Author Topic: Taxes for US authors living abroad?  (Read 641 times)  

Offline Perry Constantine

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Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« on: June 19, 2017, 02:06:53 PM »
I'm hoping to be able to go full-time and return to Japan in the next year, so I'm curious about how taxes are handled. With a foreign employer in Japan, I get to claim the foreign-earned income exclusion on anything under a certain amount (around $90K or so). But if that money is coming from Amazon, that's not a foreign employer, so how does that work? Do I get double-taxed in both America and Japan?

Offline Brian Tormanen

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2017, 03:15:26 PM »
Disclaimer: I'm not a CPA, and could be very wrong, but I believe you would still qualify for the earned income credit as long as you're paying taxes in Japan. The U.S. has tax treaties with several countries to avoid double taxation. You would still have to pay self employment taxes to the U.S. though. I heard good things about this tax company for expats: https://www.greenbacktaxservices.com/

My wife is from W. Tokyo and we're looking at moving back there this fall, so this has been on my mind as well.

Offline Penang

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2017, 03:31:06 PM »
I live in Canada, not Japan, so it could be different, but if Japan is has a Totalitarian agreement (or something like that) and you are paying taxes in your country of residence, then you are tax exempt. There's an option for it on your tax info with Amazon. If you don't fill that part out, then Amazon will withhold 20% for taxes and you'll have to try to get it back when you file. If you are a US citizen, you will still need to file your taxes every year whether you live there or not. Every year I have tons of fun trying to get Turbo Tax to get my taxes owed to $0, and the Turbo Tax people never seem to know how to do it either. Half the time they don't even understand that as a citizen I have to file regardless of where I live.

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Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2017, 03:41:32 PM »
Thanks, guys. I just checked and it looks like the US and Japan have a tax treaty to avoid double-taxation, so looks like I would be eligible for the tax credits.

I already knew about having to file the returns each year, as I did that when I was living in Japan before. But it was much easier that way because my income came from foreign sources. And Penang, I've also had a lot of headaches dealing with Turbo Tax on that issue, so I feel your pain.

Online AlecHutson

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2017, 05:25:28 PM »
Hey Perry, I'm also very interested in this topic, thanks for bringing it up.

I'm an American expatriate who has lived in Shanghai for the past 10 years. Because I'm paid into a local bank account here by a company that takes out Chinese taxes I've claimed the Foreign Earned Income Tax Exclusion when I file every year (I make less than the 105k threshold, above which would make me eligible for double taxation)

I started self-publishing in December 2016, so understand I'm still all very new at this, but what I did was set up Quicken Self-Employed to take care of my self-publishing taxes. My Amazon earnings are paid into my American bank account, so no Chinese taxes are taken out. Curious, how would Japanese taxes be taken out of your self-publishing earnings? Will you have them deposited into a Japanese bank account and declare them to the Japanese government? Now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder if I'm supposed to declare that income to the Chinese government, since I'm a resident of China. Well, the chances of the tax authorities here realizing I have an Amazon income stream funneling into an American bank account is below 0, since I'm way off the radar and I'm sure their time is spent dealing with the fact that most of the Chinese folk I know evade most or all of the taxes they should be paying.

Anyway, my feeling is that I should pay Chinese taxes on the money I make in China, and American taxes on the money Amazon pays into my American bank account. I've actually already made two quarterly American tax payments for 2017 totaling 7k or so, so I hope no one chimes up that the difference between my salary in China and the threshold for double taxation could be claimed as tax exempt :-)

It's on my to-do list to get some professional tax advice. I'm actually quite foolish for not having done it already. But I figure if I'm at least paying taxes to someone on my two streams of income I can't get into too much trouble.

Also, I do realize that kboards is not the place to come for said advice. But I'd be very interested to hear from other American expatriates living abroad, and what they do about taxes owed. HereForTheRide, if you're listening, you live in Sichuan, right? Do you get paid into your American bank account, and if so, how do you deal with taxes?

