Foreign Earned Income Exclusion – Tax Home in Foreign Country

To qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, the foreign housing exclusion, or the foreign housing deduction, your tax home must be in a foreign country all of the qualifying days throughout your period of bona fide residence or physical presence abroad.

Foreign Country

To meet the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, you must live in or be present in a foreign country. A foreign country usually is any territory (including the air space and territorial waters) under the sovereignty of a government other than that of the United States.

The term “foreign country” includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas adjacent to the territorial waters of a foreign country and over which the foreign country has exclusive rights under international law to explore and exploit the natural resources.

The term “foreign country” does not include U.S. possessions such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or American Samoa. For purposes of the foreign earned income exclusion, the foreign housing exclusion, and the foreign housing deduction, the terms “foreign,” “abroad,” and “overseas” refer to areas outside the United States, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Antarctic region. The term “foreign country” does not include ships and aircraft traveling in or above international waters. Nor does it include offshore installations which are located outside the territorial waters of any individual nation.

Tax Home

Your tax home is the general area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home. Your tax home is the place where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual. Having a “tax home” in a given location does not necessarily mean that the given location is your residence or domicile for tax purposes.

If you do not have a regular or main place of business because of the nature of your work, your tax home may be the place where you regularly live. If you have neither a regular or main place of business nor a place where you regularly live, you are considered an itinerant and your tax home is wherever you work.

You are not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period in which your abode is in the United States. However, your abode is not necessarily in the United States while you are temporarily in the United States. Your abode is also not necessarily in the United States merely because you maintain a dwelling in the United States, whether or not your spouse or dependents use the dwelling.

“Abode” has been variously defined as one’s home, habitation, residence, domicile, or place of dwelling. It does not mean your principal place of business. “Abode” has a domestic rather than a vocational meaning and does not mean the same as “tax home.” The location of your abode often will depend on where you maintain your economic, family, and personal ties.

Temporary or Indefinite Assignments

The location of your tax home often depends on whether your assignment is temporary or indefinite. If you are temporarily absent from your tax home in the United States on business, you may be able to deduct your away from home expenses (for travel, meals, and lodging) but you would not qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. If your new work assignment is for an indefinite period, your new place of employment becomes your tax home, and you would not be able to deduct any of the aforementioned related expenses that you have in the general area of this new work assignment. If your new tax home is in a foreign country and you meet the other requirements, your earnings may qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion.

If you expect your employment away from home in a single location to last, and it does last, for 1 year or less, it is temporary unless facts and circumstances indicate otherwise. If you expect it to last for more than 1 year, it is indefinite.

If you expect it to last for 1 year or less, but at some later date you expect it to last longer than 1 year, it is temporary (in the absence of facts and circumstances indicating otherwise) until your expectation changes.

For guidance on how to determine your tax home refer to Revenue Ruling 93-86. This ruling may be updated from time to time.

Changes in the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Effective for tax years beginning after 2005, the amount of foreign earned income (and foreign housing costs) excluded from an individual’s gross income will be used for purposes of determining the rate of income tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) that applies to his or her non-excluded income. The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-222) added a new section 911(f) to the Internal Revenue Code. In essence, an individual’s tax on any foreign earned income above the exclusion amount and on any unearned income is computed as if the foreign earned income exclusion was not claimed. The individual’s tax will be the excess of the tax that would be imposed if his or her taxable income were increased by the amount(s) excluded, and the tax that would be imposed if his or her taxable income were equal to the excluded amount(s). For this purpose, the excluded amount(s) will be reduced by the aggregate amount of any deductions or other exclusions otherwise disallowed. In many cases this will have the effect of increasing an individual’s U.S. federal income tax to an amount greater than it would have been under prior law.