Tag Archive for: International Tax

OECD tax exchange

European OECD Tax Exchange Agreements

As of November 2016, most offshore jurisdictions have signed on to the Automatic Exchange Agreements demanded by European governments and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). All but Panama has agreed to share information with European tax authorities.

On paper, the OECD defines itself as follows: “the mission of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.The OECD provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems.”

In practice, the OECD has simply followed behind the US IRS and our Foreign Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), demanding information on the offshore transactions of EU citizens. Both sets of laws require banks, either directly or through their local government agents, to report ownership, control, and banking activity. The focus of FATCA is account size and transactions while the OECD is tax data (gross sales, profits, taxes paid, employees and assets of each entity).

  • A history of the OECD’s information exchange program can be found by clicking here.

For a list of countries that have signed on to the agreement, click here. The list is a real eye opener. As I said, the only offshore jurisdiction that hasn’t signed on is Panama.

You’ll find that most offshore jurisdictions have agreed to begin sharing data by 2018. Some, such as Cayman and Seychelles will begin in 2017, while Cook Islands, Belize and Andorra will implement in 2018.

You’ll also find that the list of compliant countries includes all but one… the largest tax haven in the world for everyone but it’s citizens… the U.S. of A.. While Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, China, Canada, Singapore, Japan, etc., have all signed on, the United States is nowhere to be found.

The fact that the US has refused to join will create some interesting challenges for US banks operating in compliant countries. How our global banks will coordinate compliance in one country while hiding assets based in America, will open the door to all manner of disputes.

As we international entrepreneurs move into 2017, we do so with the knowledge that privacy in our financial transactions is a thing of the past.

But these new rules shouldn’t dissuade you from protecting your assets offshore. Whether you live in the United States or the European Union, the key to solid asset protection is building a structure that no civil creditor can knock down.

In most cases, offshore asset protection should be tax neutral. It should not increase or decrease taxes in your home country. An offshore asset protection structure should do exactly what it’s name implies… protect your assets.

The key to asset protection is putting up impenetrable defenses, not hiding what you have. Even if a creditor has a road map to your offshore structure, it should be impossible for them to breach the walls of your fortress and get to the gold therein.

In fact, hiding your assets, and not being tax compliant in your home country will put your savings at risk. If you’re caught cheating on your taxes, the penalties will be severe and the value of your trust will be destroyed.

Considering how much effort governments are putting into ferreting out tax cheats, hiding assets should be the last thing on the mind of anyone looking to protect assets. All this does is add risk and pits you against both your creditors and your government.

Hiding assets offshore possible back in the day. Those days are long gone for Americans and Europeans. Now, the industry is all about tax compliant planning.

If you’re reading this and have a non-compliant offshore structure, you should take action immediately. Europeans should shut down, get in compliance, and rebuild a properly reported offshore trust.

We U.S. citizens have significantly more risk than our European counterparts. The US government is aggressively pursuing non-compliant citizens, putting them in jail, and levying mind boggling fines.

If the IRS is not on to you yet, it’s not too late. You can join the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, get into compliance, pay what you owe (if anything), and then rebuild offshore.

If you are living or working abroad, you might be able to get into compliance and pay zero in taxes and penalties. If you’re living in the US and have an unreported account, the penalties will be high, but you can minimize risk and fines by coming forward now.

I hope this post on the OECD tax reporting initiative is helpful and puts offshore asset protection in perspective. For more information on legal and tax compliance asset protection techniques, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. 

IRA when you give up US citizenship

What Happens to Your IRA when you give up US Citizenship / Expatriate?

Thousands of Americans will turn in their blue passports in the next few months. Some because of our crazy political climate, some to stop paying taxes into a broken system, and some because of FATCA and the international banking laws which make it impossible to live or do business abroad. This post will consider what happens to your IRA when you give up your US citizenship or expatriate from the United States.

Whatever your reason for giving up your US citizenship, you need to carefully plan the expatriation process. It’s be fraught with risks, costs, and problems for high net worth individuals.

First, let me define who is a “high net worth expatriate.” The IRS only cares about losing high earners and payors. They could give a damn about the rest of us.

When I consider what happens to your IRA when you give up US citizenship, I am referring only to this group high net worth expatriates.

According to the IRS, a high net worth expatriate is someone whose:

  • Average annual net income tax for the 5 years ending before the date of expatriation or termination of residency is more than $151,000 for 2012, $155,000 for 2013, $157,000 for 2014, and $160,000 for 2015. As you can see, this amount goes up each year and is tied to inflation’
  • Net worth is $2 million or more on the date of your expatriation or termination of residency, or
  • Fails to certify on Form 8854 that you have complied with all U.S. federal tax obligations for the 5 years preceding the date of your expatriation or termination of residency.

If you meet any of these criteria, you’re high net worth person (high value taxpayer) for US expatriation purposes, otherwise referred to as a “covered person.”

So, the question more properly framed is, what happens to your IRA when you give up your US citizenship or expatriate and you are a covered person?

  • High net worth covered persons pay tax as if their IRA was fully distributed to them on the day they expatriate.
  • The early distribution penalty does not apply.

The only published information from the IRS is Notice 2009-85. The discussion of specified tax deferred accounts Section 6 of this notice.

“The mark-to-market regime does not apply to specified tax deferred accounts. Instead, section 877A(e)(1)(A) provides that if a covered expatriate holds any interest in a specified tax deferred account (defined below) on the day before the expatriation date, such covered expatriate is treated as having received a distribution of his or her entire interest in such account on the day before the expatriation date. Within 60 days of receipt of a properly completed Form W-8CE, the custodian of a specified tax deferred account must advise the covered expatriate of the amount of the covered expatriate’s entire interest in his or her account on the day before his or her expatriation date.”

Note that the covered person is treated “as having” received a distribution. This is not the same as having your IRA account cancelled or closed. In fact, you have the option of continuing your IRA after giving up your US citizenship.

If you were to close your account and take a distribution, you’d be liable for the early distribution penalty. If you close your IRA as part of giving up US citizenship before reaching 59 1/2, you will pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty in addition to income tax on the amount withdrawn.

If you decide to keep the IRA open after expatriating, you’ll pay US tax when you take distributions from the account, presumably at age 70 ½. This tax will be calculated only on appreciation in the account from the date of expatriation.

That is to say, a covered person will pay US tax on all the gains in her account on the day she gives up her US citizenship. Then she’ll will pay US tax on the gains earned in that account after expatriating when she take the required distributions.

The IRA remains intact. All you did is “prepay” your US taxes on the account.

For example, you have $100,000 in your IRA on January 1, 2017 when you give up your US citizenship. You pay tax on this $100,000 on January 1, 2017 . You decide to keep the account open after expatriation and begin taking distributions 5 years later, in 2022. As of January 2022, your account is valued at $130,000. You will pay tax on the gain of $30,000 as you take these distributions.

Considering you will remain linked to the US tax system after expatiating through your IRA, you would have to be facing a very large early distribution penalty for it to make sense to keep an IRA open.

If you’re a 45 year old doctor who rolled a two million dollar defined benefit or profit sharing plan into an IRA, then you might keep the account going. If you have $150,000 in your IRA, pay the 10% penalty and be done with it.

I hope you have found this article on what happens to your IRA when you give up US citizenship to be helpful. The bottom line is that 95% of us should close our accounts and be done with the IRA. Only those facing large early distribution penalties should consider keeping their account open.

For more information on how to give up your US citizenship, and how to expatriate from the United States, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com

Keep in mind that the first step in giving up your US citizenship is to get a second passport. Until you have a second passport in-hand, you can’t burn your blue passport. For ideas on where to buy a passport, see my article: 10 Best Second Passports.

Pre-Immigration Tax Planning

Pre-Immigration US Tax Planning for Future US Residents & Citizens

If you’re moving the the United States, get ready for our crazy tax system. Most importantly, if you will become a US resident, be prepared for US tax on your worldwide income. You need to do your pre-immigration US tax planning before you arrive to minimize these taxes.

Let me begin by defining what I mean by a US “resident.” Then I’ll review your pre-immigration tax planning options and what you need to do NOW before landing in the United States.

The United States taxes its citizens and it’s green card holders on their worldwide income. It doesn’t matter where you live or where your business is located. So long as you hold a blue passport or a green card, you will pay US tax any income you earn.

Likewise, the US taxes its residents on their worldwide income. A US resident is anyone who spends 183 days or more in the US in a calendar year. If you spend more than 183 days in one year, and then fewer days the next year, you might be a US resident for both years because a weighted average is used to determine residency.

  • I won’t bore you with the details of how to calculate the average. Suffice it to say, if you spend significant time in the United States, Uncle Sam wants his cut.

A US tax resident is ANYONE who spends 183 days a year in the country. Even if you are here on a tourist visa, or illegally, you are a tax resident and expected to pay US tax on your worldwide income. Your legal or immigration status is separate from your tax status.

US Pre-Immigration Tax Planning Techniques

If you plan to become a US resident, green card holder or citizen, you need pre-immigration tax planning before you move to the America. Some of these strategies require you to plan years in advance. So, if you are working towards residency in the United States, stop and think about taxes NOW.

Minimizing US Tax on the Sale of a Foreign Business

When you sell a foreign business after you become a US resident, you pay US tax on the gain from that sale. This means you’ll pay US tax on all of the appreciation and value that has accrued in your business over the years.

For example, let’s say you started a business in Hong Kong 10 years ago. You invested $100,000 and now the business is worth $1 million. You move to the US and sell this Hong Kong company the following month. The IRS expects you to pay US capital gains tax on $900,000.

Obviously, the simple way to avoid this tax is to sell your business before you move to the United States. I suggest you sell the business and then wait a month or two before traveling to the United States to make sure there are no issues.

But, what if you’re not ready to sell today? What if you want to move to the United States for a year or two and then sell? Serious planning and US filings are required to minimize your US tax obligations.

You can basically sell the business to yourself by making certain elections in the United States for your Hong Kong business. By converting the business from a corporation to a partnership or disregarded entity, you are selling it to yourself for US tax purposes. Do this before moving to the US, and you will have no US taxes due on the phantom sale.

Then, when you sell the company again in one or two years, you will only pay US tax on the appreciation in value from the day you sold it to yourself. This is called Stepping Up Basis. Here’s an example:

You plan to move to the United States on January 15, 2017. So, you file forms with the US IRS to treat your Hong Kong company as a partnership on December 15, 2016.  This triggers a sale of the assets to you, but no tax is due in the US because you are not a US resident for tax purposes. The value of the business on December 15, 2016 is $900,000.

