Simple Tax Guide for Americans in Afghanistan
At Taxes for Expats we have been preparing U.S. tax returns for U.S. Citizens and permanent residents working in Afghanistan for over 4 years. Our clients are mainly contractors who work in a variety of industries but mainly security.
As a U.S. Citizen or green card holder you are legally required to file a U.S. tax return each year regardless of whether you already pay taxes in your residence country.
We offer professional tax services. That means we figure out the best and most optimal way to file your U.S. tax return and avail you of all possible exclusions and deductions. But just as importantly - avoid the errors that would allow IRS to disallow your return and levy fines & penalties on top. You can also do them yourself - not that we recommend it. For more information please see IRS.
The expatriate Foreign Earned Income Exclusion can only be claimed if you file your tax return on a timely basis. It is not automatic if you fail to file and can even be lost.
As an expat living abroad you get an automatic extension to file until June 15th following the calendar year end. (You cannot file using the calendar year as is standard in France for U.S. tax purposes). You must, however, pay any tax that may be due by April 15th in order to avoid penalties and interest. You can get an extension to file (if you request it) until October 15th.
There are other forms which must be filed if you have foreign bank or financial accounts; foreign investment company; or own 10% or more of a foreign corporation or foreign partnership. If you do not file these form or file them late, the IRS can impose penalties of $10,000 or more per form. These penalties are due regardless of whether you owe income taxes or not.
We have helped hundreds of expats around the world catch up with their past U.S. taxes because they have failed to file U.S. tax returns for many years. This is, in fact, our specialty and we offer a 10% discount to clients to wish to file multiple tax returns at once and get in full compliance with the IRS.
Work with a recognized expert to help you prepare your American tax return. We can also provide tax planning and advice with other expatriate tax and legal concerns; we look forward to working with you.
Below we include information on the Tax Issues relevant for American Contractors working in Danger Zones.
This section is fairly large as we cover a lot of pertinent topics. If you want to ask us a question - go right ahead and Contact Us, weÐ¢ll do our best to answer you right away.
Are you eligible for free tax preparation as a civilian contractor?Unfortunately not. Only active-duty service members and their family members, retirees and their family members, DoD civilian employees and their family members, Reserve Component service members on active duty pursuant to orders for more than 29 days, surviving family members of active-duty, Reserve Component and retired service members who would be eligible for legal assistance if the service member or retiree were alive.
Civilian Contractors, without any other status mentioned under Ð¡Eligible Clients,Ð¢ are not authorized for free tax preparation pursuant to Army Regulation 27-3, paragraph 2-5. Under this regulation tax preparation is included under other correspondence or documents which Civilian Contractors are not allowed.
Are you eligible for Combat Zone Tax Exclusion?The short answer is No. This privilege is reserved for enlisted and commissioned members of the US Armed Forces only (but then again - you know probably already know the pay difference between DoD and the private sector).
There is no IRS rule, waiver or special dispensation that will allow this. The only exclusion available to Expats working in combat zones and qualified hazardous duty areas is the foreign earned income exclusion. The only way you as an expat can qualify for the exclusion when working in a abroad is by utilizing the Physical Presence Test or Bona Fide Residence Test.
When is your tax return due? Do you have special fling deadlines because you were working in a war zone? Am you also exempt from interest or penalties while there?You need to use the normal expat tax filing deadlines while working in a war zone. See our Due Date and Extension page for further information on those dates.
You work in a war zone. Do you automatically qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion?No. You need to have been in the country and expected to qualify for the exclusions before the area was declared a war zone in order to qualify for a residency waiver due to adverse conditions in the foreign country. See Rev. Proc. 2006-28 for how this waiver applies. While this Revenue Procedure concerns individuals leaving Haiti in 2005, prior rulings are consistent with the findings in this Procedure.
You should also note that this waiver only applies to individuals who expected to qualify as a resident of the foreign country (bona fide residence test, or BFR). In most of the cases we see, the individual could not have expected to qualify for the exclusions under BFR even after arrival. See further discussion on this page relating to claiming the exclusions in a war zone.
