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A Quick Guide to Taxes for Self-Employed American Expats

Susan-B.-Anthony-DollarThe United States is only one of two countries that have adopted a citizenship-based taxation system, the other being Eritrea in Northeast Africa. This means that all U.S. citizens and permanent residents (also known as Green Card holders) are required to file a return and pay tax on their worldwide income, even if they are based in a foreign country.

For self-employed expats who are thinking of starting a business abroad, this could mean an additional layer of complexity to an already complicated system of tax filing and reporting. But just because the U.S. tax system works against expat taxpayers doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals.

Here’s a quick guide to filing taxes as a self-employed expat.

What is self-employment?

People who work for themselves are considered self-employed. While the term is generally associated with small side hustles, working as an independent contractor or opening a business also counts as self-employment.

According to the IRS, a person can be considered self-employed if:

  • They carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor
  • They are a member of a business or trade partnership
  • They are otherwise in business for themselves (including a part-time business)

It’s important to note that a person can be both self-employed and also work as a salaried employee. Many expats have started businesses on the side while holding down a full-time job.

Self-employed expat taxes

Self-employed expats often deal with heavier tax responsibilities compared to their salaried counterparts.

For starters, self-employed taxpayers have to withhold taxes from their income themselves, which results in extra paperwork and research. They also have to pay self-employment tax (for Social Security and Medicare) on top of their income tax.

Self-employed taxpayers may also have to pay estimated taxes quarterly. Ask a tax professional to clarify your tax situation to avoid a hefty penalty at the end of the year.

What is the threshold for self-employed tax

The reporting threshold for self-employed individuals is substantially lower than what most taxpayers are accustomed to. Self-employed expats who earn more than $400 in a year are required to file a tax return.

Is foreign income subject to self-employment tax

All income from self-employment, even from foreign sources, is subject to U.S. taxation. Self-employed individuals are required to pay a 15.3% self-employment tax: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare.

However, you may claim an exemption from paying U.S. Social Security tax if the United States has signed a totalization treaty with your country of residence.

Self-employed tax deductions

The IRS allows self-employed individuals to deduct business expenses from their taxable income, reducing their tax bills. Make sure to take advantage of all the benefits available to you to minimize your tax liability.

Some business expenses you can deduct include:

  • Legal and professional services
  • Business-related travel
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Marketing
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance
  • Business meals and entertainment

Just make sure to keep your records updated in the event of an IRS inquiry. Every deduction must be supported by documentation such as a receipt to justify the claim.

Self-employed tax exemptions

Self-employed expats who already pay income tax to their host countries can take advantage of tax exemptions to minimize their U.S. tax liability on the same income.

For instance, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion allows you to exclude up to $108,700 (for tax year 2021) of foreign-earned income from U.S. tax if you are based in a foreign country.

You may also take a Foreign Tax Credit for foreign income taxes imposed on the same income. Self-employed expat taxpayers may claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on income tax paid to the host country’s tax service. This means you can use your foreign income tax bill to offset your U.S. taxes.

What if I’ve never filed self-employed taxes?

Self-employed American expats who haven’t filed a U.S. tax return may use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures program to report foreign-earned income and pay back taxes without facing penalties.

Tax planning for self-employed expats

Filing taxes as a self-employed expat can be confusing and time-consuming. You are expected to stay on top of your tax obligations while running a business abroad. You also risk incurring heavy penalties if you make a mistake on your tax return. If you want to make sure your taxes are done correctly, your best option is to work with a professional tax service .

Four Quick and Easy Ways to Generate Income In Your Everyday Life

by John Garber

If you want to improve your financial situation, you have two options. The first and easiest is to cut expenses. There are plenty of articles on our site and elsewhere with great advice on how to do that.

What’s rare is good advice about the other option: how to make more money. Adding more cash to your bottom line will improve your financial position. Below are our four favorite ways to do that.

Note: These Are Not Second Jobs

Some ways to earn extra income amount to getting a part-time job or starting a business that becomes a part-time job. These are great ideas for people with extra time and energy, but they’re not the only option.

