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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

A Guide to Form 2555 and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

For American expatriates, the tax system's global reach means that the income they earn abroad is subject to U.S. tax. However, mechanisms like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) provide some relief. This guide will explore the nuances of claiming this exclusion through Form 2555, a topic of significant relevance for U.S. citizens and residents working overseas.

​Executive Summary

  • Purpose of Form 2555: This form is used to claim the foreign earned income exclusion, potentially excluding foreign earnings from U.S. tax.

  • Considerations and Drawbacks: Claiming the foreign earned income exclusion can affect eligibility for other tax benefits and comes with certain restrictions.

  • Form 2555 vs. Form 1116: Differences between the foreign earned income exclusion and the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) are significant, impacting tax outcomes.

The U.S. Tax System and Global Income

The U.S. tax system is unique, taxing individuals based on citizenship and residency, not just on income sourced within its borders. This means that American expatriates face a dual tax burden: paying taxes to the country where they reside and to the U.S. To mitigate this, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers tax credits, deductions, and exclusions, with the foreign earned income exclusion being a primary tool for expats to reduce their U.S. tax liability.

Are You Eligible For Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?

To qualify, you must meet specific criteria: your tax home must be in a foreign country, and you must pass either the Bona Fide Residence Test or the Physical Presence Test. The former requires you to be a resident in a foreign country for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year, while the latter necessitates that you are physically present in a foreign country for at least 330 full days during a period of 12 consecutive months. Additionally, your foreign earned income must be from services performed during the period your Bona Fide Residence or Physical Presence is established.

Expert Insight:

The foreign earned income exclusion can be a double-edged sword; substantial tax savings on one hand, but it may limit your ability to contribute to an IRA, affecting your retirement planning.

What Is Form 2555?

The foreign earned income exclusion is claimed by filling out IRS tax form 2555 and filing it along with your tax return. To accurately complete Form 2555, you must provide comprehensive details regarding your foreign employment and residency status. Here are some of the information that needs to be provided on the form:

  1. Foreign Address: Your residential address in the foreign country where you claim to have a tax home.

  2. Travel Dates: The exact dates of your travel in and out of the foreign country during the tax year.

  3. Income Earned: The total amount of foreign earned income, specifying the types of income, such as wages, salaries, or professional fees.

  4. Foreign Tax Information: Information on any foreign taxes paid on your income, which could affect your eligibility for the foreign earned income exclusion.

  5. Employer Details: The name and address of your foreign employer, or if self-employed, information about your foreign business.

  6. Days of Presence: The number of days you were physically present in the foreign country to meet the requirements of the Physical Presence Test.

  7. Tax Home and Date Established: The country of your tax home and date that you established your tax home

  8. Housing Costs: Details of your total foreign housing expenses, which are necessary if you're claiming the Foreign Housing Exclusion or Deduction.

  9. Income Exclusion Amount: The specific amount of foreign earned income you are excluding, based on the limits set for the tax year.

Drawbacks of Using Form 2555

Claiming the foreign earned income exclusion isn't always straightforward. If you opt for the exclusion, you may become ineligible for other U.S. tax credits, like the Earned Income Credit. Additionally, if you revoke the exclusion, you cannot claim it again for five years without IRS approval.

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion vs. the Foreign Tax Credit

While the foreign earned income exclusion excludes the income from taxation, the foreign tax credit reduces your US tax liability. The foreign earned income exclusion is particularly advantageous if you pay little or no foreign tax, or if the foreign tax rate is lower than the U.S. rate. It's also beneficial if your foreign income is below the foreign earned income exclusion cap, as it can result in zero U.S. tax liability for that income.

Expert Insight:

Choosing between the foreign earned income exclusion and the foreign tax credit isn't just about the current year numbers—it's about understanding your long-term financial landscape.

U.S. Government Employees

U.S. government employees cannot claim the foreign earned income exclusion for their government-paid earnings. However, if they have other private income earned abroad, that may be eligible to be excluded.

Important Notices or Exceptions

  • Tax Treaties: The U.S. has tax treaties with numerous countries, which can affect eligibility for the foreign earned income exclusion.

  • Self-Employment Tax: The foreign earned income exclusion does not exclude your foreign earnings from self-employment tax.

  • State Taxes: Some states do not recognize the foreign earned income exclusion and will tax foreign income regardless of the federal exclusion.

Need Help With Claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?

At CPAs for Expats, we specialize in helping US expats with their US tax. Our low fees and 4.9/5 rating on independent review platforms attests to our commitment to excellence and client satisfaction. Contact us today, and let our experts simplify your tax management process, providing peace of mind and significant savings!


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