Who is a “resident”? What is a “resident”? This sounds like such a basic question. It is not so simple for tax purposes; nor for other provisions of the law.
There is the colloquial meaning of resident. For instance, if Mr. Smith says, “I have been a resident of Montana on my ranch for 30 years”; to what does he refer? What if Mr. Smith has a house in California (which he has owned for 15 years) and another ranch in Alberta, Canada that he has owned for 45 years. Is he also a “resident” of Canada and California?
What if he is not a U.S. citizen but holds a particular type of visa, such as lawful permanent residency (an immigrant visa)? What if he has a non-immigrant visa, such as an E-2 visa? What if he only spends 4 months a year on his ranch in Montana, of where is he a “resident”?
Is he a “resident” in some or all of these scenarios? Why is this important in the context of “U.S. expatriation taxation”?
There are three sources of federal law where it becomes very important, which will be discussed in later posts:
- Title 31 – which is the “bank secrecy” law that creates the “FBARs” – see a prior post, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
- Title 26 – federal tax law that has a myriad of definitions regarding “residents”; see, Oops…Did I “Expatriate” and Never Know It: Lawful Permanent Residents Beware! International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, Jan.-Feb. 2014, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p9.
- Title 8 – federal immigration law; see, Part II: Who is a “long-term” lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) and why does it matter?
In addition, various states, such as California, Texas and Washington D.C. (actually not a state; but all places I happen to be licensed to practice law) have their own definitions of who are “residents” for income tax and other purposes.
Subsequent posts will discuss the importance of understanding who is a “resident” and the implications under these various laws.
Laymen regularly have an idea of where they are “resident” – but that idea is often very different from definitions of “resident” under federal Titles 31, 26 and 8 and state laws (e.g., Texas, D.C., Florida, California, New York, etc.).
See WSJ = World/Expats – For an Excellent Overview of U.S. Taxation for U.S. Citizen Individuals in Plain English
For an excellent overview (without penalty hype or exaggeration of the U.S. tax law), read the following article from Eric Scali of H&R Block’s expat-focused service titled –Puncturing 7 Common Myths about U.S. Expat Tax Rules, Nov. 15, 2015, WSJ = Globe, EXPAT, For global nomads everywhere
The following 7 myths are accurately addressed with respect to U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S. (although caution should be taken if you are a lawful permanent resident – “LPR”- residing inside a country with a U.S. income tax treaty – see, Does the IRS have access to the USCIS immigration data for former lawful permanent residents (LPRs)?, posted April 11, 2015 and the discussion of how many LPR individuals will have “expatriated” without actually having filed USCIS Form I-407. See, Oops…Did I “Expatriate” and Never Know It: Lawful Permanent Residents Beware! International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, Jan.-Feb. 2014, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p9):
Myth #1: Individuals living outside of the U.S. and filing tax returns with a foreign government don’t have to file annual U.S. tax returns.
Myth #2: Expats only need to report their U.S. income on their U.S. tax return.
Myth #4: Work performed by an expat within the U.S. but paid by an expat’s foreign employer is foreign income because it’s paid by the foreign employer and not issued on a W-2.
Myth #5: Expats’ non-U.S.-based pension plans have the same tax treatment in the U.S. as they do in their country of residence.
Myth #6: When expats receive certain items of income, they’re only taxable in their country of residence under the rules provided for in the income tax treaty the foreign country has with the U.S.
Myth #7: An expat’s foreign investments are treated the same as they are in the foreign country.
Unfortunately, I have heard all of these and more (many times over) during my professional career as an international tax lawyer (and an accountant in the late 1980s) from both individuals and their tax advisers both inside the U.S. and outside the U.S. As someone who lives with their family outside the U.S., I have a good understanding about the difficulty of finding good U.S. tax resources that accurately and simply explain these very complex laws.