Tag Archive for: offshore tax

how to report foreign salary

How to report a foreign salary or international business income

Here’s how to report a foreign salary or international business income. If you earn money from working as an employee or independent contractor, you need to report it on your US tax return. Here’s how to report income paid by a foreign company.

I’ll briefly comment on income earned from abroad while living in the United States. Then I’ll focus on how to report a foreign salary or other income while living abroad and qualifying for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

If you’re living in the United States and are paid by a foreign company, you have self employment income. This must be reported on Schedule C and self employment tax will apply.

Being self employed means you can deduct any expenses you had, such as travel, equipment, etc. It also means you’ll pay self employment tax in addition to ordinary income tax on your net profits. SE tax is 15%.

Anyone who does not qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion should report income from abroad on Schedule C. Even if you did the work outside of the United States, if you were a US resident during the tax year, you have US source self employment income that goes on Schedule C.

For example, you’re a US citizen living in California throughout 2017. You travel to Taiwan for 2 months on a special project earning $30,000. All of the work on this project is performed while you are in Taiwan.

This income is taxable in the United States and self employment tax applies. If you paid any taxes in Taiwan, you can use the Foreign Tax Credit to eliminate double taxation.

Same facts as above, but you’re in Taiwan for all of 2017 and earn $100,000. You’re out of the US for 330 out of 365 days and therefore qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion using the physical presence test for 2017.

If you’re an employee of a Taiwanese company, your US taxes are relatively simple. You file Form 2555 with your personal return (Form 1040), claiming the FEIE and reporting your salary from a foreign employer. Because you earned less than $102,300, you will pay zero US tax on your income.

If you had earned $200,000, and paid tax in Taiwan, you would use the FEIE on your first $100,000 and the foreign tax credit on the second $100,000.

Salary is taxable at 18% in Taiwan and your US rate is probably about 30%. So, you’ll pay 18% on $200,000 to Taiwan and 12% to the United States (30% – 18%) on the second $100,000 which was over the FEIE amount.

If you’d been working in a country that didn’t tax your salary, you would have paid zero tax on your first $100,000 using the FEIE. For example, you could have lived tax free in Panama while working remotely for a Taiwanese company.

If you’re not an employee of a foreign corporation, then you have income from self employment. SE income will be reported on Schedule C which will link to Form 2555 and apply the FEIE.

For example, you’re an independent contractor working in Panama for a company in Taiwan. You earn $100,000, which is paid into your personal bank account. You will pay zero income tax because you qualify for the FEIE. However, you will pay 15% in self employment tax. SE tax is not reduced by the FEIE.

For more on self employment tax for those living and working abroad, see How self employment tax works when you’re offshore

You can eliminate self employment tax by forming an offshore corporation and having your employer (the Taiwanese corporation in this example) pay into that account. You then draw a salary reported on Form 2555 and not Schedule C.

Your offshore corporation will file Form 5471. In most cases, this will be attached to your 1040 behind Form 2555.

Keep in mind that Form 2555 can be used with any foreign corporation. It doesn’t matter if you’re an employee of an offshore corporation that you own or an employee of someone else. So long as your salary comes from a foreign company, and you qualify for the FEIE, you can avoid self employment tax and Schedule C.

An offshore corporation can also help to defer US tax on income over and above the FEIE. For example, you’re living in Panama, qualify for the FEIE, earn $200,000 from work, and are paid into your Panama corporation.

You can take out $100,000 and report that as your salary on Form 2555. You leave the balance in the corporation as retained earnings. You will only pay US tax on this money when you take it out of the foreign corporation, usually as a dividend.

I hope you’ve found this article on how to report a foreign salary or business income to be helpful. For help preparing your US returns, or to setup an offshore corporation in a tax free country, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. 

Trump Tax Plan for Expats

Trump’s Tax Plan for Expats

Most of Trump’s tax plans will help American expats. If you’re living abroad, and making more than the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, or have significant capital gains, Trump might cut your US taxes significantly.

First, I should point out that there’s been no indication Trump will attack the FEIE. I don’t expect this Exclusion to be reduced. If you’re working abroad and earning less than $102,100, you’re golden.

Second, note that Trump’s changes to international tax law have been focused on import taxes and preventing jobs from going overseas. Unless you sell a physical good into the United States, his negative tax plans should not affect you.

That is to say, if you’re an expat with a portable business, or an internet, service, drop shipping, or consulting business, Trump’s plans won’t hurt you. So long as you’re not importing into the United States, there’s no need to worry.  

Let’s take a look at a few highlights of Trump’s tax plan.

  • Reduce taxes across the board, with special focus on working and middle-class Americans
  • Ensure the wealthy pays their fair share, but not so much that it’s detrimental to jobs or undermines the ability to compete
  • Eliminate special interest loopholes, make business tax rates more competitive in order to keep jobs in the US, and create new opportunities to revitalize the economy
  • Lower childcare costs by allowing families to fully deduct the average cost of childcare from their taxes

The Trump Plan will increase the standard deduction for joint filers to $30,000, from $12,600, and the standard deduction for single filers will be $15,000. Personal exemptions will be eliminated as will the head-of-household filing status.

In addition, the Trump Plan will cap itemized deductions at $200,000 for Married-Joint filers or $100,000 for Single filers.

Most importantly, Trump’s tax plan will lower personal income taxes and reduce the number of brackets. Under Trump’s plan, our current seven tax brackets will be collapsed into just three.

Lower-income families will end up with an effective income tax rate of zero. According to Trump, a middle-class family with two children would see a tax cut of about 35%.

The proposed income tax rates for a married filing joint taxpayer are as follows:

  • Less than $75,000 – 12%
  • More than $75,000 but less than $225,000 – 25%
  • More than $225,000 – 33%

Tax brackets for single filers will be exactly half of the amounts listed above. This is why there is no more “head of household” or status, nor is there a “marriage penalty.” The single tax brackets are now exactly half of those for married joint filers.

Remember that your first $102,100 will be excluded under the FEIE. So, an expat’s tax bracket will start at 25% and go up to 33% on salary in excess of the Exclusion.

I also note that your bracket begins at 25% and not at 0% or 12%. The excluded $102,100 counts toward your bracket, it doesn’t start at zero as if the income was never earned.

So, someone who earns $200,000 in salary for 2017 will pay 25% on about $100,000 (the amount over the FEIE). If that same person earns $300,000, the first $100,000 is tax free, the second $125,000 is taxed at 25% and the remaining $75,000 is taxed at 33%.

Self employed expats operating through an offshore corporation can manage these taxes by holding income in excess of the FEIE in the corporation as retained earnings. Pay yourself (and your spouse, if possible) the max allowed and retained the balance in your corporation tax deferred.

American expats can eliminate income tax using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. There is no such tax break for capital gains. So long as you hold a blue passport, Uncle wants his cut of your passive income.

