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Standard Deduction and Personal Exemptions for Expatriates Living Abroad

Taxable Foreign Earned Income

Just because you live and work abroad and file Form 2555 with your 1040 to take advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion doesn’t mean you can’t reduce your taxable income with the standard deduction and exemptions. However, both deductions will only yield tax savings if your foreign earnings exceed the foreign exclusion or you have other sources of gross income.

Claiming the foreign earned income exclusion doesn’t allow you to exclude all of your foreign earnings. The federal government increases the exclusion amount each year, but there is always a maximum, which in the last few tax years has been a little more than $90,000, but you must still pay tax on your unearned income, such as passive investment income and rental income, and all other earnings that don’t relate to the provision of services. Also taxable are the foreign earnings that exceed the maximum foreign earned income exclusion you’re eligible for. However, this never includes the gifts and inheritances you receive. If you do owe tax, it’s always beneficial to evaluate your eligibility for the same deductions that taxpayers residing in the U.S. are eligible for, such as the standard deduction, personal exemptions and dependency exemptions. Claiming these benefits is essential, especially since expatriates are subject to higher rates of tax on their taxable income than other taxpayers.

Standard Deduction and Exemptions on Expatriate Tax Returns

The IRS provides a standard deduction for each of the filing statuses, and you must choose one regardless of where you reside, unless you choose to itemize. For example, if you are a single expatriate and qualify to exclude $92,900 of your $125,000 of foreign earnings, this still leaves you with $32,100 of taxable income. But you are entitled to a standard deduction and personal exemption, which reduces your taxable income even more. And if you have children residing with you abroad and you satisfy the qualifying child requirements, you can claim a dependency exemption for each of them, which further reduces your foreign taxable earnings. The point is that the IRS doesn’t require you to give up other tax benefits in exchange for claiming the foreign earned income exclusion.

IRS Reference: FAQ for U.S. Citizens and Aliens Living Abroad