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What is Unearned Foreign Income for Expats

Earned and Unearned Foreign Income

Expatriate taxpayers who earn income abroad are eligible to claim the foreign earned income exclusion by filling out Form 2555 and filing it with their federal income tax return. However, as the name implies, only the income you “earn” outside the U.S. is eligible for the exclusion.

The IRS only treats the income you receive for providing services as earned income. This includes providing services to your foreign employer in exchange for a paycheck each week or earning income through your business or other self-employment activities. However, in the context of foreign employment, the IRS treats certain types of fringe benefits you receive as earned income since it’s so closely related to your employment activities. For example, if you work for a U.K corporation in London and you receive a housing allowance in addition to your salary, you can treat the allowance as part of your foreign earned income.

Excluding Unearned Income from Form 2555

Most other types of earnings are going to be treated as unearned, and regardless of whether they are from foreign or domestic sources, are not subject to the foreign earned income exclusion. This includes the investments you make while abroad in foreign financial institutions, the interest you earn in foreign bank accounts and even the rental income your foreign real estate generates. One thing to remember is that the United States has some of the most invasive and far-reaching income tax laws in the world. This is due to the fact that the Internal Revenue Code imposes tax on the worldwide income of every citizen wherever they reside and irrespective of whether they ever step foot on American soil again.

IRS Reference: Figuring the Foreign Income Exclusion