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FEIE Is My Earned Income from a Foreign Source

Expatriate Foreign Earned Income

As the name implies, the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) is only available for the income that you earn in a foreign country. For many expatriates, determining whether their income relates to a foreign country or the United States can be more troublesome than it may initially appear to be.

The IRS treats the source of your income as foreign only when you are physically present in a foreign country at the time you perform the services that entitle you to the payment. Expatriates who are employees of foreign companies and work outside the U.S. will find that their entire employment salary and benefits qualifies as foreign source income. However, self-employed taxpayers face a little more confusion when allocating their income among foreign and domestic sources. For example, suppose you satisfy the physical presence or bona fide residence test for purposes of claiming the FEIE. If you periodically travel back to the U.S. to perform services for a client there, you cannot treat the income you earn during those periods in the U.S. as foreign source income, and therefore, it is not eligible for the foreign exclusion.

Receiving Income From or Into a U.S. Bank Account

The IRS doesn’t take into consideration the source of the income payments you receive for purposes of determining whether your income is from foreign or domestic sources. This means that if you maintain a bank account in the U.S. and deposit the income you earn in a foreign country into it, it will not require you to designate the deposits as U.S. income. Similarly, if you work for a U.S. company, but perform the services abroad, the fact that your employer pays your salary out of a U.S. bank also has no bearing on the determination of whether your earnings are foreign source income.

U.S. Government Employees Are Ineligible for Foreign Income Exclusion

Unfortunately, employees of the U.S. federal government who live and work abroad are ineligible for the foreign earned income exclusion. The tax code provides that any payment of salary or wages from the government to its employees is always U.S. source income. This rule remains effective even when the U.S. government requires you to accept a position abroad for an indefinite period of time that allows you to satisfy the bona fide residence or physical presence test of the foreign earned income exclusion. Therefore, if you prepare a 2555 form and attach it to your tax return, the IRS will disallow your exclusion. This designation of U.S. source income is equally applicable to members of the armed services. However, the Internal Revenue Code provides an array of other tax benefits to military personnel.

Reference: IRS Publication 3-Armed Forces’ Tax Guide