Foreign, International Income by U.S. Citizens

foreign-earned-income

U.S. Citizens living and working abroad often wonder if they need to prepare and e-File or file a 2020 or previous US. tax return. The simple and basic answer is this: as a U.S. Citizen, your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you live or where you earned your taxable income. Thus, as a citizen of the United States, you have to file an income tax return if you work and/or live abroad. 

On the other hand, you might be exempt from a tax return if you relinquish your green card holder alien status—Form I-40 U.S. Citizen & Immigration Service—or you renounce your United States citizenship altogether as outlined in the expatriation tax provisions.

Use many of the eFile.com 2020 Tax Calculators or tools to learn more about your particular 2020 Tax Return.

Not sure how to report your foreign earned income? When you prepare and e-File with eFile.com, we will help determine this for you following a simple tax interview.

Foreign Income Types

Foreign earned income has the source of the income as the place you perform the services for which you received the income, such as a foreign country. For example, if you do work for a U.S. employer in Spain and receive payment to your U.S. bank in Florida, your income is considered foreign earned income as the location on where the work is performed is the main consideration. Had you performed the same work in the U.S., you would report it as U.S. sourced income.

In the table below, find samples of foreign earned income, unearned income, and variable income generated by U.S. citizens abroad.

International Income
Earned Income as the result of personal services
Salaries and Wages, Commissions, Professional Fees, Tips, Bonuses, Non-cash (Allowances, Reimbursements, Lodging, Meals, Use of Vehicle). Allowances or Reimbursements are amounts paid to you for:
  • Family
  • Education
  • Quarters
  • Cost of Living
  • Home Leave
  • Moving
Unearned Income
Dividends, Interest, Foreign Social Security, Pensions, Capital Gains, Annuities, Alimony, Gambling Winnings
Variable Income
Business profits, Scholarships and Fellowships, Royalties, Rents
Other Income
Income from stock options, sole proprietorships, partnerships or corporations.
NOT Included in Foreign Earned Income
  • Payment from a U.S. Government as Government employee, (Military, etc.)
  • U.S. Pension, social security or annuity payments
  • Quarters (see Foreign Housing Exclusion here)
  • Expense reimbursement on behalf of your employer under an accountable plan
  • Employer contributions to a nonexempt employee trust or to a nonqualified annuity contract
  • Payments received after the end of the tax year following the tax year in which you performed the earned income services (e.g. if you performed work in 2019 but did not receive payment until 2020)

You might not be able to clearly determine how much of your paid work or income is done in the United States. It may have been done partly in the United States and partly in a foreign country, so it is important to determine the amount of U.S. source income using the method that most correctly shows the proper source of your income. With eFile.com, we help you make the decision that best suits your tax situation for 2020. In most cases, you can make this determination on a time basis. U.S. source income is the amount that results from multiplying your total pay (including allowances, reimbursements, and noncash fringe benefits) by a fraction. The numerator (top number) is the number of days you worked within the United States. The denominator (bottom number) is the total number of work days you were paid for. Details on the bona-fide residency and physical presence test.

More Foreign Income and Tax Information

Important subjects regarding foreign earned income are: Foreign Tax Deductions and Breaks plus Foreign Tax Credits.

Read these important publications on: U.S Citizens and Aliens Abroad and Foreign Tax Credit for Individuals.

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