Can you claim the foreign earned income exclusions even though you are exempt from host country taxation under a status of forces agreement (SOFA)?Maybe but you most likely need to use the physical presence test to claim the foreign earned income exclusions. Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) and similar agreements, such as multi-lateral defense agreements, provide special tax exemptions - usually from host country taxation for visiting US persons.
Is the bona fide residence test available even though you are exempt from host country taxes under a special agreement, such as a SOFA?It is quite difficult to claim the bona fide resident test while covered under a SOFA or similar agreement. After losing court cases on this matter, the IRS issued Rev. Rul. 72-497 stating that a claim of BFR was possible. The standards of qualifying under BFR appears to be higher in such a situation. For example, you should expect to have your family with you at the host location and not residing in the states. For the IRS' prior interpretations, see Rev. Rul. 68-553 and Rev. Rul. 69-449.
Is it possible to get a copy of the SOFA or other multilateral agreement for my location?Unless you need one of the agreements immediately following World War II, such as the SOFA with Germany or the general NATO agreement, you probably won't be able to find. Many agreements are classified. Recent agreements have never been published. If you need to review your tax situation under a particular agreement, then contact your contracting officer for the person in your organization with the appropriate clearance. You most likely will need to rely on that person's understanding of the agreement as it relates to you.
Qualified Combat ZonesA combat zone is any area that has been designated by an Executive Order from the President of the United States in which the US Armed Forces are engaging or have engaged in combat. The Executive Order usually gives the beginning and ending dates of the Combat Zone designation. Below is an updated list of current Combat Zones:
Arabian Peninsula Area Ð¦ By Executive Order 12744, the following locations were designated as a combat zone beginning January 17, 1991.
- Persian Gulf
- Red Sea
- Gulf of Oman
- The part of the Arabian Sea north of 10âˆž North latitude and west of 68âˆž East longitude
- Gulf of Aden
- The total land areas of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Kosovo Area Ð¦ By Executive Order 13119 the following locations were designated as a combat zone and a qualified hazardous duty area beginning March 24, 1999.
- Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montegnegro)
- Adriatic Sea
- Ionian Sea (north of the 39th Parallel)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
Other Combat Zones designated by the Department of Defense:In support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan combat zone):
- Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Jordan, beginning September 19, 2001
- Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, September 21, 2001 Ð¦ December 31, 2005
- Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, beginning October 1, 2001
- Philippines (only troops with orders referencing Operation Enduring Freedom), beginning January 9, 2002
- Yemen, beginning April 10, 2002
- Djibouti, beginning July 1, 2002
- Somalia, beginning January 1, 2004
- Turkey, January 1, 2003 Ð¦ December 31, 2005
- Israel, January 1, 2003 Ð¦ July 31, 2003
- The Mediterranean Sea east of 30âˆž East longitude, March 19, 2003 Ð¦ July 31, 2003
- Jordan, beginning March 19, 2003
- Egypt, March 19, 2003 Ð¦ April 20, 2003
Iraq and Afghanistan Contractors Tax AlertThe IRS has recently issued Memorandum Number: AM2009-0003 dealing with the application to the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and the Combat Zone Exclusion to Civilian Contractors Working in Combat Zones. It outlines who may or may not be entitled to claim the FEIE.
Contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan need to keep several things in mind when preparing their tax returns.
While we will not address the issue of employee versus independent contractor which depends on several factors that need to be addressed separately, here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Is you stay for a limited duration or indefinite.
- Do you have a family in the U.S.
- How many days do you spend in the U.S. and "on post".
- Who pays for your lodging and living expenses
Clearly if you work for an employer and receive a W-2, and are on assignment for a limited period of time, say 6 months, you may be able to deduct some away from home expenses as your tax home is in the U.S. But as these are often provided by your employer this may be a moot point.
