skip navigation

Search Help
Navigation Help

Topic Index
ABCDEFGHI
JKLMNOPQR
STUVWXYZ#

Affordable Care Act
Tax Topic Index

International
Tax Topic Index

FAQs
Forms
Publications
Tax Topics

Comments
About Tax Map

IRS.gov Website
Publication 54
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047498

Foreign Earned
Income Exclusion(p19)

rule
If your tax home is in a foreign country and you meet the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, you can choose to exclude from your income a limited amount of your foreign earned income. Foreign earned income was defined earlier in this chapter.
You also can choose to exclude from your income a foreign housing amount. This is explained later under Foreign Housing Exclusion. If you choose to exclude a foreign housing amount, you must figure the foreign housing exclusion before you figure the foreign earned income exclusion. Your foreign earned income exclusion is limited to your foreign earned income minus your foreign housing exclusion.
If you choose to exclude foreign earned income, you cannot deduct, exclude, or claim a credit for any item that can be allocated to or charged against the excluded amounts. This includes any expenses, losses, and other normally deductible items allocable to the excluded income. For more information about deductions and credits, see chapter 5.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047499

Limit on Excludable Amount(p19)

rule
You may be able to exclude up to $95,100 of your foreign earned income in 2012.
You cannot exclude more than the smaller of:
If both you and your spouse work abroad and each of you meets either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, you can each choose the foreign earned income exclusion. You do not both need to meet the same test. Together, you and your spouse can exclude as much as $190,200.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047500

Paid in year following work.(p19)

rule
Generally, you are considered to have earned income in the year in which you do the work for which you receive the income, even if you work in one year but are not paid until the following year. If you report your income on a cash basis, you report the income on your return for the year you receive it. If you work one year, but are not paid for that work until the next year, the amount you can exclude in the year you are paid is the amount you could have excluded in the year you did the work if you had been paid in that year. For an exception to this general rule, see Year-end payroll period, later.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047501

Example.(p19)

You were a bona fide resident of Brazil for all of 2011 and 2012. You report your income on the cash basis. In 2011, you were paid $82,000 for work you did in Brazil during that year. You excluded all of the $82,000 from your income in 2011.
In 2012, you were paid $114,800 for your work in Brazil. $18,800 was for work you did in 2011 and $96,000 was for work you did in 2012. You can exclude $10,900 of the $18,800 from your income in 2012. This is the $92,900 maximum exclusion in 2011 minus the $82,000 actually excluded that year. You must include the remaining $7,900 in income in 2012 because you could not have excluded that income in 2011 if you had received it that year. You can exclude $95,100 of the $96,000 you were paid for work you did in 2012 from your 2012 income.
Your total foreign earned income exclusion for 2012 is $106,000 ($10,900 for work you did in 2011 and $95,100 for work you did in 2012). You would include in your 2012 income $8,800 ($7,900 for the work you did in 2011 and $900 for the work you did in 2012).
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047502

Year-end payroll period.(p19)

rule
There is an exception to the general rule that income is considered earned in the year you do the work for which you receive the income. If you are a cash-basis taxpayer, any salary or wage payment you receive after the end of the year in which you do the work for which you receive the pay is considered earned entirely in the year you receive it if all four of the following apply.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047503

Example.(p20)

You are paid twice a month. For the normal payroll period that begins on the first of the month and ends on the fifteenth of the month, you are paid on the sixteenth day of the month. For the normal payroll period that begins on the sixteenth of the month and ends on the last day of the month, you are paid on the first day of the following month. Because all of the above conditions are met, the pay you received on January 1, 2012, is considered earned in 2012.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047504

Income earned over more than 1 year.(p20)

rule
Regardless of when you actually receive income, you must apply it to the year in which you earned it in figuring your excludable amount for that year. For example, a bonus may be based on work you did over several years. You determine the amount of the bonus that is considered earned in a particular year in two steps.
  1. Divide the bonus by the number of calendar months in the period when you did the work that resulted in the bonus.
  2. Multiply the result of (1) by the number of months you did the work during the year. This is the amount that is subject to the exclusion limit for that tax year.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047505

Income received more than 1 year after it was earned.(p20)

rule
You cannot exclude income you receive after the end of the year following the year you do the work to earn it.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047506
Example.(p20)
You were a bona fide resident of Sweden for 2010, 2011, and 2012. You report your income on the cash basis. In 2010, you were paid $69,000 for work you did in Sweden that year and in 2011 you were paid $74,000 for that year's work in Sweden. You excluded all the income on your 2010 and 2011 returns.
In 2012, you were paid $92,000; $82,000 for your work in Sweden during 2012, and $10,000 for work you did in Sweden in 2010. You cannot exclude any of the $10,000 for work done in 2010 because you received it after the end of the year following the year in which you earned it. You must include the $10,000 in income. You can exclude all of the $82,000 received for work you did in 2012.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047507

Community income.(p20)

rule
The maximum exclusion applies separately to the earnings of a husband and wife. Ignore any community property laws when you figure your limit on the foreign earned income exclusion.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047508

Part-year exclusion.(p20)

rule
If the period for which you qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion includes only part of the year, you must adjust the maximum limit based on the number of qualifying days in the year. The number of qualifying days is the number of days in the year within the period on which you both:
For this purpose, you can count as qualifying days all days within a period of 12 consecutive months once you are physically present and have your tax home in a foreign country for 330 full days. To figure your maximum exclusion, multiply the maximum excludable amount for the year by the number of your qualifying days in the year, and then divide the result by the number of days in the year.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047509

Example.(p20)

