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Qualify For the Bona Fide Residence Test or Physical Presence Test

In order to claim the foreign income exclusion when you prepare and efile your tax return on efile.com, you must meet the Bona Fide Residence Test or the Physical Presence Test. These IRS tests determine your residence status in a foreign country during the Tax Year. 

Review the sections below to learn more about the residence tests for the foreign income exclusion: 

What is a Bona Fide Residence Test?

What is a Physical Presence Test?

What is a Bona Fide Residence Test?

You pass the bona fide residence test if you're a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire Tax Year (January 1-December 31 for taxpayers who file their tax returns on a calendar-year basis). In addition, you must have established a residence in a foreign country.

What is a Bona Fide Resident?

A bona fide resident is an individual that is either:

  • A U.S. citizen OR
  • A U.S. resident alien who's a citizen or national of a country with which the United States has an income tax treaty in effect.

Please note that you don't automatically acquire bona fide resident status merely by living in a foreign country or countries for 1 year.

How Do I Find Out If I Qualify for Bona Fide Resident Status?

In order to determine if you meet the bona fide residence test in a foreign country, you must find out if you have established a residence in a foreign country. Your bona fide residence may not be the same as your domicile, which is your personal home or the place to which you always return or intend to return. The questions that the IRS uses to define bona fide residences are determined according to each individual case. It takes into account factors such as your intention or purpose of your trip and the nature and length of your stay abroad. Therefore, if you have foreign earned income, you must complete Part II of Form 2555 (Taxpayers Qualifying Under Bona Fide Residence Test) to show that you have been a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes the entire Tax Year. Largely using the the facts you report on Form 2555 efile it, the IRS decides whether you qualify as a bona fide resident (it cannot make this determination until you file this form).

Can I Efile Form 2555?

Yes, you can efile Form 2555 with your tax return on efile.com. Once you answer a few simple questions during the online tax interview, we will generate Form 2555 for you, as well as help you complete it. efile.com will even calculate the correct amount with 100% accuracy. It's that easy!

Start preparing Form 2555 now for free.

How Do I Find Out That I'm Not Qualified As a Bona Fide Resident?

You're not considered a bona fide resident if your make a statement to a country's authorities that you're not a resident of that country and the authorities determine that you're not subject to their income tax laws as a resident. If you have made this statement and the authorities haven't made a final decision of your status, you're not considered to be a bona fide resident of that foreign country.

Can I Qualify for Bona Fide Resident Status If I Briefly Left a Foreign Country To Go On Trips?

During the period of bona fide residence, you can leave the country for brief or temporary trips back to the U.S. or elsewhere for vacation or business purposes. To keep your status, you must have a clear intention of returning from such trips without reasonable delay to your foreign residence or to a new bona fide residence in another foreign country.

Am I a Bona Fide Resident If I Lived in a Foreign Country for Part of the Tax Year?

If you have been a bona fide resident for part of the Tax Year, you will qualify as a bona fide resident for the period starting with the date you actually began the residence and ending with the date you abandon the foreign residence. This qualification will be put in place once you have established bona fide residence in a foreign country for an uninterrupted period that includes the entire tax period. In addition, you could qualify as a bona fide resident for an entire Tax Year plus parts of 1 or 2 other Tax Years.

How Can I Use the Bona Fide Residence Test?

You can use the bona fide residence test to qualify for the foreign income exclusion and deduction.

What is a Physical Presence Test?

You pass the physical presence test (applicable to both U.S. citizens and resident aliens from the U.S.) if you're physically present in a foreign country or countries for 330 full days during a 12-consecutive-month period. However, the 330 qualifying days don't have to be consecutive. You can count days you spent abroad for any reason (employment purposes, vacation time, etc.).

How Do I Not Pass the Physical Presence Test?

You don't meet the physical presence test if one of the followings situations applies:

  • An illness, a vacation, an employer's orders, or family problems cause you to be present in a foreign country for less than the required amount of time.
  • You're present in a foreign country in violation of US law (income earned from a source within the foreign country for service performed during the period of violation doesn't qualify as foreign earned income).

Is the Physical Presence Test Also Based on My Foreign Residence?

The test is only based on how long you stay in a foreign country or countries. It doesn't depend on the kind of residence you establish, the nature and purpose of your stay abroad, or your intentions about returning to the United States. However, your intentions with regard to the purpose and nature of your stay abroad are relevant in determining whether you meet the tax home test. You're not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period during the Tax Year which your residence is in the U.S. However, being temporarily present in the U.S. or maintaining a home there doesn't necessarily mean that your home is in the United States.

How Can I Figure Out My 12-Month Period Outside of the United States?

Below are four rules to help you figure out your 12-month period:

  • It can begin with any day of the month. The period will end the day before the same calendar day, 12 months later.
  • It must be made up of consecutive months. Any 12-month period can be used if the 330 days in the foreign country fall within that period.
  • You don't have to begin the period with your first full day in a foreign country or to end it the day you leave. You can choose the period that gives you the greatest exclusion.
  • When determining whether the period falls within a longer stay in a foreign country, note that 12-month periods can overlap one another.

Does the Time I Spend Traveling To and From the Foreign Country or Countries Count Towards the 330 Full Days?

The IRS considers a full day a period of 24 consecutive hours, beginning at midnight. It advises that you must spend each of the 330 days in the foreign country. When you leave the U.S. to go directly to a foreign country or when you return directly to the U.S. from the foreign country, the time you spend over on international waters doesn't count towards the 330 days. However, if, in traveling from the U.S. to the foreign country, you pass over another foreign country before midnight of the day you leave, the first day you can count is the day following the day you left the U.S.

Be aware that you can move about from one place to another in a foreign country or to another foreign country without losing full days, but if any part of your travel time is not within a foreign country or countries and takes 24 hours or more, you will lost full days. If you're in a transit between two points outside the U.S. and are physically present in the U.S. for less than 24 hours, you're not considered present in the U.S. during the transit. Instead, you're treated as traveling over areas not within any foreign country.

Can I Waive the Amount of Time I Spent In a Foreign Country If I Had to Leave That Country Because of Dangerous Conditions There?

The minimum time requirement can be waived if you must leave a foreign country because of war, civil unrest, or similar, harmful conditions in that country. However, you must be able to show that you reasonably could have expected to meet the minimum time requirements if not for the adverse conditions. In addition, you must prove that you had a tax home in the foreign country and were a bona fide resident of, or physically present in, that country on or before the beginning date of the waiver.

Where On Form 2555 Can I Enter My Information to Qualify for the Physical Presence Test?

On Form 2555, enter your physical presence test information in Part III, Taxpayers Qualifying Under Physical Presence Test.

Related Information About Foreign Income and Taxes

Foreign Earned Income

Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

Tax Credits for U.S. Citizens Overseas & Foreign Tax Payments

Efile Your U.S. Tax Return If You Lived or Worked in a Foreign Country

Filing Past Year U.S. Returns For American Citizens Working or Living Abroad