Taxes are confusing enough when geography isn’t a factor. Now imagine that you are accepting a short-term opportunity as an independent contractor overseas. Do you have any tax obligations while you are away? If so, how should these obligations be managed? Is there a difference between working as an independent contractor overseas versus working as an independent contractor in the United States?
Someone recently reached out to us to find answers to these questions. We researched her question a little further to arrive at the following conclusion: yes – on all counts.
As an independent contractor working overseas for a short period of time you will:
- Owe self-employment tax
- Have to pay advanced taxes (i.e. make estimated payments)
In fact, if you are an American citizen, it does not matter if the work you complete is inside or outside the United States, your tax obligations are universal regardless of where in the world you are staying.
That said, the bigger question becomes, will the income you generate be taxed more than once. The answer to this question is: maybe.
For example, if you are working in India, you may be expected to pay into India’s social security program. The good news is that the U.S. has made agreements with many nations to prohibit multiple tax practices from occurring. For income tax purposes, these agreements are called Tax Treaties. When the issue pertains to Social Security purposes, they are called Totalization Agreements.
Why Are Totalization Agreements Important?
A Totalization Agreement is meant to improve Social Security protection for those who have worked (or are working) in multiple countries. The agreement essentially provides a way to manage how taxes are distributed and how workers are credited for the progress made toward their Social Security benefits (or similar programs abroad) between the two or more countries in which the employee has worked.
Again, using India as the example, because no Totalization Agreement exists, a U.S. citizen working in India should be prepared to pay in to each country’s social security program. This isn’t the case in countries where Totalization Agreements are in place.
A U.S. citizen working in the Canadian Province of Quebec, as an independent contractor, for example, would only be obligated to pay U.S. Social Security taxes. In this example, a Totalization Agreement between Quebec and America would also mean:
- A self-employed American citizen working in Quebec would not have to pay in to Quebec’s social security program.
- The taxes and Social Security accumulated by an employee of an American company working in Quebec would be distributed by the American company to the U.S. government.
You can learn more about the Totalization Agreement between the United States and Quebec here. Or you can view a list of countries with Totalization Agreements in place with the U.S. here.
Additional Deductions Are Available
Even though Americans working in India may be required to pay into social security programs in both countries, a Tax Treaty protects U.S. citizens from paying income taxes to both countries. Additionally, there are other ways to find tax savings as an employee working overseas.
- Even though you may be required to pay into the county’s social security program, this cost can likely be deducted per the foreign tax credit, which was established to assist American taxpayers who find themselves working from countries where Totalization Agreements are not in place – such as India.
- If you are planning a temporary absence from your tax home in the U.S. for business, your away-from-home expenses may also be deductible. So keep track of your travel, meal and lodging costs.
If you are an American working overseas who is struggling with the tax obligations between your country of residence and your country of employment, email Rea & Associates today. Our tax professionals will help you identify your tax obligations while you are abroad and can help you successfully deduct business-related expenses on your next tax return.
Author: Ben Jonard (Dublin office)
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