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My girlfriend a United States national living and working in China and she wants to come back to the US for the summer. What's the maximum amount of time she can come back for before she has to worry about taxes. Are there any other issues she needs to watch out for.

EDIT: By worry I mean how long before she potentially needs to pay additional taxes.

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migrated from Jan 18 '12 at 10:09

This question came from our site for road warriors and seasoned travelers.

Hi Ben, this isn't really a question about travelling back and forth between countries - US expats can probably stay as long as they want in the US! I feel this is a better fit for StackExchange's personal finance site, so I'm migrating it. – Ankur Banerjee Jan 18 '12 at 10:09

If she is a U.S. citizen, she needs to worry about U.S. taxes regardless of whether or not she is living in the U.S. She must file a tax return even if she spends 0 days in the U.S., and must pay U.S. taxes. Wikipedia has a good section on this. I believe you can claim the taxes paid in China to offset any monies owing in the U.S., but you'll want to consult an accountant to be sure.

There's an answer directly relevant to your question in the Global Tax Matters Blog.

I'm sorry, I'm not sure how things work from the Chinese side.

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There's a tax treaty between the US and China. Also, depending on the length of her stay, and other considerations, she might be liable for state taxes as well. CPA is the way to go, the firm she works for should have provided her with one. – littleadv Jan 18 '12 at 18:12
@Ben - for some questions you need a professional advice. No offense taken, its your choice. The US government doesn't care whom you asked and how you responded. – littleadv Jan 18 '12 at 21:16
up vote 3 down vote accepted

To quote @ChrisInEdmonton:

If she is a U.S. citizen, she needs to worry about U.S. taxes regardless of whether or not she is living in the U.S. She must file a tax return even if she spends 0 days in the U.S.

It's also worth pointing out that you need to declare all the moneys you made throughout the year wherever they came from.

But there is a another part involving worrying about taxes and that's whether or not you are going to have to pay additional taxes on the money you made abroad.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

If she absolutely wants to make sure that she won't pay additional taxes she needs to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. It lets you exclude up to ~$91,500 from your taxes from money that you've made in another country. As far as I can tell it doesn't matter if you didn't pay any taxes on that amount.

There is a nifty question and answer form to see if you qualify, but the basic take away is:

You qualify IF:

  • You are a US Citizen


  • You were bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes the entire tax year.


  • You were physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months

To me this all means that In the worst case situation, in any tax year, the maximum number of days you can stay in the US is 35 days

Foreign Tax Credit

Even if you don't qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion (for example if you just started a job half way through the year), you still may not have to pay any additional taxes. Instead you can take a credit or deduction for the taxes you already paid in the foreign country.

To me this means that if the foreign tax rate is higher than the federal taxes rate, you don't have to worry but if it's lower, then you will need to cover/pay the difference.

Note: I'm not a tax professional. Take everything I've said above as completed fiction until you check with someone who knows what they are talking about.

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Technically 36 Days in 2012... – user4127 Jan 19 '12 at 14:44
There is a technicality with when the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion begins and ends, this cannot help with her summer travels, but it's important when moving away from the U.S. or returning to the U.S. part way through the tax year. – Jeff Burdges May 15 '12 at 5:25
@JeffBurdges As far as I can tell the technicality is that she has to start being a bona fide resident on or before when the tax year starts and leave on or after it ends. Since she's still keeping her job and apartment in china over the summer, it doesn't appear that vacationing in america breaks this bona fide status, even if she's here for more than 36 days... – Ben May 15 '12 at 6:27
@Ben It is much easier to prove by the physical presence test that you qualify for the FEI exclusion, but I agree that if you can prove to be a bona fide resident then the 35+ days doesn't matter. There is increased risk of using bona fide resident test though. If you fail to prove this in an audit, you might find yourself owing US taxes on up to $91.5k worth of income, and incurring penalties and interest. Personally, I've always done the physical presence test because it's what my tax accountant recommended to do, if I can keep my US visits less than the 35 days, as it lowers risk. – davmp Jul 2 at 7:59

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