You report your income on the calendar-year basis and you qualified for the foreign earned income exclusion under the bona fide residence test for 75 days in 2012. You can exclude a maximum of 75/366 of $95,100, or $19,488, of your foreign earned income for 2012. If you qualify under the bona fide residence test for all of 2013, you can exclude your foreign earned income up to the 2013 limit.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047510
Physical presence test.(p20)
Under the physical presence test, a 12-month period can be any period of 12 consecutive months that includes 330 full days. If you qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion under the physical presence test for part of a year, it is important to carefully choose the 12-month period that will allow the maximum exclusion for that year.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047511

Example.(p20)

You are physically present and have your tax home in a foreign country for a 16-month period from June 2, 2011, through September 30, 2012, except for 16 days in December 2011 when you were on vacation in the United States. You figure the maximum exclusion for 2011 as follows.
  1. Beginning with June 2, 2011, count forward 330 full days. Do not count the 16 days you spent in the United States. The 330th day, May 12, 2012, is the last day of a 12-month period.
  2. Count backward 12 months from May 11, 2012, to find the first day of this 12-month period, May 12, 2011. This 12-month period runs from May 12, 2011, through May 11, 2012.
  3. Count the total days during 2011 that fall within this 12-month period. This is 234 days (May 12, 2011 – December 31, 2011).
  4. Multiply $92,900 (the maximum exclusion for 2011) by the fraction 234/365 to find your maximum exclusion for 2011 ($59,558).
You figure the maximum exclusion for 2012 in the opposite manner.
  1. Beginning with your last full day, September 30, 2012, count backward 330 full days. Do not count the 16 days you spent in the United States. That day, October 20, 2011, is the first day of a 12-month period.
  2. Count forward 12 months from October 20, 2011, to find the last day of this 12-month period, October 19, 2012. This 12-month period runs from October 20, 2011, through October 19, 2012.
  3. Count the total days during 2012 that fall within this 12-month period. This is 293 days (January 1, 2012 – October 19, 2012).
  4. Multiply $95,100, the maximum limit, by the fraction 293/366 to find your maximum exclusion for 2012 ($76,132).
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047512

Choosing the Exclusion(p20)

rule
The foreign earned income exclusion is voluntary. You can choose the exclusion by completing the appropriate parts of Form 2555.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047513

When You Can
Choose the Exclusion (p20)

rule
Your initial choice of the exclusion on Form 2555 or Form 2555-EZ generally must be made with one of the following returns.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink1000278465

Filing after the above periods.(p20)

rule
You can choose the exclusion on a return filed after the periods described above if you owe no federal income tax after taking into account the exclusion. If you owe federal income tax after taking into account the exclusion, you can choose the exclusion on a return filed after the periods described earlier if you file before the IRS discovers that you failed to choose the exclusion. Whether or not you owe federal income tax after taking the exclusion into account, if you file your return after the periods described earlier, you must type or legibly print at the top of the first page of the Form 1040 "Filed pursuant to section 1.911-7(a)(2)(i)(D)."
If you owe federal income tax after taking into account the foreign earned income exclusion and the IRS discovered that you failed to choose the exclusion, you may still be able to choose the exclusion. You must request a private letter ruling under Income Tax Regulation 301.9100-3 and Revenue Procedure 2012-1, 2012-1 I.R.B. 1, available at www.irs.gov/irb/2012-01_IRB/ar06.html.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047514

Effect of Choosing the Exclusion(p20)

rule
Once you choose to exclude your foreign earned income, that choice remains in effect for that year and all later years unless you revoke it.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047515

Foreign tax credit or deduction.(p21)

rule
Once you choose to exclude foreign earned income, you cannot take a foreign tax credit or deduction for taxes on income you can exclude. If you do take a credit or deduction for any of those taxes, your choice to exclude foreign earned income may be considered revoked. See Publication 514, Foreign Tax Credit for Individuals, for more information.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047516

Earned income credit.(p21)

rule
If you claim the foreign earned income exclusion, you will not qualify for the earned income credit for the year. For more information on this credit, see Publication 596.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047517

Figuring tax on income not excluded.(p21)

rule
If you claim the foreign earned income exclusion, the housing exclusion (discussed later), 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 to figure the amount of tax to enter on Form 1040, line 44. If you must attach Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax — Individuals, to your return, use the Foreign Earned Income Tax Worksheet provided in the instructions for Form 6251.
taxmap/pubs/p54-012.htm#en_us_publink100047518

Revoking the Exclusion(p21)

rule
You can revoke your choice for any year. You do this by attaching a statement that you are revoking one or more previously made choices to the return or amended return for the first year that you do not wish to claim the exclusion(s). You must specify which choice(s) you are revoking. You must revoke separately a choice to exclude foreign earned income and a choice to exclude foreign housing amounts.
If you revoked a choice and within 5 years again wish to choose the same exclusion, you must apply for IRS approval. You do this by requesting a ruling from the IRS.
Due date
Mail your request for a ruling, in duplicate, to:


Associate Chief Counsel (International)
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: CC:PA:LPD:DRU
P.O. Box 7604
Ben Franklin Station
Washington, DC 20044


Because requesting a ruling can be complex, you may need professional help. Also, the IRS charges a fee for issuing these rulings. For more information, see Revenue Procedure 2012-1.
In deciding whether to give approval, the IRS will consider any facts and circumstances that may be relevant. These may include a period of residence in the United States, a move from one foreign country to another foreign country with different tax rates, a substantial change in the tax laws of the foreign country of residence or physical presence, and a change of employer.