IRS Substantial Presence Test Tax Guide – FBAR & FATCA Reporting Summary
IRS Substantial Presence Test: A Summary Review Guide.
What is the Substantial Presence Test?
For Non-U.S. Residents and Non- U.S. Citizens, the Substantial Presence Test is crucial to determine if they may be subject to U.S. Tax, FBAR and FATCA Reporting.
The Substantial Presence Test is used to determine if a foreign person is subject to U.S. Tax on their worldwide income — even through they are not U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents.
A person who is a US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder) is generally required to file a 1040 Tax Return. When filing a 1040 Tax Return, if the person has foreign bank accounts and meets the minimum threshold requirement, then they are required to file an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).
What Foreign National must understand is that the responsibility to file a 1040 (and report foreign bank accounts) is not just for US Citizens or Legal Permanent Resident. If a Foreign National meets the Substantial Presence Test, they are also required to file a 1040 and FBAR (if they meet certain threshold requirements) even though they are not a US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.
Substantial Presence Test
When a person first comes to the United States to live, if they earned income they are required to file a tax return. Until they become a Legal Permanent Resident or US citizen, they finally 1040-NR.
The problem for many people is that once they have lived in the United States for a certain amount of time, they become subject to regular taxation just as if they were a US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident. Not only does this mean that the United States will tax the person on the worldwide income, but they are also required to comply with all foreign account reporting requirements.
The failure to comply with foreign account reporting may result in significant fines, penalties, and even criminal investigation depending on the facts and circumstances of their case. In addition, if the person is found to be willful and their failure to report then their entire foreign accounts can be subject to a 100% penalty.
The following is a summary of the Substantial Presence Test followed by a summary of FBAR reporting requirements:
Summary of Substantial Presence Test
As a non-US citizen and non-US green card holder, you are generally only required to pay tax on your “US Effectively Connected Income” (money you earn while working in the United States). However, if you qualify for the Substantial Presence Test, then the IRS will tax you on your WORLDWIDE income.
IRS Substantial Presence Test generally means that you were present in the United States for at least 30 days in the current year and a minimum total of 183 days over 3 years, using the following equation:
- 1 day = 1 day in the current year
- 1 day = 1/3 day in the prior year
- 1 day = 1/6 day two years prior
Example A: If you were here 100 days in 2016, 30 days in 2015, and 120 days in 2014, the calculation is as follows:
- 2016 = 100 days
- 2015 = 30 days/3= 10 days
- 2014 = 120 days/6 = 20 days
- Total = 130 days, so you would not qualify under the substantial presence test and NOT be subject to U.S. Income tax on your worldwide income (and you will only pay tax on money earned while working in the US).
Example B: If you were here 180 days in 2016, 180 days in 2015, and 180 days in 2014, the calculation is as follows:
- 2016 = 180 days
- 2015 = 180 days/3= 60 days
- 2014 = 180 days/6 = 30 days
- Total = 270 days, so you would qualify under the substantial presence test and will be subject to U.S. Income tax on your worldwide income, unless another exception applies.
Tax Liability – Substantial Presence Test
Once a person meets the substantial presence test, they are required to report their worldwide income in the United States on a 1040 instead of at 1040 NR. Depending on any tax treaties the United States has with any particular country, the foreigner may find himself or herself under heavy tax scrutiny by the United States.
Substantial Presence Test – Exception
There is an exception to this filing rule, depending on the purpose of the foreigner being in the United States and what role/job the person is doing in the United States.
The IRS provides the following involving the substantial presence exception:
Do not count days for which you are an exempt individual. The term “exempt individual” does not refer to someone exempt from U.S. tax, but to anyone in the following categories:
- An individual temporarily present in the U.S. as a foreign government-related individual under an “A” or “G” visa, other than individuals holding “A-3” or “G-5” class visas.
- A teacher or trainee temporarily present in the U.S. under a “J” or “Q” visa, who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa.
- A student temporarily present in the U.S. under an “F,” “J,” “M,” or “Q” visa, who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa.