Trump has suggested he will keep the current long-term capital gains tax rates of 0%, 15%, and 20% but reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three as described above. Trump’s simplified and consolidated tax brackets, and their corresponding long-term capital gains tax rates are:

Marginal Tax Rate Taxable Income (Single) Taxable Income (Married Joint Filers) Long-Term Capital Gains Rate
12% $0-$37,500 $0-$75,000 0%
25% $37,500-$112,500 $75,000-$225,000 15%
33% $112,500 and above $225,000 and above 20%


It’s also become clear that Trump plans to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), and thereby eliminate the 3.8% investment income tax. Under Obama, most investors were paying 23.8% on long term capital gains. Under Trump that will likely go back to 20%.

Nowhere in Trump’s tax plan is a reduction of self employment or payroll taxes mentioned. Therefore, American expats will benefit from incorporating offshore and running their businesses through an offshore company.

You should report your salary on IRS Form 2555 as coming from a foreign corporation to eliminate self employment and payroll taxes of 15%. For more on this, see: How self employment tax works when you’re offshore.

Remember that self employment taxes are not reduced by the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. The FEIE applies to income taxes paid against your salary. SE tax is not an “income” tax.

The only way for an expat to eliminate SE and payroll taxes is to operate his or her business through an offshore corporation. This trick alone can save you $15,000 a year if you’re single or $30,000 if a husband and wife both work in the business and max out the FEIE.

I hope you’ve found this article on Trump’s tax plan for expats to be informative. For assistance with an offshore corporation or US tax compliance, please contact us at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. 

self employment tax

How self employment tax works when you’re offshore

If you’re living abroad and paid by a US company, you’ll pay self employment tax on your earnings. If you’re living offshore and operating a business without an offshore company or LLC, you’ll pay self employment tax on your profits. Here’s how self employment tax works when you’re offshore and how to avoid it.

All Americans that are self employed or who business owners are responsible for paying self employment tax in one form or another. It doesn’t matter where you live or work… if you’re self employed and hold a blue passport, you must pay SE taxes.

Self employment taxes are assessed as 15.3% of your net profits. The Social Security portion has a limit on how much of your income is taxed, whereas the Medicare portion does not.

The Social Security component of self employment tax is 12.4% and applies to the first $127,200 of SE income in 2017. The Medicare component is 29% and applies to all SE income.

I generally summarize it to say that an American earning $100,000 offshore will pay about $15,000 in SE tax. This is an oversimplification, but makes the math easier. I will also round off some numbers in this article, such as how to calculate payroll taxes.

Common types of income that are subject to self-employment taxes include:

    • Income from home-based businesses
    • Income from freelance work
    • Income from work as an independent contractor
    • Income from a business operated in the United States that has not been subjected to payroll taxes (reported on a W-2)
    • Income paid to an expat from a US corporation
    • Income paid to an expat that goes into her personal bank account rather than into an offshore corporation
    • Any income from work you do while abroad that’s not a salary from a foreign corporation reported on IRS Form 2555.

Self employment tax is meant to target income from work that’s not otherwise subject to payroll taxes. As an employee of a US corporation working in the US, you pay about 7.5% in payroll taxes, which is matched by your employer. Thus, total payroll taxes are around 15%. When payroll taxes don’t apply, the worker gets to pay the full 15% as self employment taxes.

Note that the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion does not apply to self employment tax. The FEIE allows you to exclude your first $102,100 in wage or business income from Federal income tax. Self employment tax is not an income tax and not covered by the FEIE.

So, an American who spends 330 days abroad, earns $100,000 in salary, and is paid by a US corporation, won’t pay any income tax. However, they will get the joy of contributing $15,000 to our social welfare system.

Here’s how to eliminate self employment tax as an expat.

In this section, I’ll assume you’re an American citizen living abroad and that you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This means you’re out of the country for 330 out of 365 days or a legal resident of a foreign country and don’t spend more than 3 or 4 months a year in the US.

This article doesn’t apply to Americans working abroad for the US Government or those working for foreign affiliates of US companies that have entered into a voluntary payroll tax agreement.  For more information, see: Social Security Tax Consequences of Working Abroad

Self employment taxes apply to income paid to you from a US corporation or money that goes into your personal bank account. It doesn’t matter where that account is located… if money from labor goes directly into a personal account, it’s subject to US self employment tax.

Self employment tax does not apply to income paid to you as salary from a corporation formed outside of the United States. This company can be incorporated anywhere in the world… a high tax country like France or a zero tax country like Panama are equal in the eyes of the IRS for purposes of SE tax mitigation.

So, if your employer pays you a salary as an employee of his non-US corporation, SE tax doesn’t apply.

Likewise, if your clients pay into an offshore corporation owned by you, and you draw a salary from the net profits, this salary is not subject to self employment taxes. It doesn’t matter that you own 100% of the business.

The compliance key to eliminating SE tax is to report your salary on IRS Form 2555. On Part 1, section 5, you must be able to check box A for foreign entity or box D for a foreign affiliate of a US corporation. Box D is applicable so long as your employer hasn’t entered into a payroll tax agreement with the IRS, which is very rare.

The bottom line is that you should always form an offshore corporation to operate an international business.

You never want to use an offshore LLC treated as a disregarded entity.

Nor should you deposit business income into a partnership, trust, Panama foundation, or a personal bank account. B

Business income and expenses should be processed through a foreign corporation, with your salary moving from the corporation to your personal account each month. This salary is then reported on Form 2555.

If your US clients don’t want to pay into an offshore corporation, you might be able to form a US billing entity. Clients would pay the US corporation and the offshore corporation would bill the US company. This can effectively move taxable income out of the US corp and into the offshore corp with no US taxes due.

A US billing entity is only advisable for those with no US employees, no US offices, and no US source income.

I hope you’ve found this article on how self employment tax works when you’re offshore to be helpful. For more information, and to form an offshore business structure, please contact us at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. We will be happy to set up your US compliant foreign corporation. 

PFIC investment

What is a PFIC Investment – Passive Foreign Investment Company

In this article, I’ll review the rules around PFIC investments and the Passive Foreign Investment Company statutes. Here’s everything you need to know about passive income in an offshore corporation.  

First let me define a few terms around PFIC.

Passive Income: Income from interest, dividends, annuities, capital gains, and most rents and royalties.

Passive Foreign Investment Company: An offshore company used primarily to hold passive investments rather than to operate an active business. The two tests to determine if a corporation or LLC is a Passive Foreign Investment Company are:

  1. Any foreign company where 75% of it’s is passive is a PFIC, and  
  2. Any foreign company where 50% or more of its assets are assets that produce passive income is a PFIC

PFIC Investment: A passive investment within a Passive Foreign Investment Company. Also, any investment in a foreign mutual fund, or in a corporation treated as a PFIC is a PFIC investment. Buying stock in company generating passive income, and not operating an active business, can be a PFIC investment.

