US Expat Taxes: Buying and Selling Real Estate Abroad

Foreign real estate and property ownership for expats

Moving abroad is a stressful process, even more so when you throw in property purchases abroad and the impact on your US expat taxes. So many issues surround the ownership of foreign property, including market conditions, foreign mortgages, exchange rates, new cultures, and even different legal structures. As you may already know, a US citizen’s worldwide transactions are reporting requirements on their US expat taxes, including transactions associated with the ownership of foreign property. So, below, we’ll discuss how the purchase or sale of overseas property will affect your US expat taxes.

How Buying Real Estate Abroad Affects Your US Expat Taxes

Generally speaking, the purchase of property (foreign or domestic) does not need to be reported on your US expat taxes (unless there is a Homebuyer’s Credit in place for the related year). When a property is sold, however, the resulting gain or loss will need to be reported on Schedule D of the taxpayer’s US expat taxes. For this reason, it’s essential to retain excellent documentation of the original purchase and associated costs of the property.

Buying Foreign Real Estate

Real estate transactions in foreign countries are handled differently than US transactions. So, it’s crucial to research the applicable laws and insurance requirements for your new host country. You will also find it beneficial to obtain a bank account in your host country to assist in the payment and management of your foreign mortgage, and other expenses such as property taxes. Your ownership interest in this foreign bank account could prompt the filing requirement of Form FinCEN 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

When you transfer money into your foreign bank account, be cognizant of the foreign exchange rates and fees associated with the transfer. When making the initial down payment on your foreign property, you could be transferring significant sums of money. Proper research and retention of a professional broker could save you thousands of dollars by ensuring that you are obtaining the most beneficial foreign exchange rate possible.

Host Country Requirements

Consult with the US embassy in your host country for any assistance regarding local laws, property taxes, and other requirements before purchasing your new property. Costs charged by government agencies, real estate agents, or legal advisors may be significantly more than in a US real estate transaction. These expenses vary from country to country. Researching and planning ahead can save you money on your US expat taxes.

In many countries, buying your property in a holding corporation rather than in your own name is customary. If the host country has different options for the type of holding corporation you can use, please contact a US tax advisor before making the decision. Some types of overseas entities will make it much harder to qualify for the gain exclusion.

Mortgage interest and points will continue to be deductible on your US expat taxes, despite the property’s location in a foreign country. However, this information needs to be reported in US dollars, so it’s important to convert the amounts before claiming the deduction. For assistance in the preparation of your US tax return, the IRS provides annual foreign exchange conversion rates for numerous countries and links to a reputable third-party website with more detailed historical information.

How Your US Expat Taxes Are Affected When Selling Real Estate Abroad

The sale of your foreign property will have the most significant impact on your US expat taxes. As a US citizen, the sale of your principal residence will prompt a gain or loss that is reportable on your tax return. However, if you have owned and lived in this home for at least two of the last five years, then you will be eligible to exclude a gain of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers) from taxation. If you have not owned and lived in the home for at least two out of the last five years, the gain will be taxed at capital gain rates.

Remember: even if the gain does not qualify or is not wholly excluded, it will be considered foreign source income, and thus eligible for the reduction by the foreign tax credit. However, it will not be regarded as foreign earned income, and therefore not excludable under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

To calculate the gain, each transaction will need to be converted to USD on the transaction date rather than the sale date. All income must be reported in US dollars on US expat taxes.

Effects of the Exchange Rate

The other important transaction likely to result from the sale of a foreign residence is the gain or loss resulting from the foreign exchange rate conversion when the mortgage is paid off. The currency exchange gain or loss resulting from the payoff of the mortgage is considered personal. Thus, any resulting loss is not deductible. However, any resulting gain is taxable at ordinary income rates. If you have held the property for at least a year, you will qualify for the lower long-term capital gain tax rates. Unfortunately, you cannot use the loss on the sale of the home to offset any currency exchange rate gain and vice versa.

Selling Real Estate Abroad Example: John Expat

To assist in the explanation of the calculation of gains associated with selling your foreign primary residence, let’s discuss the sale of John Expat’s foreign residence. John moved to China in 2005, where he immediately began searching for a home to purchase. He found one, and on November 17, 2005, he signed the papers to purchase his new home. He paid 1,865,000 Chinese Yuan (CNY) for the property on the date of sale. On May 25, 2007, he paid 50,000 CNY for new windows on the house. In 2011, he decided he wanted to move back to the US to spend time with his family and put his house on the market. He signed the closing papers on June 24, 2011, with a sales price of 2,010,000 CNY. At that time, he had 1,725,000 CNY left to pay on his mortgage.

Each transaction is converted to USD at the date the transaction occurred:


Because John owned and lived in the property for at least two of the last five years, he is eligible to exclude the entire gain associated with the sale of his principal residence.

The other transaction that results from the sale of his principal residence is the gain or loss resulting from the currency exchange. This is calculated as follows:
Gain Loss on Payoff of real estate abroad

It will take more USD to pay off the foreign mortgage than originally anticipated at the date of purchase. The result is a net loss of $52,785. Unfortunately, this loss is not deductible on John’s US expat taxes.

The total impact on John’s US expat taxes resulting from the sale of his Chinese principal residence is zero. He can exclude all of the gain associated with the sale of the property, and he incurred a loss on the currency exchange associated with the mortgage payoff which cannot be applied to his other foreign income.

Questions About How Your US Expat Taxes Will Be Affected by Real Estate Transactions?

If you are going to be buying a residence overseas, you should discuss your options with your host country’s US embassy, consult multiple international real estate brokers, and discuss your options with an expat tax expert. Doing so will allow you to know what to expect from your purchase of a home overseas and avoid any unpleasant surprises on your US tax return. Set up a consultation with Greenback, so that you’re sure you’re making the best decisions for your US expat taxes.