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Tax Deductions & Foreign Earned Income

Foreign Income Exclusion & Deductions

As a U.S. expatriate who works abroad, you still have to file a U.S. tax return every year. However, the IRS allows you to claim the same deductions that taxpayers who reside in the U.S. are eligible for. The only difference is that you cannot claim a tax deduction for any expense that relates to the foreign earned income you exclude from U.S. income tax on Form 2555 or Form 2555-EZ.

The IRS states that a deduction for your losses and expenses that relate to the foreign earned income you exclude on Form 2555 is not permissible. For example, suppose you incur $10,000 of job-related expenses during the tax year that you plan to include with your itemized deductions on Schedule A. However, since those expenses relate to your foreign employment, you must reduce the deduction if you claim the foreign earned income exclusion. If you earn $100,000 per year, this means that $7,100 of your foreign income is subject to U.S. income tax. To calculate the portion of your job-related expenses that is deductible; multiply your $10,000 expense by the percentage of your foreign income that is taxable, which is 7.1% (7,100 / 100,000). This allows you to itemize $710 of your job-related expenses.

Tax Deductions that Never Relate to Your Foreign Earned Income

There are a number of deductions that the IRS allows you to claim because they never relate to the foreign income you exclude on Form 2555. These include your personal and dependent exemptions, contributions to traditional IRA accounts, alimony payments you make to a former spouse, medical expenses, mortgage interest and real estate taxes on your personal residences and charitable contributions. However, regardless of whether you claim the foreign income exclusion, you cannot claim a deduction for the donations you make to foreign charities except for some Mexican and Canadian organizations.

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