By Lynn M. Eller, CPA, APCIT, PFS

The U.S has more than 60 tax treaties with foreign countries who are trading partners.

Tax treaties can benefit individuals by clarifying their tax obligations, reducing tax burdens, and simplifying cross-border economic activities.

What Are U.S. Income Tax Treaties?

Tax treaties are agreements between countries to prevent double taxation and to promote cooperation between their tax authorities. These treaties clarify which treaty partner taxes certain income and at what rate.

Under these tax treaties:

  • Residents of foreign countries are taxed at a lower rate, or can be exempt from U.S. taxes on certain income items they receive from sources in the U.S. The tax rates and exemptions vary depending on the country and the type of income in question.
  • S. residents are taxed at a lower rate, or may be exempt from foreign taxes on certain items of income they receive from foreign countries.

Most income tax treaties contain what is known as a ‘saving clause’, which prevents a citizen or resident of the United States from using the provisions of a tax treaty in order to avoid taxation of U.S. source income.

How Can Individuals Benefit from U.S. Income Tax Treaties?

Individuals can benefit from U.S. tax treaties in the following ways:

Avoid Double Taxation

Tax treaties typically allocate taxing rights between the treaty countries, so income is not taxed by both countries.

This benefit is significant for individuals who earn income in one country while being a tax resident of another.
If a resident of a treaty country is taxed on the same income in both treaty partner jurisdictions, the resident country must relieve any double taxation through a foreign tax credit (FTC).

This FTC is calculated based on the tax rate of the resident country.

  • Example: let’s assume wages of a U.S. resident are taxed in both Sweden at 30% and the U.S. at 25%. The U.S. will only credit the tax calculated on wages at the U.S. tax rate of 25%. Therefore, the taxpayer’s overall tax rate will be the higher of the two countries.

Reduce Tax on Investment Income

In absence of a treaty, dividend, interest, capital gains, royalties from sources in the US are generally subject to a 30% withholding tax on the gross amount.

Treaties can increase after-tax income from foreign sources.
Treaties generally reduce or eliminate this withholding tax on a reciprocal basis with the treaty country.

Resolve Residency Conflicts

Because each country has its own domestic definition of the term resident, an individual taxpayer may be a resident in the eyes of both the U.S. and the foreign country.

Treaties provide residency tie-breaker rules.
These rules determine an individual’s tax residency status when they are considered a tax resident of both treaty countries, helping to prevent conflicts between the tax laws of different countries.

Tax Credits and Exemptions

Individuals may be entitled to tax credits or exemptions under tax treaties. These exemptions can reduce their overall tax liability.

These provisions may apply to specific types of income, such as:

  • Pensions
  • Capital gains
  • Income earned by students or researchers

Protect Against Discrimination

Tax treaties often include provisions prohibiting discrimination based on nationality or residency.

This ensures that individuals are not treated less favorably than residents of the treaty country in similar circumstances.

Learn More

U.S. taxpayers with financial interests in other countries who are unsure exactly how tax treaties can modify, reduce, or eliminate tax liability should consider consulting with a tax professional who specializes in international situations like this.

The PBMares tax team can help walk you through the benefits of tax treaties and the tax relief available, complete the appropriate tax forms, and ensure you properly disclose related information on your U.S. tax return.

Contact us today to learn more.