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Form 2555 and Physical Presence Test

Form 2555 Physical Presence Test

Taking that leap of faith and deciding to leave your native country to experience something new can provide you with more than just a great life experience. If you earn income from employment or self-employment while abroad, the IRS allows you to claim the foreign earned income exclusion by preparing a Form 2555 or 2555EZ with your tax return. However, you must be able to show that your tax home is in a foreign country. And one of the ways to do this is by satisfying the requirements of the physical presence test.

The physical presence test focuses on the number of days you are outside of the United States rather than your intention to relocate permanently to a foreign country. The test requires that you remain outside of the U.S. for a total of 330 days during any consecutive 12-month period. Note that these 12 months can start on any day you choose and it’s not necessary for it to cover an entire tax year. However, unlike the bona fide residence test, Form 2555 requires you to account for each day you are in the U.S. Therefore, if you return to the states for a vacation or to visit a sick family member, you cannot count any of those days in the 330. In contrast, you can leave the foreign country where you spend a majority of your time to visit a country other than the U.S. and still satisfy the 330-day requirement with those days.

330-Day Requirement for Foreign Income Exclusion Physical Presence Test

The Internal Revenue Code requires that you be outside of the U.S. for the entire 24-hours in order to accumulate one day of physical presence in a foreign country. As a result, if you board a plane from New York to Milan at 1 a.m., you cannot count any part of that day to qualify for the foreign income exclusion since you spent an hour of it in the U.S. Oddly, the IRS does allow you to ignore any transfers or layovers in the U.S. if your point of departure and destination are both foreign countries. If you are unable to satisfy either test of the exclusion, you must pay income tax on your entire annual earnings, regardless of whether it’s foreign or domestic source income.

IRS Reference: Foreign Income Exclusion–Physical Presence Test