Here’s how to report a foreign salary or international business income. If you earn money from working as an employee or independent contractor, you need to report it on your US tax return. Here’s how to report income paid by a foreign company.
I’ll briefly comment on income earned from abroad while living in the United States. Then I’ll focus on how to report a foreign salary or other income while living abroad and qualifying for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
If you’re living in the United States and are paid by a foreign company, you have self employment income. This must be reported on Schedule C and self employment tax will apply.
Being self employed means you can deduct any expenses you had, such as travel, equipment, etc. It also means you’ll pay self employment tax in addition to ordinary income tax on your net profits. SE tax is 15%.
Anyone who does not qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion should report income from abroad on Schedule C. Even if you did the work outside of the United States, if you were a US resident during the tax year, you have US source self employment income that goes on Schedule C.
For example, you’re a US citizen living in California throughout 2017. You travel to Taiwan for 2 months on a special project earning $30,000. All of the work on this project is performed while you are in Taiwan.
This income is taxable in the United States and self employment tax applies. If you paid any taxes in Taiwan, you can use the Foreign Tax Credit to eliminate double taxation.
Same facts as above, but you’re in Taiwan for all of 2017 and earn $100,000. You’re out of the US for 330 out of 365 days and therefore qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion using the physical presence test for 2017.
If you’re an employee of a Taiwanese company, your US taxes are relatively simple. You file Form 2555 with your personal return (Form 1040), claiming the FEIE and reporting your salary from a foreign employer. Because you earned less than $102,300, you will pay zero US tax on your income.
If you had earned $200,000, and paid tax in Taiwan, you would use the FEIE on your first $100,000 and the foreign tax credit on the second $100,000.
Salary is taxable at 18% in Taiwan and your US rate is probably about 30%. So, you’ll pay 18% on $200,000 to Taiwan and 12% to the United States (30% – 18%) on the second $100,000 which was over the FEIE amount.
If you’d been working in a country that didn’t tax your salary, you would have paid zero tax on your first $100,000 using the FEIE. For example, you could have lived tax free in Panama while working remotely for a Taiwanese company.
If you’re not an employee of a foreign corporation, then you have income from self employment. SE income will be reported on Schedule C which will link to Form 2555 and apply the FEIE.
For example, you’re an independent contractor working in Panama for a company in Taiwan. You earn $100,000, which is paid into your personal bank account. You will pay zero income tax because you qualify for the FEIE. However, you will pay 15% in self employment tax. SE tax is not reduced by the FEIE.
For more on self employment tax for those living and working abroad, see How self employment tax works when you’re offshore
You can eliminate self employment tax by forming an offshore corporation and having your employer (the Taiwanese corporation in this example) pay into that account. You then draw a salary reported on Form 2555 and not Schedule C.
Your offshore corporation will file Form 5471. In most cases, this will be attached to your 1040 behind Form 2555.
Keep in mind that Form 2555 can be used with any foreign corporation. It doesn’t matter if you’re an employee of an offshore corporation that you own or an employee of someone else. So long as your salary comes from a foreign company, and you qualify for the FEIE, you can avoid self employment tax and Schedule C.
An offshore corporation can also help to defer US tax on income over and above the FEIE. For example, you’re living in Panama, qualify for the FEIE, earn $200,000 from work, and are paid into your Panama corporation.
You can take out $100,000 and report that as your salary on Form 2555. You leave the balance in the corporation as retained earnings. You will only pay US tax on this money when you take it out of the foreign corporation, usually as a dividend.
I hope you’ve found this article on how to report a foreign salary or business income to be helpful. For help preparing your US returns, or to setup an offshore corporation in a tax free country, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (619) 483-1708.