Second, here are the consequences of investing in a PFIC.

I’ll start with a little commentary in saying that these punitive PFIC rules are a form of capital control imposed on Americans who want to invest offshore. The IRS is charging you a penalty for investing offshore. And, god forbid you make a mistake in reporting your offshore account. The penalties will be swift and severe.

These PFIC penalties where the brainchild of the U.S. mutual fund industry… not a political conspiracy. The industry didn’t want to compete with the better products available abroad, so they paid lobbyists and Congress to invent the PFIC. But, the result is the same as if the Illuminati were imposing capital control on average Americans.

As for the reporting, the IRS estimates it taxes up to 30 hours of work to complete Form 8621, which must be filed each year for each PFIC investment. Add to this forms for the corporation, foreign asset statement, FBAR, and maybe a trust, and you’re over 200 hours to report your offshore investment.

And most of these forms are required no matter the size of your investment and regardless of whether you made a profit. Having a single PFIC investment of $100 inside of an offshore corporation will trigger multiple filing obligations and cost a couple thousand in tax prep should you decide to hire a professional.

This, and the fact that the penalty for getting it wrong on that $100 investment is over $10,000 per year, and you see that average American’s can afford to go offshore. This effectively locks them and their cash in the United States.

All of this negativity and I haven’t even gotten to the PFIC penalties yet. Here they are:

Penalty 1: When you receive a dividend or sell a PFIC share, you must prorate the investment over your holding period and pay an interest charge in addition to the tax.

That’s right, where passive investments in the United States are taxed when sold, those same investments offshore pay tax for each year they are held plus an interest penalty. The purpose of the interest charge is to treat the gain as if it were earned and taxed each year over the holding period.

For example, let’s say you buy a PFIC investment in 2017. You hold it for 3 years and sell it for a gain of $300,000 in 2019. When you file your 2019 return, you’ll need to split the investment over the holding period and pay tax on it as if ⅓ was sold in 2017, ⅓ in 2018 and ⅓ in 2019. That is to say, report $100,000 in gains for each year, plus pay interest on the gains made in 2017 and 2018 (because you reported them “late.”)

Penalty 2: Capital gains from PFIC investments are taxed at the highest ordinary income rate plus the interest charge. Long term capital gains rates are NOT available.

While long term capital gains are taxed by the Feds at 20% to 23.8% (including Obamacare taxes as applicable), the top ordinary income rate is 39.6%. When you add up penalties 1 and 2, the tax and interest penalties for investing offshore can eat up 70% or more of your gain.

Penalty 3: Capital losses on PFIC investments can’t be used to offset capital gains on domestic investments.

While U.S. passive gains and losses offset each other, you can’t reduce your U.S. capital gains with offshore capital losses from PFIC investments. This means your offshore investments MUST turn a profit, or the penalties for going offshore will be severe.

Here are a few exceptions to the PFIC investment penalties…

You can opt out of the PFIC Investment rules with an LLC. If you form an offshore LLC and then make an election to be classified as a disregarded entity or partnership, you will not be considered a PFIC. Only a foreign entity with the ability to retain earnings, such as a corporation or an LLC treated as a corporation, is classified as a PFIC.

In most cases, the PFIC rules do not apply to investments of less than $25,000 (single) or $50,000 (joint).

  • My example above of a $100 investment was inside a corporation, which must always be reported no matter the size.

You can opt out of the PFIC investment rules by making a QEF Election. If a PFIC meets certain accounting and reporting requirements, and is FATCA compliant, you can avoid the PFIC penalties by treating the investment as a Qualified Electing Fund (QEF).

But a QEF election is very complex and difficult to use unless your offshore investment or fund is set up for QEF reporting. In my experience, only the very largest offshore funds have the ability to provide QEF reports that allow you to use the QEF election. This is because:

  1. You must report and pay tax on your share the ordinary gains and passive income of the PFIC investment each year. Your investment might not be able to provide (or willing to provide) such an annual report.
  2. You can elect to report but pay no tax on the QEF elected gains in a PFIC. In this case, you will pay interest on untaxed gains when the investment is sold. You are effectively “carrying over” your gains and losses year to year and paying the tax plus interest when the sale is made. This is best if the returns are uncertain or you have gains in some years and losses in others.
  3. If you don’t make the QEF election in the first year, it becomes difficult to make it later. You need to report a “deemed sale” and then begin with the QEF from that year.

The bottom line is that Passive Foreign Investment Company rules are complex and punitive. They’re a form of capital controls being imposed on Americans by the Internal Revenue Service.

And I haven’t even covered the more esoteric areas of PFIC investing, such as 1291 funds, or the mark-to-market election for stock under the PFIC and section 1296.

For this reason, it’s important to hire a U.S. expert to form ANY offshore structure. Whether you use it to buy real estate, invest in stocks, hold a bank account, or operate a business, a U.S. expert should be the one to quarterback your offshore adventure.

I hope you’ve found this article on the joys of PFIC investments and the Passive Foreign Investment Company Rules helpful. For more information on structuring your investments offshore, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. 

Which Countries Tax Worldwide Income?

Which Countries Tax Worldwide Income?

When you’re planning a move abroad, you need to consider the tax laws of your country of citizenship and your country of residence. The key to a solid expat move is to determine which countries tax worldwide income and avoid them whenever possible.

There are four basic tax groupings of countries. I won’t consider the 22 countries that don’t tax citizens or residents. You can find that list here.

Here’s the 4 tax categories:  

  1. Countries that tax citizens and legal residents on their worldwide income no matter where they live. These countries also tax residents on their worldwide income.
  2. Countries that tax residents on their worldwide income. This is called a residential or physical presence tax system.
  3. Countries that tax citizen residents on their worldwide income but not foreign residents.
  4. Countries that tax residents on their local source income but not foreign source income. This is called a territorial tax system.

The only major nation that taxes its citizens (and green card holders) regardless of where they live is the United States. So long as you hold a U.S. passport or green card, the Internal Revenue Service wants its cut of your profits and capital gains.

  • Some lists of countries that tax citizens and legal residents on their worldwide income include Libya, North Korea, Eritrea and the Philippines. The tax systems of these countries are not well developed and data is limited.

The United States taxes all U.S. persons on their worldwide income. A U.S. person is a citizen, green card holder (who is a legal resident but not necessarily present in the United States), and residents. A resident is anyone who spends more than 183 days a year in the United States.

If you’re living and working outside the United States, and qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, you can earn up to $102,100 in salary during 2017 free of Federal income tax. If your salary is more than the FEIE, you will pay US tax on the excess.  