Then, on December 15, 2018, you sell the business for $1 million dollars to a third party. Because of the pre-immigration tax planning you did along the way, you will only pay US tax on the $100,000 of appreciation that accrued from December 15, 2016 to December 15, 2018.

Another business income tax planning tool is to recognize as much income as possible before you move to the United States. You pay yourself as much in salary and bonuses as possible to deplete the value of the Hong Kong company before you move to the United States.

Note that salary from a foreign corporation will be taxed at about 35% Federal plus your State (maybe 12%). So, taking as much in salary before moving to the US can save you big time. Even if it requires borrowing money from banks or other sources, accelerating your income can be beneficial.

Offshore Trusts in Pre-Immigration Tax Planning

When you move to the United States, you need to worry about business tax, personal income tax (salary and capital gains) and death taxes. High net-worth residents pay a tax on the value of their worldwide assets when they pass away.

  • United States death tax applies to residents, green card holders and citizens with assets of more than $5.45 in 2016 and the tax rate is 35% to 40%.

You can minimize or eliminate the US estate tax by giving away your assets before you move to the United States. Most transfers after you become a resident will be subject to US gift tax, which is 40% plus your state.

This form of pre-immigration tax planning can also reduce your US personal and business income taxes. If you give your assets to family who will not be residents of the United States, America can’t tax those assets when sold or as business income is generated.

Most clients want to maintain control over their assets while they are alive. They don’t want to pay US income or estate taxes, but they do want to manage the assets or business for the benefit of their heirs.

This is where offshore trusts come in to pre-immigration tax planning.

When you setup an offshore trust to manage your assets, they’re removed from your US estate and the death tax doesn’t apply. Also, gains or income from these assets can be removed from your US income tax if you plan ahead.

If you set up and fund an offshore trust at least 5 years before becoming a US resident, the income generated in that trust will not be taxable to you in the United States.

Thus, if you are thinking about becoming a US resident, or moving to the United States is a possibility (even a remote possibility), you would do well to create an offshore trust and engage in some pre-immigration tax planning now.

If you can’t meet the 5 year threshold, there are several benefits to creating an offshore trust before moving to the United States. For example, an irrevocable offshore trust can reduce transfer tax, estate / death tax, and protect your assets from creditors. Considering that the United States is the most litigious nation on earth, asset protection is an important part of pre-immigration planning.

I hope that you have found this information on pre-immigration tax planning to be helpful. For more information, and to consult with a US attorney experienced in these matters, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

US E-2 Treaty Investor Visa Tax Strategy

Moving to the US on with the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa comes with a very big hidden cost. You are by definition a US tax resident and required to pay US tax on your worldwide income AND report your foreign assets to the US government each year. Here’s how to reduce or eliminate that tax cost for the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa.

First, a few words on the E-2 treaty investor visa. This US residency program allows you to live in the United States so long as you are operating a business that employs a few American citizens. If the business shuts down, you will be asked to leave.

The E-2 treaty investor visa requires two things: 1) you must be from a treaty country, and 2) you must make an investment in the US by starting a business here. For a list of treaty countries, see the US Department of State website. I think you will be surprised with who’s in and who’s out.

The E-2 treaty investor visa is not a path to a green card nor US citizenship. It’s a residency visa that allows you and your family to live in the US while you are working here and employing a few people. Most investors start a business with about $200,000 and hire around 5 employees including the owner (you, the E-2 treaty investor).

The E-2 treaty investor visa doesn’t have a minimum investment amount nor a minimum number of employees. In my experience, businesses that are well funded through break-even with $200,000, and which will add 4 jobs to the economy (5 including the owner) are likely to be approved.

A person in the US on an E-2 treaty investor visa is expected to be running the business on a day to day basis. This is not a program for passive investors. It’s for those who want to start a small business in the US and work in that business each and every day.

  • Passive investors should go with the EB-5 Investor Visa. Here’s a tax strategy article for that program: Coming to America Tax Free with the EB-5 Visa and Puerto Rico. The EB-5 visa gives you a green card and US citizenship within 5 years but requires 10 employees and an investment of $500,000 to $1 million.

The E-2 treaty investor visa is a “temporary” residency visa that needs to be renewed every few years. Basically your case officer will check to see that the business is operating and the you are employing the agreed number of persons.

Because of its temporary status, you should have a plan to return to your home country once the business has run its course. As a practical matter, these companies can operate for decades. So, as long as the business is profitable, or you can keep it going by adding more cash, you can reside in the US. But, during the application process, we need to show a plan to return home.

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa Tax Issues

Because you are operating the business from the United States to qualify for the E-2 visa, all income earned in that corporation is US source income taxed at about 35% Federal plus your State (0% to 12%). This is to be expected when operating from the US.

What’s often not expected is US tax on your worldwide income.

Here’s an example of the E-2 visa tax trap: Let’s say you bought a house in Colombia in 1995 for $100,000. You move to the US in January of 2016 on the E-2 treaty investor visa and sell the home for $1 million in March of 2016 (yes, Colombia has an E-2 visa treaty).

You pay 10% in capital gains tax to Colombia on the sale, which is that country’s standard tax rate. In addition, you report the entire sale on your US tax return for 2016. The US capital gains rate is about 23.5% and you get a tax credit for the 10% paid to Colombia using the Foreign Tax Credit.

As a result, you owe the US Federal government 13.5% x $900,000 gain or $121,500 on the sale of your home in Colombia. If you’re living in a high tax State like New York or California, you’ll pay an additional 10.5% in capital gains. A very expensive tactical error which could have been avoided by selling the home before becoming a US tax resident.

Note: Had the capital gains tax rate in Colombia been 24% rather than 10%, you would owe nothing to the US Federal government and only paid State tax on the gain. That is to say, if the taxes paid in your home country are higher than the US rate, the Foreign Tax Credit will step in and prevent double taxation. ‘

The same tax expense will apply as long as you are in the US on the E-2 treaty investor visa program. All capital gains, interest income, income from businesses operated outside of the US, and income from any source, will be taxed in the US less any foreign taxes paid.

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa Tax Strategy

Careful tax planning is required before the E-2 visa applicant moves to the United States. Once you’re a tax resident, many planning opportunities are closed. For a high net worth individual, the tax costs of moving to the US can far outweigh the costs of starting the business and complying with the requirements of the E-2 visa.

For example, our Colombian could have sold his home before moving to the US and saved a lot of money and reporting hastle. Other possibilities are that he could have gifted his home to a family member or his heirs, sold it to an offshore trust, or otherwise disposed of it before coming to America.

And the same goes for brokerage accounts and other passive investments. There are a variety of offshore trusts, life insurance structures, and tax strategies that will allow you to manage assets for the benefit of your heirs and avoid US capital gains on any sales.

Also, special consideration should be paid to the US death tax. In certain circumstances, an E-2 visa holder is a US resident for income tax purposes but not for estate tax purposes. If someone was to die in that situation, they would be taxed in the US on all of their US assets and allowed only a $60,000 exclusion. US citizens get a $5.2 million estate tax exclusion.

US trusts and other planning tools should be considered to ensure the E-2 visa holder gets the full $5.2 million exclusion. None of us like to talk about death, but it’s an important conversation to have prior to moving into the United States.

As for an active businesses, different rules apply depending on whether the company is controlled by the US resident or whether it’s a joint venture with a nonresident partner. “Control” means ownership or control of more than 50% of the business.

If you, the E-2 visa applicant, sell or transfer half of their foreign business (not the E-2 business) to a family member who will operate it while you are in the US, you may realize significant tax savings in the US. Note that I am referring to an active partner and not a nominee director.

There is one way to enter the US on an E-2 treaty investor visa and pay zero tax to the US government. If you setup your business in the US territory of Puerto Rico, you will pay only 4% in corporate tax on the profits earned from that endeavor.

Next, if you are a resident of Puerto Rico, and spend 183 days a year on the island, you will pay zero capital gains taxes and zero tax on dividends from your Puerto Rico company.

Combine these two tax strategies together and you get a 4% tax rate on business profits and zero tax on passive income, dividends and capital gains. Compared to the 45% rate some Americans in high tax states pay, this is an amazing offer.

And, as a US territory, an E-2 visa from Puerto Rico is identical to an E-2 visa from New York or California (except for the tax rate of course). You’ll have full access to the United States and the right to come and go as you please. Travel between Puerto Rico and the United States is a domestic flight and there’s no immigration checkpoint.

The tax holiday in Puerto Rico for businesses is Act 20. The holiday for personal income and capital gains is Act 22. For more on this, see: How to Maximize the Tax Benefits of Puerto Rico

Note that my articles on Act 20 and 22 are focused on US citizens moving their businesses to Puerto Rico. We can also combine Act 20, 22, and the E-2 treaty investor visa to get you residency in the US without the tax bill.

I hope you have found this article on US E-2 Treaty Investor Visa Tax Strategy helpful. Please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call (619) 483-1708 for more information. I will be happy to assist you to build a business in the US or Puerto Rico and qualify for residency.

taking your business offshore

Step by Step Guide to Taking Your Business Offshore

If you are going to take your business offshore in 2016, your offshore structure must have substance. No more shelf companies, no more nominee directors, no more trying to fake out the IRS. Taking your business offshore today demands a real office, employees, and work being done offshore.

Here is a step by step guide to taking your business offshore. I’ve assisted hundreds move their businesses abroad over the years and we’ll be happy to work with you to take your business offshore is a tax compliant and efficient manner.

Step 1: Develop a tax and business plan

We always say taxes shouldn’t drive the business… don’t let the tail wag the dog. But, most clients take their business offshore because they want to lower costs – both tax and overhead. If you didn’t want to cut costs and improve the bottom line, you would stay where you are in the United States.

When considering your overhead, focus on employees. Most countries will have lower wages than the US. The issue will be finding quality English speaking workers. How difficult that will be will depend on the level of work you require.

If you’re running a call center, then finding workers will be easy. If you are moving a software development business abroad, or require skilled engineers, finding the right people will be a challenge.

Then there are two types of tax plans. One for small businesses focused on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and a second for larger businesses that uses a transfer pricing model.

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion plan is relatively simple: live outside of the US for 330 out of 365 days, or become a resident of another country, and you get up to $101,300 in salary from your offshore business tax free. If a husband and wife both operate the business, then you get up to $200,000 free of Federal Income Taxes.

Taking a large business offshore is a complex matter. Companies with net profits of $1 million and up need a more robust tax plan. This is especially true if you will have offices in the US and offshore.

These companies go offshore using a transfer pricing model that assigns income to the foreign subsidiary based on the amount of value added by that division. Likewise, the US group is taxed on value they create.

