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For US citizens and green holders living and working abroad, different tax laws are applicable, which must be followed to avoid penalties. Read this guide on FEIE to know about the deductions available under this provision.

FEIE – Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Last Update Date : May 16, 2018

feie-foreign earned income exclusion

One of the best ways to combat ignorance is to immerse yourself in the culture of other countries and its people. However, as with everything in life, even the road to self-improvement requires money. So, if you are lucky enough to find yourself with the opportunity of working in another country, then while earning your bread and butter you can evolve into a better person. The problem arises when it comes to paying taxes because for many US citizens or green card holders, they must report and pay taxes on their income abroad, which can mean double taxation, however, availing of Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), allows the individual to only be taxed in the country where income is earned, provided he/she meets the requirements. The guide explains how to avail of FEIE and save your money from Uncle Sam.

What is Foreign Earned Income Exclusion – FEIE?

For US expats and American Indians, the income earned abroad can be tax free or limited provided the requirements are met. When availing of FEIE, the individual can also opt for Foreign Housing Exclusion.

How to Qualify for FEIE?

To qualify for FEIE, the U.S. taxpayer must first file his/her tax return, as it is not automatically applied to the income earned abroad. Secondly, he/she must pass the residency or physical presence test and finally the income earned must qualify under the allowable sources of income.

Bonafide Residency Test

Unless you have declared to the foreign country that you are not a resident of the country, if your stay in the foreign country lasts one full calendar year, for example January 1st to December 31st, then you can avail of FEIE. To avoid double taxation the individual would be subject to foreign tax laws, but can avoid paying/minimizing taxes in their home country (the U.S.A) by availing of FEIE. The taxpayer is also allowed to make short visits to the U.S. or other countries, provided they are planning on returning to the foreign country.

Physical Presence Test

To qualify under the physical presence test, the individual must have been a resident in the foreign country for 330 full days in an uninterrupted 12-month period. This rule is more relaxed as you can work and be living in several countries. A full day means 24 hours; therefore the date of arrival and departure are usually not counted. Additionally, both working days and days spent on vacation in the foreign country can be counted in the physical presence test.

What is Income Under FEIE?

All income earned as salary or as self-employed or contractor can be used when applying for FEIE. This means income earned on capital gains, shares etc. are not included. However, foreign tax credit can be applied on capital gains. Moreover, pension income or rental income cannot be included in FEIE.

The tax applicable on the income is first calculated on the whole amount before the application of FEIE. Then the taxable amount on FEIE is calculated, after which the difference will be paid. For example:

Income Earned Taxes Due
$250,000 $45,000
FEIE $104,100 $10,000
Taxes Due $35,000

The worksheet for determining amount of taxes due after applying FEIE, can be made by using the 1040 worksheet, found here on page 43.

Yearly FEIE Amounts

Taxation Year FEIE Amount (U.S Dollars)
2018 $104,100
2017 $102,100
2016 $101,300
2015 $100,300
2014 $99,200
2013 $97,600

What is Not Eligible Under FEIE?

The following types of income cannot be included when availing of Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

  • Investments
  • Pension
  • Rental income
  • Social Security Benefits
  • Salary earned in international waters
    1. Working on cruise ships
  • Employed by the US government in military and civil sectors.

The Housing Exclusion

After availing of FEIE, to further reduce your tax liability, the housing exclusion can be applied on the remainder amount. The amount of housing exclusion applicable is determined by the housing deduction provided by the employer. The limit on housing expenses varies depending upon the location in which you incur housing expenses. The following is a list of some of the things that can be used to qualify for housing deduction, based on the provisions of the employer:

  • Rent
  • Repairs
  • Utilities
  • Rented Furniture
  • Parking fees

Foreign Tax Credit

Using Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) with FEIE combined is only advisable if the tax rate of the foreign country is lesser than that of the U.S. Using FTC on the remaining FEIE amount, reduces the tax liability in the US. Additionally, the credit cannot exceed the amount of U.S. taxes owed.

FEIE For Self-Employed

For individuals who are self-employed, including freelancers and those on contract, in a foreign country, he/she must decipher their total earnings with the allowable exemptions. Since, with salaried employees, housing deductions are given by the employer, the self-employed individual must consider the amount of housing deduction, which is calculated by determining the business income earned correctly. To determine how to maximize the exemptions allowed for self-employed, the aid of third party tax advisors can be availed. However, for both self-employed and salaried individuals FEIE can only be applied if U.S. tax return is filed.

One of the most important lessons learned on the path to self-improvement is knowing when to ask for help. Availing of the various provisions allowed for taxpayers can be tricky and complicated and even more so for individuals with foreign income. To ensure you maximize on your tax deductions, enlist the aid of the international tax experts at H&R Block India.

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