- A professional athlete temporarily in the U.S. to compete in a charitable sports event.
If you exclude days of presence in the U.S. for purposes of the substantial presence test because you were an exempt individual or were unable to leave the U.S. because of a medical condition or medical problem, you must include Form 8843, Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals With a Medical Condition, with your income tax return. If you do not have to file an income tax return, send Form 8843 to the address indicated in the instructions for Form 8843 by the due date for filing an income tax return.
If you do not timely file Form 8843, you cannot exclude the days you were present in the U.S. as an exempt individual or because of a medical condition that arose while you were in the U.S. This does not apply if you can show, by clear and convincing evidence that you took reasonable actions to become aware of the filing requirements and significant steps to comply with those requirements.
Closer Connection Exception to the Substantial Presence Test
Even if you passed the substantial presence test you can still be treated as a nonresident alien if you qualify for one of the following exceptions;
- The closer connection exception available to all aliens. Please refer to Conditions for a Closer Connection to a Foreign Country.
- The closer connection exception available only to students. Please refer to The Closer Connection Exception to the Substantial Presence Test for Foreign Students and Sample Letter.
If you meet the exception, you must file IRS Form 8843 to avoid taxes and penalties. The IRS provides the following instructions/summary regarding the use of this form:
Exempt Individuals For purposes of the substantial presence test, an exempt individual includes anyone in the following categories.
- A teacher or trainee (defined on this page).
- A student (defined on the next page).
- A professional athlete temporarily present in the United States to compete in a charitable sports event.
The term exempt individual also includes an individual temporarily present in the United States as a foreign government-related individual under an “A” or “G” visa. If you are present under an “A” or “G” visa, you are not required to file Form 8843.
Specific Instructions Part I —General Information
If you are attaching Form 8843 to Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ, you are not required to complete lines 1a through 4a of Form 8843 if you provide the requested information on the corresponding lines of Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. In this case, enter “Information provided on Form 1040NR” or “Information provided on Form 1040NR-EZ” on line 1a of Form 8843. Line 1b.
Enter your current nonimmigrant status, such as that shown on your current Immigration Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. If your status has changed while in the United States, enter the date of change.
Part II—Teachers and Trainees
A teacher or trainee is an individual who is temporarily present in the United States under a “J” or “Q” visa (other than as a student) and who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa. If you were a teacher or trainee under a “J” or “Q” visa, you are considered to have substantially complied with the visa requirements if you have not engaged in activities that are prohibited by U.S. immigration laws that could result in the loss of your “J” or “Q” visa status.
Even if you meet these requirements, you cannot exclude days of presence in 2015 as a teacher or trainee if you were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of 2 of the 6 prior calendar years. But see the Exception below. If you qualify to exclude days of presence as a teacher or trainee, complete Parts I and II of Form 8843. If you have a “Q” visa, complete Part I and only lines 6 through 8 of Part II.
On line 6, enter the name, address, and telephone number of the director of the cultural exchange program in which you participated. Exception. If you were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of 2 of the 6 prior calendar years, you can exclude days of presence in 2015 as a teacher or trainee only if all four of the following apply.
- You were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of 3 (or fewer) of the 6 prior calendar years.
- A foreign employer paid all your compensation during 2015.
- You were present in the United States as a teacher or trainee in any of the 6 prior years.
- A foreign employer paid all of your compensation during each of those prior 6 years you were present in the United States as a teacher or trainee. For more details, see Pub. 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
If you meet this exception, you must attach information to verify that a foreign employer paid all the compensation you received in 2015 and all prior years that you were present in the United States as a teacher or trainee.
A student is an individual who is temporarily present in the United States under an “F,” “J,” “M,” or “Q” visa and who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa. If you were a student under an “F,” “J,” “M,” or “Q” visa, you are considered to have substantially complied with the visa requirements if you have not engaged in activities that are prohibited by U.S. immigration laws and could result in the loss of your visa status.