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Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2017, 05:48:27 PM »
I started self-publishing in December 2016, so understand I'm still all very new at this, but what I did was set up Quicken Self-Employed to take care of my self-publishing taxes. My Amazon earnings are paid into my American bank account, so no Chinese taxes are taken out. Curious, how would Japanese taxes be taken out of your self-publishing earnings? Will you have them deposited into a Japanese bank account and declare them to the Japanese government? Now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder if I'm supposed to declare that income to the Chinese government, since I'm a resident of China. Well, the chances of the tax authorities here realizing I have an Amazon income stream funneling into an American bank account is below 0, since I'm way off the radar and I'm sure their time is spent dealing with the fact that most of the Chinese folk I know evade most or all of the taxes they should be paying.

Before when I had full-time employment in Japan, it didn't matter. I could just deposit my author earnings into my US bank account. But what I'm looking to do is to write full-time in Japan while also teaching a class or two part-time. So when I submit tax returns to the Japanese government stating that I only make around $500 a month, but am able to afford a place that will likely cost around $500, that would definitely raise some questions, and possibly get me in some hot water. Not to mention that I have to prove I make a living wage for visa purposes as well.

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2017, 07:19:33 PM »
Aha. That makes sense - and I'm sure the Japanese tax authorities have their act much more together than the Chinese. When my contract finishes in January I'm going to make a go at writing full-time. I'm married to a Chinese national, so I can go onto a spousal visa, but I'm not allowed to work on a spousal visa, oddly enough. I suppose it might look odd that we can still live in my apartment with me not working, but then again to even go on a spousal visa you need to show sufficient assets to live without working for an extended period of time so I suppose it won't look too strange. I was thinking of trying to move us to a nearby country with great weather / food like Thailand, but it actually seems quite hard to do that without a job to provide a residence visa. I guess that's a topic for another thread - where in the world can self-publishers move and live without having to get a local job.

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2017, 09:17:07 PM »
I was thinking of trying to move us to a nearby country with great weather / food like Thailand, but it actually seems quite hard to do that without a job to provide a residence visa. I guess that's a topic for another thread - where in the world can self-publishers move and live without having to get a local job.

Thailand is so popular for expats etc but tbh it has one of the most convoluted visa systems I've found. I know people who've lived there for years doing regular visa runs but there is always a small risk that one time you'll try to get back into the country and be denied. I know if you're above a certain age and have proof of income, you can get a retirement visa.

Malaysia has a visa program called something like 'my second home' where you get some kind of resident status if you have above a certain level of income. In Europe, Portugal has some kind of longer term visa but I think that limits your travel outside of the country. Germany has a self-employed visa that seems to have a bit of red tape around it but once you have it you can travel through most of the Schengen visa area.

Personally, I just get tourist visas. I have been travelling quite a bit but, going forward, I want to have a few bases that have 3 month tourist visas and alternate between them just to have some kind of routine.  I've never had any kind of immigration issues or been questioned about my travel or intention to work. Most countries don't really care so long as you aren't taking a local job and you have ticket to say you're leaving before your visa expires.

Anyway, I hope it's okay to link to another forum on here - https://nomadforum.io/ is a great source of information. There are a few US tax people on there occasionally too who are more experienced with tax for expats, digital nomads etc. For anything legal/official, I'd check with the source (official immigration sites etc) though rather than rely on random people on the internet :)

Offline Ann in Arlington

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2017, 04:28:26 AM »
I'm hoping to be able to go full-time and return to Japan in the next year, so I'm curious about how taxes are handled. With a foreign employer in Japan, I get to claim the foreign-earned income exclusion on anything under a certain amount (around $90K or so). But if that money is coming from Amazon, that's not a foreign employer, so how does that work? Do I get double-taxed in both America and Japan?

US citizens are taxed on their world wide income. Foreign earned income is excludable up to a certain amount and, in some cases, housing costs may be figured to increase the excludable amount. This doesn't mean you don't have to file if you don't make that much money; you still file the return but can exclude qualified foreign earned income. You'll still pay tax on unearned income -- rental income, interest and dividends, retirement income, etc.