Also, the FEIE only applies to your salary. You will pay US tax on capital gains, dividends, rents, royalties, and passive income no matter where you live.

Category two includes countries that tax residents on their worldwide income. In most cases, a resident is anyone who spends more than 183 days a year in the country. If you’re not living within their borders, you won’t pay tax to these nations, even if you’re a citizen.

I should point out that the “183 days” test is the standard definition of a resident. Some have more complex tests to determine who is and who is not a tax resident. For example, Colombia uses your presence in the country and the following:

1. Staying continuously or non-continuously in Colombian jurisdiction for more than 183 calendar days during a 365 day period (1 year);  
2. 50% or more of your income comes from Colombian sources;
3. 50% or more of your assets are held in Colombian Territory;
4. 50% or more of your assets are managed from Colombian Territory;
5. Having a tax residence in a jurisdiction declared as “tax haven” by the Colombian government.

The best known category two residential taxation countries are Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, Colombia, Japan and Mexico. The residency tax system is the most common and a complete list can be found here.

Category three, countries that tax foreign residents differently than citizen residents, technically includes only Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Philippines. However, some countries impose worldwide taxation on residents only after they have been in the country for several years. So, this category can vary by your situation.

When you’re moving abroad and looking to reduce or eliminate income taxes, you want to move to a category 4 country. These nations are on a territorial tax system and tax only your local source income.

If you live in a category 4 country, operate an online business from a territorial tax country, and don’t sell to locals, you won’t pay income tax to your country of residence. If you move to a territorial tax country and open a restaurant, you will have local source income and thus pay tax on your profits.

The most “business friendly” territorial tax system is in Panama. Other options include Belize, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. For a complete list, click here.

Those are the four tax systems available, with territorial and residency based taxation being the most common. Your objective should be to become a resident of a category 4 country and be a tourist or visitor in countries who would want to tax your business income.

There’s a fifth option you if you plan to spend a lot of time on the road.

You can elect to become a perpetual traveler, as so many internet marketers and entrepreneurs with portable businesses do. If you keep moving, never spending 183 days a year in any one country, you never become a tax resident and are not subject to their income tax reporting or paying requirements.

A perpetual traveler might split her time between Europe, Canada and Asia, or between the United States, Mexico, and South or Central America, never becoming subject to any of these countries tax laws. This option has become popular with nomad internet professionals.

I have two important notes for perpetual travelers:

The first is for Americans. Remember that the U.S. taxes its citizens on their worldwide income, including perpetual travelers. If you go this route, you need to qualify for the FEIE using the 330 day test and not the residency test. Here’s a detailed article on the FEIE for US citizen perpetual travelers. It’s much easier to qualify for the FEIE if you’re a resident of a foreign country for U.S. purposes, even if you spend less than 183 days in that nation.

The second is for everyone else. Several countries will attempt to tax you based on citizenship if you’re a perpetual traveler with no tax home. While their legal standing to require a tax home is unclear, I have seen many nomad clients go to battle with their home country on this issue.

Therefore, I suggest all perpetual travelers become residents of a country with a territorial tax system for the purpose of reporting (or defending your status) to your country of citizenship. Becoming a resident of Panama, while spending only a few days a year there, can simplify your worldwide tax picture.

Panama has one of the lowest cost residency programs. If you’re from a top 50 country, you can become a resident with an investment of only $20,000.

I hope you’ve found this article on which countries tax worldwide income to be helpful. For more on how to setup an offshore company or plan an international trust, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. 

offshore trust tax

Offshore Trust Tax Status and U.S. Tax Filing Requirements (Form 3520-A)

An offshore trust owned by a U.S. person must file Form 3520-A and a variety of other reports to remain in compliance with the IRS. Here are the tax filing requirements for offshore trusts with U.S. owners.

First, allow me to define a few terms around offshore trust tax reporting:

Settlor or Grantor: The person or persons creating and funding the trust. The terms settlor and grantor are synonyms for estate planning and the U.S. tax code.

Owner of an Offshore Trust: The settlor is the owner of the trust until his death. Once the trust passes to the heirs, they become the owners for U.S. tax purposes.

Grantor Trust: A grantor trust is considered a disregarded entity for income tax purposes. Any taxable income or deduction earned by the trust will be taxed on the grantor’s tax return. The settlor(s) or grantor(s) are the beneficial owner of the trust for tax purposes until his or her death.

Beneficial Owner: The owner of the assets of the trust for tax purposes. More specifically, Any person treated as an owner of any portion of a foreign trust under the grantor trust rules (Sections 671 to 679 of the U.S. Tax Code).

U.S. Person: Any U.S. citizen, green card holder, or tax resident. This article is focused on offshore trusts owned by U.S. persons. The rules are different for offshore trusts owned by non-resident aliens who become U.S. persons after the trust is funded.

Tax Resident: Any person who spends more than 183 days a year in the United States.

Now let’s get to the U.S. tax filing requirements of offshore trusts with U.S. owners.

We start from the position that U.S. persons are taxed on their worldwide income, no matter where it’s earned and no matter where they live. So long as you hold a U.S. passport or green card, or are a U.S. resident for tax purposes, the IRS will expect you send them their share each year.

Next, all offshore trusts with U.S. owners are grantor trusts for U.S. tax purposes. This means that all income earned within an offshore trust is taxable to the grantor. Likewise, this means that the settlor is considered the beneficial owner of the trust assets for tax purposes.

Note that I repeatedly write, “for tax purposes.” The settlor may not be considered the owner of the assets for liability and litigation purposes. Also, she might not be the owner of the assets for estate planning purposes. This article on the U.S. tax status and filing requirements of offshore trusts looks at these matters only from the point of view of the IRS.

This all means that the settlor or owner of an offshore trust must pay U.S. tax on the taxable gains earned within the trust. This includes capital gains from stock trading, rental income from real estate, and the gain realized on the sale of any trust assets.

Of course, it’s possible for an offshore trust to have non-taxable gains. For example, profits earned within a U.S. compliant offshore insurance wrapper are not taxable to the owner.

The bottom line is that, any income earned within an offshore trust which is not within a tax exempt structure is taxable to the owner. Taxes are not deferred until the profits are brought into the United States, they’re due when the gains are realized.

U.S. Tax Filing Requirements for Offshore Trusts

The most important filing requirement for an offshore trust with a U.S. owner is Form 3520-A.

An offshore trust treated as a grantor trust for U.S. tax purposes must file IRS Form 3520-A each year. Gains, losses and ownership are reported to the IRS on this form. It doesn’t matter whether there were transactions or gains in the trust, Form 3520-A must be filed each and every year.

Failure to file Form 3520-A, or filing an incomplete or inaccurate Form 3520-A  can result in a penalty of the greater of $10,000 per year or 5% of the gross value of the trust assets owned by U.S. persons. That means that the minimum penalty for failing to file this form is $10,000 per year.