FEIE Tax HomeAmericans who have a tax home outside the U.S. can often exclude a significant portion of their foreign sourced income if they qualify under either the bona fide residence test (which includes being a foreign resident for at least an entire tax year, or 330 out of 365 days physically present outside the U.S. during a consecutive 12 month period).
Bona Fide Residence TestWhat if you were outside the U.S. for an entire calendar year (but returned home to visit your family frequently) after which your returned to your house in the U.S. Should not you get the FEIE? Not to fast. Even though you were in, say Iraq, for a year which under Section 162 defined your tax home as Iraq (thus denying you travel, meals and lodging), the IRS probably wonÐ¢t allow you to deduct the FEIE as a bona fide resident of Iraq. That is because your abode was and still is in the U.S. and Section 911(d)(3) says that even if your tax home is not in the U.S. under 162, because your abode was in the U.S. during that time and therefore could not be in Iraq. Unfortunately there is no Section 911 exclusion as a bona fide resident. As you probably did not pay income tax in Iraq you are subject to tax on your total income back in the U.S.
Below we include information on the Afghanistan Tax System for American expatriates.
I. Afghanistan Income Tax - General InformationA tax is imposed on the income from Afghan sources of all persons, corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities whether in Afghanistan or abroad, and on the foreign income of residents of Afghanistan.
A person is considered a resident of Afghanistan for the tax year if:
- The person has his or her principal home in Afghanistan at any time during the year; or
- Present in Afghanistan for a period or periods amounting to 183 days in the tax year; or
- Is an employee or official of the Government of Afghanistan posted abroad at any time during the tax year.
Corporate income tax is a flat tax of 20 percent of net taxable income. Net taxable income is computed by deducting all ordinary and necessary business expenses from gross income. Corporate rates apply to legal entities such as corporations, limited liability companies, and some types of partnerships.
Resident natural persons are taxed on income from all sources worldwide, including but not limited to wages, salaries, rents, certain types of partnership income, royalties, etc. Non-residents are taxed on all income with its source in Afghanistan. The annual tax rates are as follows:
1. Wage Withholding
Employers with two or more employees are required to withhold tax from their employeesÐ¢ salaries/wages based on the above rates. Wage/salary earners with only one employer and no other sources of income are not required to file an annual tax declaration. A wage earner who has more than one employer or additional sources of income must file an annual income tax declaration.
2. Sole Proprietors
Self-employed individuals must file a tax declaration, and are allowed to deduct all ordinary and necessary business expenses to compute net taxable income. Sole proprietor tax rates are the same as those given to wage earners. Sole Proprietors are taxed on net taxable income between 150,000 and 1,200,000 Afghanis per year at a 10 percent rate. Net taxable income above 1,200,000 Afghanis per year is taxed at a 20 percent tax rate.
II. Income of Residents vs. Non-ResidentsA. Income of Residents
Tax on Income of Resident Natural Persons in Afghanistan:
1) Every person who is a resident of Afghanistan is subject to the annual income tax on his taxable income including income from sources outside Afghanistan.
2) Any income tax paid to the government of a foreign country by a resident natural person may be taken as credit only against the part of his annual income tax attributable to his foreign income.
3) If the income of an Afghan resident is derived from more than one foreign country, the income tax credit shall be in proportion to the income from each country as provided in the Income Tax Manual established by the Ministry of Finance.
A person who becomes a resident of Afghanistan during a year shall be considered a resident from the time of his arrival in Afghanistan and will no longer be a resident on the day following his departure.
B. Income of Non-residents
Non-resident persons are exempt from income tax if the person is from a foreign country that grants a similar exemption to residents of Afghanistan.
A non-resident not engaged in trade or business in Afghanistan is subject to income tax on the amount received from sources within Afghanistan as interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and gain or profit of any kind. Deductions allowed to legal non-residents are only allowed in respect of income other than interest, dividends, rents and royalties to those legal non-residents which file a true and accurate return that includes all information required.
Non-resident persons, companies and other organizations engaged in economic, service or business activities in Afghanistan are subject to income tax on all taxable income from sources within Afghanistan. Deductions are allowable only if and to the extent that they are connected with income from sources within Afghanistan.
