US Taxes on Foreign Property: Buying & Selling Real Estate Abroad 

US Taxes on Foreign Property: Buying & Selling Real Estate Abroad 

Buying or selling property overseas can complicate your tax requirements. In this guide, we’re looking at US expat taxes on foreign property and what they mean for you. Here’s what you need to know about buying and selling a house abroad. 

Key Takeaways

  • Buying property overseas doesn’t automatically trigger a US tax reporting requirement. 
  • Selling foreign property will result in a capital gain or loss that is reportable on your US tax return. 
  • Buying or selling foreign property may create tax obligations in your country of residence. 

Taxes on Foreign Property 

As an American living abroad, you will not have to report the purchase of foreign property on your US tax return. However, you will have to report any gain or loss from selling a foreign property. Likewise, you will have to report any rental income you receive. 

For the most part, the rules for reporting a capital gain or loss are the same regardless of whether the property is located in the US or overseas. Still, there are details that Americans living abroad need to know. Whether you will owe taxes will depend on a variety of factors. 

Let’s take a closer look. 

The IRS tax code is 7,000 pages. Want the cliff notes version for expats? Let us help.

Tax Implications of Buying Property Abroad

First, let’s consider the tax implications of buying property abroad. You do not have to report the purchase of property—whether foreign or domestic. (One possible exception to this is if there is a Homebuyer Credit in place for that year.) However, buying property abroad as an American may prompt other US tax requirements. Namely, you may have to file an FBAR and FATCA report. 

Buying Property Abroad May Trigger FBAR 

When buying property overseas, you will probably have to obtain a foreign bank account. This will help with the following: 

  • Closing the sale 
  • Managing a foreign mortgage 
  • Paying foreign property taxes 

When you open your foreign bank account, you may have to report it to Uncle Sam. If you have at least $10,000 in one or more foreign bank accounts, you must report it by filing FinCEN Form 114, better known as the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR)

Pro Tip

When transferring money to your foreign bank account, be aware 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. Good research and enlisting the help of a professional broker could save you thousands of dollars by ensuring that you use the most beneficial foreign exchange rate possible.

Buying Foreign Property through a Corporation May Trigger FATCA 

In many countries, buying your property through a holding corporation rather than in your name is customary. This may create additional US tax obligations. For example, US citizens with non-US financial assets valued above certain thresholds must file a FATCA report. The threshold will depend on your filing status and whether or not you continue to live in the United States. 

Note: If the host country has different options for the kind of holding corporation you can use, consult a US tax advisor before making the decision. Certain types of overseas entities will make it much harder to qualify for the gain exclusion.  

Host Country Tax Requirements 

Your country of residence will have its own tax requirements for buying or selling 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. 

Always research local laws and insurance requirements for your new host country. This can help you save big on your tax bill. 

To learn more, see our detailed tax guides for various foreign countries. You can also consult with the US embassy in your host country for assistance regarding local laws, property taxes, and other requirements. 

Pro Tip

Mortgage interest and points are deductible on your US expat taxes, even for foreign property. However, this information needs to be reported in US dollars, so converting the amounts is essential before claiming the deduction. The IRS provides annual foreign exchange conversion rates for numerous countries and links to a reputable third-party website with more detailed historical information.

Tax Implications of Selling Property Abroad

There are distinct differences between selling a rental property and selling a personal residence. With rental property, you must report the sale regardless of whether you had a gain or a loss. If you sell your personal residence at a loss, you do not have to report it, nor are you allowed to deduct the loss. But if you sell your personal residence for a profit, you are subject to tax.   

However, you might be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain from a personal residence ($500,000 if married and filing jointly). In order to qualify for this exclusion, you must have owned and lived on the property for at least two years out of the last five. This exclusion is for property located inside the US as well as foreign property. Any gain that cannot be excluded will be taxed at the more favorable capital gains tax rates.   

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, both the purchase and sale must be converted to USD on the transaction date. All income must be reported in US dollars on US expat taxes. Report your gain or loss on Schedule D of your income tax return. 

Effects of the Exchange Rate on Foreign Property Sales

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 more than 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. 

Knowing what deductions and credits you’re eligible for could save you big time.
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Selling Real Estate Abroad: Calculating US Capital Gains Tax 

To help explain how to calculate the capital gains tax associated with selling your foreign real estate, let’s discuss the sale of John Expat’s primary residence outside the US. 

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 buy his new home. He paid 1,865,000 Chinese Yuan (CNY) for the property on the date of sale. On May 25, 2007, he spent 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: 

Transaction CNY Date Exchange Rate USD 
Original Purchase Price 1,865,000 11/17/2005 0.1237 230,701 
Improvements 50,000 5/25/2007 0.1305 6,525 
Basis/Cost 1,915,000     237,226 
Sales Price 2,010,000 6/24/2011 0.1543 310,143 
Gain on Sale of Property 95,000     72,918 

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: 

1. Mortgage Purchase Calculation 

Remaining Mortgage (CNY) 1,725,000 
Purchase Date Exchange Rate 0.1237 
Mortgage Purchase (USD) 212,383 

2. Mortgage Payoff Calculation 

Remaining Mortgage (CNY) 1,725,000 
Sale Date Exchange Rate 0.1543 
Mortgage Payoff (USD) 266,168 

3. Gain/Loss Calculation 

Mortgage Purchase 213,383 
Mortgage Payoff 266,168 
Gain/(Loss) on Payoff (USD) (52,785) 

It will take more USD to pay off the foreign mortgage than initially 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 principal Chinese residence is zero. He can exclude all gains 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. 

Pro Tip

When you sell the property, you will need to report the gain or loss based on the original cost. Always keep all documentation from the original purchase and any other costs associated with buying property abroad.

Still Have Questions about Buying or Selling Property Abroad? 

If you are 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. 

At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we provide tax support for Americans living around the world. Contact us, and one of our customer champions will be happy to help. You can also click below to get a consultation with one of our expat tax experts. 

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Whether you need tax advice to prepare for a move abroad, to buy property or even retire, Greenback can help. Consults upfront can help avoid costly mistakes and stress later.

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