The hidden taxes of being an American Abroad

The American abroad faces hidden taxes.

For the American abroad, understanding and managing U.S. tax obligations is a critical aspect of living abroad. Beyond the standard income tax filings, there are several lesser-known taxes that can impact Americans overseas, including the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT), Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), and self-employment tax. This article delves into these taxes, explaining how they apply to expatriates and highlighting the challenges related to double taxation and the lack of offsetting foreign tax credits.

Unpacking the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

The NIIT was established in 2013 to help fund the Affordable Care Act and imposes a 3.8% surtax on certain types of investment income. For the American abroad, this tax applies to investment income such as dividends, rents, and capital gains if their Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds certain thresholds ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly and $200,000 for single filers). Unlike regular income taxes, the NIIT can apply even if an individual pays taxes on this income in a foreign country, because of its unique nature and the specific requirements of U.S. tax law.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Complications for Expatriates

The AMT is designed to ensure that high-income individuals pay a minimum amount of tax, regardless of deductions and credits. For the American abroad, AMT can be particularly tricky because it limits the types of deductions and credits that can be claimed, including some related to foreign income. As a result, Americans abroad might find themselves liable for this tax even if they have paid substantial taxes in their host country.

Self-Employment Tax for American Entrepreneurs Abroad

American self-employed individuals living abroad are also subject to U.S. self-employment taxes, which cover Social Security and Medicare. This is required even if they participate in a foreign country’s social security system, unless there is a totalization agreement between the U.S. and that country. Totalization agreements help avoid double taxation of income with respect to social security taxes; however, not all countries have such agreements with the United States.

The Challenge of Double Taxation

One of the primary concerns for the American abroad is the potential for double taxation—paying taxes on the same income in both the United States and the host country. While the U.S. offers foreign tax credits and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) to mitigate this issue, these reliefs are not always applicable to taxes like the NIIT or AMT. For instance, the U.S. Tax Court’s ruling in the case of Anikeeva v. Commissioner confirmed that the NIIT cannot be offset by foreign tax credits because it is considered a separate tax from the income tax.

Strategies for Managing US Tax Liabilities as an American Abroad

To effectively manage U.S. tax liabilities, expatriates should:

  • Maintain accurate records of their income, taxes paid abroad, and days spent in and out of the U.S.
  • Understand how different types of income are taxed both in the United States and in their country of residence.
  • Consult with a tax professional who specializes in international taxation to explore tax planning opportunities and ensure compliance with complex tax regulations.


The American abroad faces unique challenges when it comes to U.S. taxation, especially with taxes that are not well-publicized like the NIIT, AMT, and self-employment tax. Awareness and proactive management of these tax obligations are essential for avoiding unexpected tax bills and maximizing the benefits of living abroad. Consulting with one of our specialized tax advisors can provide crucial guidance and peace of mind for navigating the intricate landscape of expatriate taxation.

Skip to content