Taxes paid to foreign countries by non-residents on income from sources within Afghanistan are not deductible from income, nor allowable as credits against the income tax, except as provided by an existing treaty (The U.S. currently does not have an income tax treaty with Afghanistan).
1. Foreign Tax credit and Blacklisted Jurisdictions
Section 901(j) denies any foreign tax credit with respect to taxes paid or accrued to certain identified countries. Effective January 1, 1987 the IRS identified Afghanistan as one of these blacklisted countries that no foreign tax credit is given. However, Afghanistan was taken off the Black list on August 4, 1994. It appears taxes paid to Afghanistan by U.S. tax residents, will receive the same treatment as other (non-treaty, non-black listed) countries, and will receive a tax credit when paying U.S. tax.
III. Determination of Taxable IncomeTaxable income is the total of all receipts less authorized exemptions and deductions. Receipts in cash, or otherwise, subject to income tax include but are not limited to the following items: salaries, wages, fees and commissions, all receipts derived from business and industry, receipts from sale or property, interest, dividends, rents royalties, awards, prizes, winnings, gratuities, bonus payments, distributive shares of partnership gross income, income of persons claimed as depends, and any other return from labor, capital or economic activity, except as otherwise provided by law.
A. Items That Are Excluded From Gross Income
Items that are excluded from gross income: Grants, gifts and awards of the State, foreign governments, international organizations and nonprofit organizations; scholarships, fellowships and grants for professional and technical training; health, accident, and unemployment insurance benefits; life insurance paid on death; compensation or damages for personal injuries of sickness; proceeds of borrowing; proceeds of issues of stock and bonds by corporations; acquisitions of property in connection with mergers of domestic corporations and other entities; payments on principal received from debtors; interest on deposits of individuals from banks in Afghanistan; value of property acquired by gift or inheritance by lined descendents; and any other receipts made exempt by the provisions of law. In addition, income represented by the value of food, fuel, and goods consumed or used by the producer of the same or by members of his household is excluded from income tax.
Deductions of all ordinary and necessary expenses of the production, collection, and preservation of income are allowed to persons, corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities. Personal expenses not connected with business are not deductible. Non deductible expenses include but are not limited to: wages or other compensation paid to any person for services rendered to the taxpayer or his family for his or his familyÐ¢s benefit and enjoyment; expenses and costs of maintenance, repair, construction, improvement, furnishing, and other expenses of the taxpayerÐ¢s or his familyÐ¢s house or residence or any property devoted to his own personal or familyÐ¢s use; interest on personal indebtedness; costs of commuting to and from work and costs of travel for personal purposes; cost of life, accident, health and liability insurance for the protection of the taxpayer and his family; and cost of insurance of any kind for the protection of property used for personal purposes.
Taxes paid to foreign countries by non-residents on income from sources within Afghanistan are not deductible from income, nor allowable as credits against the income tax, except as provided by an existing treaty.
C. Income form sources within Afghanistan
Income form sources within Afghanistan are as follows:
- Interest from loans, deposits, investments, etc.;
- Dividends received from resident companies doing business in Afghanistan;
- Salaries, wages, self-employment income for services performed;
- Rentals and royalties from any property (movable and immovable);
- Gain from sale of immovable and movable property;
- Commissions on sales of any kind including insurance;
- Income from commercial activities with Afghanistan;
- Gains from the sale, transfer or alienation of any movable property used in commercial or employment activities;
- Royalties, management fees, annuities, commissions, and finderÐ¢s fees paid by a resident of Afghanistan;
- Income from other sources in Afghanistan which are subject to tax according to the provisions of law;
- Income from exploitation of any interest in a right to explore for, or exploit, a mineral, petroleum, or any other resources.