In general, "foreign earned income" means income you earn while you are a bona fide resident in a foreign country. It includes income paid by a foreign company, income paid by a US company while you are working/living in a foreign country, income you earn as a self-employed person while working/living in a foreign country. It does NOT include income earned as an employee of the US -- so military, state department, etc.

Note that, as regards self-employment, a US person normally also has to pay into social security via the self-employment tax. But, in many cases, there are totalization agreements that will allow, or maybe require, you to forgo paying into the US system but to pay into the host country system instead.

My strong suggestion would be to consult a US tax professional who is familiar with foreign taxes, treaties, and totalization agreements. It can be quite complex. I am an Enrolled Agent with over 30 years experience in US income tax . . . and I've pretty much just exhausted my knowledge without doing further research.
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Offline Ann in Arlington

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2017, 04:29:38 AM »
Disclaimer: I'm not a CPA, and could be very wrong, but I believe you would still qualify for the earned income credit as long as you're paying taxes in Japan. The U.S. has tax treaties with several countries to avoid double taxation. You would still have to pay self employment taxes to the U.S. though. I heard good things about this tax company for expats: https://www.greenbacktaxservices.com/

My wife is from W. Tokyo and we're looking at moving back there this fall, so this has been on my mind as well.

The earned income credit is a completely different animal. It's a credit available for fairly low income persons, usually those with kids. And you have to be a full year resident of the US so it doesn't apply if you lived any part of the year in another country.

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Offline Jennifer Lewis

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2017, 04:43:32 AM »
I'm a US citizen who lived in the UK for two years with all my earnings coming from writing earned overseas. I had to file a full return in both places but only pay taxes in one (due to the treaty between them). I chose the US as I wanted to qualify for social security, etc, since I knew I planned on moving back. Depending on what state you moved from, you may have to file there, too (NY was one of these). You might want to check out this forum for expats: http://www.expatforum.com/

If it seems at all confusing you should get professional help your first year. After that just do it yourself using the advice they gave you.

As long as you maintain your American citizenship you have to file a US tax return. I know several people with dual citizenship who gave up their US citizenship for this reason--they knew they weren't moving back here and it was too much hassle and expense.
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Online AlecHutson

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2017, 04:59:07 AM »
US citizens are taxed on their world wide income. Foreign earned income is excludable up to a certain amount and, in some cases, housing costs may be figured to increase the excludable amount. This doesn't mean you don't have to file if you don't make that much money; you still file the return but can exclude qualified foreign earned income. You'll still pay tax on unearned income -- rental income, interest and dividends, retirement income, etc.

In general, "oreign earned income" means income you earn while you are a bona fide resident in a foreign country. It includes income paid by a foreign company, income paid by a US company while you are working/living in a foreign country, income you earn as a self-employed person while working/living in a foreign country. It does NOT include income earned as an employee of the US -- so military, state department, etc.

Note that, as regards self-employment, a US person normally also has to pay into social security via the self-employment tax. But, in many cases, there are totalization agreements that will allow, or maybe require, you to forgo paying into the US system but to pay into the host country system instead.

My strong suggestion would be to consult a US tax professional who is familiar with foreign taxes, treaties, and totalization agreements. It can be quite complex. I am an Enrolled Agent with over 30 years experience in US income tax . . . and I've pretty much just exhausted my knowledge without doing further research.

Anne, this is fascinating stuff, thank you. So as a resident of China and an American citizen, would my self-publishing income also fall under the Foreign Earned Income exclusion? I have a professional file my taxes, but he always asks to see my income statement from my company that shows how much in tax I paid to the Chinese government. My understanding of the Earned Income exclusion was that it was to prevent double taxation - but since I won't be paying Chinese taxes on my self-publishing income I wouldn't be able to use the Earned Income Tax exclusion. If I could claim it - and everyone else could, as well - it would seem to me that successful self-publishers should be flocking to high-quality of life foreign destinations to enjoy that first 100k tax free.

