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The Ultimate Blueprint: Choosing the Right Business Structure as a US Expat or Digital Nomad

If you're a freelancer, consultant, or digital nomad working independently you're classified as a Sole Proprietor in the eyes of the IRS. This status requires you to file US taxes as an individual, irrespective of whether your income is sourced domestically or internationally. The tax rate on self-employment income remains consistent in both situations, and you should report your earnings and deductions using Schedule C on Form 1040.


In the realm of international business operations, the Limited Liability Company (LLC) has emerged as the preferred legal structure for many US solopreneurs. An LLC offers several legal advantages and, from a taxation perspective, operates much like a Sole Proprietorship or self-employment setup.


An LLC has a distinct edge due to its simplicity in setup and management. Compared to other business entities, an LLC comes with fewer reporting requirements and involves less paperwork. For taxation purposes, a single-member LLC is deemed a "disregarded entity" by the IRS, meaning the business income is reported on Schedule C of Form 1040.


As a Sole Proprietor or a single-member LLC, you'll be liable for self-employment taxes, which cover Social Security and Medicare, and stand at 15.3%. You may be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. Needless to say that if you qualify as a tax resident in a country outside the US, you most likely will have additional obligations to file and pay local taxes.


Residing abroad can present unique tax benefits such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and/or the Foreign Tax Credit, which can effectively lower your US tax bill. These benefits apply only to income tax, not 15.3% self-employment tax.


More mature businesses with a stable cash flow often choose to have their LLCs taxed as an S-Corporation, a move that could help cut down self-employment tax. Opting for an S-Corp status does come with additional reporting and regulatory requirements, however. Owners of an S-Corp must pay themselves a "reasonable compensation" or salary, as defined by the IRS.


Global citizens, expats, and nomad capitalists can potentially ease their tax burden further by employing the right offshore business structure. An appropriately chosen offshore structure, located in a low- or no-tax jurisdiction and owned by a US C corporation, could potentially benefit from a reduced GILTI tax rate of just 10.5%, provided the business meets certain requirements. In such a setup, compensation received from the foreign business structure is not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes.


While foreign entities can offer tax advantages, they also bring with them certain disadvantages. They come with extra reporting requirements and additional tax rules. The cost of setting up and maintaining offshore entities can also be higher than domestic alternatives. Therefore, before you venture into establishing a foreign company, it is crucial to work with a US and local tax experts. This will ensure you're well-equipped to navigate the complexities of international tax regulations and make informed decisions that benefit your business and personal financial situation.

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