US Taxation & Reporting of Canadian RRSP : FBAR & FATCA Form 8938

US Taxation & Reporting of Canadian RRSP : FBAR & FATCA Form 8938

Is Canadian RRSP Taxable in US?

US Taxation of RRSP:  The guidelines for Canadian RRSP & US Tax are complex. That is because when a U.S. Person has foreign investments in Canada, they are subject to IRS tax and reporting rules. One common investment vehicle in Canada is the RRSP.

The RRSP is a Registered Retirement Savings Plan.

The RRSP reporting requirements for FBAR & FATCA Form 8938 are relatively straightforward, as is the tax filing requirements.

A few years back, the IRS did away with the annual reporting required on Form 8891, and the RRSP is exempt from Form 3520 reporting.

But, with the Internal Revenue Service taking an aggressive approach on matters involving foreign accounts compliance and unreported offshore income– compliance is important to avoid offshore penalties.

We will summarize US Taxation of RRSP, along with FBAR and FACTA Form 8938 Reporting.

US Taxation of RRSP 

The US Taxation of RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plans) is similar to the U.S. 401K.

Just like a 401K in the U.S., the money you deposit into the Canadian RRSP is pre-taxed and grows tax-free until it is withdrawn.

The goal of the RRSP is the same as the 401K, which is to defer the tax now, during the working years, with the goal of the contributions growing tax-free. Then, when the investment is distributed to the beneficiary at the time of retirement, it is (presumably) taxed at a lower progressive tax rate.

One main difference between the 401K and the RRSP is that the RRSP does not carry the automatic 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

The fact that the withdrawal rules for an RRSP are more relaxed had previously impacted how the IRS treated the growth within the fund — and required the annual filing of Form 8891 (see below).

In addition, there are different carry-over rules for unused contribution limits for the RRSP than there are for the 401K.

Article 18 (1) US/Canada Tax Treaty

When it comes to pensions (and the RRSP is considered a pension), Article 18 of the treaty, provides:

Article 18, Paragraph 1

Pensions and annuities arising in a Contracting State and paid to a resident of the other Contracting State may be taxed in that other State, but the amount of any pension included in income for the purposes of taxation in that other State shall not exceed the amount that would be included in the first-mentioned State if the recipient were a resident thereof.”

What does this Mean?

It means that a U.S. Person with a Canadian RRSP, and who resides in the U.S. may be taxed in the U.S. on the Canadian RRSP, but the amount of pension that is included on the U.S. tax return for tax purposes cannot exceed the amount that would have been includable in Canada.

With a caveat:


(a) Pensions may also be taxed in the Contracting State in which they arise and according to the laws of that State; but if a resident of the other Contracting State is the beneficial owner of a periodic pension payment, the tax so charged shall not exceed 15 per cent of the gross amount of such payment; and

(b) Annuities may also be taxed in the Contracting State in which they arise and according to the laws of that State; but if a resident of the other Contracting State is the beneficial owner of an annuity payment, the tax so charged shall not exceed 15 per cent of the portion of such payment that is liable to tax in the first-mentioned State.”

Canada May Also Tax the Pension

Pursuant to the above-referenced paragraph, Canada can still tax the pension, but, the total tax rate cannot exceed 15% — so presumably, the U.S. person who paid tax in the U.S. on their RRSP would have a foreign tax credit to apply back to Canada on those taxes.

Article 18, (5) Social Security

Social Security is Treated Differently than Pension:

“Pursuant to Paragraph 5, Benefits under the social security legislation in a Contracting State paid to a resident of the other Contracting State or a citizen of the United States shall be taxable only in the first-mentioned State.”

Can U.S. Tax Canadian Social Security?


Unlike the pension, which is generally taxable in the State of residence, Social Security is only taxable in the contracting state (aka the state where the pension was earned). Thus, Canada has t the right to tax a U.S. person with a Canadian Social Security, even if they live in the U.S.

Totalization Agreement & RRSP

The Totalization Agreement is designed to avoid duplicate social security contributions, but since Canada has its own social security, the RRSP payments do not apply, and are instead covered under the bilateral tax treaty.

For example, if a U.S. Person is employed in Canada, then it would not be fair to require social security payments to both the U.S. and Canada. Not all countries have a totalization agreement. The U.S. has entered into less than 30 totalization agreements worldwide.

