The coronavirus pandemic has proven a broad and nearly universal view that American’s relationship with technology will deepen, including their ability to work from almost anywhere.
If you work remotely in the same state as your business location, you can follow the same state laws for income taxes and employment taxes. But as a remote employee, you need to weigh in the tax implications of cross-border work arrangements.
Below are the laws and taxes considerations to make as a remote employee working abroad:
Be Aware of Your Tax Obligations
You will want to consider your current tax situation and see how it may change if you leave the country. While the U.S. tax code applies to all tax citizens and green card holders no matter how long they live and work remotely outside the United States, some exclusions are available.
You may qualify for a foreign tax credit or the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), which lets you reduce or eliminate all or a portion of your foreign earned income (up to $108,700 from U.S. taxes). This exclusion is not valid for passive, or investment income such as interest and dividend and only includes earned income, such as:
- Self-employed income
Generally, many countries have bilateral tax treaties which prevent you from paying tax on the same thing twice.
Determine Your Primary Residence or Tax Home
Before you qualify using the credit or FEIE, it’s crucial to make sure your tax home is outside the United States.
For instance, countries like Portugal will let you claim to be their tax resident if your primary residence is registered there, and you stay for 183 days or more in any tax year. On the other hand, the U.K. implements a “Statutory Residence Test,” which considers the amount of time you spend and work in each tax year, separately.
According to the IRS,
- Your tax home is the general area of your principal 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.
As U.S. citizens, the foreign income exclusion comes into effect only if you spend at least 330 days of the tax year abroad, not including time on planes. Then, if you qualify, you can use Form 2555 to figure your foreign earned income exclusion and your housing exclusion or deduction.
Comply With Foreign Reporting Requirements
Many digital nomads and expats may also be subject to additional tax reporting, such as filing a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR).
An FBAR reports your money that resides in offshore bank accounts. Any U.S. tax resident with a foreign account balance of $10,000 or more during a specific tax year needs to file an FBAR.
This account balance is calculated in its totality, which means it is a sum of all your foreign bank accounts. Individuals who have signing authority for an overseas account or a joint account also need to file an FBAR.
FBAR is filed individually to the Dept. of Treasury and submitted electronically through the BSA e-filing site.
Know Regulations Around State Taxes
Certain U.S. states require ‘verified’ state residents who work outside to pay state taxes, or they have to prove they are no longer state residents. For example, the state of Colorado requires proof of non-resident status, and other places such as California need you to pay state taxes even if the federal government has certified you as a foreign resident.
If you plan to work abroad, this can be a problem for many reasons. In some cases, owning personal property such as a car or even a library card can make you liable to pay state income tax.
That’s why know more about state taxes and/or relocate to a low or no-tax state before you depart, rather than being caught unaware by years of unpaid penalties.
Whether in the U.S. or abroad, if you have an employer, they are required to pay social security and Medicare for you. But as a self-employed digital nomad, you may be liable for SECA (Self-Employed Contributions Act), based on your country of residence.
However, you may be exempt from SECA tax if the U.S. has a Totalization Agreement with the country you are residing in. Under this agreement, SSA will account for your periods of U.S. coverage that qualify for benefits under the social security program of an agreement country.
Depending on your situation and the period spent in a foreign country, you may have freed yourself of commutes, but knowing your tax obligations will help you navigate through the complexities of U.S. taxes no matter where your work takes you.