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For the IRS in the US ...

Say you are overseas in Japan and you have a legitimate business cost of 11,123 Yen. You correctly keep the receipt, Yen11123.

How to convert to USD when making it a deduction ... say you used your visa card, and (as shown on your visa statement) the exact USD you actually paid was USD105.05.

In fact, is it thus OK to use the amount "105.05" as the cost of that item?

(Or do you have to perhaps use a nominal exchange rate, or ..?)


Bountyized! surely someone knows the answer to this one?

  • Perhaps you're over-thinking this. The amount you actually paid is the USD amount on the card, no? – jamesqf May 5 '18 at 18:00
  • Well - the total amount I paid, regarding the item, was the "store's fee" plus various bank fees - but who knows how the IRS interprets the "price" - you know? They Care about stuff like exchange rates, I think. – Fattie May 7 '18 at 16:43
  • Not in the context of charges on credit cards, at least in my experience. Now if you are deducting fixed per diem expenses for working abroad, yes, or converting your salary in Euros or CHF, yes. But the store fees &c are no different than buying something on-line in the US: the deductible amount (or at least the amount I've always deducted) is the item price plus shipping, sales tax, &c. – jamesqf May 8 '18 at 16:18
  • amazing nobody has a factual answer to this question! – Fattie May 9 '18 at 18:04
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    Not really. What's amazing is that it can be a question, and not simply the amount on the card :-) – jamesqf May 10 '18 at 16:14
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+50

Electronic transactions

When you receive your credit card statement (or bank statement if you used a debit card), you should see a line for the purchase expressed in the format 11,123 JPY @ 0.0094443 : $105.05. It really doesn't matter what rate your bank uses, they're going to collect from you in USD, thus your expense was incurred in USD.

In other words, you did not pay anybody in JPY. Your bank paid the merchant and then subtracted from your balance (or added to your debt) however much USD they felt was fair in exchange for the amount of JPY they just gave to the merchant.

Cash transactions

Alternatively, if you had previously converted a sum of money into JPY banknotes or you have a JPY bank account that you fund periodically and later on paid for something using those funds/cash, that's when the exchange rate becomes more important.

It's important because the value of the JPY you exchanged for goods/services may have changed since the time you purchased it*, and we want to know its value at the time you spent the money, not the time you bought it. For that situation, the IRS says:

Translating foreign currency into U.S. dollars

You must express the amounts you report on your U.S. tax return in U.S. dollars. Therefore, you must translate foreign currency into U.S. dollars if you receive income or pay expenses in a foreign currency. In general, use the exchange rate prevailing (i.e., the spot rate) when you receive, pay or accrue the item.

A spot rate is used when you aren't converting cash from one currency to another (because you already have the right one to settle), but you want to know what it would have cost you if you did need to buy the foreign currency at that moment in time to settle the transaction. The spot rate is determined by the demand for each currency based on the current bid and ask amounts on foreign exchange markets. There are plenty of websites you can reference to find out exactly how much of one currency you would have needed to buy an exact amount of another currency at any particular point in time.

Since there are multiple websites, whose spot rate should you use? Well, the IRS says:

Currency exchange rates

The Internal Revenue Service has no official exchange rate. Generally, it accepts any posted exchange rate that is used consistently.

When valuing currency of a foreign country that uses multiple exchange rates, use the rate that applies to your specific facts and circumstances.

So as long as you are consistent and don't flounder around a bunch of different sources looking for the "best" rate for each individual transaction, they don't mind, and neither should you.

Since they tell you to use the rate that applies to your specific facts and circumstances, it would make sense to use the spot rate provided by whomever sold you the JPY you are using for the transaction (if published/available).

*If you really want to do things by the book, you should also be reporting any change in the value of foreign currencies purchases as a capital gain/loss, but that's a whole different kettle of fish and beyond the scope of this question.

  • Hmm - thanks - good information - but - as you know the "final price paid" on your Visa or MC is some "rate" and also various fees. I wonder if that affects things? – Fattie May 7 '18 at 16:53
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    @Fattie if the expense is deductible, I'd expect any other fees directly associated would be as well. Also, on my statements, at least one card has made separate transactions for the amount and the fee(s). – Kevin May 7 '18 at 17:15
  • @Kevin, that certainly seems "obvious" - but who knows what is required with the IRS ? – Fattie May 8 '18 at 17:01
  • @Fattie investopedia says you can deduct "all interest paid… annual fee, late charges or a host of other fees." It would be mind-boggling to me if any invisible fees wrapped into the currency conversion weren't counted in that. – Kevin May 8 '18 at 17:11
  • Not that the IRS hasn't done mind-boggling things before, but… I wouldn't have thought twice about just deducting the $105.05 and probably any fees charged separately for the same transaction. – Kevin May 8 '18 at 17:16
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You have two options.

  • Present the expense as per the receipt, with an exchange rate as charged and indicated by your bank
  • Present one expense as per the receipt, using the spot rate for the day, and another expense for 'transaction expenses' to account for the fees specific to that transaction which are applied by the bank.

It's conceivable that your bank imposes a fixed foreign currency fee, and you make a small foreign transaction (so the markup expressed as a rate looks excessive) - here the 2nd option might make most sense. Exactly what is deductible in terms of banking charges (and any associated perks that might come with the account) are between you and your tax authority, but you should be looking for direct costs only.

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