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Tax Definition of the United States | US Tax Lawyers

The tax definition of the United States is highly important for US tax purposes; in fact, it plays a key role in identifying many aspects of US-source income, US tax residency, foreign assets, foreign income, application of certain provisions of tax treaties, et cetera. While it is usually not difficult to figure out whether a person is operating in the United States, there are some complications associated with the tax definition of the United States that I wish to discuss in this article.

Tax Definition of the United States is Not Uniform Throughout the Internal Revenue Code; Three-Step Analysis is Necessary

From the outset, it is important to understand that the tax definition of the United States is not uniform. Different sections of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) may have different definitions of what “United States” means.

Therefore, one needs to engage in a three-step process to make sure that the right definition of the United States is used. First, the geographical location of the taxpayer must be identified. Second, one needs to determine the activity in which the taxpayer is engaged. Finally, it is necessary to find the right IRC provision governing the taxation of that taxpayer engaged in the identified specific activity in that specific location; then, look up the tax definition of the United States with respect to this specific IRC provision.

General Tax Definition of the United States

Generally, for tax purposes, the United States is comprised of the 50 states and the District of Columbia plus the territorial waters (along the US coastline). See IRC § 7701(a)(9). The territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the US shoreline are also included in the term United States.

General Tax Definition of the United States Can Be Replaced by Alternative Definitions

As it was pointed out above, this general definition is often modified by the specific IRC provisions. The statutory reason why this is the case is the opening clause of IRC § 7701(a) which specifically allows for the general definition to be replaced by alternative definitions of the United States: “when used in this title, where not otherwise distinctly expressed or manifestly incompatible with the intent thereof … .”

Hence, instead of relying on the general tax definition of the United States in IRC § 7701(a), one needs to look for alternative definitions specific to the IRC provision that is being analyzed. Moreover, the fact that there is no express alternative definition is not always sufficient, because one may have to determine the intent (most likely from the legislative history of an IRS provision) behind the analyzed IRC provision to see if an alternative tax definition of the United States should be used.

General Tax Definition and Possessions of the United States

While the object of this small article does not include a detailed discussion of the alternative tax definitions of the United States, it is important to note that the Possessions of the United States (“Possessions”) are not included within the general tax definition of the United States. They are not mentioned in IRC § 7701(a)(9); IRC 1441(e) even states that any noncitizen resident of Puerto Rico is a nonresident alien for tax withholding purposes. Similarly, IRC § 865(i)(3) defines Possessions as foreign countries for the purposes of sourcing income from sale of personal property.

On the other hand, Possessions may be included within some of the alternative tax definitions of the United States. For example, for the purposes of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, Possessions are treated as part of the United States.

Thus, it is very important for tax practitioners and their clients who reside in Possessions to look at the specific IRS provisions and determine whether an alternative definition applies to Possessions in their specific situations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help

If you need professional tax help, contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office Ltd. Our legal team is highly experienced in US domestic and international tax law. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their tax issues and We can help You!

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US International Tax Lawyer Lectures at Alliance Française on Offshore Reporting

On December 7, 2016, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, the founder of Sherayzen Law Office and a US international tax lawyer, gave a lecture at the Minneapolis chapter of Alliance Française. The topic of the lecture was an introduction to reporting of foreign income and foreign assets for individual taxpayers in the United States. The lecture was well-attended and raised a lot of interest among the participants.

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US International Tax Lawyer Explained the US Tax Residency Requirements

Mr. Sherayzen first focused on defining the crucial term of “US tax resident”. As he explained during the lecture, the starting point for legal analysis of any US international tax lawyer is often the determination of whether his client is a US person.

During the lecture, Mr. Sherayzen covered three categories of US tax residents – US citizens, US Permanent residents and individuals who met the requirements of the Substantial Presence Test.

He also distinguished the immigration-law concept of US permanent residency (i.e. green-card holders) from the tax concept of US tax residency. The US international tax lawyer also discussed certain exceptions to the Substantial Presence Test, focusing on F-1 and J-1 visas.

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US International Tax Lawyer Emphasized Worldwide Income Reporting Requirement

Then, Mr. Sherayzen explained to the audience that US tax residents are required to disclose and pay US taxes on their worldwide income, even if this income was already disclosed on foreign tax returns.

At that point, the US international tax lawyer observed that the worldwide income reporting requirement is one of the most violated laws. Mr. Sherayzen distinguished three groups of US tax residents who are not in compliance with this law.

The first group consisted of US tax residents who were born overseas and were not aware of the worldwide income compliance requirement due to their prior experiences in their home countries (especially those which adopted the territorial model of taxation).

The second group was described as a small group of persons who were aware of the requirement and willfully violated it.

Finally, Mr. Sherayzen distinguished a third group of individuals who knew about the worldwide income reporting requirement, attempted to comply with it to the best of their ability, but failed to do so due to their lack of sufficient knowledge of US tax laws. The US international tax lawyer specifically referenced the Assurance Vie accounts as a representative case for such violations due to huge differences between the US and the French tax treatment of these accounts.

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US International Tax Lawyer Described Top Three Reporting Requirements with Respect to Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

The third part of the presentation was devoted to the discussion of the FBAR, Form 8938 and Form 8621 (PFIC) requirements with respect to reporting foreign bank and financial accounts. The discussion concerned the types of accounts that needed to disclosed, the reporting thresholds, the due dates and how the forms needed to be filed. Some history of the forms was provided; due to time limitations, however, only a limited introduction to FATCA was provided to the audience.

This discussion produced a lively Q&A exchange between the US international tax lawyer and the audience.

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US International Tax Lawyer Discussed the Reporting of Foreign Gifts and Inheritance

The fourth part of the discussion concentrated on the Form 3520 reporting of foreign gifts and inheritance, including the filing threshold and the penalties associated with the form. Mr. Sherayzen also explained that, in certain circumstances, Form 8938 may be applicable to foreign gifts and inheritance for the purpose of annual tax compliance.

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US International Tax Lawyer Introduced the Hypothetical to Illustrate How These Forms Might Apply in a Real-Life Situation

The final part of the presentation was devoted to the analysis of a hypothetical to demonstrate how all of these information returns could apply in a real-life situation. The focus of the hypothetical was on the French and French-Canadian issues. Mr. Sherayzen also invited the audience to participate in the legal analysis of the hypothetical which was enthusiastically welcomed by the audience.

The presentation concluded with an additional fifteen-minute Q&A session.

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