Even if you meet these requirements, you cannot exclude days of presence in 2015 as a student if you were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of more than 5 calendar years unless you establish that you do not intend to reside permanently in the United States. The facts and circumstances to be considered in determining if you have established that you do not intend to reside permanently in the United States include, but are not limited to:
- Whether you have maintained a closer connection to a foreign country than to the United States (for details, see Pub. 519) and
- Whether you have taken affirmative steps to change your status from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident. If you qualify to exclude days of presence as a student, complete Parts I and III of Form 8843. If you have a “Q” visa, complete Part I and only lines 10 through 14 of Part III. On line 10, enter the name, address, and telephone number of the director of the cultural exchange program in which you participated.
Part IV—Professional Athletes
A professional athlete is an individual who is temporarily present in the United States to compete in a charitable sports event. For details on charitable sports events, see Pub. 519. If you qualify to exclude days of presence as a professional athlete, complete Parts I and IV of Form 8843.
Part V—Individuals With a Medical Condition or Medical Problem
For purposes of the substantial presence test, do not count the days you intended to leave the United States but could not do so because of a medical condition or medical problem that arose while you were in the United States. Whether you intended to leave the United States on a particular day is determined based on all the facts and circumstances. For more details, see Pub. 519. If you qualify to exclude days of presence because of a medical condition or medical problem, complete Part I and lines 17a through 17c of Part V. Have your physician or other medical official complete line 18. Paperwork Reduction Act Notice. We ask for the information on this form to carry out the Internal Revenue laws of the United States. Section 7701(b) and its regulations require that you give us the information.
We need it to determine if you can exclude days of presence in the United States for purposes of the substantial presence test. You are not required to provide the information requested on a form that is subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act unless the form displays a valid OMB control number. Books or records relating to a form or its instructions must be retained as long as their contents may become material in the administration of any Internal Revenue law. Generally, tax returns and return information are confidential, as required by section 6103. The average time and expenses required to complete and file this form will vary depending on individual circumstances. For the estimated averages, see the instructions for your income tax return.
If you are out-of-compliance for prior years, the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosures Programs are a great and safe way to get into compliance — before it is too late.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Offshore Accounts
Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Tax law is very complex. There are many aspects that go into any particular tax calculation, including the legal status, marital status, business status and residence status of the taxpayer.
When Do I Need to Use Voluntary Disclosure?
Voluntary Disclosure is for individuals, estates, and businesses who are out of compliance with the IRS and the Department of Treasury. What does that mean? It means that if you are required to file a U.S. tax return and you don’t do so timely, then you are out of compliance.
If the IRS discovers that you are out of compliance, you may become subject to extensive fines and penalties – ranging from a warning letter all the way up to tax liens, tax levies, seizures, and criminal investigations. To combat this, you can take the proactive approach and submit to Voluntary Disclosure.
Golding & Golding – Offshore Disclosure
At Golding & Golding, we limit our entire practice to offshore disclosure (IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Foreign and U.S. Assets). The term offshore disclosure is a bit of a misnomer, because the term “offshore” generally connotes visions of hiding money in secret places such as the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Malta, or any other well-known tax haven jurisdiction – but that is not the case.
In fact, any money that is outside of the United States is considered to be offshore; the term offshore is not a bad word. In other words, merely because a person has money offshore (a.k.a. overseas or in a foreign country) does not mean that money is the result of ill-gotten gains or that the money is being “hidden.” It just means it is not in the United States. Many of our clients have assets and bank accounts in their homeland countries and these are considered offshore assets and offshore bank accounts.
The Devil is in the Details…
If you do have money offshore, then it is very important to ensure that the money has been properly reported to the U.S. government. In addition, it is also very important to ensure that if you are earning any foreign income from that offshore money, that the earnings are being reported on your U.S. tax return.
It does not matter whether your money is in a country that does not tax a particular category of income (for example, many Asian countries do not tax passive income). It also does not matter if you are a dual citizen and/or if that money has already been taxed in the foreign country.
