Don’t Pay to Stay- U.S. Tax Law with Krysta Adamski

Canada’s increasingly harsh winters and shorter summers  have resulted in more Canadian citizens crossing the border to vacation  with our neighbours to the south. But while you’re packing your  sunscreen and warm-weather clothing, are you also taking note of how this trip might affect your taxes?

“A lot of people go by the ‘183-day rule’,” says Krysta Adamski, Principal with WBLI’s Dartmouth location. “But it’s actually a little more complicated than that, and you could be in the U.S. for as little as four months and still get caught up in their residency rules.”

Under current U.S. law, the rule is called the Substantial Presence Test. So how do you know where you fall?

Have you been in the U.S. for at least 31 (consecutive or non-consecutive) days in the current calendar year, either for business OR pleasure?  If so, the IRS will calculate:

  • All of your U.S.-based days in the current year,
  • PLUS 1/3 of your days in the preceding year,
  • PLUS 1/6 of your days in the second preceding year.

If that totals up to fewer than 183 days, then you are not considered a U.S. resident, and at most, will only have to file a U.S. non-resident tax return for any U.S.-sourced income. Or, if you have U.S.-sourced income but have not visited the U.S. at all (such as with many freelancers or contract workers who work remotely), then you may not have to pay U.S. taxes at all.

If, however, your total time is 183 days or more, then you are considered a U.S. resident for taxation purposes, and will have to file tax returns with both the IRS and CRA.

Not all hope is lost, however. “If every other aspect of your life is located in Canada, you may be able to file a ‘closer connection’ form, which is form 8840. This form is to claim that you’re a Canadian resident, with closer ties to Canada, and should therefore be taxed as a Canadian resident, not a U.S. one,” explains Adamski.

The “closer connection” form isn’t applicable if you’ve spent more than 183 days in the U.S.  in the current year, however. But there is still one last chance: the “tie-breaker rule”. This is a Canada-U.S. Tax Treaty exemption, requiring you to provide substantial proof that Canada is your permanent home and the location of your personal and economic relations.

U.S./Canadian tax implications can be complicated, so here is the bottom-line takeaway from Adamski:

“First of all, if traveling to the U.S., for any reason, make sure you track how many days you spend there. Secondly, if you have any travel to or financial dealings with the U.S., either for business or pleasure, it’s always best to give your accountant a ‘heads-up’, so that we (as accountants) can make sure you’re well-informed. It’s better to be cautious and ask those questions in advance; instead of assuming you’re fine and getting a nasty surprise at tax time.”

Please note that this article is not appropriate for US citizens or green card holders.

WBLI is the region’s largest independent firm of chartered professional accountants, in operation since 1976. The firm is local, independent and connected, offering a robust range of financial and business advice, from general accounting and assurance services to specialized advice on the most complex transactional and tax matters.

WBLI’s mission is to deliver the broad range of financial expertise one would expect from a full-service firm — with the individualized approach, dedicated focus, and attentiveness of a boutique. WBLI is invested in the long life and good health of your business. For more information, visit www.wbli.ca.