Let’s say you’re selling a widget for $100 that costs you $10 to make. Of this $90 profit, half can be reasonably attributed to the work done offshore and half to the US team. Thus, $45 of the profit is “transferred” the the low tax jurisdiction and half remains in the US.

If you would like me to create a custom tax plan for your business, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call (619) 483-1708. I will be happy to work with you to build a comprehensive and compliant tax strategy.

Step 2: Select your country of operation

Now that you have a tax plan, select the best jurisdiction to implement that plan. Your country of choice should have a compatible tax scheme that doesn’t tax foreign sourced profits. When done right, you can operate tax free in many jurisdictions.

As I said above, your country of operation must have low cost and qualified labor, especially if you will use the transfer pricing model and not the FEIE model. If you will be the only employee in the FEIE, then this doesn’t matter – live wherever you like that won’t tax your profits.

Balanced against tax and overhead is the quality of life. We chose to build our business in Panama for the reasons described above. However, Panama City is horribly humid and congested. If big city life is not for you, then look elsewhere.

For example, Cayman Islands is a beautiful place to live. However, labor is very expensive, as is housing and everything else. Cayman is great for a one man online business but horrible for a call center looking to hire 50 workers.

Spend some time making a list of possible jurisdictions, noting the positives and negatives of each. Everyone’s priorities will be different, so this is on you. Also, keep in mind that I’m talking about minimizing tax in you country of operation and incorporation here in Step 2.

Step 3: Form a corporation in your country of operation

Now that you have prioritized and found where you will take your business offshore, it’s time to form a corporation. Do not use an LLC or other structure – you need a corporation so that you can retain earnings offshore.

This corporation will also handle your payroll, office rent, and local expenses.

Step 4: Form a corporation in a second tax free jurisdiction

You want to setup a second corporation in a second country. This entity will bill clients and may help minimize your taxes in your country of operation. Depending on your nation’s tax system, they may only tax profits you bring in the country. So, if your corporation breaks-even at the end of the year, you will pay no taxes there.

This second offshore corporation in a tax free jurisdiction is a key component to minimizing your worldwide taxes. It won’t make a difference for the US, but it should reduce or eliminate taxes in your country of operation.

Step 5: Move your intellectual property offshore and into a separate structure

If you have intellectual property, move that offshore as soon as possible. Doing this will provide asset protection and significant tax benefits, especially for non-US sales.

The catch is that IP built in the US must be sold to the offshore company at fair market value. This means you must value the IP and pay taxes in the US on the sale.

So, if you are in the beginning stages of taking your business offshore, setup an IP holding company and build the IP outside of the US. This eliminates the transfer tax issue.

For some of the considerations that go into transferring IP offshore, you might read this post about the IRS investigating Facebook’s Irish IP transfers.

Step 6: Setup banking and credit cards

You’ll need multiple bank accounts, including one in your country of operation for local expenses, one in your billing country, and possibly in the United States.

I also strongly recommend you get more than one e-commerce or merchant account. Once you move your business offshore, your life’s blood will be payment processing and the procedures offshore are very different than in the US. Spend time to build redundancies into these systems.

For a detailed post on offshore credit card processing, see How to Get an Offshore Merchant Account.

Step 7: In-house bookkeeping and accounting

When Americans take their businesses offshore, they often ignore bookkeeping and accounting. They figure they aren’t in the US any longer, so time to relax.

Unfortunately, the US IRS has every right to audit your offshore business. Likewise, when you file your foreign corporation return(s) on Form 5471, you must apply US accounting standards.

For this reason, I suggest that you have an in-house bookkeeper so that you stay on the straight and narrow. Maybe he or she is a full time employee, or maybe someone who comes in once a week to do the books. Either way, this is a key position to get right from day one.

Step 8: Find local professionals

When you take your business offshore, finding honest local professionals is key. Hook up with the wrong people and they’ll hit you with “gringo pricing” and take advantage of you at every turn. Get this right and you will have a supportive and efficient relationship for years to come.

I would have put this as step 2, but I wanted you to think through the above items first and then look for outside support. Take my advice and learn from my mistakes – don’t try to go it alone in an offshore jurisdiction.  

Step 9: Find US tax compliance

Now that your business is offshore, make sure you keep up with your US tax filing obligations. You’ll need to report your foreign corporations and international bank accounts to the IRS each and every year.

The most critical offshore tax form is the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, Form FinCEN 114, referred to as the FBAR. Anyone who has more than $10,000 offshore will need to file this form.

The penalty for failing to file the FBAR is $25,000 or the greatest of 50% of the balance in the account at the time of the violation or $100,000. Criminal penalties for willful failure to file an FBAR can also apply in certain situations.

In addition to filing the FBAR, you must report the account on your personal return, Form 1040, Schedule B.

Other international tax filing obligations include:

  • Form 5471 – Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations.
  • A foreign corporation or limited liability company should review the default classifications in Form 8832, Entity Classification Election and decide whether to make an election to be treated as a corporation, partnership, or disregarded entity.
  • Form 8858 – Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Foreign Disregarded Entities.
  • Form 3520 – Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts.
  • Form 3520-A – Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust.
  • Form 5472 – Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation.
  • Form 926 – Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation.
  • Form 8938 – Statement of Foreign Financial Assets was introduced in 2011 and must be filed by anyone with significant assets outside of the United States.

Failure to file these forms can open you to all kinds of penalties and risks, so do it right and don’t fall behind. The penalties for failure to file an offshore form are much higher than for failing to file a typical domestic form late.

Of course, I hope you will select Premier Offshore to handle your US compliance needs. But, no matter who you choose, be sure it’s done right.

I hope you’ve found this article on taking your business offshore to be helpful. Please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call (619) 483-1708 if you would like assistance in planning and implementing your international business strategy.

act 20 business in puerto rico

Good News from Congress for Act 20 Business in Puerto Rico

Good news out of Washington for Act 20 businesses in Puerto Rico. It appears that the US has decided to allow Puerto Rico to reorganize its debts in some manner… not formal bankruptcy, but a restructuring with court oversight.

The rules would be similar to Chapter 9 for municipal bankruptcies, with a few sections more favorable to creditors. The House was careful to avoid the term “bankruptcy,” and to avoid the stigma of a bailout. No cash is being sent to help Puerto Rico, only new rules.

The bill has two main provisions:

  • It creates a seven-member fiscal oversight board with members appointed by the president and congressional leaders that will have to approve Puerto Rico’s future fiscal plans.
  • It allows the island to legally pay less than 100 percent of what is owed on old debts.

This appears to be a one time deal. Had Puerto Rico been granted bankruptcy protection, they could have used it for future debt. Puerto Rico gets special consideration one time and then returns to its status as a Territory, along with the US Virgin Islands and Guam.

This is big because it means that Puerto Rico won’t lose its special tax status. It also means that the island won’t be torn asunder by its $70 billion debt, an amount approximately equal to 68% of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product. The island defaulted on $2 billion of these obligations May 1, 2016 and says it’s unable to pay upcoming installments.

The reason Congress must act is that Puerto Rico is barred from the US bankruptcy courts. Because it’s not a State, Puerto Rico can’t declare bankruptcy like so many US cities and municipalities have done. Without intervention from Washington, the only option would have been years of court battles and uncertainty.

For an example of what could have been, consider Argentina. They defaulted in 2001 and 2010 on their bond obligations. The case was fought in the US courts for over a decade, finally being resolved in 2015. For many of those years Argentina was unable to borrow from the world markets, which put its economy in turmoil.

We were beginning to see signs of this in Puerto Rico. On May 4, 2016, Puerto Rico bondholders sued the Development Bank to stop payments of salaries and other distributions. They sought to freeze all transactions on the Island until they got paid… essentially holding the Puerto Rico economy hostage until their demands were met.  Exactly what the vulture funds did to Argentina.

With decisive action from the US Congress, these issues will be resolved in an orderly manner. Bondholders will take a haircut – and probably a substantial one to the tune of 70% – but business will go on  and money will flow.

This offers stability to Act 20 companies who hold bank accounts on the island. When you have a disorderly, hostile, and litigious situation, you are concerned about the reliability of local banks. Will the government seize funds in those accounts as they did in Cyprus? You never know  and don’t want to put your money at risk by keeping substantial sums in Puerto Rico banks.

Fortunately for Americans operating in Puerto Rico, your Puerto Rico company can open a bank account anywhere in the United States. You can take your PR company documents to your local Wells Fargo or Bank of America and open an account in a few minutes – something that is not possible with an offshore corporation.

But, now that the banking risk has passed, I suggest clients hold their operating capital and retained earnings in Puerto Rico. This minimizes your contact with the United States and can be a positive factor in an audit.  I am now recommended Scotiabank in Puerto Rico as the best business bank available to Act 20 companies.

This is all good news for Act 20 companies. As is the fact that Act 20 and 22 were not mentioned in the House bill. There is no attempt to put an end to these tax holidays. In fact, the US Treasury suggested that Puerto Rico should be required to do more to increase investment in the region, a suggestion that the House failed to include.

EDITORS NOTE: On July 11, 2017, the government of Puerto Rico did away with the requirement to hire 5 employees to qualify for Act 20. You can now set up an Act 20 company with only 1 employee (you, the business owner). For more information, see: Puerto Rico Eliminates 5 Employee Requirement

Even better news is the minimum wage moratorium included in the House bill. While US tax laws don’t apply to Puerto Rico, Federal minimum wage does. This is why the minimum salary in Puerto Rico is currently $7.25.

While Federal minimum wage is, by definition, the lowest wage allowed in the nation, it appears to be going up under Mr. Obama.  Any increase of the Federal wage is sure to be far lower than the 13 states and cities, including California, New York and Washington, D.C., who have passed $15 per hour minimum wage laws to be phased in over the next few years.

The moratorium contained in the House bill exempts Puerto Rico from increases in the Federal minimum wage for the next 5 years. So, no matter what the US does with salaries, they will be locked in at $7.25 for the next 5 years in Puerto Rico.

  • Technically, the oversight board (not the government of Puerto Rico) has the ability to lower its wage below the Federal minimum wage. Don’t expect it to drop below $7.25 without riots in the streets.

The bill also exempts Puerto Rico from Obama’s overtime rules. Combine this with a fixed minimum way, and you, the Act 20 business owner, see some cost savings and permanence in the House bill.

Add to this the fact that Act 20 comes with a 20 year guarantee on its 4% tax rate, and you have a uniquely low cost and stable situation in Puerto Rico.