Proceeds from sale, exchange, and transfer or assets, except by inheritance is taxable and shall be reported in full. Gains from these assets include gains form: a trade or business, including goodwill; a factory including equipment, machinery, buildings and land, or any part of such assets; equipment used in the business or transporting persons and property; and shares of stock in corporations or limited liability companies. Costs to the taxpayer of the assets and investment sold, less the total amount allowable for its depreciation since it was acquired is deductible. Expenses of a sale including sales commissions, advertising expense, legal expense, transaction and document taxes, and other expenses of selling the asset are deductible.
Losses form a sale or exchange of shares of stock is not deductible except from gains from a sale or exchange of shares of stock in the same year.
E. Partners and Partnerships
A general partnership (not limited liability) in itself is not subject to income tax. Partners are liable for income tax only in their separate and individual capacities. The income of the general partnership is taxable as income of the partners individually, each of whom is required to include his share of the partnership income in his taxable income. Every general partnership is required to make an annual report of all its receipts, expenses, and disbursements, and to determine its net income in the same manner as an individual, except that no deductions for personal exemptions may be made. The partnership is required to report separately for each partner his share of the following items: the net income or net loss; gains or losses on property; and salary, interest, dividends, advances, etc.
F. Fixed Taxes of Individuals
Fixed taxes are imposed on commercial activities of individuals, limited liability companies, and corporations.
1. Import and Export Taxes
Persons who import goods and have a business license are subject to a two percent fixed tax on the total cost (including custom duties of the goods imported. The tax paid will be allowed as a credit in the calculation of the personÐ¢s annual income tax assessment. Persons who export goods and have a business license are subject a two percent fixed tax on the total cost (including custom duties of goods exported. The tax paid will be allowed as a credit in the calculation of the personÐ¢s annual income tax assessment.
Persons who import goods without having a business license are subject to three percent fixed tax on the total costs (including customs duties) of the goods imported in lieu of taxes on income from such activities. Persons who import goods and have an interim business license but do not provide their business declaration from the Ministry of Finance are also subject to the three percent fixed tax.
Persons who export goods without having a business license are subject to two percent fixed tax on the total costs (including customs duties) of the goods exported in lieu of taxes on income from such activities. Persons who export goods and have an interim business license but do not provide their business declaration from the Ministry of Finance are also subject to the two percent fixed tax.
Individuals engaged in internal trade without any business license, in which goods are moved from one province to another, are subject to fixed tax of four percent of the total cost of foreign goods purchases, and two percent of costs of domestic goods purchases, except food and fuel, and raw materials for domestic manufacturing. Persons who transport persons or goods for business purposes are required to pay an annual tax before renewal of their driver licenses. See article 83 of the Afghanistan Income Tax Law for detailed chart of taxes.
Import and export taxes shall be paid at the customs house where customs duties of the goods are paid.
2. Government Contractors
Persons who furnish supplies, materials, or services or construction under contract to the Government or its agencies without any business license are subject to a seven percent fixed tax in lieu of taxes on income from such activities. Fixed tax is to be withheld from the amount to be paid.
G. Tax Return Filing
Employers with two or more employees are required to withhold tax from their employeesÐ¢ salaries/wages. An individual who derives only wage income that is subject to income tax withholding from one employer shall not make a return. A wage earner who has more than one employer or additional sources of income must file an annual income tax declaration.
Individuals with more than one employer or additional sources of income shall make a return reporting in detail the income, deductions, and other information required by law, as prescribed by the Ministry of Finance and submit it to the relevant tax office. A person who is required to complete a tax return must submit their tax return by the end of the third moth of the next year. Residents and non-residents who leave the country before the due date for payment of their tax are required to submit their tax return form and pay the tax due two weeks before leaving the country.
The deliberate evasion of tax is a crime and shall be subject to prosecution. Legal persons who understate their taxable income are required to pay their income tax and additional tax as follows:
- First time offenders: payment of due income tax and two times the understated tax as additional tax.
- Second time offenders: payment of the due income tax and four times the understated tax as additional tax.
- Third or more offence: Subject to an Order of the court, their business activates shall be terminated.
