Foreign Tax Credit For Individuals Living Abroad

As you know, the United States requires all citizens and permanent residents (Green Card holders) to report income via annual income tax filings regardless of where in the world the money was earned. As the name suggests, the Foreign Tax Credit for individuals is designed to reduce your U.S. tax burden on income that was earned and consequently taxed in a foreign country. In this way, you will not be subject to double taxation on that money.

In addition to foreign earned income (FEI), dividends, interest, and even rental income that come from foreign sources are eligible for consideration with the Foreign Tax Credit if they were taxed by a foreign entity. One benefit to using this credit is that it is available to all U.S. taxpayers who have foreign earned income or investment income from a foreign source. There are no stipulations regarding residency or time spent in a foreign country to take advantage of this reduction in taxes owed at home.

Form 1116: What Is The Catch?

Although Form 1116 is a great benefit, there are some limitations to this tax credit that you should be aware of.

  1. The money earned needs to be subject to income tax in the foreign country. Unfortunately, the credit cannot be used to offset the cost of the property or other taxes paid abroad. Income only!
  2. The credit can be up to the amount you paid the foreign country. However, it is limited to no more than the percentage of your income that was earned overseas. So if you only earned 40% of your income in a foreign country that was subject to taxation abroad, then you cannot take a deduction equal to more than 40% of your U.S. tax burden.

Let’s Take A Look At Expat Example

Mark and Sylvia have been living and working in Spain for three years. They are full-time residents and earn all of their foreign earned income through the Spanish companies they work for (perhaps, you can relate to this example of how to claim the Foreign Tax Credit):

  • As such, they are subject to the Spanish progressive tax rate of up to 52%. Yikes!
  • Additionally, they have investment income in the U.S. that is 43% of their total income.
  • By using the Foreign Tax Credit, they can deduct the amount they need to pay in U.S. taxes by subtracting the amount paid to the Spanish government.
  • Since 57% of their income comes from a taxable foreign source, of the taxes paid to Spain from they can deduct up to that percentage from the total amount owed to the U.S., thus substantially reducing their tax burden.

Another fact: Sometimes, you will be taxed at a lower rate due to a tax treaty between the U.S. and the foreign entity. In this case, you can only claim the reduced tax for the U.S. Foreign Tax Credit. Of course, you are welcome to ask for a refund from the foreign country for the difference in the amount allowed.

So What About Carryover On U.S. Expat Taxes?

The big advantage is if you have an unused FTC from prior years, they automatically get carried forward and can be utilized in future years. For those who choose to take the tax credit, it may be that the taxes paid to exceed the credit limit for that year. In many cases, the excess can be carried over to the next tax year or even back to previous years.

Another popular deduction often talked about in expat circles is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). With a limit of just over $100,000, it is possible that this could be used to reduce your tax burden as well. If you would like to learn more about the differences between the Foreign Tax Credit and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, we suggest you take a look at this handy infographic we prepared for you, which compares the two options.

Is The Foreign Tax Credit Right For American Overseas?

In the end, every case is unique and a qualified tax professional can advise you on how best to proceed. The Foreign Tax Credit could likely be an important part of your tax plan for this year, but it is not the only option available to people who earn income outside of the United States. The most important thing to remember is that you should never ignore your U.S. tax filings, even if you find all of these acronyms (FTI, FEIE, FTC) and exceptions confusing. We are always here to help.

Have a question? Contact Olivier Wagner.

Your comments are always welcome!

Olivier Wagner

Certified Public Accountant, U.S. immigrant, expat, and perpetual traveler Olivier Wagner preaches the philosophy of being a worldly American. He uses his expertise to show you how to use 100% legal strategies (beyond traditionally maligned “tax havens”) to keep your income and assets safe from the IRS. Before obtaining my U.S. citizenship and traveling all over the world, he was born and raised in France. His experience learning the intricacies of the U.S. immigration process combined with his desire to travel freely lead me to specialize in taxes for Americans living and working abroad. He helps Americans Abroad file their taxes and devise strategies that make sense for their lifestyle. These strategies encompass all aspects of registering an offshore business, opening a bank account abroad, and planning out new residencies and citizenships. He is operating the accounting firm 1040 Abroad. 1040 Abroad exists to help you make sense of an incredibly large world of possibilities. Find out more by visiting

Subscribe to TaxConnections Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.