If you’ve read this far in the article and have no idea what Act 20 is, I think you for your perseverance. Allow me to briefly summarize the offer here.

Act 20 is a statute in Puerto Rico that allows you to operate a business on the island with a minimum of 5 employees and pay only 4% in tax on corporate profits on Puerto Rico sourced income.

That business should be providing a service from Puerto Rico to persons and/or companies outside of Puerto Rico. Good candidates are internet marketing, loan servicing, import of goods for sale in the US, sales, website design, and just about any other portable service business.

Net profits of the business can be held in the corporation tax deferred. If the owner of the company moves to the island and qualifies under Act 22, he or she may withdraw profits as tax free dividends.

If your net profits are $500,000 or more, and you need 5 employees, you will find that the tax deal offered in Puerto Rico is far superior to anything available offshore. If your profit is less than $500,000, then you might get a better deal in a zero tax offshore jurisdiction like Cayman. For an article on this topic see Puerto Rico Tax Deal vs Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

If you can’t use 5 employees in Puerto Rico, then stick with Panama, Cayman Islands and other jurisdictions. The purpose of Act 20 is to increase employment on the Island, so the minimum number is non-negotiable. For more information on Cayman, see Move Your Internet Business to Cayman Islands Tax Free.

I hope you have found this article helpful. For more information on moving your business to Puerto Rico, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call (619) 483-1708. I will be happy to structure your business and negotiate an Act 20 license with the government of Puerto Rico on your behalf.

Offshore Tax and Business App – Free Download


The Premier Offshore mobile app is now available in the Apple store!

And, for a limited time,  it’s a free download. I just ask you give me a good rating in the app store and let me know if you have any issues.

Access my library of international tax and business articles any time from any iPhone or iPad.

  • Need to know the tax consequences of an investment while you’re in the heat of negotiation?
  • Whether you qualify for the FEIE or if you can do a 1031 exchange?
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  • Catch up on the latest and greatest second passport offer?
  • Peruse my 130 page tax and business guide before bed? I’m told it’s more effective than Melatonin and Ambian!


Download my app and you’ll have all of this and more at your fingertips.

I’ll be releasing exclusive content, offshore tracking tools and calculators, and more free downloads on the App in the coming weeks. For example, the 2016 International Tax and Business Guide will only be available on my App.

Fyi… My 2015 International Tax and Business Guide is currently available for free on the App.

I hope this application will become an essential tool for every investor, business person, attorney, accountant and expat. If you’re living, working, or doing business abroad, it will become your personal international advisor on the go.

And, if you have not succumbed to the Apple marketing machine – don’t have an iPhone or iPad – don’t worry. My Android App is in beta in the Google Play Store and will be released in a few weeks.

You can download my apple app by clicking the link below or by searching for “offshore tax” in the Apple store.



Thank you for your feedback and support!

Best Regards,

Editor, PremierOffshore.com

Offshore Tax Planning Puerto Rico

Blood in the Streets Offshore Tax Planning

You’ve heard the adage of investing when there’s blood in the streets… to buy when all hell is breaking loose and the market is at bottom. Well, now is your opportunity for some offshore tax planning while there’s blood in the streets. An offshore tax planning opportunity that will cut your corporate rate to 4%!

  • Baron Rothschild, an eighteenth century British nobleman, is reputed to have said, “The time to buy is when there is blood in the streets.” Those words are so true today in Puerto Rico and their offshore tax planning deal.

If you have not been reading the papers lately, PR is broke and the Federal Govt doesn’t want to bail them out. Specifically, the GOP says no way to a Puerto Rico bailout.

So the Feds have allowed Puerto Rico to create a Tax Incentive Strategy to try and bail out PR by offering a 20 year deal where companies only pay 4% on their retained earnings.

Yes you read that correctly only 4% – that is lower than what many very large corporations are presently paying to Ireland 12.5%. It’s the best offshore tax planning deal available to US citizens.

If you’re a small to medium sized internet business, or one that can spin off a division like marketing, call center, or similar group, here’s your chance to pay only 4% on your profits. Here’s how to make an offshore tax planning deal with a desperate government to defer tax offshore like the Apples and Googles of the world.

In fact, you can negotiate a offshore tax planning deal far better than the big guys. Most of their tax contracts in Ireland and Luxembourg are at around 12.5%.

The US government is offering you an offshore tax planning contract that allows you to live in the United States and cut your corporate tax to 4%. No need to move abroad, uproot your family, etc. It’s akin to the offshore tax planning tool generally referred to as a corporate inversion. These inversions have become all the rage where the business operations are outside of the U.S. but the headquarters and business executives remain here.

Here’s how this unique offshore tax planning opportunity works:

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is broke. The island is essentially bankrupt – owing creditors over $70 billion with no chance of repayment and a US bailout seems unlikely. But, as territory, PR is prohibited from declaring bankruptcy. As of December 1, 2015, they are out of cash.

Puerto Rico’s laws are a mixture of US Federal statutes and local ordinances. And that is where your opportunity exist: Income earned in a Puerto Rican corporation or as a resident of Puerto Rico is exempt from U.S. taxation. See: 26 U.S. Code § 933 – Income from sources within Puerto Rico.  

In order increase employment, motivate investment, and benefit from it’s unique position in the US code, the island offers two tax deals:

1. Start a business in Puerto Rico with at least 5 employees, apply for an Act 20 tax contract, and receive a 20 year agreement with a corporate tax rate of 4%.


2. Move to Puerto Rico, be approved for an Act 22 contract, and pay $0 capital gains tax on assets purchased after you become a resident and sold during your time on the island.  

Act 22 requires you to live in Puerto Rico for at least 6 months of the year. Act 20 does not. In this article I’ll focus on the Act 20 offshore tax planning contract for business owners.

If you don’t require 5 employees, we can create a joint venture company that will share costs and benefit the group. For example, if 2 partners come together in a “captive” internet marketing firm, they could license one business under Act 20. Different classes of stock and separate bank accounts could protect each partner’s interests.

To qualify under Act 20, your business should be providing a service in Puerto Rico to corporations or individuals outside of Puerto Rico. Internet marketers, website developers, investment advisors, hedge funds, call centers, and any other type of “portable” business are good candidates.

  • No matter your industry, if you can spin-off a division into a Puerto Rico corporation, you can benefit from an Act 20 contract. For example, I recently assisted a manufacturing company setup a web marketing group on the island.

Next, you need to hire at least 3 full time employees in Puerto Rico. These workers must be earning the minimum wage (currently $7.25) or better, be W-2 employees and not independent contractors, come into the office each day, and work at least 40 hours per week (full time).

Then, you, as the owner and operator of the business, must draw a fair market salary from the Puerto Rican company. This salary is taxable in the U.S. because it’s earned from work you did while living in the States.

The remainder of the income you earn in Puerto Rico is taxed at 4%. In other words, net profits in excess of your salary are taxed at 4%. You may retain these profits in your Puerto Rican corporation indefinitely tax deferred… an absolutely amazing offshore tax planning deal!

This gets you to a similar place as the Microsofts of the world… low cost offshore tax deferral. In fact, you’ve out maneuvered these giants by securing a deal at 4% rather than the typical 12.5%.

Puerto Rican profits must be left in the corporation, or can be moved to an offshore subsidiary. They can be used to grow the business and generally managed as corporate capital. You may not borrow against them or otherwise personally benefit from these retained earnings. They belong to the corporation until taken out as a distribution or dividend.

Now, here’s where things get really interesting in the Puerto Rico offshore tax plan:

With a typical offshore tax plan, profits are locked in the corporation. When taken as a dividend or distribution, they come out at ordinary income rates. Lower qualified dividend rates do not apply to distributions from a foreign corporation.  

Puerto Rico provides a path to tax free dividends not available in other offshore tax plans. If you decide to move to Puerto Rico after a few years of operating the business, and qualify as a resident under Act 22, dividends from your Puerto Rican corporation will be tax free.

Of course, you’re not required to move to Puerto Rico to cut your corporate tax rate to 4%. You may leave the money in the company tax deferred, take it out years or decades later and pay the tax, or continue to use it to grow the business.You can hold the Act 22 card in your back pocket should you decide to play it.

We can assist you to implement the Puerto Rico offshore tax plan in two ways.

  1. We can setup your corporate entity, negotiate an Act 20 contract in Puerto Rico, and write a custom a game plan / opinion letter on how to operate your Puerto Rican business in compliance with PR and US tax laws.


  1.   Provide a turnkey solution in Puerto Rico with office space, employees, etc. to maximize the benefits of your offshore tax plan.

Our turnkey solution includes analysis, tax and business planning, tax opinion letter with “action plan,” Act 20 application and negotiation, Act 20 license, and opening a PR bank account. It also includes sourcing and negotiating an office lease, hiring 3 qualified employees, 12 months of employee management, and 12 months of tax and business consulting service.

  • We will locate and hire 5 employees to your specifications. You can interview them by Skype or in person. We will also replace these employees if they resign or are not pulling their weight, manage their time, and handle all office and employment matters.
  • Our turnkey solution is intended to cover all first year costs related to setting up shop in Puerto Rico except salary, payroll taxes, and office rent.

I hope you have found this article on the offshore tax planning benefits of Puerto Rico helpful. For more information, please send an email to info@premieroffshore.com or give me a call at (619) 483-1708. 

For more information, you might read my post comparing the Puerto Rico tax deal with the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

FBAR Due Date

Change to the FBAR Due Date

The FBAR due date has been changed from June 30 to April 15. If you file an extension for your personal return, you will have until Oct. 15 to submit your FBAR.

Finally the US government has done something which makes sense. This change to the FBAR due date will help new expats big time. Here’s why:

The FBAR was due on June 30 which made no sense. Oh so many newbie expats missed the filing deadline because they assumed the FBAR was due with their tax return. And because most expats file extensions, especially those looking to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion using the physical presence test, the June 30 deadline was missed.

Fyi… The FBAR is not filed with your Federal tax return. In fact, it is not filed with the IRS at all. The FBAR is sent to FINCEN or filed through the FINCEN portal online.

But now the FBAR due dates have changed from June 30 to April 15. This means the due date is linked to the due date of your personal income tax return. You still file the return with FINCEN, but it is due on the same date as your personal return

This change to the due date of the FBAR is applicable for taxpayers after December 2015.

With the change in dates of filing of FBAR there has been no change in the filing requirements. The standard rules are as follows:

  • The minimum amount of $10,000 is required to have in the FinCen 114 (FBAR) account and it should be filed.
  • Failure to timely file or failure to request for the extension to file the FBAR are subject to extreme penalties.