This list has four solid models for you to bring in extra money without devoting significant time to it. You have a life to live, people you love to spend time with, and a career. These ideas will help ease financial stress without spreading yourself too thin.

Four Personal Income Generators You Can Start Using Today

1. Purge and Profit

This income generator combines the benefits of making your home tidier with bringing in extra cash, usually for a one-time or short-term money infusion. There are many variations, but they all follow the same basic framework:

  1. Clean your house, using a box or bin to accumulate things you can live without. Move stuff too big to fit into the box to a special place in your house.
  2. Identify which of these items has a monetary value.
  3. Sell those items on Craigslist, eBay, or similar websites or have a garage sale to sell lots of items at once.
  4. Bundle up items that didn’t sell the first time and re-list them together. Often, people will see the value and buy them during this second round.
  5. Donate what’s left to Goodwill, and get a receipt for tax season (you can deduct charitable contributions if you itemize).

Whether you do this with a single collection you once loved but now don’t interact with, or by pulling stuff out of every room in your house, it’s not hard to make several hundred dollars from this method. It’s even easier if you follow a few of these best practices:

  • Clean the items first, so they look as attractive as possible
  • Take high-quality photos to include in your listings
  • Write detailed, compelling descriptions for each entry
  • Answer potential buyers’ questions quickly and professionally
  • Set prices according to what similar items sell for
  • Don’t hesitate to haggle and bargain to sell as much as you can in as little time as possible
  • Publicize your sale on social media and other venues

2. Monetize Your Hobby

You likely have a hobby or interest, something you enjoy and you do well. There are ways to make money off the skills and expertise you’ve accumulated from it. Examples include:

  • Creating an Etsy account to sell the product of your crafting hobby
  • Writing articles for magazines associated with your hobbies and interests
  • Pet-sitting or dog walking if you’re an animal lover
  • Offering personal services, such as cleaning if you’re an organization junkie
  • Coaching or teaching people who want to learn more about your hobby or interest
  • Creating online content, like an e-book or video course
  • Putting your photographs on image clearinghouses like Getty Images or Flickr
  • Selling your artwork in local galleries and cafes

These are just some of the ways people turn their passions and interests into cold, hard cash. For some, it’s a way of helping the hobby fund itself. For others, it’s a route to a better financial situation.

Start by considering your hobbies. What do you love doing so much you’ve become an expert at it? How might you turn that skill and expertise into something other people want or need? From there, put together a plan.

3. Find Part-Time Work Online

You don’t want the demands of a traditional part-time job, but you can make money in small sessions of flexible work using a number of different online sources. As with monetizing your hobby, there are dozens of ways to do this. Here are nine you can get started on right away:

  • Log in to Mechanical Turk to do small jobs that add up to big money.
  • Get paid to fill out market research questionnaires on sites like Focus Pointe Global and Delve.
  • Participate in paid surveys from Survey Junkie, Pinecone, or Prolific.
  • Set up an account at Fiverr or Upwork to do simple design, editing, and writing tasks.
  • Review websites for UserTesting.
  • Google “Get paid to _______”, filling the blank with tasks you might find fun to perform, like “write,” “watch TV,” or “play games.” Log in to the sites that best match your needs. Read the fine print carefully.
  • Deliver with services like DoorDash and Deliveroo.
  • Review music at Slicethepie.
  • Become a mystery shopper through any number of sources. (Just Google “mystery shopper” plus your location.)

You can choose one of these options and pursue it heavily, or work on several options over the course of a month to generate a substantial income stream. Either way, the opportunities are real, as is the difference they can make for your finances.

4. Flip Products

This is the riskiest item on this list, but if you have the expertise and a little cash available, it can become a reliable and easy way to make extra money.

  1. Find items for sale at well below market rate. Books, furniture, power tools, yard equipment, and watches are good candidates for flipping.
  2. Clean them up and research their potential full value.
  3. List and sell them on eBay or Craigslist.
  4. Use some of the profit to scale up the project by buying more items to list.

