Let’s go to another chart. Remember when I said we were going to discuss a situation where a non-US person does not engage in US trade or business activities? In this case, we have to ask: Is this US-source income classified as FDAP income (fixed determinable, annual or periodic)? FDAP income generally includes passive investment income: interest, dividends, rents, royalties, etc.; but, it may also include some active income like US-source salaries as well as US-sourced deeds from the sale of intangible properties. However, please remember that except US real estate, non-ECI capital gains from the sale of tangible property of a non-US person are generally exempt from US taxation.
This is why, for example, foreign persons who own stocks in the United States, when they sell them, they are not subject to US tax withholding. They are going to be paying taxes in their home countries on the capital gains but they are not going to be paying taxes in the United States.
If this indeed is an FDAP income, then we have to ask whether it is subject to a treaty exemption or to a special tax provision in the Internal Revenue Code, which would exempt this FDAP income from taxation. If it is subject to any of these exceptions, then this FDAP income will not be taxed in the United States. However, if it is not subject to any treaty exemption, then it would be taxed at 30% withholding rate on gross income. Or a treaty rate – here, treaties play a crucial role in lowering tax liability. That’s why it is very important that when you invest in the United States, when you engage in an inbound transaction, to invest in the right foreign jurisdiction; so you have to do some foreign treaty shopping.
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Let’s suppose we find a US trade does exist. If it doesn’t, then we’ll talk about the FDAP a little bit later in the presentation.
If a non-US person engages in US trade or business activities, then the next question is: Is the income that he derives connected to these US trade or business activities, called ECI or Effectively Connected Income? Now, ECI is arguably the most important concept concerning inbound transactions. It may be the only source of income, per se, that is inbound, but ECI is such a central concept and a complex issue as well.
Basically, ECI includes three different types of income:
All active US-source income: One thing to keep in mind is the attraction rule; I give you an example here. A German corporation sells washing machines through a US office in the United States; in addition, it sells dryers directly to the distributors in the United States, but without any involvement of that US office. The sales are structured so that they are considered to be US-source income. For one reason or another, let’s say they signed a contract here in the United States. Even though the sale of dryers is not related to a US trade or business, because of the attraction rule, the income from both the washing machines and the dryers is considered to be the same. Obviously, this is all active-source income.
The second category: General passive US-source income – sales of capital assets and other passive income is considered to be ECI, if this income passes one of two tests: the Asset-Use test and the Business Activities test. I gave you the definition; but we wont have the time to go into more details on this. But, be aware that even passive US-source income may be considered ECI.
What I mentioned before: Certain foreign-sourced income may be considered ECI; generally speaking, in order for this to happen, the non-US person has to have an office or other permanent establishment here in the United States.
Only these three types of income which I have listed are related to this exception from the general rule that foreign-sourced income of a non-US person is non-taxable in the United States.
Let’s suppose that we indeed had ECI income. The next question is going to be: How is the income going to be taxed? There are special tax regimes that exist in the United States, for example, Branch taxes or BEAT which is something that was introduced by the 2017 tax reform. If an ECI income falls under the special tax regime, it’s going to be taxed according to the special tax regime; however, if no special tax regime applies, the ECI is going to be taxed at US graduated rates, including, by the way that’s important to keep in mind, including capital gains tax rates.
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Let’s suppose it is indeed US-source income; then the next question that we have to deal with is whether this non-US person engages in US trade or business activities. Just to repeat myself, if it is not a US-sourced income, generally speaking, it’s not taxable; but you see here and there that in order to get there, we still have to find out if this income is somehow effectively connected to a US trade or business.
The issue of US trade or business activities is another complex issue. As I’ve said, all of the questions that are contained in this flowchart – all of them are complex with exceptions upon exceptions; all with difficulties. As I’ve said before, a lot of things concerning inbound transactions are fact-dependent. It is even more-so when we talk about US trade or business activities because there is no actual definition of what a US trade or business activity is; it is highly factually-dependant. However, based on the cases and the IRS guidance I’ve given you sort of a general rule: A US trade or business exists if the foreign corporation activities within the United States are considerable, continuous and regular.
Let’s deal with a few examples to help us figure out what we’re looking at; common examples are:
‘Consistent attempts to market products and services in the United States’, is considered to be a US trade or business. This is very important, especially in situations concerning intellectual property and situations where the intellectual property is actually outside of the United States. Marketing within the United States may unintentionally result in US-source income.
On the other hand, clerical or collection-related activities do not produce US trade or business. This is also very common; I’m pretty sure that a lot of you have dealt with a situation like this before where a foreign person sets up an LLC, say in Delaware, simply to collect the payments for the work performed overseas or for royalties related to intellectual property which is located overseas. Just setting up an office for an LLC in the United States for collection-related activities will not result in US-source income.
Another common issue concerns agents. If there is an agent of a US corporation in the United States that has the authority to conclude contracts, and he regularly exercises this authority; then this would be sufficient to find that a US trade or business exists.
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