Estonian E-Residency Makes No Sense

The tiny country of Estonia is selling a new kind of residency… one it calls e-residency or e-citizenship. Here’s the bottom line on why e-residency in Estonia is a waste of time for Americans… and might get you into trouble with the IRS.

The Estonian e-residency program has been written up by the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, and recommended by Simon Black and International Man. Simon went so far as to suggests it will change the “nation state” as we know it.

What a bunch of BS… here’s the real story.

Let’s start with the pitch: Sign-up for e-residency, turn over your information and biometrics, pay small fee (about $62), appear at one of their embassies and you get a biometric ID card.

What can you do with your Estonian e-residency card? Not a lot.

That card “allows” you to form a company in Estonia online. WIth corporation in hand they  might, just might, allow you to open a bank account in the country. Note that you’ll need a legitimate business purpose and travel to the bank in Estonia to open the account.

The ID card doesn’t make the process of opening an offshore bank account easier or provide any additional privacy. The bank will want all of the usual supporting documents, such as your US passport and reference letters. No, you can’t use the card as your ID to open the bank account and they’ll report your account under FATCA just like any offshore bank.

Sure, e-residency in Estonia sounds hip and cool, but it offers zero value. In fact, it might get you into trouble.

Now, you might be wondering what I’m on about. So what if people want to spend $62 for an online ID card? Most of the headlines cited above are from 2014. Why am I harping on it now?

Because the Estonian e-residency program might cause all kinds of confusion and IRS trouble for Americans.

First, e-residency isn’t a path to citizenship, a second passport, or even traditional residency. It’s only an online identification card… which doesn’t include your photo, so it can’t even be used as an ID or travel document in the normal world.

And here’s my real concern with this program:

I new client came into my office last week looking to prepare his U.S. taxes. Let’s call him Bob.

Bob spent about 240 days out of the U.S. in 2014, operated an online business through an offshore corporation and netted about $100,000.

Bob thought he qualified for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion because 1) he was out of the US for most of the year and 2) he was an e-resident of Estonia.

Bob was wrong. In order to qualify as a resident of a foreign country under the FEIE you must be living in the country, have legal resident status, and generally “make that country your home.” You should be filing taxes there and it should be your base of operation… the place you return to after traveling.

Estonia’s e-residency program provides none of those things. Sure, you can call yourself a resident, but all you really have is a fancy online ID card.

Had he not been confused, Bob could’ve qualified for the FEIE without putting down roots or paying for a real residency permit. But he should have been out of the U.S. for 330 out of 365 days, not 240.

Had he not been confused by internet sites hyping Estonia’s e-residency program, and had he planned his offshore business structure properly, he could have saved big money in 2014 and again this year.

This confusion cost Bob about $36,000 in US taxes in 2014. He’ll probably pay through the nose again this year. He relied on the e-residency program, and his own research rather than a hiring a professional, and got burned.

Those of us who write about the offshore industry are always looking for the next big thing. What can we do to increase privacy and protect our assets? In the case of Estonian e-residency, I must call BS.

The bottom line is that Estonia e-residency offers little value to the American and is likely to do more harm than good.

You will find many articles on this site on how to legally minimize taxes and protect your assets abroad. If you’re new to this offshore thing, take a read through my Getting Started section.

Don’t be like Bob. Hire a firm experienced in U.S. tax planning to form your offshore structure and plan your offshore adventure.


FBAR Due Date

Your FBAR Due Date is June 30th… No Extensions!

Don’t get stomped by the IRS! If you have authority over a bank account outside of the United States, and you had $10,000 or more in that account or accounts for even one day in 2014, you must file an Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) by June 30, 2015.

Here’s everything you need to file your 2014 FBAR online and on time.

Fyi… the official name of the FBAR changed in 2013 from TD F 90-22.1 to FinCEN Report 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. We in the business simply call it the FBAR.

Even if your personal return is on extension until October 15, you must file your your FBAR by June 30. Extending your personal return does not affect your FBAR due date.

And its the combined value of all of your offshore accounts that counts toward the $10,000 threshold. So, if you had 3 offshore bank accounts at 3 different banks, each with $5,000, you had a total of $15,000 offshore and must file.

The information you will need to gather to prepare this form is:

  • Name of your bank
  • Address of your bank
  • Your account number
  • Highest balance in the account during the year

Any U.S. citizen, green card holder, or resident with an offshore account must file the Foreign Bank Account Report. There are a few exceptions, but if you have an offshore company, trust, foundation, LLC, or a foreign personal account, you need to file.

If you are uncertain, file! There is no cost to filing and the penalties for getting it wrong are extreme.

Exceptions to the FBAR filing requirement are:

  • United States persons included in a consolidated FBAR
  • Correspondent/Nostro accounts
  • Foreign financial accounts owned by a governmental entity
  • Foreign financial accounts owned by an international financial institution
  • Owners and beneficiaries of U.S. IRAs
  • Participants in and beneficiaries of tax-qualified retirement plans
  • Certain individuals with signature authority over, but no financial interest in, a foreign financial account
    • Commentary: This exception is intended for traditional investment managers… those managing other people’s money. Don’t rely on this section if you have an offshore company and manage your own investments.
  • Trust beneficiaries (but only if a U.S. person reports the account on an FBAR filed on behalf of the trust)
  • Foreign financial accounts maintained on a United States military banking facility.

Review the FBAR instructions and the IRS website for more information on the reporting requirement and on the exceptions to the reporting requirement.

You should file your FBAR online through the BSA e-filing system. For more information on e-filing see my post New FBAR Filing Requirements for 2014.


Offshore Banks Begin Reporting Under FATCA

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is now live and pulling in data about Americans around the globe. The FATCA international data exchange gateway opened on March 2nd and data began flowing on March 14, 2015.

The FATCA gateway connects nearly all international banks in to the IRS network. Banks will report all accounts owned and/or controlled by US persons… even large companies with one or two US shareholders are being caught up in the net.

FATCA turns offshore bankers in to unpaid IRS agents. They must now investigate all new and old accounts and, should they find an American in the mix, report all transactions to Uncle Sam. If they are uncertain, they will either report or kick you out of the bank. Fines for crossing the IRS are severe, so you can be sure you will be on the losing end of any disagreement.

Of course, this has been tough on those with American parents who’ve been living abroad for decades. These Americans by birth are being kicked out of banks, brokerages and businesses because of their heritage. For example, check out my recent post on the Mayor of London who recently got into a war of words with the IRS… he was born in the US but hasn’t been here since a he was a child.

And the same goes for Americans with bank accounts or investments abroad. We’ve had our options reduced by nearly 80%. And, when we do find a bank that will take us on, we’re hit with all kinds of fees and conditions.

How Does FATCA Affect Me?

If you’re new to the offshore game – planting your first flags abroad this year – then FATCA won’t directly affect you. It might have limited your banking options and cost you money but it does not require you to do anything…. it places no affirmative duty on you which was not there before the law was enacted.

So long as your tax person files the right forms and keeps you in compliance, FATCA is a non-issue. You were always required to report and FATCA is now there to ensure you tow the line.  FATCA requires banks to report their US account holders and transactions. It does not require you to file any new or additional forms for 2015.

Think of it as a 1099 from your brokerage account. So long as what you report on your tax return matches up with what’s reported to the IRS, you have no problems.

Here’s to hoping your offshore bank understand FATCA and reports your transactions properly. If they make a major error, (calculate interest incorrectly or add a zero or two to the value of your account) you can expect a knock on your door from the IRS.

Who Should Be Afraid of FATCA?

If you have an unreported offshore account, then you should be very afraid of FATCA. Expect your bank to begin sending information to the IRS about you any day now and get ready for the fall out.

You will need a solid plan on how to report these accounts and should contact a tax attorney or other professional experienced in international tax matters as soon as possible.

And no, the solution is not to begin filing this year and hope no one looks at prior years. Expect IRS computers to identify those with previously unreported accounts… maybe by analyzing interest payments… maybe by auditing those who didn’t file last year but who had accounts as of January of this year… or maybe there’s a prior year check built in to the system we don’t know about.

Bottom line is that you can no longer bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. If you have unreported offshore accounts, the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program might be your ticket out of trouble. If not, now is the time to get right with our government… before the flood of reports through FATCA can be analyzed and the audits begin.

If you have any questions on the OVDI, or would like a referral to a tax attorney or enrolled agent, please contact us at info@premieroffshore.com. Inquires are confidential and I will direct you to a licensed professional who will understand your situation.

Panama Tax

Panama Tax Review

If you’re an American living, working, or investing in Panama, the Panama tax system is your friend. The Panama tax code may allow you to live tax free in Panama and, possibly, in the United States. This Panama Tax Review will explain how to reduce your worldwide tax bill.

Before getting in to specifics, it’s important to note that Panama, like all civilized nations (not the U.S.), taxes you on your local income. Only America taxes its citizens on their worldwide income.

So, if you move to Panama and open a restaurant, you pay income tax on your profits. You will also be subject to payroll and social security taxes. This is the same result you get in the United States.

However, if you move to Panama, and structure your business properly, you won’t pay Panama tax on foreign incomes. If your business is selling a product to clients in the United States, all income earned in Panama is foreign source (from the U.S.) and not taxable in Panama. If you are selling to individuals in Panama and the United States, only those sales to Panamanians are taxable.

This is the opposite result you get with a U.S.-based business. When you operate from America, and sell to people outside of the country, 100% of the income earned by your company is taxable here. Even if you move abroad Uncle wants his cut. Though, this article will help you minimize that tax bill.

This article is focused on the Panama tax rules for those living, working, or investing in Panama. If you retire to Panama, but don’t buy real estate there, then you should have no Panama tax issues.

Introduction to Panama Tax

Panama taxes its citizens and residents on income earned within its borders. You, the American citizen, become a Panama tax resident if you live in Panama for more than 183 days within a calendar year. If you don’t operate a business in Panama, or purchase real estate there, it’s unlikely their tax laws will affect you.

Panama has no wealth, inheritance or gift taxes. Therefore, it’s an excellent jurisdiction in which to form an international trust (called a Panama Foundation, but it functions under U.S. laws as a foreign or grantor trust). Such a structure will allow you to protect your savings and minimize U.S. estate taxes by facilitating transfers to heirs and moving assets out of your taxable U.S. estate.

Also, interest from bank accounts, Certification of Deposits, and most forms of investments are tax free. If you buy and then sell stock on the Panama exchange, no tax will be charged. No tax is due when you sell stock on a foreign exchange either, but the point here is that buying and selling stock within Panama, even on their exchange, does not bring you in to their tax system.

