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Foreign Income Exclusion Requirements

What is the Foreign Income Exclusion

If you live and work in a foreign country, you may be able to exclude some of your earnings from tax under the foreign income exclusion. The foreign income exclusion is a predetermined amount of income you earn abroad from work that the U.S. doesn’t require you to pay income tax on, even though you must still file a U.S. tax return to claim it. The amount changes for inflation, but in the most recent tax year, the foreign income exclusion was $92,900.

How to Claim the Foreign Income Exclusion

In order to use the foreign income exclusion, the IRS requires that your tax home be in a foreign country and that you be able to satisfy either the physical presence or bona fide residence requirements. The IRS states that your tax home is the area where your main place of business or employment is, regardless of where you maintain an actual home. For example, if you work in Japan for a branch of a U.S. company, and a majority of the services you provide as an employee takes place in Japan, then your tax home is Japan. This is true even if you only rent an apartment in Tokyo but maintain a sprawling estate in the U.S. But this is only the first step to claiming the foreign income exclusion; you must also maintain a foreign tax home during periods you satisfy the physical presence or bona fide residence test.

Bona Fide Residence and Physical Presence

The IRS only requires that you satisfy the criteria of one of these tests. For purposes of claiming the foreign income exclusion on Form 2555 or 2555EZ, you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country if you maintain a home there (even while maintaining other homes in the U.S.), maintain that residence for an entire tax year, and have the intention of remaining in the foreign country indefinitely. An intention of remaining in the country indefinitely only requires that your purpose for being there not be for a predetermined and temporary period of time. If you are unable to satisfy the bona fide residence test, you can still qualify for the foreign income exclusion if you meet the physical presence test. The physical presence test only requires that you be in the country for 330 days for a consecutive 12 months. However, the 330 days need not be consecutive and it’s irrelevant whether you intend on staying there permanently or for a specific period of time.

Reference: IRS Publication 54-Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Aliens Abroad