An offshore trust where the settlor is alive and a U.S. person will be 100% owned by a U.S. person and the penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A will be 5% of 100% of the trust assets. In the situation where the settlor has passed and one or more of the beneficiaries are not U.S. persons, the penalty will apply only to the portion of the assets owned by U.S. persons.

Note that an offshore trust with U.S. owners must also file Form 3520 to report changes in ownership and certain transactions involving the trust. Failure to file this subform will result in an additional penalty of the greater of $10,000 per year or 5% of the gross value of the trust assets owned by U.S. persons.

So, failure to report an offshore trust in a year where both Form 3520-A and Form 3520 are required can result in a total penalty of $20,000 or 10% of the gross assets. Miss these forms or file them incorrectly for a few years and the penalties add up quickly.

Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR)

The most basic offshore form is the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, Form FinCEN 114, generally referred to as the FBAR. Anyone who is a signor or beneficial owner of a foreign bank or brokerage account with a value of more than $10,000 must disclose their account(s) to the U.S. Treasury.

The $10,000 amount is the value of all offshore bank and brokerage accounts combined. If you  have 4 offshore accounts, each with $4,000, your total offshore balance is $16,000 and an FBAR report is due each year.

The penalty for failing to disclose an offshore bank account is $10,000 for each non-willful violation. If the violation is intentional, the penalty is the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the amount in the account for each violation. A separate penalty will be imposed for each year you failed to report the international bank and/or brokerage account associated with your offshore trust.  

In addition to filing the Foreign Bank Account Report, your offshore account must be disclosed on Form 1040, Schedule B of your personal tax return.

Other Tax Forms for Offshore Trusts

Form 5471 – Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. If your trust owns a foreign corporation, Form 5471 will be required.

A foreign corporation or limited liability company owned by an offshore trust 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. If your foreign trust owns an offshore Limited Liability Company, you might need to file Form 8858. If not this form, then Form 5471. Which form is required is determined using the instructions to Form 8832.

Form 5472 – Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation. If your offshore trust invests in a U.S. business, or in an offshore corporation that does business in the United States, you may need to file Form 5472 to report U.S. source income.

Form 926 – Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Form 3520 is generally used to report transfers to an offshore trust. Form 926 can be required if you transfer property into a foreign corporation owned by your trust.

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. Whether this Form 8938 is required will depend on many factors, such as the value of your foreign assets and whether you’re living in the United States or abroad. I won’t go into the details here. Suffice it to say that most offshore trusts are large enough that Form 8938 is required.


Because of the complex web of tax forms and rules that apply to offshore trusts, the severe penalties for getting it wrong, and the potential to use an offshore trust as a tax planning tool (when combined with an insurance wrapper) or as a way to minimize estate tax, I strongly suggest you hire a U.S. expert to form your structure.

Only a U.S. tax and asset protection lawyer is qualified to design and implement an offshore trust for an American citizen or resident.

Only a professional with years of experience in the field should be hired to quarterback your asset protection team.

Only a U.S. lawyer can build an asset protection trust to protect you from U.S. creditors. If your risks are in the United States, so must be your legal counsel.

Only a U.S. tax expert is qualified to keep your offshore trust in compliance.

Only an attorney experienced in both offshore planning and U.S. taxation can assist you with pre-immigration planning using offshore trusts.

Sure, it’s cheaper to hire an offshore trust agent. Take a read through the penalties for failure to file or report again, and then consider whether the savings are worth the risk.

Here’s the bottom line: If you can’t afford to do it right, don’t do it at all. If the amount of assets you want to transfer offshore don’t warrant hiring a U.S. lawyer, then don’t go with a trust. Plant your first flags offshore in a less costly and less complex structure.

For example, if you will move $100,000 offshore, go with a Panama Foundation rather than an offshore trust. The cost savings will be significant and the Foundation offers many of the same asset protection benefits. Also, a Panama Foundation is a great way to hold active trading accounts and businesses, which don’t play well with offshore trusts.

If you want to take a U.S. retirement account offshore, use an offshore IRA LLC rather than an international trust. Your setup and ongoing costs will be a small fraction of those associated with a properly designed trust.

Finally, it’s possible to invest offshore and legally report nothing to the IRS. If you buy foreign real estate, or hold gold offshore in your name, there will be no IRS reports to file. Stick to gold and real estate, avoid offshore structures, and do not have an offshore bank accounts with more than $10,000, and your investments will remain totally private.

Assets within an offshore corporation, including gold and real estate, must be reported on Form 5471. The above refers only to assets held in your name without a corporate structure, LLC, or foreign trust. For more, see: Offshore Privacy Exists!

I hope you’ve found this article on the U.S. tax status and IRS filing obligations of offshore trusts to be helpful. For more information on building an international asset protection structure, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708 for a confidential consultation.

stop paying payroll tax

How to Stop Paying Payroll Tax

During the election,Trump claimed he’s paid “hundreds of millions of dollars” in taxes over the years. Yet, he probably didn’t pay any personal income taxes since 1995 because of a $916 million loss carryforward. How can both of these statements be true? Because most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than income tax!

In this article, I will explore how you can opt out of the US payroll tax and self employment tax systems by going offshore. How to stop paying into Social Security and other government programs that might not be there when you need them. How to create your own security blanket offshore that’s under your control.

Federal payroll tax is about 15%, with half being paid by your employer and half being deducted from your check. In addition, most states charge a payroll tax of 1.5% to 7.5%, again with half coming from the employee and half from the employer.

Self employment tax is basically payroll tax for small business. If you operate without a corporation, and report your income and expenses on Schedule C of your personal return, you will pay 15% of self employment tax. This is intended to match up with the 7.5% paid by an employer and the 7.5% withheld from every paycheck.

  • I’m using round numbers to keep it simple. For the precise cost of hiring an employee in California, see this great infographic.
  • For purposes of this article, I’ll use the terms self employment tax and payroll tax interchangeably.

When the Donald says he’s paid hundreds of millions in taxes, he’s probably counting employment taxes paid by his many companies, plus payroll and other taxes he’s paid personally. Assuming a payroll tax cost of 10% for each employee, the numbers add up quickly and his boast is probably correct… even if he paid zero in personal income taxes.  

About 66% percent of households will pay more in payroll taxes than they will in income tax. Only one in five households will pay more in income taxes than employment taxes. Those who do pay more income taxes than payroll taxes are at the very top of the wage scale. Middle income and low income taxpayers are paying far more in payroll than income tax.

Only 18% of US households pay neither payroll nor income tax. Of these, half are retirees living on their Social Security and have no other taxable income. The rest have no jobs and not much income.  (source: T16-0129 – Distribution of Federal Payroll and Income Taxes by Expanded Cash Income Percentile, 2016, Tax Policy Center)

If you’re a business owner or an independent contractor, here’s how to stop paying payroll taxes… and income tax on your first $102,100 of salary in 2017.