At this point, you might be wondering how Panama earns money. Well, residents pay tax on local income, corporations pay tax on gains derived from business transactions within Panama, and just about everything sold in Panama is subject to a 7% Value Added Tax (VAT). And, of course, they make buckets of money from the Panama Canal.

Taxation of Real Estate Transactions in Panama

Real estate transactions within Panama are taxed as capital gains. There is only one rate for such gains, 10%. No differentiation is made between long term and short term capital gains.

This Panama tax rate of 10% on the net profit from the sale is the general rule for real estate. You can also elect a 3% rate on the gross sale price. Here’s how it works.

Just like in the United States, you pay capital gains in Panama on net profit earned when you sell real estate. If you buy a condo for $250,000, put $25,000 of improvements in to it, and sell it for $300,000, your gain is $25,000 and your tax due is about $2,500 … simple enough.

* You will also pay a 2% transfer tax at the time of sale. This is based on the sale price or the assessed value, whichever is higher. Your transfer tax is increased by 5% for each full calendar year you hold the property.

The government ensures compliance with its tax laws by requiring the buyer to withhold 3% of the purchase price and pay that over to the tax authorities. You, the seller, file a return to claim a refund the next year. In the example above, the buyer would withhold 3% of $300,000, or $4,000, and you will file a refund for $9,000 – $2,500 = $6,600.

If this 3% on the gross sale price is lower than the 10% capital gains tax on the net profit, you may elect to not file a return. You have the choice of paying the 3% or 10% rate on the sale of real estate.

So, in the example above, if you bought the property many years ago for $20,000, didn’t make any improvements, and sold it for $300, 00, you would choose to pay the 3% tax of $9,000. The 10% tax on the net gain would result in a bill of $28,000.

VAT in Real Estate: I will conclude this section on Panama tax by noting that VAT applies to short term rental income. If you rent out your condo for a term of six months or less, you will pay 7% VAT, VAT doesn’t apply to rental contracts longer than six months.

Personal Income Tax in Panama

If you operate a business in Panama, work for a local company, have employees in the country, or draw a salary, you need to understand their personal income tax rules.

Panama’s tax code is much more efficient than that of the United States. They have only three tax brackets:

  • If you earn $0 to $11,000, you pay zero tax.
  • If you earn $11,000 to $50,000, you pay 15% on the amount owner $11,000 (that is to say, the first $11,000 is tax free).
  • If you earn over $50,000, you pay $5,850 on the first $50,000 plus 25% on the amount over $50,000. So, your Panama tax rate on a salary of $150,000 would be $5,850 + $25,000 = $30,850 less any deductions.

Each person is allowed a standard deduction of $800. Other allowed reductions include mortgage interest, charitable and political contributions, and unreimbursed medical expenses.

You’re not required to file a return if your only income is from salary (you have no capital gains, etc.) and you don’t wish to take any deductions other than the standard at $800. In that case, the employer withholds the required amount from each paycheck and no return need be filed.

If you wish to file a personal income tax return in Panama, it is due March 15. You may request an extension until May 15.

Employment Taxes in Panama

If you have employees in Panama, be ready to pay significant employment taxes. Social Security and employment taxes are a primary revenue sources for Panama and a reason they are willing to offer corporate tax deals … to increase employment and employment taxes.

* Employment taxes in Panama are about 30% higher than United States. However, the cost of labor is less than 25% of major cities in America, so the employment tax expense is relatively minimal.

As the employer, you pay employment tax of 12% on wages. Also, you must withhold 9% from the employee. Therefore, total employment tax in Panama is 21%. This compares to 15% (self-employed) to 17% (with Obamacare) in the United States.

Also, you are obligated to pay a one month bonus to each employee each year. So, when you calculate costs per employee, you will take the base salary times 13 (not 12 months) and add 21% for employment taxes.

For example, if your employee earns $1,200 per month, they’ll cost you $1,200 x 13 months = $15,600 in salary and $1,872 in employment taxes.

Corporate Tax in Panama

The Panama tax rate on corporations is 25% compared to 35% in the United States. Panama taxes only local source income. There is no Panama tax on income from outside the territory, even if that money is deposited in to a Panama corporation and account.

Most of my readers will avoid corporate tax in Panama all together. It should only apply if you are selling goods or services to Panamanians. If all of your sales are done through the internet to persons in the U.S. and Europe, you may have no Panama source income.

Also like the United States, corporate income tax usually applies to money you leave in the company … retained earnings held by the Panama Corporation. If you do have Panama source income, you may be able to eliminate corporate level tax by withdrawing your net profits as salary. You will pay personal income taxes but avoid double taxation.

However, if you operate a “large” business within Panama, and your Panama source gross income is $1.5 million or more, you may be subject to alternate minimum corporate tax.

First, I note that corporations are taxed on their net business income. You may deduct salaries, as well as all “ordinary and necessary” business expenses … just as you do in the United States.

However, if you gross more than $1.5 million in Panama source sales, you will be required to pay minimum corporate income tax of 4.5% on those gross sales.

* Another way to express Alt Min tax in Panama is that your large business pays tax on local sales minus 95.5%. If your local sales are less than $1.5 million, you are exempt from Alt Min tax in Panama.

Let’s say your Panama Corporation earns $2 million in local income. It’s your first or second year of operation and your deductible expenses are more than $2 million … so you have a tax loss for the year. Panama Alt Min tax comes in and requires you to pay 4.5% on $2 million, or about $90,000 in corporate taxes.

That means you’ll pay at least 4.5% on local sales in a large business. If 25% on net profits results in more tax being due than 4.5% on gross sales, then you pay Panama tax at the 25% rate.

In order to deter untaxed transfers between Panama corporations and any other tax shenanigans to minimize tax on local source income, Panama taxes/dividends, loans and advances. A 10% withholding tax applies to dividends between corporations on income derived from local sources. Also, a 10% tax is levied on loans or advances to corporate shareholders. If these transfers are done in a structure involving bearer shares, a 20% withholding tax (rather than 10%) applies.

If you can prove that the income being transferred is foreign source (earned in transactions outside of Panama), these taxes do not apply. In that case, there is no withholding on dividends, loans or advances.

* These corporate tax laws apply to companies operating within Panama City. Special rules apply to businesses within the Colon Free Zone, City of Knowledge, Panama Pacifico (my favorite tax free region), or any of the other free zones within the country.

* Special rates may apply to corporations with local gross sales of less than $200,000. These “small” businesses pay a lower blended personal/corporate rate.

Taxation of Americans in Panama

There is no Panama tax on bank interest, CDs, U.S. retirement distributions, or income derived from sources outside of Panama. Therefore, most of you won’t be subject to Panama tax unless you invest in local real estate.

Unfortunately, Uncle Sam wants his cut no matter where you live and/or invest. Though, you do have tools at your disposal to reduce your U.S. tax bill.

First, you can make investments in Panama through your U.S. retirement account. By forming an offshore IRA LLC, you can defer U.S. tax in a traditional IRA or eliminate it all together in a ROTH IRA.

Next, if you live in Panama, and will qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), you can draw a salary from your active business of about $100,000 per year ($200,000 husband and wife), retain the balance in your Panama Corporation, and pay no U.S. tax. You will find a number of articles here on the FEIE and operating through an offshore corporation to reduce or eliminate U.S. tax.

If you are living in Panama, you might bill your customers through an offshore company formed in another jurisdiction. When your sales are to persons in America and you are living in Panama, bill through a corporation in Belize. Then, draw a salary of up to the FEIE from that Belize Corporation to eliminate Panama employment taxes.

* This only works for you, the U.S. person living in Panama. Don’t try it with Panamanians or you might find yourself in trouble with the local authorities.

I hope you’ve found this Panama Tax Review helpful. If you have any questions, or would like assistance moving you or your business to Panama, please give us a call or send me an email to info@premieroffshore.com.

foreign earned income exclusion 2015

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion 2015

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion 2015 has finally hit six figures. The FEIE for 2015 is $100,800, up from $99,200 for 2014. The FEIE is the best way to minimize your US taxes as an Expat and the most important tool in your tax kit.

This means that each American living and working abroad, who qualifies for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion in 2015, can earn up to $100,800 in salary without paying personal income tax. If that salary comes from a US employer, then you still pay social and employment taxes (7% deducted from your check and 7% paid by your employer). If you are self employed and don’t have a corporation, then you pay self employment tax at 15%.

Basically, if you have a US structure, or are self employed without a foreign corporation, you pay 15% tax + Obamacare and other charges on your 2015 salary. The FEIE only cuts out your personal income taxes.

If you work for a foreign employer, or you operate your business through an offshore corporation, then you can avoid this 15%+ tax. It is possible to use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion 2015 with an offshore corporation and pay zero to Uncle Sam on income of $100,800. If a husband and wife both operate the business and qualify for the FEIE, you can take out $201,600 in salaries tax free!

Next, if your profit exceeds $100,000 or $200,000, you can retain earnings in the offshore company and defer US taxes on that income. This tax deferal is a major benefit of living and working abroad for high net worth business owners.

Let’s say your net profit is $300,000 in 2015. You and your wife take out $200,000 in salary using the FEIE. This leaves $100,000 in untaxed profits. If you hold this money in the offshore corporation, you can defer US tax until you take a distribution. If you draw it out as salary, commissions, dividends, or in any other form in 2015, you will pay US taxes at about 32% (Federal).

For a 100+ page book on expat tax issues and how to maximize the FEIE 2015, please join my mailing list.

My posts on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for entrepreneurs include:

Finally, if you’re a glutton for punishment, I recorded a 3 hour dissertation on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for the Overseas Radio Network. See my ORN page.

I hope this post has been helpful. Please send an email to info@premieroffshore.com if you have questions about forming an offshore corporation or maximizing the FEIE as an entrepreneur.

Foreign Assets

Foreign Assets and FBAR Reporting

Ever increasing U.S. reporting obligations on Americans living, working, and/or investing abroad, make it difficult to keep up.  This is a review of your foreign assets and FBAR reporting requirements.  Foreign assets are reported on IRS Form 8938 and the FBAR is sent to the Treasury on FinCEN Form 114 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).

These two forms are quite similar, and many are confused about when and why to file each.  I note that you must file if you meet the reporting threshold.  Basically, the IRS wants you to send in the same information twice… so they know exactly where your assets are and how they are invested.

Who Must File Foreign Assets and FBAR

The Statement of Specified Foreign Assets must be filed by U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and some non-residents if your reportable foreign assets are at least $50,000 on the last day of the year, or $75,000 at any time during the tax year.  Note that higher levels apply to married couples.

