Easy China Tax Guide for US Expats Abroad

Easy China Tax Guide for US Expats Abroad

China Tax Guide for US Expats Abroad 

While there are many different countries that US Person Expats travel to, China has become one of the most popular relocations for people seeking to permanently reside outside of the United States. The China economy is strong and diverse — and the country offers a fair cost of living and wonderful cities. It is also one of the nearly 60 countries that has entered into an international tax treaty with the United States. This may prove very beneficial to US Taxpayers who have foreign retirement plans – and/or relinquishes/renounces their United States citizenship but are still interested in traveling to the US (by way of the E-2 Tax Treaty). Let’s go through the basics of ten important facts for Expats who are residing overseas in China:

US Taxes Until Formal Expatriation

One of the most common misconceptions that US Expats have is that if they relocate overseas, they are no longer required to pay U.S. tax on foreign earnings — but that is incorrect. Unless a person formally expatriates and relinquishes their green card — or renounces their US citizenship — they are still considered a US Person and are still required to pay U.S. tax on their worldwide income.

Treaty Benefits May Apply for China Residents

If a person is considered a US person, they may be able to make a treaty election using form 8833 and elect to be treated as a foreign person for U.S. tax purposes (generally excludes U.S. citizens). In this scenario, the Taxpayer may qualify to file a Form 1040NR as a nonresident instead of a form 1040 — and they only have to pay U.S. tax on their US-sourced income (FDAP and ECI).

Foreign Earned Income & Housing Exclusion (FEIE)

US persons who reside overseas and qualify for either the Physical Presence Test or Bona-Fide Residence Test can qualify to exclude up to about $108,000 of their US income from their U.S. tax return — as well as claim a housing credit for a portion of the rent and other costs associated with foreign housing. If a person qualifies for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion they must still file the tax return and include a Form 2555 — couples filing joint tax returns can each claim the earned income exclusion but cannot double-dip on the housing exclusion.

Foreign Tax Credits (FTC)

When a person pays tax overseas on income they earned abroad, they may be able to claim a foreign tax credit against any taxes that would otherwise be due on the same income on a US tax return. It is not always a dollar for dollar credit — and if a person claims the foreign earned income exclusion for earned income they cannot double-up on the same dollar using both the credit and the exclusion — but they may still have some remaining credit available depending on how much income they earned after applying the earned income exclusion. In other words, if a person earns significant income from employment — above the foreign earned income exclusion amount — they may be able to still claim a foreign tax credit on the additional income for the portion not exempted by the FEIE.

China Pension Plan & US Tax

The China Pension Plan typically grows tax-free (distinct from a Hong Kong Provident Fund in which there is no treaty with Hong Kong and so the tax treatment of the MPF is different). Since it is a foreign pension, it may qualify as not taxable during the growth phase from a U.S. tax perspective — but some IRS agents may take the position that the growth is still taxable since it is not a qualified plan. You should speak with a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist before taking a position on your tax return.

China Pension & US Reporting

Even if the China Pension Plan is not taxable, it is still a reportable foreign financial account that must be disclosed on various different international information reporting forms such as the FBAR and FATCA Form 8938.

FATCA and Form 8938

FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. US taxpayers generally comply with FATCA by filing a Form 8938 (above). The Foreign Financial Institutions (FFI) may send expats and other US persons a FATCA letter or KYC Letter to ascertain whether the individual is a US person even if they are residing outside of the United States as an expat. This may lead the FFI to report the Taxpayer to the IRS.

Foreign Account Reporting & FBAR (FinCEN Form 114)

When a US person has foreign bank accounts and other financial accounts with an annual aggregate total that exceeds $10,000 on any given day in any year, they have to report the accounts on the FBAR (aka FinCEN Form 114). The form is filed electronically directly on the FinCEN website.

Foreign Gifts from China & Form 3520 

Here is a common scenario: A US citizen has moved back to their home country. They may possibly have dual-citizenship but their immediate family resides overseas. They receive a large gift or bequest from a family member who is a nonresident alien, such as when a grandparent or parent passes away and leaves a gift to multiple siblings — and the US Expat may be the only US person sibling. The expat is still required to report the gift on Form 3520 and the failure to do so can lead to some steep penalties.

Expat Tax Amnesty for China Residents

The US government has developed various voluntary disclosure and amnesty programs designed to assist expats and other taxpayers with getting into compliance for unreported income, accounts, investments, or assets. There are various different programs and although some of the programs have been recently closed, other programs have been updated and for expats who can meet the foreign residence test and prove they are non-willful, they may still qualify for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures  — and a complete penalty waiver.

About Our International Tax Law Firm

Golding & Golding specializes exclusively in international tax, and specifically IRS offshore disclosure and expatriation.

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