The key to success is finding reliable sources of goods at well below the price people will pay for them. Research how much certain items are selling for on eBay and Craigslist, then look for them in locations such as:

  • Estate sales
  • Garage sales
  • The clearance rack at stores you frequent
  • Lots and bundles sold on eBay
  • Thrift shops
  • Craigslist giveaways
  • Flea markets

Also, let friends, family, and acquaintances know you’ll take their items to the dump or Goodwill when they clean out their homes. Make it clear you plan to sell things you think you can flip. Most people won’t mind if you’re upfront about it.

Final Thought: The Real Question

When deciding which income generators are right for you, ask yourself how you want to earn your extra money and what you want to use it for.

Do you want to earn a one-time lump sum to pay off credit cards, afford something you need, or make a single change to improve your life moving forward?

Or do you want to earn a little extra money on a regular basis, so your monthly financial life is a little easier?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but knowing your goals will help you pick the strategies that will make the biggest difference in your financial life.

John Garber lives on the West Coast, where he works in technology and currently has a few side hustles in play.

Terminally Lazy?

Lordie, it’s 12:30 in the afternoon and I’ve not scribbled a word. Have I arrived at end-stage laziness?

Arose late this morning — quarter to six. Shot out the door to meet a colleague and fly across the city to this week’s bidness group meeting.

I’d thought I wouldn’t be there to chair the get-together this morning, because I imagined I was supposed to be surged yesterday, not last Monday. Today I’m not only still kickin’, I’m full of ginger.

Fortunately, I’d foisted the chair’s job on one of the other members, a person who should’ve been a teacher because of her born fluency with human relationships (if only she didn’t have designs on a living wage). We were out of a speaker today, and so she decided each of us would do a mini-presentation about our businesses.

She posed the following questions:

Everyone should be prepared to talk about their first year in business or the current job you are sporting. It would be interesting to hear

1.  What made you choose this business?
2.  What made you choose the business name?
3.  Were the start-up costs what you expected?
4.  What were the pitfalls that you could pass on to another who would be starting a business?
5.  What were some of the first marketing ideas that you tried?

Wow! It was a freaking stroke of genius!

Of the twelve breakfast-group members present, a half-dozen got through this assignment. And it was extremely interesting. As we all sat there listening to the various entrepreneurs’ stories, several of us thought, as by mental telepathy, Holee mackerel! We have GOT something here!

We think we could do an e-book — preferably with a print-on-demand analog — telling the start-up stories of these twelve businesses. And we think it would sell.

At the very least, it would be interesting locally. Some of these folks represent some very prominent Arizona companies. But I think such a book would interest anyone who was interested in starting a business or in launching into a commission-only (or mostly commission-based) entrepreneurial job with a larger company.

Next week, we have a bank manager as a guest speaker. But the following week, the rest of us will tell our stories.

So, whaddaya think?

Would you be interested in reading a short book relating the start-up stories of successful small-business entrepreneurs, complete with advice on what to do and what not to do?

Of Late…

Haven’t posted for a day or two. Busy couple of days and then last night the damn router went down again and this time stayed down all night. GOTTA get a new router. One of these days…

Meanwhile, a number of developments, all of them positive for a change!

The Mayo surgeon had to loosen her clutches long enough for me to get a grip on my wits, at least in a perfunctory way. As you’ll recall, on the weekend before the last planned surgery, scheduled for a Monday, a convenient case of bronchitis led the anaesthesiologist to intone,”It would be foolish to proceed,” frustrating the surgeon no end. The next fun procedure was scheduled for the 15th of this month.

Subsequently, the surgeon erred in forgetting to have the Mayo’s scheduling department reserve an OR for that date. So the soonest she can try again will not be until after she gets back from vacation, toward the end of this month. That gives me time to get to another doctor at another institution to try to get some fresh insight, and to gather enough strength to put up a fight. Somehow I’ve got to bring a stop to the present cascade of disasters; whether I can remains to be seen, but at least I’m beginning to make out a vague pathway toward that goal.

This is particularly good because a new challenge has developed: As I have begged the staff to just do the goddamn mastectomy and stop torturing me with (presumably very profitable) procedure after procedure after procedure, they have begun to pressure me to get reconstructive surgery. I do not want reconstruction, for two reasons.