Live outside of the United States, qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, operate your business through an offshore corporation in a zero tax jurisdiction, and you will pay no payroll taxes of any kind.

In order to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, you must be out of the United States for 330 out of 365 days or be a legal resident of a foreign country and out of the US for 7 or 8 months a year. Any income earned while in the US will be taxable here.

As a legal resident, your new country should be your home base for the foreseeable future. If you move somewhere for a short term job, you’re not a resident for purposes of the FEIE. You need to move to a foreign country with the intent to live there indefinitely.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a residency visa, you need to be out of the US for 330 out of 365 days. While this version of the test doesn’t give you much time with friends and family in America, it’s far easier to prove should the IRS challenge your tax return.

If you live abroad and qualify for the FEIE, but don’t operate your business through an offshore corporation, you will still pay payroll taxes! You will eliminate income tax on your first $102,100 in 2017, but self employment tax will apply at 15%. So, a business that net’s $100,000 is basically paying a penalty of $15,000 for failing to incorporate offshore. A husband and wife who net $200,000, could pay a $30,000 penalty.

  • If you run your foreign business through a US corporation, you will pay payroll taxes. If you don’t have any corporate structure, you will pay self employment tax.

What happens if you make more than $100,000 (single) or $200,000 (both spouses work in the business)? Any excess salary you take out of the business will be taxed at about 32% by the IRS. Still, no payroll or self employment taxes will apply.

If you’re operating through an offshore corporation, you may be eligible to hold those profits in the company and not pay tax on them until they are distributed. That is to say, you can hold income over the FEIE amount as retained earnings in your offshore corporation.  

These retained earnings will basically create a giant retirement account or security blanket. Like money contributed to an IRA, this cash is untaxed until you take it out of the corporation. Unlike an IRA, there are no rules or age requirements forcing distributions.

So, if you want to stop paying payroll taxes and self employment taxes, move out of the United States, qualify for the FEIE, and operate your business through an offshore corporation.

For help on setting up a tax compliant structure, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708. I will be happy to assist you to set up offshore.

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. 

software development

Research and Development and Intangible Property Tax Breaks in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has the best tax deals available to Americans… period. No offshore jurisdiction can compete with the US territory of Puerto Rico when it comes to cutting your taxes.

This post will focus on Puerto Rico’s research and development and intangible property tax breaks. Act 73 is for those who develop licensed or patented software that may be reproduced on a commercial scale and those who license intangible property.

I’ve also written on the more traditional business tax breaks available under Act 20. Basically, if you set up a business in Puerto Rico with at least 5 employees, your corporate tax rate on Puerto Rico sourced income will be 4%. For more, see: Puerto Rico is the Top Offshore Business Jurisdiction for Americans in 2016.

I focus on the the software development and intangible property or intellectual property development components of Act 73. These are 2 of the 12 industries covered by the Act. For example, tax breaks are also available to large scale manufacturing, scientific experiments and laboratories, recycling, hydroponics, etc.

Software developed under Puerto Rico’s Act 73 must be for commercial distribution. You may license or sell it, but it must be widely available. Software developed under the Act should not be for your company’s internal use or custom work done for a particular client.

Act 73 applies to any and all forms of intangible property. Intangible property is defined as something which a person or corporation can have ownership of and can transfer ownership to another person or corporation, but which has no physical substance. For example brand identity, knowledge, and intellectual property are forms of intangible property . Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are also forms of intangible property.

It doesn’t matter how the intangible property came to be owned by the Puerto Rico company. You may have developed it on the island within the corporation, or you can buy it from a related or unrelated company.

If you do develop the intangible property in Puerto Rico, you may receive additional tax incentives. Also, developing the IP in Puerto Rico rather than the United States will avoid a taxable event and transfer pricing issue when you sell / transfer the property to the Puerto Rico company.

Tax Exemptions Under Puerto Rico’s Act 73

Once you have your IP offshore, or begin selling your software, here are the applicable tax benefits. Remember that these replace the US federal income tax rates of 35% + your state (0 to 12%). In many cases, you can exchange a 40% tax rate for 4% or less.

The base tax rate for an Act 73 business in Puerto Rico is 4%. This rate is guaranteed for 15 years from the date your company is approved.

You might be thinking, wow, a 4% corporate tax rate is just too high. “Pioneer” activities in Puerto Rico are taxed at only 1%. Pioneer businesses are typically those who create or develop intangible property on the island.

If you’re still thinking this is too high, I say come on, give me a break… and it can still go lower. If you setup your business in an approved low income area, your corporate rate will be between 0.5% and 0%. Combine this with the tax credits below and you could have a net positive tax rate.

If you’re not a pioneer, you can get to a 3% tax rate. Any business where at least 50% of the shareholders are residents of Puerto Rico, the rate is lowered from 4% to 3%. The same goes for any small to medium sized software or IP development business operated from the island (where average gross income is $10 million or less during the previous three years).

Still not convinced? You will also find a 100% tax exemption on dividend distributions and a 2% or 12% withholding tax on royalty payments to foreign entities for intangible property used in the exempt business. The lower rate includes a 12% matching tax credit for royalties paid to foreign entities, so your rate may vary depending in your situation.

When you sell the business, you’ll pay a 4% fixed income tax rate on the gain. This tax on capital gains trumps any other Puerto Rico income tax code section. The 4% rate is guaranteed under Act 73 for 15 years, so you should have an exit strategy in place prior to this term expiring.

Other tax breaks include:

  • 90% tax exemption from personal property taxes.
  • 90% tax exemption from real property taxes.
  • 90% tax exemption on municipal license taxes.
  • 100% tax exemption on municipal construction taxes.
  • 100% tax exemption on excise taxes.

Remember that this article is focused on IP and software development businesses. I do not discuss accelerated depreciation, sales and use, and other tax benefits.

Puerto Rico’s Act 73 Tax Credits

The Act provides various tax credits, including:

  • 25% tax credit on purchases of products manufactured in Puerto Rico;
  • 35% tax credit on purchases of products manufactured in Puerto Rico made from recycled materials;
  • Tax credit for job creation during the first year of operations that ranges from $1,000 per job created in an industrial area of intermediate development (as determined by the Office of Industrial Tax Exemption) to $2,500 for jobs created in an industrial area of low development. In the case of businesses established in the municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, this tax credit is $5,000 per job;
  • 50% tax credit on eligible research and development activity costs; and
  • 12% tax credit for royalties paid to foreign entities with respect to intangible property used in the exempt business.

When comparing Act 73 to Act 20, note that there is not a minimum number of employees attached to Act 73. Act 20 requires at least 5 employees. Both Acts 73 and 20 can be combined with Act 22 for a personal tax exemption.