IV. Status of ForcesA Status of Forces Agreement ("SOFA") is an international agreement that establishes the legal status of foreign military and related civilian forces present in a host nation. Common SOFA provisions address criminal jurisdiction, customs and tax exemptions, settlement of damages caused by the forces of the sending States, immigration, carrying weapons, and driving license. In the taxation area, SOFA provisions usually exempt from host-country income taxes members of the force and its civilian component on salaries or compensation received for services directly related to the military presence of the force. The income tax exemption does not extend the compensation received for services not connected to duties related to official business of the sending State. As a result, members of the force and its civilian component who have external employment are fully subject to host-country taxation on those earnings.
A. Government Contractors
Under most SOFAs, the Ð£civilian componentÐ¤ means civilians accompanying and working directly for an armed service of the force. The civilian component often does not include government contractors or their employees but rather usually applies to civilians who are directly employed by the U.S. armed forces in the host country. Some government contractors and other organizations may be afforded special Ð£recognizedÐ¤ status and this will be covered by a SOFA. However, it is estimated that fewer than 10% of SOFAs address government contractors and their employees.
B. NATO SOFAs
The NATO SOFA agreement is a general agreement between any participating NATO countries. From a tax perspective, a key component of a NATO SOFA is that the NATO member country is precluded from assigning residency status, and thus individuals covered under the SOFA is not taxable to the host-country.
1. Government Contractors
Government contractors and their employees present in a NATO member country are usually not included in the covered personnel category of a SOFA because they may be working on projects that do not place the contractor or its employees within the definition of the Ð£civilian component.Ð¤ For a government contractor to be covered under the Ð£civilian componentÐ¤ the contract with the government must contain language that indicates that services to be rendered in the NATO country extend civilian component status to the contractor and the contractorÐ¢s employees. If the language is in the contract, the specified contractor and its personnel are considered part of the civilian component in the host country and income tax exceptions apply.
The U.S. has agreements with Afghanistan regarding the status of military and civilian personnel of the U.S. Department of Defense present in Afghanistan in connection with cooperative efforts in response to terrorism, humanitarian and civic assistance, military training and exercises, and other activities. These agreements do not specifically mention the tax status of these persons covered in the agreements. The agreements focus more on criminal prosecution and administrative jurisdiction of U.S. personnel. However, a Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan is expected to be signed in the future.
1. Tax Status
These agreements do not specifically mention government contractors. However, these agreements mention that such personnel are to be accorded Ð£a status equivalent to that accorded to the administrative and technical staffÐ¤ of the U.S. Embassy under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.It is recommended that government contractors performing work within Afghanistan consult legal and/or tax council to determine if they are covered as an Ð£administrative and technical staffÐ¤, allowing them to be exempt from certain Afghanistan taxes.
a) Vienna Convention
Article 37 of the Vienna Convention mentions: A "member of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or permanently residents in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside of the course of their duties. They shall also enjoy the privileges specified in article 36, paragraph 1, in respect to articles imported at the time of first installation."
Thus, Article 34 applies to members of the administrative and technical staff that meet the above requirements. Article 34 mentions that the covered individuals "shall be exempt from all dues and taxes, personal, or real, national, regional or municipal, except":
1) Indirect taxes of a kind which are normally incorporated in the price of goods or services;
2) Dues and taxes on private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving State, unless he holds it on behalf of the sending State for the purposes of the mission;
3) Estate, succession or inheritance duties levied by the receiving State, subject to the provisions of paragraph 4 of article 39;
4) Dues and taxes on private income having its source in the receiving State and capital taxes on investments made in commercial undertakings in the receiving State;
5) Charges levied for specific services rendered;
6) Registration, court or record fees, mortgage dues and stamp duty, with respect to immovable property, subject to the provisions of article 23.
See the full Vienna Convention document for more information.
It is recommended that government contractors performing work within Afghanistan consult legal and/or tax council to determine if they are covered as an administrative and technical staffÐ¤, allowing them to be exempt from certain Afghanistan taxes.