1) I’m not in the market for a man, and at my age no one looks at my boobs and so no one is going to notice whether I’m a little lopsided or not. For that matter, at my age no one sees a woman at all. When strangers are staring in your direction, they’re actually looking right through you. What they see is the background behind you.

2) More to the point, especially for older women, breast reconstruction is more complications and more surgery waiting to happen. The autologous procedures now in vogue, where they gouge chunks of flesh out of your back, belly, butt, or thigh and slap them on your chest, are esthetically unsatisfactory IMHO, cause still more surgical wounds for you to have to recover from, weaken the muscles in those areas, and can leave you with chronic back pain, weakness, hernia, and the unpleasant. disabling manifestations of upper quadrant disorder. As for implants: silicone or saline, they have an expected lifetime of about ten years, at which time you get to enjoy still more surgery to have the damn thing removed or replaced.

When I told WonderSurgeon that I do not want reconstruction, she told me I need to “think about it.” In other words, I’m a child who doesn’t have good sense.

Guess which one is fake.

One of my friends chose to go flat after a double mastectomy; she said she never regretted it, and she looked just fine. Obviously, if one side is flat and the other is not, that’s a little more problematic. However, you can get custom-made prosthetics that are a great deal more convincing and comfortable than fake reconstructed boobs (if you’re feeling strong, go to The Scar Project, where you can see artist-quality images that show women with and without reconstruction — warning: this is graphic).

Such a large  contingent of women has decided to go breast-free that there’s even an organization representing them. Interestingly, many of these women describe similar pressure from their medical teams. Apparently people are so convinced that every woman’s self-image is so inextricably invested in her boobs that a woman must be crazy if she chooses not to go through the tortures of the damned for the sake of having a lump sticking out of her chest.

So: I need some reinforcements to put up a fight on this front.

I called to make an appointment with a medical oncologist at St. Joe’s that my gynecologist, who unwittingly plunged me into this mess, has been trying to get me to see. He also has been out of town, and so on the last attempt to get together with him, his staff couldn’t shoehorn me in before the the 15th. Called again, they managed to set up a meeting for the 20th. Hallelujah!  That means I’ll be able to talk with the guy before the Mayo doc can cut me up again and before the craziness makes another spin around the drain.  I don’t know whether he’ll provide enough moral support for me to hold my own, but everyone who knows the man says he’s eminently rational.

So that may be a dim light visible through the black fog.

Yesterday morning the damnedest thing happened. My single all-time deepest-pocketed client, Scott Flansburg — the man who made it possible for me to pay off the mortgage in one fell swoop — has hired a new business manager. He’s looking to kick his business plan up a notch, and he wants someone, namely me, to write new products for him and the like. Said bidness manager tracked me down, how I do not know — probably through LinkedIn — and asked if I would be interested in working with them. They want to expand into e-publications.

Lo! What should The Copyeditor’s Desk be into but e-pubs! I’ve got a slew of formatters, illustrators, and designers who can hire on to help him out, and of course I wrote the book that earned Scott $1.5 million in the first year after publication and $1 million the following year.

Heh. When we say “things are looking up,” we speak in cosmic terms.

Meanwhile, I have two clients who are just wrapping up their books. Both of these guys  have uttered the words “…and how do I market this thing?” Flansburg is a wily sort of a gent, and you can be pretty sure that he would not hire a marketing agent, which is what this guy is, unless the guy had a decent track record. So this is promising: we just may be able to do some bidness here!

If the guy can sell books (and authors), The Copyeditor’s Desk may soon have two happy customers. And that is always good. Very, very good.

And finally, in the God seems to have gotten over Her tiff at me department: I took it into my head to buy a large Talavera-style garden pot for my beloved shady deck. Purchased anywhere north of central Mexico, these things are absurdly expensive, and the place where I chose to buy, Whitfill’s Nursery, is famed for charging through the wazoo for everything. So I walk in there and find the desired vessel, and on my way out my eyeballs land on another design. The actual price of these monsters is $59.99, but someone has scribbled $29.99 on the one I happen to spot.

