Foreign Income Exclusion
You may qualify for an exclusion from tax of a limited amount of income earned while working abroad (IRC 911). 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 your reasonable 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:
- 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, or
- 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.
Tax home. 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.
Foreign country. 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 which 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 are not foreign countries.
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 more information on foreign countries that individuals have had to leave due to these conditions.
Travel restrictions. 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. Housing expenses that you incur 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.
As of April 15, 2003, these travel restrictions apply to Cuba, Libya, and Iraq.
Exclusion of foreign earned income. 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.
Credits and deductions. 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.
Amount excludable. If your tax home is in a foreign country and you qualify under either the bona fide residence test or physical presence test for the entire tax year, you can exclude up to $105,900 for 2019 and $104,100 for 2018 and lesser amounts for earlier tax years. The IRS adjusts the exclusion amount yearly for inflation and it has gone up significantly over the years.
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.
Housing amount. 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.
A housing amount is the excess, if any, of your allowable housing expenses for the tax year over a base amount. 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 tax 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. You can also 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.
The base amount is 16% of the annual salary of a GS-14, step 1, U.S. Government employee, 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 annual salary is determined on January 1 of the year in which your tax year begins. You figure the base amount on Form 2555.
Exclusion. You can exclude (up to the limits) your entire housing amount from income if it is considered 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.
Deduction. 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 tax year minus the total of your excluded foreign earned income plus your housing exclusion.
Carryover. 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.
Choosing the exclusion(s). You make separate choices to exclude foreign earned income and/or to exclude or deduct your foreign housing amount. 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 tax year. However, if you revoke your choice for a tax year, you cannot claim the exclusion again for your next 5 tax years without the approval of the IRS. For more information on revoking the exclusion, see chapter 4 of Publication 54.