In order to claim the foreign earned income exclusion, or FEIE, a US expat must have a tax home that is located outside of the US and either meet the bona fide residence or physical presence test.
This article explains the physical presence test, how it works, and who can meet it.
What is the physical presence test?
The physical presence test is one of the tests that a US expat must meet in order to be eligible for the FEIE.
To meet the physical presence test, you must have spent at least 330 days out of a 365 day period outside of the US.
The physical presence test is best for US expats working and living abroad temporarily. The physical presence test does not require you to live abroad for a full calendar year. The only requirement is that you spend 330 out of 365 days abroad over a 12 month period. Note, this 12 month period does not have to be a calendar year, the 12 month period can be any period that either begins or ends in the tax year you want to qualify for the physical presence test! be in a calendar year, either.
Do you have an example of how the physical presence test works?
Let’s say you moved abroad on July 31st 2020, and you did not return to the US for the rest of 2020 or for the rest of 2020. Your first full day abroad is considered August 1st 2020. You can pick any 12-month period that either begins or ends in 2020 to meet the physical presence test.
In 2020, you spent 153 days (July 1st through December 31st 2020) outside of the US. In 2021, since you did not travel back to the US, you spent 365 days outside of the US. Therefore, the best 12-month period to meet the physical presence test would be from July 1st 2019 through June 30th 2020 as in this 12-month period you were abroad for more than 330 days.
This sounds complicated, how can I get help?
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