Anyway, again, I know I should consult a tax professional. I do appreciate your expertise and insight, though.

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2017, 05:09:37 AM »
Ah, after sifting through the IRS database I came up with this:

'Self-employment income: A qualifying individual may claim the foreign earned income exclusion on foreign earned self-employment income.  The excluded amount will reduce the individuals regular income tax, but will not reduce the individuals self-employment tax.  Also, the foreign housing deduction instead of a foreign housing exclusion may be claimed.'

My reading of this would be that the foreign-earned income exclusion can only be applied on 'foreign earned self-employment income'. I wouldn't think Amazon income would qualify as foreign earned, especially since it's paid into my American account - even though I live abroad. I think I'm doing everything above-board, though, clearly, I do need to consult a professional on these matters.

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Offline Ann in Arlington

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2017, 05:21:51 AM »
Anne, this is fascinating stuff, thank you. So as a resident of China and an American citizen, would my self-publishing income also fall under the Foreign Earned Income exclusion? I have a professional file my taxes, but he always asks to see my income statement from my company that shows how much in tax I paid to the Chinese government. My understanding of the Earned Income exclusion was that it was to prevent double taxation - but since I won't be paying Chinese taxes on my self-publishing income I wouldn't be able to use the Earned Income Tax exclusion. If I could claim it - and everyone else could, as well - it would seem to me that successful self-publishers should be flocking to high-quality of life foreign destinations to enjoy that first 100k tax free.

Anyway, again, I know I should consult a tax professional. I do appreciate your expertise and insight, though.

I have no idea what the Chinese government wants to see. But your US return should include both Chinese income and your self employment. And then exclude what you can by law*. Note that if you exclude it from your US return, however,  the presumption is generally that you're paying to the host country whose income tax rates are, in most cases, much higher. Your guy is asking to see your company income statement -- does he know you also have self employment?

*OR, he may not be excluding the Chinese income, but rather taking a foreign tax credit for taxes paid to China. That's another way to do it; perfectly legal. Sometimes the exclusion is better, sometimes the foreign tax credit is better. For some countries the exclusion is not allowed; China may be one of them. And even that can change. If I were you I'd look at the return and then ask the guy to explain how he prepared it and why so you understand what's going on.

And, again, it's NOT Earned Income Tax exclusion -- that's a completely different program. (My name is also not "Anne"; it's "Ann" ;) ) It's the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and applies, in general, to all income earned by a US person while a bona fide resident outside the US. There are some restrictions and 'time in country' requirements that may need to be met to qualify, but you basically don't get to pick and choose what to put on your US return based on what your host country is taxing, or on what you think you have to report to it. You are meant to report it ALL on your US return and then exclude what you can. EVEN IF your income is below the excludable amount, you should file the return and report and exclude it. Remember, many countries are sharing info with each other, so if you don't report it, you may get a notice down the line and have to deal with it then anyway. The notice will start with something like, "You owe us $xx,xxx because you never paid your taxes, also dad $x,xxx in penalty and $x,xxx in interest." It's WAY more trouble -- and possibly more expensive -- to resolve such a letter than to just file the return properly the first time.

Bottom line: It's a HUGELY complex issue, and there may be different rules depending on the country you're living/working in. It is foolish, in my opinion, to try to do navigate without the assistance of a professional who has experience with your particular situation. For those to whom this is a new thing, check the membership of www.naea.org -- the The National Association of Enrolled Agents -- I bet they have a member in your host country who can help you out.

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2017, 05:33:20 AM »
Thank you, Ann. As I mentioned, I've only been self-publishing for half a year, and the success of my book took me by surprise, so I wasn't fully prepared to deal with the ramifications of actually making good money in my first year of self publishing. When I filed my 2016 taxes a few months ago I didn't report my self-publishing income to my expat tax advisor because I didn't have any income for 2016. I'll do as you suggest and find professional help for my particular situation.

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2017, 06:44:22 AM »
Quote
Do I get double-taxed in both America and Japan?