The FBAR is required from any U.S. person, including citizens, resident aliens, trusts, estates and U.S. structures that have foreign bank account(s) with at least $10,000 at any time during the year.  So, if you have a foreign account with $11,000 for just one day, and the rest of the year your balance is $5,000, you still must report.  Also, if you have 11 accounts, each with $1,000, you have $11,000 offshore and thus must report all of these accounts on your FBAR.

Foreign assets you own are reportable on Form 8938.  This is to say, if you would need to report income or gains from these assets on your U.S. return, you must report their existence on Form 8938.

As for the FBAR, an interest in a financial account means you have signature authority over the account or you are the beneficial owner of the account.  If you have a right to tell the bank what to do with the funds, how to invest the cash, or instruct them to send a wire, you are the signor and need to report.

You’re the beneficial owner if you’re the owner of record or holder of legal title.  For example, if you have $100,000 deposited in to an account, and then assign a nominee account manager, you are the beneficial owner of the account because the funds belong to you.  The signor and nominee in this case is acting on your behalf.

What is Reported as Foreign Assets and on the FBAR

When you are reporting foreign assets or the FBAR, you must report the maximum value.  For the FBAR, you report the highest value in the account during the year.  If you are holding funds in a currency other than USD, you should use an average FX rate, or convert on the day the account balance is at its high water mark.

This means that the amounts reported on your FBAR might be artificially inflated by transfers, one time deposits, etc.  For example, you have $100,000 in account A, and transfer that to account B, and then to account C, all within the same year.  Your FBAR will show three accounts, each with $100,000.  The government won’t know whether you have $300,000 or $100,000 offshore but it allows them to maximize failure to report penalties.

On the Foreign Asset report, you’re to list the maximum value of each foreign asset, which includes bank and brokerage accounts, and certain other assets.  You should report the fair market value in USD for each account and asset reported.

* Foreign Account: Is any bank or brokerage account at a financial institution outside of the United States (see below).  For the FBAR, if the bank has a branch in the U.S., but your account is held at a foreign branch, it must be reported.  If you have an account at Citibank, Panama, you have a foreign account and need to file the FBAR.

The foreign asset report is due with your U.S. tax return, including extensions.  So, Form 8938 is usually due on April 15 or October 15.  The FBAR is due by June 30 and no extensions are available.  If you file your return on April 15, you should submit your FBAR at that time.  If you get an extension for our 1040, your FBAR is still due by June 30.

The FBAR should be filed online through the FinCens BSA E-Filing System.  Please see my article on how to file this form electronically.

Foreign Reporting Penalties

The penalties for failing to file the foreign assets and FBAR forms are severe… and can include criminal charges.  There are many Americans sitting in jail for not telling their Uncle where their assets are.  Some also

IRS Levy

UK to follow IRS Levy Rules

The U.K. tax authority to allow IRS Levy type actions. If you owe the HMRC, they now have the authority to seize your bank account and raid your assets, just like an IRS levy.

Now, it’s no surprise that the U.K. is following in the footsteps of the mighty IRS levy. It’s just interesting that it took them this long to do so.

I also find it interesting how strong the reaction against what we Americans think of as “normal” has been in England. For example, the primary body of accountants said that the HMRC had a record of making mistakes and should not be allowed to levy without court approval.

In its statement, the HMRC said that these regulations bring it in line with other tax authorities which already have the power to take money debts directly from an individual’s account, just like France and the U.S. Of course, advocacy groups respond saying the U.S. should not be regarded as a role model of what is right and just … just the opposite in fact.

Once interesting caveat of these new “draconian” laws that match the IRS levy system, is that the UK will leave 5,000 pounds in the person’s account so they can afford to pay for basic necessities. If the account holds 15,000, and the debt is 20,000, the U.K. gets to take 10,000.

The IRS levy system has no such requirement. So long as the U.S. IRS can find your account, they can empty it up to the amount of the alleged debt, including interest and penalties.

According to the U.K. Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, these new laws will allow the tax authority to run roughshod over low income persons who prioritize necessary payments over taxes.

“To allow the HMRC to raid their bank accounts without safeguards or recourse to the courts would be to flout the rule of law in a manner unworthy of a public service body. It is not the same as seizing physical goods, it is depriving the debtor of the very means to live. Given the way the HMRC continually fails to deal with taxpayers properly or fairly is hugely worrying. To introduce such draconian measures without proper safeguards could well lead to an abuse of power.”

This is exactly what we Americans have been dealing with for decades … a government agency who offers horrendous customer service, fails to deal with individuals fairly, and can levy your personal and business bank accounts at will … often as the first line of attack and then they negotiate a payment plan. The IRS shoots first and asks questions later.

If the U.K. wants to see what happens when you give one government agency unlimited power to attack its citizenry, just look over the pond at the IRS levy system.

Foreign Pension

The Foreign Pension Tax Trap

If you’re working abroad for a foreign company, watch out for the foreign pension tax trap.  If you get caught, you might be paying double tax on your retirement income… once when earned by the U.S. and once at distribution in your country of residence.

First, let me say that this is not meant as a definitive guide on foreign pensions.  A proper analysis would review every tax treaty out there and thus be longer than War and Peace.  My intent is to identify the issues faced by U.S. expats with a foreign pension so that you may go to your local tax person, or Human Resources department, to discuss how to avoid the foreign pension trap.

Second, these issues do not concern expat entrepreneurs or business owners.  Presumably, you would utilize a U.S. qualified pension plan or defined benefit plan for yourself and avoid these problems.

Of course, if you are operating a small business, and your income is less than the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion ($99,200 in 2014), you don’t need to be concerned with a pension, be it foreign or domestic.

Now that I’ve buried the lead in the 5th paragraph, let’s talk about the foreign pension tax trap.  If you work for a foreign company, and have the option of taking a foreign pension, you need to understand the general rules (described here), the foreign tax credits available, timing issues, and specific tax treaty provisions between your country of employment and the United States, before agreeing to put cash in to a retirement program.

The reason a foreign pension can become a tax trap for the American expat is:

1) some foreign pensions are not compatible with the U.S. tax codes, 2) no treaty applies, and 3) your income is taxed in the U.S. as earned and taxed at distribution in your country of residence, which means the foreign tax credit may not be available.

So, while the foreign pension may appear to give you better tax treatment in your country of employment, if may result in double taxation.  Here’s why:

The general rule is that a foreign pension is not a qualified retirement plan (QRP) for U.S. tax purposes.  Therefore, contributions are not deductible on your U.S. tax return.

Because you are taxed on your worldwide income as earned, and because the income which flows in to the nonqualified plan is not deductible, it is included in your U.S. adjusted gross income and taxable here.

So, if you are earning $50,000 in salary and 15,000 in retirement benefits in France, the income reported on your U.S. tax return is $65,000.  You might have foreign tax credits to offset the $50,000, but no credits to cover the $15,000.

Then, when you withdraw that $15,000 from your account in France, you pay tax on it there.  Well, more than three years has likely passed and you are no longer able to amend your U.S. personal income tax returns to claim this credit.  So, you were taxed once in the U.S. when earned and then again in France when distributed.

That is to say, these general rules require a U.S. expat in a foreign pension plan to include in income the amount of the contributions made by him or her, as well as any contributions made by the employer to the extent vested.  Because you will probably need to pay tax in the foreign country when you take a distribution from the plan, it is possible that the contribution will be double taxed… but at different times.  This timing issue creates a mismatch of income and the availability of the foreign tax credit in the United States.

Relief may be available to some U.S. expats, but not all.  Several U.S. tax treaties cover foreign pension plans and, at least, eliminate double taxation.  You should discuss the availability of a tax treaty with your pension coordinator before signing up and getting caught in the foreign pension tax trap.

And, even if these treaty provisions exist, they will be limited to U.S. IRA amounts.  That is to say, they are limited to U.S. QRP levels of contribution from you and your employer, AGI limitations, and will have distribution requirements.  If your foreign pension is more generous, or has terms that are significantly different than a U.S. IRA, you are in for a very complex tax situation.

If you’re really lucky, you’re working in a country with an advanced pension treaty.  These exclude contributions to a foreign pension plan from your U.S. income, just as if the plan were in the United States.  Though, such treaties are typically with countries that offer retirement plans on terms similar to those found in the U.S., and whose tax rate is higher or about the same as in America.

At the time of this post, the countries with advanced pension provisions in their tax treaties are the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Another area of concern with a foreign pension is whether a withholding tax will be levied on you by your country of employment.  As an expat worker in a foreign land, it is likely the government will want to ensure your compliance by withholding any taxes payable… especially if you have returned to the U.S. after retiring or completing your work contract.

In many cases, the default rate of withholding is 30%.  If a tax treaty applies, this might be reduced to 15% (such as in the U.S. – Canada treaty).  There are even some treaties that eliminate the withholding tax all together, so be sure to discuss this issue with your representative.

The last consideration facing expats with foreign pensions are your U.S. reporting obligations.  It is possible you will need to file a foreign trust return (IRS Form 3520 and 3520 – A) to report the existence of the foreign pension.  If you have signature authority over the account, you probably need to report it on your Foreign Bank Account Report.  In some cases, IRS Forms 8938 and 8606 may apply.  Your filing obligations on your country’s applicable treaty and how your foreign pension is structured.  All I can tell you with certainty is that you should look carefully before getting in to a foreign pension arrangement and seek out the counsel of a qualified representative.

As you can see, tax planning for a foreign pension or foreign retirement plan is a complex business.  We at Premier do not offer foreign pension plans.  We can help the U.S. entrepreneur to form his own U.S. QRP or defined benefit plan and maximize the value of being offshore.

Likewise, if you already have a U.S. retirement plan, and are moving or investing offshore, we can help get your IRA out of the United States.  This is usually done by forming an offshore LLC or Panama Foundation and investing your U.S. IRA in to that structure.  Once this is complete, you’ll have checkbook control over the account and your investments.  Though, you are required to follow U.S. rules governing investments, act as the fiduciary of the account, and on distribution.

If you would like more information on taking a U.S. IRA offshore, pleas see my Self Directed IRA page (upper right menu of this site).  If you would like to set up an offshore corporation, or create a QRP for your international business, and you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (are a U.S. expat), we will be happy to work with you.  Please give us a call or send an email to info@premieroffshore.com.

Foreign Assets

Offshore IRA LLC Tax Analysis

Moving your retirement account in to an offshore self directed IRA LLC is the best (and really, the only) way to diversify out of the U.S., protect your assets from future creditors, and boost returns by investing in more dynamic markets.