On close inspection, nothing seems to be wrong with it. Apparently some underling carelessly mispriced it. The kid at the cash register didn’t even blink…so I walked outta there with a BIG, beautiful, gaudy planter for half price!

Obviously, an omen.

TalaveraPlanter

 

A Long Dive off the Deep End?

On the way home from this morning’s business networking group meeting, my accountant (who also happens to be a fellow networker) and I fell into a conversation about the many quotidian distractions from paying work. I mentioned that a prospective client, who I thought had dropped off the radar four months ago, suddenly resurfaced…assuming I would index her 400-page tome on Anglo-Saxon maritime history at the drop of a hat. Her hat, of course.

And that this would come in the middle of the four-week course I’m teaching, the one that crams 16 weeks of instruction into 18 class days. And that I’d agreed to do it for a pittance — I mean, practically Fiverr wages! — in an effort to hang onto the entity that refers these obnoxious projects to me.

We reflected on the appearance, this morning, of a retired professor of economics who craves advice and help on a projected 400-page+ (typeset!) magnum opus, and who asked what I could do for him.

And that my associate editor, who makes it possible for me to take on these ridiculous projects, will soon be winging her way to China for a business/pleasure trip — smack in the middle of the four-week course and the 400-page Anglo-Saxon maritime indexing nightmare project.

And what a joy the advent of the new, brilliant cleaning lady proved to be, since she relieved me from a full day of tedious housecleaning work, which I then filled by completing a tedious (but paying) project.

And then I said, “You know, the problem with all these editorial jobs and teaching jobs is that they take away from what I really want to do, which is to write my own goddamn books, get them online, and build a micro-publishing house to promulgate future works of my own and of a select few clients.”

How can I count the ways the prospect of indexing 400+ pages of Anglo-Saxon maritime history makes me cringe?
How can I say how much I don’t want to fill the month of June with the Campbell’s Condensed Soup version of freshman comp?

How can I express my delight at the prospect of editing 400+ (typeset!) pages of an economic history of the early Catholic church? (Yesh; that would from origins to 1350.)
And how
much do I want to know how the Okan and A′oan bands, residents of a dire post-Apocalyptic future, get from the sere desert below the eastern face of the Sierras to their home counties and what, if anything, they make of the Sasquatch the young lesbian fur trapper kills in the act of saving Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells’s ranch foreman’s life?
How curious am I about whether the trapper and the foreman get it on?
And given the choice between indexing, editing, and preparing my own copy for publication, how clearly can I articulate which I would rather do?????

Accountant, as she’s opening the door to climb out of the car and wander off to her own office, says to me THIS:

You know, you are well set. You do not need to do any paying work to live comfortably for the rest of your life, especially considering how frugal you are. It is ridiculous for you to keep doing work you dislike. You could, quite safely, quit the editing business, quit the teaching, and devote all your time to writing and publishing your own books. Why on earth don’t you do it?

Why, indeed?

Writing God a Thank You

My friend Darin Garcia, whose company K&J Windows installed the new doors and windows I craved after the late, great garage invasion, has come up with a charming new website that I think has got to be unique, or very close to it: Write God a Thank You.

The idea is that members of the social website will be able to express thanks for the positive things in their lives and share it with their friends. From WriteGodAThankYou.com, these messages of gratitude can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+, or, if one prefers, users may create private gratitude lists and prayer journals.

Even if you’re not religious, this idea has some interesting aspects. As it develops, quite a few studies have shown that mindfully reflecting on one’s blessings, rather than dwelling on the troubles and annoyances of life, creates an amazing range of benefits. A pair of researchers at UC Davis reported that people who kept a gratitude journal exercised more, experienced fewer ailments, felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, and made better progress toward personal goals than those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. They also found that people who gave thanks daily “were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.”

As readers who’ve been around for a year will recall, even a skeptical old pessimist can take a few minutes a day to focus on the positive aspects of life. Whatever those might be.

Try it. You might like it.