Rather, the default position is that if you are required to file a U.S. tax return and you meet the minimum threshold requirements for filing a U.S. tax return, then you have to include all of your foreign income. If you already paid foreign tax on the income, you may qualify for a Foreign Tax Credit. In addition, if the income is earned income – as opposed to passive income – and you meet either the Bona-Fide Resident Test or Physical-Presence Test, then you may qualify for an exclusion of that income; nevertheless, the money must be included on your tax return.
What if You Never Report the Money?
If you are in the unfortunate position of having foreign money or specified foreign assets that should have been reported to the U.S. government, but which you have not reported — then you are in a bit of a predicament, which you will need to resolve before it is too late.
As we have indicated numerous times on our website, there are very unscrupulous CPAs, Attorneys, Accountants, and Tax Representatives who would like nothing more than to get you to part with all of your money by scaring you into believing you are automatically going to be arrested, jailed, or deported because you have unreported money. While that is most likely not the case (depending on the facts and circumstances of your specific situation), you may be subject to extremely high fines and penalties.
Moreover, if you knowingly or willfully hid your foreign accounts, foreign money, and offshore assets overseas, then you may become subject to even higher fines and penalties…as well as a criminal investigation by the special agents of the IRS and/or DOJ (Department of Justice).
Getting into Compliance
There are five main methods people/businesses use to get into compliance. Four of these methods are perfectly legitimate as long as you meet the requirements for the particular mechanism of disclosure. The fifth alternative, which is called a Quiet Disclosure a.k.a. Silent Disclosure a.k.a. Soft Disclosure, is ill-advised as it is illegal and very well may result in criminal prosecution.
We are going to provide a brief summary of each program below. We have also included links to the specific programs. If you are interested, we have also prepared very popular “FAQs from the Trenches” for FBAR, OVDP and Streamlined Disclosure reporting. Unlike the technical jargon of the IRS FAQs, our FAQs are based on the hundreds of different types of issues we have handled over the many years that we have been practicing international tax law and offshore disclosure in particular.
After reading this webpage, we hope you develop a basic understanding of each offshore disclosure alternative and how it may benefit you to get into compliance. We do not recommend attempting to disclose the information yourself as you may become subject to an IRS investigation insofar as you will have to answer questions directly to the IRS, which you can avoid with an attorney representative.
If you retain an attorney, then you will get the benefit of the attorney-client privilege which provides confidentiality between you and your representative. With a CPA, there is a relatively small privilege which does provide some comfort, but the privilege is nowhere near as strong as the confidentiality privilege you enjoy with an attorney.
Since you will be dealing with the Internal Revenue Service and they are not known to play nice or fair – it is in your best interest to obtain an experienced Offshore Disclosure Attorney.
OVDP is the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program — a program designed to facilitate taxpayer compliance with IRS, DOT, and DOJ International Tax Reporting and Compliance. It is generally reserved for individuals and businesses who were “Willful” (aka intentional) in their failure to comply with U.S. Government Laws and Regulations.
The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is open to any US taxpayer who has offshore and foreign accounts and has not reported the financial information to the Internal Revenue Service (restrictions apply). There are some basic program requirements, with the main one being that the person/business who is applying under this amnesty program is not currently under IRS examination.
The reason is simple: OVDP is a voluntary program and if you are only entering because you are already under IRS examination, then technically, you are not voluntarily entering the program – rather, you are doing so under duress.
Any account that would have to be included on either the FBAR or 8938 form as well as additional income generating assets such as rental properties are accounts that qualify under OVDP. It should be noted that the requirements are different for the modified streamlined program, in which the taxpayer penalties are limited to only assets that are actually listed on either an FBAR or 8938 form; thus the value of a rental property (reduced by any outstanding mortgage) would not be calculated into the penalty amount in a streamlined application, but it would be applicable in an OVDP submission.
An OVDP submission involves the failure of a taxpayer(s) to report foreign and overseas accounts such as: Foreign Bank Accounts, Foreign Financial Accounts, Foreign Retirement Accounts, Foreign Trading Accounts, Foreign Insurance, and Foreign Income, including 8938s, FBAR, Schedule B, 5741, 3520, and more.
What is Included in the Full OVDP Submission?
