NewsTax and LegalFeb 27, 2024

US Source Income vs Foreign Income: Main Differences and Examples

The US tax code contains a lot of provisions that regulate how and when international entities  (individuals or businesses) must pay taxes in the US. One of the most important things that can determine who or what is subject to US tax laws is the exact source of income, or rather, whether the money that’s brought in by those international entities is foreign or US source income. Depending on the income source, a foreign individual, US citizen living abroad (i.e. Expat) or a business can be considered an international taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and be required to pay US taxes.

In this article, we’ll discuss the two main types of income sources recognized by the Internal Revenue Service — US source income and foreign source income. We’ll tell all there is to know about them and how they can affect US taxes. We’ll also give you a couple of examples for both US source income and foreign source income, just to make the whole thing easier to understand. 

Let’s start!  

US Source vs Foreign Source Income: Table

Income Type Source Determiners (US or Foreign)
Salary, wage, and other kinds of earnings Location where service was performed 
Business income form services Location where service was performed 
Business income from the sale of inventory Location where inventory was sold
Business income from produced inventory Location where inventory was produced
Interest Location or residence of the interest payer
Dividends Location of the company paying out dividends (with some exceptions)
Rental income Location of the property
Income from sale of a property  Location of the property
Income from patents, copyrights, etc. Location where patents are used
Pension  Location where the pension was earned
Scholarship, Grants, Fellowship  Location or residence of the payer

What Is US Source Income?

US source income is a type of income that is gained from sources located in the United States. The types of income can be varied and can include things like:

  • Wages
  • Salaries
  • Interest
  • Rental income
  • Dividends
  • Pension
  • Grants, scholarships

The reason why source income is important, especially for nonresidents, is because it determines whether a person or an entity is required to pay US taxes. 

A nonresident can open a US LLC as a foreigner and not be required to pay taxes in the US if the income their company generates does not come from the States (i.e., it’s not US source income). But, if the income comes from a US source, then that person must pay US taxes, and they have to file either a 1040 or 1040NR form (depending on their legal status).  

If the above seems a bit difficult to comprehend, we’ve prepared a couple of examples to make the process of understanding what US source income is easier. 

Are you an international taxpayer who needs help with filing US taxes? Book a free call and see how we can help.

US Source Income: Example 1

Mike Jones is a Canadian citizen who bought a rental property in the US. Because the property is generating income and is physically located in the States, that money is considered as US source income, and he needs to pay taxes on it in the US. 

Mike travels to the US frequently to visit his property and for other business, and because of that, he needs to do the Substantial Presence Test before filing for taxes in the US. If he passes the test, by getting a score of 183 or higher, he will become a US resident for tax purposes and will be taxed on his worldwide income (instead of just the US source income he gets from his rental property). He will also need to provide the IRS with all of the information related to his bank accounts in Canada.

Luckily for Mike, he failed the SPT test and is viewed by the IRS as a nonresident for tax purposes. Because of that, he only needs to pay taxes on his US source income and should file the 1040NR tax form

US Source Income: Example 2

Rakesh Gujarati is an IT specialist from India. Together with his partner, who is a US citizen, Rakesh formed an LLC in the US. Because one of the partners in the LLC is a US citizen, all income that the company generates will be considered US source income, and Rakesh will have to file the individual taxpayer form 1040NR

US Source Income: Example 3

Elizabeth Walker is a UK citizen. More than a decade ago, she and her husband bought a house in Florida with the intention of vacationing there. And they did for many years. But now, with her eldest daughter getting married and her son starting college, the family needs money to help cover those expenses. After talking it through with her husband, they decided to sell the vacation house in Florida. 

Now, because her property is physically located in the United States, income from selling the property will be considered as US source income and will be subject to US taxes.

what is a US source income

What Is Foreign Source Income?

Foreign source income is a type of income that is gained from sources outside of the United States. The important thing to note here is how foreign income is taxed in the US and based on a person’s residency status for tax purposes:

US residents and citizens are taxed on their worldwide income (US source and foreign source income). US expats can get certain tax exemptions if they pass the Physical Presence Test but will always have to file for taxes on any type of income they generate outside of the US.

Nonresidents, on the other hand, are only taxed on their US source income unless they pass the Substantial Presence Test. If they pass the SPT test by scoring 183 or higher, nonresidents will be considered residents for tax purposes and must pay US taxes on their worldwide income (both US source and Foreign source income).

Now, if that seems a bit difficult to understand, don’t worry. We’ve prepared a couple of real-life examples to help you better understand what foreign source income is. 

Foreign Source Income: Example 1

Fernando Torres is a graphic designer from Spain who owns a single-member LLC in the US. All of his clients are outside of the US, which means that the income he makes will be considered a foreign source income. Because of that and because he is a nonresident, Fernando won’t have to pay taxes in the States

Foreign Source Income: Example 2

John Brown is a US citizen who lives and works in China. His income comes from his China-based employer, which means it’s considered a foreign source income. But, because John is a US citizen, he is taxed on his worldwide income (both US source and foreign source income). To get certain tax exemptions, John did the PPT test and passed it, which made him eligible for specific foreign earned income exclusions.  

Foreign Source Income: Example 3

Michael Jones is a US citizen who lives and works in the US. A couple of years ago, he invested a substantial amount of money into the stocks listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Finally, after years of waiting for the price of his stocks to rise, he decided to sell them for a hefty profit. 

Because the money he’ll make on selling stocks comes from a foreign country, it will be considered a foreign source of income. However, Michael is taxed on his worldwide income as a US citizen. This means that the source of income doesn’t make much difference regarding Michael’s tax obligations. And, because he still lives and works in the States, he is not eligible for the foreign earned income exclusion, which is available to US expats.

Looking to Open an LLC in the US? Need Help With US Taxes? Check out NRI! 

NRI offers general tax counseling, tax filing services, and LLC formation services in the US to nonresidents and US expats. Our team has a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specializes in working with clients who live outside of the US and is versed in dealing with the intricacies of filing taxes internationally. And, if you’re interested in opening an LLC in the States, the NRI team will guide you through the entire process, from getting you an EIN and ITIN to helping you set up legal documents, operating agreements, opening a company bank account, and more.

Book a free call to find out what NRI can do for you!

Founder & CEO
Luka Malkovich is a serial entrepreneur with years of experience in international real estate investing. As the CEO of Nonresident Investor, Luka’s mission is to educate foreign nationals about the US real estate market and help them secure funding and buy property in America. That’s why he’s using his expertise to turn the NRI blog into a knowledge hub for anyone interested in learning about US real estate. This article was written by a professional content writer in conjunction with Luka Malkovich. Luka has thoroughly reviewed this article and has given his final approval before publishing.

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