Act 22 gives a Puerto Rico resident a 0% tax rate on capital gains and dividends. If you’re living in the United States, you will pay US tax on distributions from your Puerto Rico corporation. You are not required to take any distributions, but when you do, they will be taxed in the United States.

I hope you’ve found this article on Puerto Rico’s Act 73 research and development and intangible property tax breaks helpful. Click here for a list of my other articles on Puerto Rico’s tax deal.

For more information, and a confidential consultation on moving your business to Puerto Rico, you can reach me at info@premieroffshore.com or (619) 483-1708.  

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 has finally been released and we expats get an increase of $800 this year. The U.S. government has increased the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 to $102,100, up from $101,300 in 2016.  

You can attribute this big time increase of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 to the “robust” U.S. economy. That’s because the FEIE is indexed annually for inflation. The official inflation rate for 2016 was 1.4% and it’s expected to between 1.5% to 1.6% for 2017.

Note that this article is about the 2017 FEIE. For the 2018 Exclusion, see: Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2018

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 is the amount of salary or business income you can exclude from your United States taxes while living abroad. If you qualify for the FEIE for  2017, and you earn $102,100 or less in wages, you will pay zero Federal income taxes.

To qualify for the FEIE, you must be out of the United States for 330 days during any 12 month period, or a legal resident of a foreign country for a full calendar year. The 330 day test is simple math… be out of the U.S. and you’re golden. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, so long as you’re not in the U.S.

For more on the 330 day test, see: Changes to the FEIE Physical Presence Test Travel Days

To apply the FEIE for 2017 over two calendar years, see: How to Prorate the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

The residency test is more complex and based on your intentions. You must move to a foreign country for the “foreseeable future.” This new country should be your home and your home base. When you travel, it’s where you return too. It’s where you lay down roots. It’s where you file taxes and where you’re a legal resident (with a residency permit).

  • You should be filing taxes in your new home. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying taxes… just that you are following their laws as a legal resident. If your country of residence doesn’t tax your income earned abroad or in an offshore corporation, all the better.

In most cases, you will use the 330 day test in your first year abroad. That will give you time to secure residency, find your home base, and do all the things necessary to break ties with the U.S.  Beginning January 1 of year two, you will file for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion using the residency test.

The reason you want to use the residency test when eligible is that it will allow you to spend more time in the United States. Under the 330 day test, you can spend all of 36 days a year in the land of the free. If you qualify for the residency test under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017, you can spend 4 or 5 months a year in America.

Someone with no home base, and no residency visa, will never qualify under the residency test. A perpetual traveler will need to use the 330 day test. Likewise, someone on temporary assignment for a year or two, who intends to return to the U.S. when their job runs out, will need to use the 330 day test.

Just remember than any income earned in the USA is taxable here. The FEIE doesn’t apply to U.S. source income. If a U.S. citizen works for 10 days in the U.S., the income from those days is U.S. source and Uncle Sam wants his cut.

The FEIE for 2017 applies to married persons individually. A Husband and Wife working in their own corporation, or drawing salaries from a foreign company, can earn $204,200 combined this year and pay zero Federal income tax.

If you earn more than $102,100, you’ll pay U.S. income taxes on the excess. For example, if you earn $202,100, in salary, you will pay U.S. Federal income tax on $100,000 at 28% to 33%.

Note that your expat tax bracket begins at 18%. This is because the full $202,100 counts towards the bracket. Thus, you are paying a rate on your last $100,000 as if you had earned $202,100 in wages, not just $100,000.

If you pay tax in the country where you work, your U.S. tax on this $100,000 over and above the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 will be reduced. Every dollar you pay in foreign income tax should reduce your U.S. rate by one dollar.

  • A dollar for dollar credit is the theory behind the foreign tax credit. You will see some variance on your return when you account for deductions, credits, etc.

Another tool for high earners who are self employed is to hold earnings over the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 amount in their corporation. Pay yourself a salary of $102,100 and keep the rest in the corporation as retained earnings. For more on this, see: How to Manage Retained Earnings in an Offshore Corporation.

Be aware that the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion doesn’t apply to income that’s not  “earned.” So, the FEIE doesn’t cover passive income like rents, royalties, dividends, or capital gains. Income which is earned is money made from paid work / labor.

For more on tax planning for foreign real estate, see: US Tax Breaks for Offshore Real Estate

Most clients who contact us about the FEIE are business owners or self employed. They want to form an offshore corporation to retain earnings, maximize the value of the FEIE, and eliminate Self Employment tax.

Note that the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion does not apply to Self Employment tax, only income tax. So, a self employed person living abroad and qualifying for the Exclusion will still pay 15% in SE tax. That means about $15,000 on your salary of $102,100 for FICA, Medicare, Obamacare, etc.

If you don’t want to contribute to Social Security, you can opt out of Self Employment tax by forming an offshore corporation. Incorporate in a country that won’t tax your income, get your clients to pay that company, draw a salary from your foreign corporation reported on U.S. Form 2555, and you’ve eliminated U.S. social taxes.

For more on the tax benefits of living abroad, see: Tax Benefits of Going Offshore

For more on setting up a business offshore, see: Benefits of an Offshore Company

If you’re reading this article on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 and planning to set up a large business offshore, you might consider Puerto Rico. If $102,100 is a small portion of your net profits, think Puerto Rico. If your take home is closer to $1 million than $100,000, think Puerto Rico. If you have at least 5 employees, Puerto Rico might be for you.

The Puerto Rico tax deal, referred to as Act 20, is the reverse of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. With Puerto Rico, you pay U.S. tax rates on your first $100,000. Then you pay 4% profits over this amount and distribute those profits to yourself as a tax free dividend.

The Puerto Rico tax deal requires you live on the island for 183 days or more, significantly less than the 330 days required by the FEIE. If your net business income is well over the FEIE of $102,100, consider Puerto Rico.

The catch in Puerto Rico is that you must hire 5 employees on the island. You and your spouse can be 2 of those 5, and then you need 3 more. When setting up offshore, there’s no minimum number of employees required.

For a comparison of the Puerto Rico deal with the FEIE, see: Puerto Rico Tax Deal vs Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

For more on who qualifies as a Puerto Rico employee, see: Who is a Resident of Puerto Rico for US Tax Purposes

To read more about Puerto Rico and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, see: How to Maximize the Tax Benefits of Puerto Rico

For more on setting up a one man or one woman business offshore, see: Move Your Internet Business to Cayman Islands Tax Free

The bottom line is that the FEIE is great for those earning $100,000 from a business (or $200,000 of both spouses are working). If you are earning well over this threshold, and you can benefit from 5 employees, take a look at Puerto Rico.