The full OVDP application includes:
- Eight (8) years of Amended Tax Return filings;
- Eight (8) Years of FBAR (Foreign Bank and Account Reporting Statements);
- Penalty Computation Worksheet; and
- Various OVDP specific documents in support of the application.
Under this program, the Internal Revenue Service wants to know all of the income that was generated under these accounts that were not properly reported previously. The way the taxpayer accomplishes this is by amending tax returns for eight years.
Generally, if the taxpayer has not previously reported his accounts, then there are common forms which were probably excluded from the prior year’s tax returns and include 8938 Forms, Schedule B forms, 3520 Forms, 5471 Forms, 8621 Forms, as well as proof of filing of FBARs (Foreign Bank and Financial Account Reports).
The taxpayer is required to pay the outstanding tax liability for the eight years within the disclosure period – as well as payment of interest along with another 20% penalty on that amount (for nonpayment of tax). To give you an example, let’s pick one tax year during the compliance period. If the taxpayer owed $20,000 in taxes for year 2014, then they would also have to include in the check the amount of $4,000 to cover the 20% penalty, as well as estimated interest (which is generally averaged at about 3% per year). This must be done for each year during the compliance period.
Then there is the “FBAR/8938” Penalty. The Penalty is 27.5% (or 50% if any of the foreign accounts are held at an IRS “Bad Bank”) on the highest year’s “annual aggregate total” of unreported accounts (accounts which were previously reported are not calculated into the penalty amount).
For OVDP, the annual aggregate total is determined by adding the “maximum value” of each unreported account for each year, in each of the last 8 years. To determine what the maximum value is, the taxpayer will add up the highest balances of all of their accounts for each year. In other words, for each tax year within the compliance period, the application will locate the highest balance for each account for each year, and total up the values to determine the maximum value for each year.
Thereafter, the OVDP applicant selects the highest year’s value, and multiplies it by either 27.5%, or possibly 50% if any of the money was being held in what the IRS considers to be one of the “bad banks.” When a person is completing the penalty portion of the application, the two most important things are to breathe and remember that by entering the program, the applicant is seeking to avoid criminal prosecution!
2. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure Program is a highly cost-effective method of quickly getting you into IRS (Internal Revenue Service) or DOT (Department of Treasury) compliance.
What am I supposed to Report?
There are three main reporting aspects: (1) foreign account(s), (2) certain specified assets, and (3) foreign money. While the IRS or DOJ will most likely not be kicking in your door and arresting you on the spot for failing to report, there are significantly high penalties associated with failing to comply.
In fact, the US government has the right to penalize you upwards of $10,000 per unreported account, per year for a six-year period if you are non-willful. If you are determined to be willful, the penalties can reach 100% value of the foreign accounts, including many other fines and penalties… not the least being a criminal investigation.
Reporting Specified Foreign Assets – FATCA Form 8938
Not all foreign assets must be reported. With that said, a majority of assets do have to be reported on a form 8938. For example, if you have ownership of a foreign business interest or investment such as a limited liability share of a foreign corporation, it may not need to be reported on the FBAR but may need to be disclosed on an 8938.
The reason why you may get caught in the middle of whether it must be filed or not is due largely to the reporting thresholds of the 8938. For example, while the threshold requirements for the FBAR is when the foreign accounts exceed $10,000 in annual aggregate total – and is not impacted by marital status and country of residence – the same is not true of the 8938.
The threshold requirements for filing the 8938 will depend on whether you are married filing jointly or married filing separate/single, or whether you are considered a US resident or foreign resident.
Other Forms – Foreign Business
While the FBAR and Form 8938 are the two most common forms, please keep in mind that there are many other forms that may need to be filed based on your specific facts and circumstances. For example:
- If you are the Beneficiary of a foreign trust or receive a foreign gift, you may have to file Form 3520.
- If you are the Owner of a foreign trust, you will also have to file Form 3520-A.
- If you have certain Ownerships of a foreign corporation, you have to file Form 5471.