Very few civilized countries tax earnings from outside the country. (The US is the great exception.) Assuming Japan follows the civilized norm, you would pay taxes on your JP earnings to Tokyo, and on all your other Kindle earnings to Washington.

Indeed,I think it would be best if you also declared your JP earnings on your Schedule C (and on Schedule SE if you clear more than $400). As you probably know, the IRS has gotten hard-nosed about expatriates who dodge taxes, and it might be worth a bit of a tax hit to avoid getting flagged by the system. (And don't forget the questions about foreign bank accounts!)

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #16 on: June 20, 2017, 06:56:42 AM »
Very few civilized countries tax earnings from outside the country. (The US is the great exception.) Assuming Japan follows the civilized norm, you would pay taxes on your JP earnings to Tokyo, and on all your other Kindle earnings to Washington.

Indeed,I think it would be best if you also declared your JP earnings on your Schedule C (and on Schedule SE if you clear more than $400). As you probably know, the IRS has gotten hard-nosed about expatriates who dodge taxes, and it might be worth a bit of a tax hit to avoid getting flagged by the system. (And don't forget the questions about foreign bank accounts!)



bolded above: this would almost certainly be the wrong way to report the income. If it's wages, it goes on the line for wages even if wages from a foreign country and paid in foreign currency. As such, it would more likely to cause a flag in the system and correspondence, precisely because national tax agencies are communicating with each other.

Again, for someone in this situation of being an American working/living overseas, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you consult an professional who has experience in your host country.

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Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2017, 07:04:16 AM »
And, again, it's NOT Earned Income Tax exclusion -- that's a completely different program. (My name is also not "Anne"; it's "Ann" ;) ) It's the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and applies, in general, to all income earned by a US person while a bona fide resident outside the US. There are some restrictions and 'time in country' requirements that may need to be met to qualify, but you basically don't get to pick and choose what to put on your US return based on what your host country is taxing, or on what you think you have to report to it. You are meant to report it ALL on your US return and then exclude what you can. EVEN IF your income is below the excludable amount, you should file the return and report and exclude it. Remember, many countries are sharing info with each other, so if you don't report it, you may get a notice down the line and have to deal with it then anyway. The notice will start with something like, "You owe us $xx,xxx because you never paid your taxes, also dad $x,xxx in penalty and $x,xxx in interest." It's WAY more trouble -- and possibly more expensive -- to resolve such a letter than to just file the return properly the first time.

Thanks, Ann, this actually makes things a lot easier. I wasn't aware that the income from Amazon would count as foreign-earned if I'm living abroad, I thought that only applied to income earned from a foreign company.

Very few civilized countries tax earnings from outside the country. (The US is the great exception.) Assuming Japan follows the civilized norm, you would pay taxes on your JP earnings to Tokyo, and on all your other Kindle earnings to Washington.

No, that's not a good idea because as stated before, it would cause problems when applying for and renewing my visa. I'm looking to work full-time with writing and teach part-time. The teaching income would only come out to around $500 a month and Japanese immigration wouldn't permit me to stay with such a low level of income. You need to prove that you can support yourself or that you have someone else supporting you.

Offline Ann in Arlington

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2017, 07:28:43 AM »
Perry:

Find a tax expert

If the link doesn't work . . . I went to www.naea.org and clicked "Find a tax expert", an orange button upper right. On the next page I clicked "find a tax expert" in the middle of the page without entering any location info. That takes you to a page where you can sort by country on the left.

Good luck!

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Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: Taxes for US authors living abroad?
« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2017, 07:37:23 AM »
Perry:

Find a tax expert

If the link doesn't work . . . I went to www.naea.org and clicked "Find a tax expert", an orange button upper right. On the next page I clicked "find a tax expert" in the middle of the page without entering any location info. That takes you to a page where you can sort by country on the left.

Good luck!

Oh trust me, I will. I wouldn't actually be going full-time in Japan until 2018, but I just wanted to get an idea of what other people are doing.