I hope you’ve found this article on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2017 to be helpful. For more information on taking your business offshore, to Puerto Rico, or for a referral to a U.S. tax preparer, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call (619) 483-1708.

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.

IRS and panama papers

Mossack Fonseca Searchable Database Goes Online – Who Should be Afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers?

Do you have a company or bank account in Panama? Are you wondering if you should be worried about the IRS and Panama Papers? Do you know that the searchable database of Mossack Fonseca clients came online today? Is the thought of the IRS knocking on your door keeping you up at night?

Let me explain who should be afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers and who has nothing to worry about. Hopefully this will help most of you to rest easy, and those who have issues will take action before it’s too late.

First, a bit of background. A few months back, a hacker stole the records of one of the largest incorporators and law firms in Panama, Mossack Fonseca. The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung obtained the 11.5 million files and shared them with the Washington D.C.-based group of investigative journalists. This trove of documents became known in the press as the Panama Papers.

The Panama Papers have shone a light on many illegal uses of offshore corporations and offshore bank accounts.  As Vice put bluntly in April, “The politicians who have taken and made bribes, dodged taxes, and amassed fortunes of unimaginable scale are your politicians.”

  • Click here for my interview with Vice on who should be afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers.

Also exposed have been scammers and fraudsters hiding behind shell companies. For example, companies setup by Mossack Fonseca were used to dupe over 1,000 UK residents in a ponzi scheme.

I applaud the person who obtained these documents for shedding light on the dark side of the industry. Cleaning out those who use offshore structures to hide crime – or even hypocrisy – is a worthy goal that helps those of us trying to do things the right way. Those who use offshore companies within the law to minimize taxation and maximize privacy.

But, what about privacy for those who are following the law? What should reporters do with this data? Should they have the right to report on the private dealings of thousands of innocent people with legitimate uses for these companies?

Isn’t this akin to receiving stolen business records and financial data from Apple and putting in on the front page? No newspaper on the planet would do that… it would be immoral.

Does anyone have a right to know that Simon Cowell formed two offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands to buy property in the Caribbean?

What about the fact that Jackie Chan has an offshore company to manage his international projects?

What about Mossack Fonseca drafting the contracts for the sale of David Geffen’s 377-foot-long yacht? The boat was flagged in Panama, which is very common. Do we need to know this?

It appears that these were perfectly legal and compliant entities. Are they newsworthy?

Is there no right to privacy in our business and financial dealings? Do those who write on these topics owe a duty of care when using stolen data?

Job well done by the hacker… now how about some level of responsibility from the reporters?

OK, I’m off my soapbox. Back to who should be afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers.

If you or your representative used Mossack Fonseca to form your offshore structure, you need to be prepared for that information to become public. A searchable database of 200,000 offshore accounts, and thousands of companies went online today.

This online database will list:

  • The name of anyone listed as a director or shareholder of an offshore company formed by Mossack Fonseca.
  • The names and addresses of more than 200,000 offshore companies.
  • The identities of dozens of intermediary agencies that helped set up and run those structures with Mossack Fonseca.

NOTE: If you have a company in Panama, you should ask your incorporator who they used as the resident agent for service of process. If your lawyer or tax planning firm incorporated through Mossack Fonseca, your data is probably in the public domain. Premier Offshore has never worked with Mossack Fonseca.

Most clients list themselves as the director and shareholder of the offshore company. Those who decided to be as transparent as possible in their dealings with Mossack Fonseca will be listed in the database.

In fact, I would never setup a company with a nominee shareholder or officer. To do so would put your corporate assets at risk. Nominee directors in Panama are fine – they have no power.

  • It is possible to keep your identity private in Panama without using a nominee. You can incorporate a Limited Liability Company in another jurisdiction, and use that company as the shareholder. In this way, you keep control of the assets while maximizing privacy. For more on this, checkout The Bearer Share Company Hack.

If you are listed in the Mossack Fonseca database, should you be afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers?

If you’ve been filing your US tax forms and reporting your transactions accurately, you have nothing to worry about. To you, the Panama Papers is a data breach that has compromised your privacy, but nothing more.

I suggest the Panama Papers won’t even increase your risk of an audit. At most, the IRS will compare your filing to the database, find that you are in compliance, and that will be the end of it.

Considering that your offshore bank is reporting your transactions to the IRS under FACTA, the Panama Papers is only giving unto the IRS that which they already receive.

On the other hand, if you have an unreported account or company in Panama, you should be very afraid. You know that the IRS will download the Mossack Fonseca database and use it to find those who are not in compliance.  

If you’ve used nominee shareholders or as singors on your bank account to avoid FATCA, you are now in extreme danger. The IRS will consider this “wilful” and come after you with a vengeance.

But you still have time to take action and save yourself. If you signup for one of the IRS Voluntary Disclosure Initiatives before you become a target, you will pay only interest and penalties.

If you are deemed willful, and the IRS comes looking for you, you are at risk of significant jail time.

The IRS is currently offering five flavors of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative.

  • Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”),
  • Domestic Streamlined,
  • Foreign Streamlined,
  • Transitional Relief, and
  • Delinquent FBAR.

If the IRS might consider your actions willful or intentional, you need the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. This program one is the most costly and complex, but it will save your bacon if you are nearly in the fire. The OVDP gives you cover for your prior bad acts and a get out of jail card – not for free – but out of jail.

The OVDP requires you file 8 years of amended tax returns and FBARs, plut pay taxes, interest and a 20% penalty on whatever you owe. Now for the kicker, there’s also a 27.5% penalty on your highest offshore account balance. In some cases, that penalty may be 50% depending on the bank and timing.

  • If the bank where your account is located is under investigation when you apply for the OVDP, the government figures they would have caught you eventually and charge a 50% penalty.

If you are living abroad, or you have paid US tax on your income, but forgot to submit a form or two, you might qualify for OVDI Lite. Penalties for these programs range from zero to 5%, and the cost of getting back in the government’s good graces will be much lower than the OVDP.

No matter the cost, I can guarantee you that the risk of doing nothing far outweighs the financial burden of coming forward now.

To repeat, if you have an undeclared an account in Panama, you MUST take action before the IRS finds you. If you or your Panama structure are out of compliance, you should be very afraid of the IRS and the Panama Papers.

I also suggest anyone with unreported accounts or offshore companies in Panama should join the OVDI. Just because you were lucky and did not use Mossack Fonseca to incorporate your corporation, don’t think you are safe. I expect the IRS to pressure Panama to report all foreign structures owned by Americans. I think that this is just the tip of the offshore corporation iceberg in Panama.

I hope you found this article informative. Click here for my interview with Vice on who should be afraid of the IRS and Panama Papers. Please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 483-1708 for a confidential consultation on the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative.

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?
  • Read up on offshore inversions while your stuck on a plane?
  • 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