- And (regrettably) if you fall into the unfortunate category of owning foreign mutual funds or any other Passive Foreign Investment Companies then you will have to file Form 8621 and possibly be subject to significant tax liabilities in accordance with excess distributions.
Reporting Foreign Income
If you are considered a US tax resident (which normally means you are a US citizen, Legal Permanent Resident/Green-Card Holder or Foreign National subject to US tax under the substantial presence test), then you will be taxed on your worldwide Income.
It does not matter if you earned the money in a foreign country or if it is the type of income that is not taxed in the country of origin such as interest income in Asian countries. The fact of the matter is you are required to report this information on your US tax return and pay any differential in tax that might be due.
In other words, if you earn $100,000 USD in Japan and paid 25% tax ($25,000) in Japan, you would receive a $25,000 tax credit against your foreign earnings. Thus, if your US tax liability is less than $25,000, then you will receive a carryover to use in future years against foreign income (you do not get a refund and it cannot be used against US income). If you have to pay the exact same in the United States as you did in Japan, it would equal itself out. If you would owe more money in the United States than you paid in Japan on the earnings (a.k.a. you are in a higher tax bracket), then you have to pay the difference to the U.S. Government.
3. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure
What do you do if you reside outside of the United States and recently learned that you’re out of US tax compliance, have no idea what FATCA or FBAR means, and are under the misimpression that you are going to be arrested and hauled off to jail due to irresponsible blogging by inexperienced attorneys and accountants?
If you live overseas and qualify as a foreign resident (reside outside of the United States for at least 330 days in any one of the last three tax years or do not meet the Substantial Presence Test), you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Even though you may be completely out of US tax and reporting compliance, you may qualify for a penalty waiver and ALL of your disclosure penalties would be waived. Thus, all you will have to do besides reporting and disclosing the information is pay any outstanding tax liability and interest, if any is due. (Your foreign tax credit may offset any US taxes and you may end up with zero penalty and zero tax liability.)
*Under the Streamlined Foreign, you also have to amend or file 3 years of tax returns (and 8938s if applicable) as well as 6 years of FBAR statements just as in the Streamlined Domestic program.
4. Reasonable Cause Statement
When a Person, Estate, or Business is out-of-tax compliance for failing to report Foreign Income and/or Foreign Assets, the applicant has relatively few options for timely and safely getting into tax and foreign reporting compliance — before fines and penalties are issued.
While the most common options include the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Offshore Disclosure Program, there is another alternative. It is called making a Reasonable Cause submission.
Reasonable Cause Process
An individual should never attempt offshore disclosure without the assistance of a qualified attorney. With that said, it is even more important to ensure that if you are even considering a reasonable cause submission, that you do so only with the help of an attorney. That is because only with an attorney do you receive the benefit of the attorney-client privilege.
Unlike the Streamlined Program or OVDP where there are strict procedures to be followed, a reasonable cause submission is different. It should be noted that a person can submit a reasonable cause application for any number of different reasons; it is not limited only to offshore money and reporting foreign accounts. It should also be noted that there are potentially high risks and penalties associated with this Reasonable Cause process, so you have carefully weigh your options.
With a reasonable cause submission, the attorney will carefully evaluate and analyze the facts and circumstances of your case in detail. He or she should sit down with you either in person or via teleconference if you are non-local and assess the pros and cons of the potential submission in order to determine what the benefits and detriments may be to a reasonable cause disclosure. Thereafter the attorney will amend the returns, prepare the necessary forms, and draft a persuasive Reasonable Cause Letter.
At Golding & Golding, we are Tax Attorneys (with Masters of Tax Law) and Enrolled Agents credentialed by the IRS (Highest Credential awarded by the IRS), so we can handle your entire submission (Taxes, Legal, and Audit Defense) in-house, for a flat-fee.
Reasonable Cause Examples
If you were completely non-willful in your failure to disclosure and were unaware that there was any reporting requirement, then the thought of paying any penalty may sound absurd and you may consider Reasonable Cause as an alternative option.
Reasonable Cause is determined on a Case by Case basis in accordance with your specific facts and circumstances.
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