As provided by the U.S. and Canadian Totalization Agreement:

“An agreement effective August 1, 1984, between the United States and Canada improves Social Security protection for people who work or have worked in both countries. It also helps protect the benefit rights of people who have earned Canadian Social Security credits based on residence and/or contributions in Canada.”

While you work––If your work is covered by both the U.S. and Canadian Social Security systems, you (and your employer, if you are employed) would normally have to pay Social Security taxes to both countries for the same work. However, the agreement eliminates this double coverage so you pay taxes to only one system (see the section on “Coverage and Social Security taxes” section).

When you apply for benefits––You may have some Social Security credits in both the United States and Canada but not have enough to be eligible for benefits in one country or the other. The agreement makes it easier to qualify for benefits by letting you add together your Social Security credits in both countries. For more details, see the section on”Monthly benefits.’

*Windfall provisions and the totalization agreement may overall impact social security.

Can I Deduct RRSP Payments on a US Tax Return

When a U.S. person pays into RRSP, they may be able to deduct those payments from the table income on their U.S. tax return, if they meet the requirements as established in the 2007 protocol.

2007 Protocol for RRSP

“Contributions made to, or benefits accrued under, a qualifying retirement plan in a Contracting State by or on behalf of an individual who is a resident of the other Contracting State shall be deductible or excludible in computing the individual’s taxable income in that other State, where:

(a) The individual performs services as an employee in the first mentioned state the remuneration from which is taxable in that State and is borne by an employer who is a resident of that State or by a permanent establishment which the employer has in that State; and

(b) The contributions and benefits are attributable to those services and are made or accrued during the period in which the individual performs those services.

This paragraph shall apply only to the extent that the contributions or benefits qualify for tax relief in the first-mentioned State.”

Paragraph 12 further clarifies:

“For the purposes of United States taxation, the benefits granted under paragraph 10 shall not exceed the benefits that would be allowed by the United States to its residents for contributions to, or benefits otherwise accrued under, a generally corresponding pension or retirement plan established in and recognized for tax purposes by the United States.

For purposes of determining an individual’s eligibility to participate in and receive tax benefits with respect to a pension or retirement plan or other retirement arrangement established in and recognized for tax purposes by the United States, contributions made to, or benefits accrued under, a qualifying retirement plan in Canada by or on behalf of the individual shall be treated as contributions or benefits under a generally corresponding pension or retirement plan established in and recognized for tax purposes by the United States.”

Form 8891 

Up until 2012, a U.S. person with an RRSP had to make an annual election to avoid immediate taxation of the RRSP growth within the RRSP fund.

The U.S. and Canadian Treaty, Article 29, Paragraph 5 provides:

“A beneficiary of a Canadian registered retirement savings plan may elect, under rules established by the competent authority of the United States, to defer United States taxation with respect to any income accrued in the plan but not distributed by the plan, until such time as a distribution is made from such plan, or any plan substituted therefor.

The provisions of the preceding sentence shall not apply to income which is reasonably attributable to contributions made to the plan by the beneficiary while he was not a resident of Canada.”

Form 8891 was discontinued in 2015, with no retroactivity filing requirement.

Form 8891 & RRSP

Starting in 2015, if a person has a Canadian RRSP, then they are in luck. Prior to 2015, a person with an RRSP who was not even taking withdrawals was required to make an annual election on IRS Form 8891. 

Form 8891 is no longer required, and the law was applied retroactively so past-filing is not required.

*If you are still making active contributions to the RRSP from a Canadian employer, just because the growth within the funds is generally not taxed (if at all) until withdrawn, it does not mean the contributions are tax deferred. 


  • The RRSP is FBAR reportable

RRSP & FATCA Form 8938 

RRSP & Form 3520-A

Canada/U.S. Tax Common Misconceptions

  • There is a tax treaty, so my income is not taxable in the U.S.
  • Canadian taxes are high, so you do not need to file in the U.S.
  • RRSP and RRIF escape tax liability at the state level as well.
  • Deferred earnings in a PC are automatically safe from GILTI

Out of RRSP Compliance?

If you are out of compliance, the penalties can be severe. Therefore, you may consider entering IRS offshore voluntary disclosure/tax amnesty, before it is too late.

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