You may qualify for an exclusion from tax of a limited amount of income earned while working abroad. However, you must file a tax return to claim it. In general, foreign earned income is income received for services you perform in a foreign country. You also may be able to claim an exclusion or a deduction from gross income for a limited amount of your housing costs if your costs are more than a base amount. Generally, you will qualify for these benefits if your tax home (defined later) 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.
- A U.S. citizen who is a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year,
- 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
- 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.
Your tax home is the general 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 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. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219322
A foreign country, for this purpose, means any territory under the sovereignty of a government other than that of the United States. It includes the country's territorial waters (determined under U.S. laws) and air space, but not international waters and the airspace above them. A foreign country also includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas that are 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. For this purpose, U.S. possessions or territories and the Antarctic region are not foreign countries. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219323
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. However, you must be able to show that you reasonably could have expected to meet the minimum time requirements if the adverse conditions had not occurred.
A list of countries qualifying for the waiver is published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (IRB). You can read the IRB on the Internet at www.irs.gov
. Or, you can get a copy of the list by writing to:
Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 920
Bensalem, PA 19020-8518
If you violate U.S. travel restrictions, you will not be treated as 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. Your housing expenses within that country (or outside that country for housing your spouse or dependents) while you are in violation of travel restrictions cannot be included in figuring your foreign housing amount.
These travel restrictions currently apply only to Cuba. However, if you performed services at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, these travel restrictions do not apply.taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219325
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.taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219326
If you claim the exclusion, you cannot claim any credits or deductions that are related to the excluded income. Thus, 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, the excluded income is included in your modified adjusted gross income. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219327
If your tax home is in a foreign country and you qualify under either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test for all of 2009, you can exclude up to $91,400 of your foreign earned income. The maximum amount you can exclude is adjusted annually for inflation.
If you qualify under either test for only part of the year, you must reduce ratably the maximum amount based on the number of days within the tax year you qualified under one of the two tests. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219328
If your tax home is in a foreign country and you meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, you may be able to claim an exclusion or a deduction from gross income for a housing amount.
Your housing amount is the excess, if any, of your allowable housing expenses for the year over a base amount. The amount of allowable housing expenses is limited.
Allowable housing expenses are the reasonable expenses (such as rent, utilities other than telephone charges, and real and personal property insurance) paid or incurred during the year by you, or on your behalf, for your foreign housing and that of your spouse and dependents if they lived with you. You can include the rental value of housing provided by your employer in return for your services. Also, you can include the allowable housing expenses of a second foreign household for your spouse and dependents if they did not live with you because of dangerous, unhealthy, or otherwise adverse living conditions at your tax home. Allowable housing expenses do not include the cost of home purchase or other capital items, wages of domestic servants, or deductible interest and taxes.
Your allowable housing expenses are limited to a percentage of the maximum foreign earned income exclusion amount (discussed earlier under Amount excludable), figured on a daily basis, times the number of days during the year that you meet the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test. The percentage may vary depending on the foreign country where your tax home is located. For more information, see the Instructions for Form 2555.
The base amount is 16% of the maximum foreign earned income exclusion amount, figured on a daily basis, times the number of days during the year that you meet the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test. For 2009, this amount is $40.07 per day ($14,624 per year).
You figure the limit on housing expenses and the base amount on Form 2555.taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219329
You can exclude (up to the limits) your entire housing amount from income if it is paid for with employer-provided amounts. Employer-provided amounts are any amounts paid to or for you by your employer, including your salary, housing reimbursements, and the fair market value of pay given in the form of goods and services. If you have no self-employment income, your entire housing amount is considered paid for with employer-provided amounts.
If you claim the exclusion, you cannot claim any credits or deductions related to excluded income, including a credit or deduction for any foreign income tax paid on the excluded income. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219330
If you are self-employed and your housing amount is not provided by an employer, you can deduct it in arriving at your adjusted gross income. However, the deduction cannot be more than your foreign earned income for the year minus the total of your excluded foreign earned income plus your housing exclusion. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219331
If you cannot deduct all of your housing amount in a tax year because of the limit, you can carry over the unused part to the following year only. If you cannot deduct it in the following year, you cannot carry it over to any other year. You deduct the carryover in figuring adjusted gross income. The amount of carryover you can deduct is limited to your foreign earned income for the year of the carryover minus the total of your foreign earned income exclusion, housing exclusion, and housing deduction for that year. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219332
You make separate choices to exclude foreign earned income and/or to exclude or deduct your foreign housing amount. You choose the housing exclusion or deduction by completing the appropriate parts of Form 2555. You cannot use Form 2555-EZ if you are claiming the housing exclusion or deduction.
If you choose to take both the foreign housing exclusion and the foreign earned income exclusion, you must figure your foreign housing exclusion first. Your foreign earned income exclusion is then limited to the smaller of (a) your annual exclusion limit or (b) the excess of your foreign earned income over your foreign housing exclusion.
Once you choose to exclude your foreign earned income or housing amount, that choice remains in effect for that year and all future years unless you revoke it. You can revoke your choice for any year. However, if you revoke your choice for a year, you cannot claim the exclusion again for your next 5 years without the approval of the IRS. For more information on revoking the exclusion, see chapter 4 of Publication 54. taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219333
If both you and your spouse are eligible for the exclusion(s), see chapter 4 of Publication 54.taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219334
If you claim the foreign earned income exclusion, the housing exclusion, or both, you must figure the tax on your nonexcluded income using the tax rates that would have applied had you not claimed the exclusions. See the instructions for Form 1040 and complete the Foreign Earned Income Tax Worksheet. When figuring your alternative minimum tax on Form 6251, use the Foreign Earned Income Tax Worksheet in the instructions for Form 6251.taxmap/pubs/p593-001.htm#en_us_publink1000219335
If as a condition of employment you are required to live in a camp in a foreign country that is provided by or for your employer, you can exclude the value of any meals and lodging furnished to you, your spouse, and your dependents. For this exclusion, a camp is lodging that is:
- Provided for your employer's convenience because the place where you work is in a remote area where satisfactory housing is not available to you on the open market within a reasonable commuting distance,
- Located as close as practicable in the area where you work, and
- Provided in a common area or enclave that is not available to the public for lodging or accommodations and that normally houses at least 10 employees.