I write quite a bit on why and how to move your account into an offshore self directed IRA LLC.  This article is for those who want to get in to the nitty gritty of how it works from the IRS’s perspective.  This post on the self directed IRA will include all relevant U.S. Internal Revenue Tax Code (IRC) and ERISA sections.

The first step in taking your IRA offshore and moving it in to a self directed IRA LLC is to open an account with a self directed custodian that allows for this type of structure.  Note that you are required to use a U.S. custodian, but this custodian has no control over your assets or investments once they reach the IRA LLC.

We work with a number of self directed custodians/administrators, and will be happy to setup the account for you.  If you prefer to do your own research, please Google Midland IRA and Entrust… these are the most efficient and specialize in offshore transactions.  There are others found on domestic structures (IRA Services, for example).

Once your account is established, your administrator will give you an account number that will look something like: Midland IRA FBO Christian Reeves #55555-00.  This is your self directed IRA account name and the “owner” of the offshore IRA LLC that we will form for you.

More specifically, this account will acquire a 100% of the “beneficial interest” of the offshore IRA LLC and hold 100% of the “membership interest” in your offshore company.  According to IRC § 4875(e)(2)(G) and the ERISA Regs at 2510.3-101(b)(1), the beneficial interest in an LLC is the equity interest in the assets of the entity, as well as the beneficial owner of the entity.

So, all of that is to say that your IRA account is the equity holder and legal owner of the assets and the offshore IRA LLC we form for you.  The custodian’s job is to manage IRS reporting and make the investment of your retirement account in to your offshore IRA LLC… that’s it.  From there, the owner of the offshore IRA LLC is your self directed IRA.

Your control over the offshore self directed IRA LLC is defined in the operating agreement of the LLC which we provide.  This document has been reviewed and approved by various banks and the custodians with which we work.  It ensures all parties the proper levels of protection and your rights to control the investments and open bank and brokerage accounts in the name of the offshore LLC.

The operating agreement and its importance to the structure is defined in what we call the “plan asset rule” under ERISA Reg. 2510-3-101(a)(2).  This regulation allows you (the beneficial owner of the IRA account) to act as the manager and exercise control over the offshore IRA LLC and its investments.  As such, it requires you to manage the assets for the benefit of the retirement account, just as a professional fiduciary would.  This means you must do your due diligence in all investment decisions and not use the assets for your personal benefit.  You are to manage the offshore self directed IRA LLC as if it where someone else’s money.

This operating agreement also sets out the rights and duties of the owner of the LLC (your account).  These terms are always very broad, giving it the authority to open accounts, modify the documents or the LLC, and appoint the manager (you).  Most importantly, the document allows the account to transfer these authorities to the manager… so, you can take control over the LLC.

Note that the operating agreement is signed by your custodian on behalf of the IRA, you as the beneficial owner of the IRA, and then you again as the manager of the LLC.

The operating agreement also transfers all authority and control over the offshore self directed IRA LLC to you, and away from the administrator/custodian.  You are thus the only one authorized to make investments, open accounts, and operate the offshore LLC.  The custodian is relegated to filing annual reports with the IRS.

That is to say, the custodian makes only one investment:  your IRA account in to the LLC.  From there, you are authorized to:

  • Make all investment decisions,
  • use funds for the upkeep and improvement of your investments (such as for improvements in real estate), and
  • control the sale/disposition of assets.* A corporation can be used as a UBIT blocker, but not as the primary (parent) entity.  We are working on a new structure for investments in Panama, which doesn’t have an LLC statute, but their Foundation laws can be used to create a trust/LLC hybrid.So, because the offshore IRA LLC we have designed is a disregarded entity (has only one member and is a limited liability company), it is an eligible entity under Treasury Regulation 301.7701-3(a) and (b).  As such, it is not required to file either federal or state income tax returns.  Also, no State Franchise Tax or other reporting will be required.There is an exception to the default rule that your offshore IRA LLC will have no filing obligations… and that the U.S. administrator/custodian will handle any reporting obligations other than those described here.  If you generate Unrelated Business Income in your IRA, or use a UBIT blocker corporation, you’ll need to file IRS Form 3520 and may have other reporting obligations.When your IRA invests in an active business, or uses borrowed funds (such as a mortgage or leverage in a brokerage account), then you will generate UBI and will be required to pay Unrelated Business Income Tax.  Because your structure is offshore, you may use a UBIT blocker corporation to eliminate this 35% tax.  This allows all profits to flow tax free (ROTH) or tax deferred (traditional) in to your IRA LLC, and thus in to your IRA.  This is one of the major benefits of moving your IRA in to an offshore self directed IRA LLC.  UBIT blocker structures are not available in the United States.
  • So, if you employ a UBIT blocker, or generate active income in your IRA LLC, then you will need to file additional forms.
  • There are a number of UBI and UBIT blocker corporation articles on this site, so I will just describe it briefly here.
  • Also, none of the international forms are required for a typical offshore IRA LLC structure.  The big one is the Foreign Bank Account Report, which is required for bank or brokerage accounts outside of the United States that hold more than $10,000.  This form is specifically excluded for offshore self directed IRA LLCs (search FBAR at IRS.gov for additional information).
  • Your objective in an offshore self directed IRA LLC structure is to eliminate all U.S. tax filing and paying obligations.  Therefore, your offshore company must be a “disregarded entity” under the IRS “check the box” rules.  This is achieved by 1) using an LLC rather than a corporation and 2) that LLC having only one member.  A single member LLC is a disregarded entity, while a multi-member LLC is considered a partnership.  (For more information, see:  Treas. Reg. § 301.7701-2(b), (c)(1) and (c)(2).)
  • The tax classification of an offshore IRA LLC is quite different than an offshore corporation, and an LLC is generally the required entity – not a corporation.  Because very few offshore jurisdictions (those that won’t tax your returns) offer compatible limited liability companies, we usually form IRA structures in Belize and Nevis.

I hope this article on the taxation of an offshore self directed IRA LLC has been helpful.  If you have any questions, please give us a call or send an email to info@premieroffshore.com.  We will be happy to work with you to move your retirement account outside of the U.S. and ensure it remains in compliance with all applicable U.S. tax laws.

Retire Abroad

Retire abroad with Maximum Privacy

If you are thinking about retiring abroad, here is how to maximize your privacy. We start with the premise that the U.S. government wants you to disclose all assets, holdings, transactions, and investments. We then look for exceptions to those rules to find the legal loopholes that will allow you to retire with maximum privacy.

As you know, U.S. persons must pay tax on their worldwide income no matter where they live. Even if you retire outside of America, the IRS wants theirs. To enforce these laws, the U.S. requires you to disclose your assets each and every year on the Foreign Bank Account Report form and the Foreign Asset Report. Both of these force you to tell the U.S. what you have and where they can find it.

Well, there are a few … and I mean a very few … exceptions to these reporting requirements. In this article, I will describe each to give you an idea on how to retire abroad with maximum privacy.

My favorite tool to maximize privacy offshore is physical gold held in your name. You are not required to report physical gold on the FBAR or the Foreign Asset statement. Physical gold is gold bars or bullion, and not gold stocks. Paper gold must be reported while physical gold is exempt.

So, you may hold gold in Panama or Switzerland, in a vault in your name, and you are not required to report it to the U.S. I suggest gold is an excellent hedge if you have any concerns about the U.S. economic system or the USD.

Two quick sidebars:

  1. When I say something is held in your name, I mean that you are the owner. If gold is held in a corporation, trust, or foundation, you need to report the entity on the appropriate form and the asset on that entity’s balance sheet. If no structure is used to hold the exempted asset, then no reporting is required.
  2. I am talking about living abroad with maximum privacy, not reducing or eliminating U.S. tax. I will leave that topic for another day. Suffice it to say, if you buy physical gold, you are not required to report its existence. However, when you sell that gold, it is a capital gain, taxable on your U.S. return unless it is inside a U.S. compliant retirement account.

The next best way to retire overseas with maximum privacy is to invest in foreign real estate and hold that property in your name … again, not an offshore company. So long as you live in it, or it is vacant, you have no reporting obligations on foreign real estate.

If you decide to rent it out, then it is reported on your IRS Form 1040, Schedule E, just as a U.S. property. Though, there is nothing that necessarily denotes it as an offshore property. If it is your primary or vacation home, there is no reporting until you sell it. Then it goes on Form 1040, Schedule D as a capital gain. Because you will probably pay significant tax on the sale in the country where the property is located, you usually don’t have any tax due to the U.S. You will find several detailed articles on this site discussing offshore real estate transactions.

The best way around the FBAR form is to open your offshore bank accounts in the name of an offshore IRA LLC. The LLC is owned by your U.S. compliant retirement account and thus exempt from the various reporting requirements. While all savings accounts must be reported if you have more than $10,000 offshore, a bank account owned by your retirement account is excluded.

And if you think about it, that makes sense (a rare convergence of law and logic). When you take your IRA offshore, it is the IRA that owns the offshore LLC, and you act as the manager or fiduciary of that structure. Because the account is owned by an IRA, and not a person, it would be confusing at best to require an FBAR.

If you have questions on this, or would like proof of my claim, search FBAR at IRS.gov. You will see that accounts held by an IRA are exempt.

The same goes for an IRA account inside of a Panama Foundation. This structure allows for maximum asset protection, as well as offshore estate planning, and remains exempt from the FBAR form. Please see my recent posts on the Panama Foundation IRA structure for more information.

Another option for avoiding the FBAR is to invest in an offshore life insurance. If it’s a U.S. compliant policy, a single pay policy will usually allow your income to grow tax free and won’t be reported.

Though, there are many variations of offshore life insurance. I suggest you talk with your insurance provider and confirm that the structure you are considering does not require you to report the account on the FBAR and is exempt from all other U.S. filing obligations.

The last option I will offer on how to retire abroad and maximize privacy is to hold any business interests or projects in joint venture structures where your partner is not a U.S. person. If the other owner of the offshore company is neither a U.S. citizen nor a U.S. resident, you will have a lot more freedom.

For example, if you own and/or control 50% or less of an offshore company, then you need only report the formation of the structure on IRS Form 5471. You are not required to report the company each year … just when you incorporate it and when you sell it.

Likewise, if you are not a signatory on the offshore company’s bank account, you will not need to file the FBAR. In that situation, you could be a partner in an investment company for decades and have no U.S. reporting obligations until the company is sold.

I hope you have found this article on how to retire abroad with maximum privacy helpful. Please call or send an email to info@premieroffshore.com for additional information. We will be happy to work with you to structure your retirement abroad to keep you compliant with the IRS.