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Form 2555 and the Bona Fide Residence Test

Form 2555 Bona Fide Residence Test

Expats who wish to take advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) on Form 2555 must always establish that their tax home is in a foreign country. One of the ways to accomplish this is by satisfying the bona fide residence test.

The IRS initially requires that you reside in a foreign country for the duration of a full tax year before you can consider yourself a bona fide resident. The focus of the analysis is on the vague definition of “residence” that the IRS provides. The place where you reside has more to do with your intentions than the passage of time. However, the facts and circumstances of your situation should be consistent with your intentions. For example, if you accept a job in London that is of indefinite duration and your intention is to remain there for an indefinite period of time, this presents a typical expatriate situation that lends itself to a reasonable conclusion that you are a resident of the U.K., provided you remain there for a full tax year.

It is important, however, that you can provide factual evidence to the IRS that supports your contention that you are a foreign resident. For example, renting or buying an apartment in London is more convincing of your foreign residence than remaining in a hotel for the duration of your employment. Moreover, relocating your family and enrolling your children in school is also indicative of your residency. Remember, attaching a Form 2555 or 2555EZ to your tax return is just the first step to claiming the FEIE. Ultimately, the IRS makes the decision as to whether you satisfy the bona fide residence test or not.

Foreign Residence vs. Domicile for Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

As an expatriate, it’s important to understand the distinction between your residence and domicile. Your domicile is generally the location you consider to be your permanent home, such as the place you intend to return to at some point in the future. In contrast, your residence doesn’t require the permanence of a domicile but is more permanent than a temporary work assignment. For example, suppose you grew up in New York and at age 33 you accept an employment offer in Italy. At the time you relocate, your intention may be to remain in Italy for a number of years and then to return to New York. In this case, your domicile is New York, but your residence is in Italy until you decide to return. This doesn’t preclude you from claiming the foreign earned income exclusion for the years you reside in Italy. In fact, the IRS makes it clear that your domicile is not a factor in evaluating whether you satisfy the bona fide residence test.

IRS Reference: Foreign Income Exclusion–Bona Fide Residence Test