach ensures that US citizens and resident aliens are taxed consistently, it also introduces complexities for those living and earning income abroad.

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It's important to note that even if you pay taxes in your host country, you are still required to report your worldwide income to the IRS and potentially pay US taxes on that income. However, there are provisions in place, such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC), which can help mitigate the risk of double taxation.

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Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)

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The FEIE is a valuable tax benefit available to qualifying US expatriates, allowing them to exclude a significant portion of their foreign earned income from US taxation. For the 2024 tax year, the maximum FEIE amount is $126,500 per qualifying person.

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To qualify for the FEIE, you must meet the following criteria:

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1. Foreign Earned Income: Your income must be earned through employment or self-employment in a foreign country. Investment income, rental income, and other forms of passive income do not qualify for the FEIE.

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2. Tax Home in a Foreign Country: Your tax home must be in a foreign country during the period for which you claim the FEIE. Your tax home is generally the location where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged in work or business.

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3. Bona Fide Residence Test or Physical Presence Test: You must satisfy either the Bona Fide Residence Test or the Physical Presence Test.

Β Β Β - Bona Fide Residence Test: You must be a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year.

Β Β Β - Physical Presence Test: You must be physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any 12-consecutive-month period.

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It's important to note that the FEIE is not an automatic exclusion; you must actively claim it on your US tax return by filing Form 2555 or the appropriate form for your tax situation.

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Foreign Tax Credit (FTC)

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The FTC is another valuable tool for US expatriates to mitigate the risk of double taxation on their foreign income. It allows you to claim a credit against your US tax liability for income taxes paid to a foreign government or jurisdiction.

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To claim the FTC, you must file Form 1116 with your US tax return and provide documentation of the foreign taxes paid. The credit is generally limited to the amount of US tax you would have paid on the same income, but it can be carried forward or backward to other tax years if the credit exceeds your US tax liability in a given year.

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It's important to note that the FTC and the FEIE cannot be claimed on the same income. You must choose which benefit to apply to each source of foreign income, and in some cases, it may be advantageous to claim the FTC instead of the FEIE, particularly if your foreign tax rate is higher than the US tax rate.

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FATCA and FBAR Reporting Obligations

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As a US expatriate, you may also be subject to additional reporting requirements related to your foreign financial accounts and assets. These requirements are governed by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) regulations.

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FATCA Reporting

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FATCA requires US taxpayers, including expatriates, to report certain foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the total value of those assets exceeds specified thresholds. The thresholds vary based on your filing status and whether you live inside or outside the United States.

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For the 2024 tax year, the reporting thresholds for US expatriates are:

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- Unmarried taxpayers living abroad: $200,000 on the last day of the tax year or $300,000 at any time during the year

- Married taxpayers filing jointly and living abroad: $400,000 on the last day of the tax year or $600,000 at any time during the year

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Failure to comply with FATCA reporting requirements can result in significant penalties, including a $10,000 penalty for failure to file Form 8938 and an additional $50,000 penalty for continued failure to file after IRS notification.

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FBAR Reporting

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The FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) is a separate reporting requirement for US persons, including expatriates, who have an interest in or signature authority over foreign financial accounts with an aggregate value exceeding $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.

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The FBAR is filed electronically with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the US Department of the Treasury, and is due by April 15th of each year (with an automatic extension to October 15th if you live abroad).

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Failure to file the FBAR can result in severe civil and criminal penalties, including a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation for non-willful violations and up to 50% of the account balance for willful violations.

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State Tax Requirements for US Expatriates

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While the focus is often on federal tax obligations, it's important for US expatriates to also consider their potential state tax requirements. Some states may still require you to file a state income tax return, even if you live and work abroad, depending on factors such as your domicile or residency status.

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For example, if you maintain a permanent place of abode in a particular state or spend a significant amount of time there, you may be considered a resident for state tax purposes and be required to file a state income tax return and pay state taxes on your worldwide income. For instance: Alabama, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania do not have a FEIE.

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Additionally, some states may tax certain types of income earned by non-residents, such as rental income from property located within the state or income from businesses operating in the state.

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It's crucial for US expatriates to understand their specific state tax obligations and file accordingly to avoid potential penalties and interest charges. Consulting with a tax professional familiar with state tax laws can help ensure compliance and minimize your overall tax burden.

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In conclusion, navigating the complex tax landscape as a US expatriate requires a thorough understanding of various concepts and reporting requirements. By familiarizing yourself with the principles of worldwide income taxation, the FEIE and FTC, FATCA and FBAR reporting, and potential state tax obligations, you can better manage your tax responsibilities and avoid costly penalties. Seeking guidance from a qualified tax professional with expertise in expatriate taxation can further ensure compliance and help you maximize your tax benefits.

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For additional information regarding taxes for expats:

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