Filing Your Indian Tax Return When You Are Residing in the U.S.

It has often been a question for many Indian citizens living in the U.S. whether they should file their Indian Income Tax Return or not. Actually, taxability in India is predominantly based on your residence, not on your citizenship. Hence, you have to identify your residential status first before you determine if you are liable to file your Indian ITR.

So how do you determine your residential status?

Basically, your residential status depends on the length of time of your physical stay in India within a given financial year. It helps if you check your passport and take note of the immigration stamp dates, including the dates of departure and arrival.

If you meet any of these two criteria, then you are considered an Indian resident for a financial year:

  • You reside in India for at least six (6) months, or 182 days, during the financial year
  • You have stayed in India for at least 60 days or 2 months in the previous financial year

If you do not meet any of the above-mentioned criteria, then you are considered an NRI (non-resident Indian). As such, your Indian income tax largely depends on the income that you earn in India for the entire financial year. On the other hand, if your status is “resident,” then your global income is taxable in India.

If I am living in the U.S., do I still need to file my Indian income tax return?

Yes, but on certain conditions.

Just because you are an NRI does not necessarily mean that your obligation to file your tax returns in India is no longer there. In fact, as July 31st of every year–which is the deadline for filing returns–looms, you must already be gearing up to file your returns if your income in India goes above the basic exemption limit.

Any salary you receive or earn in India, including income from a residential property located in India, income coming from fixed deposits or interest on savings bank account, as well as capital earnings on the transfer of properties in India, are just some of the many examples of income accrued within India. Such incomes are taxable for an NRI. It follows then that any income earned outside the bounds of India is not taxable in India.

It is also important to note that any interest you earn on an NRE account and FCNR account is free of tax, while interest on an NRO account is taxable for an NRI. Simply put, if you are an NRI and you have performed your job in India, your salary income will be taxable in India, regardless of where your salary is credited to your account. On the other hand, if you have worked abroad but have received your salary in India, then your salary will be included in your taxable income in India.

 When does filing my Indian income tax return become mandatory?

The question of whether you should file your Indian income tax return or not is irrespective of your being an NRI or not. If you have lived in the U.S. long enough to be considered an NRI but still have income coming from India, you are required to file your Indian income tax return when your income exceeds the basic exemption limit. As an NRI, filing your income tax return in India is mandatory in the following cases:

  • The total of your taxable income from all sources goes above the basic exemption limit of Rs 2.5 lakh.
  • You have either long term capital gain (LTCG) or short term capital gain (STCG) from selling your investments or assets in India, even if your income goes below the exemption limit.
  • You wish to claim a tax refund, in cases when TDS has already been deducted.

Are there tax deductions available to NRIs?

NRIs are also entitled to tax deductions, just like ordinary Indian residents. Most of the common deductions under the Chapter VIA of the Income Tax Act of India are available whether you are a resident or not, except for those that have to do with maintenance, treatment of disabled dependent, medical treatment of certain diseases for both self and dependents, as well as specified investments like five-year post office deposit, senior citizen savings scheme and investment in Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme.

If I am in the U.S., can I also enjoy the benefits of the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA)?

 Currently, India has a DTAA with around 90 countries around the world, and one of them is the U.S. As an NRI, one of the first things that you need to determine is whether your income is taxable in India. Then, if you are living in the U.S., you must furnish a tax residency certificate (TRC) issued by the tax authorities in the U.S. Aside from that, you may also have to provide a self-declaration by filling out Form 10F.

Getting relieved under DTAA depends on your type of income. In fact, under the DTAA, certain incomes may be entirely exempted or may be taxed at a lower rate. If under this agreement your income is taxable, then you are required to pay your tax in India and claim credit for your paid tax in the U.S. against the tax liability in your home country.

For you to claim a lower tax rate under the agreement, being an NRI, you must have provided your PAN number earlier on to avoid being charged with higher withholding tax  of 20 percent, as stipulated in Section 206AA. Under rule 37BC issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), NRIs like you are allowed to furnish alternative information or documents instead of PAN so as to avoid high withholding tax. These include your name, email, address, contact number, TIN and TRC.

But how do I file my Indian income tax return if I reside here in the U.S.?

 If based on the abovementioned standards you have figured that it is mandatory for you to file your Indian income tax return, then make sure to do it in advance to avoid penalties. Just because you reside in the U.S. does not mean you have to go back to India to file your Indian income tax return. Today, there exists a process of electronically filing your returns, allowing you to do your job without having to physically go to India.

Now, take a look at the following tax filing process for NRIs like you.

 Step 1: Choose your method.

NRIs have different methods to choose from when filing tax returns. You may do it yourself online, avail of assisted services, or follow the traditional route of chartered accountant.

Do it online (E-filing)

Today, filing tax returns online is the easiest and most convenient method for NRIs. In fact, the Indian Income Tax office is now making strides towards making this method the most viable option for Indians filing their returns from anywhere around the globe.

You have certain options when it comes to e-filing. First, log on to the income tax website and file your returns there. While this option is free, the whole process may be cumbersome for you and really need to have some technical know-how to go about the process. Under this option, you need to download a certain software to get hold of the appropriate form, fill it out and upload an XML file on the website. If you have a digital signature, affix it on the form and that’s it. Your return is filed. In case, however, that you do not have a digital signature, then you will have to send a signed copy of your ITR-V.

Here are the steps:

  1. Log on to IncomeTaxIndiaeFiling.gov.in and register.
  2. Your user ID is your PAN.
  3. View your Form 26AS. This is your tax credit statement.
  4. Select the financial year.
  5. Download the ITR form that applies to you.
  6. Open the excel utility and fill out Form 16.
  7. Click the “Calculate Tax” tab and check your tax payable amount.
  8. Fill in the details and pay your tax.
  9. Click the “Validate” tab to confirm all the information you have provided.
  10. Generate an XML file and save it to your computer.
  11. Upload the same XML file by clicking on “Upload Return” on the panel.
  12. Sign the file digitally by selecting “Yes” on the pop-up.
  13. Download the acknowledgment form or ITR-V that will be generated by the site. Print it and sign it in blue ink.
  14. Send the form either by ordinary or speed post to the Income Tax Department office in Bangalore, 560 100, Karnataka, India within 120 days of your e-filing.

Your other option for e-filing is logging on to tax-filing service websites. The web is teeming with sites that offer tax filing services, the most popular of which include taxspanner.com and elagaan.com. Compared with the income tax website, such online tax filing service providers offer a more user-friendly experience to NRIs like you, though you have to pay a certain amount of fee for their services. Some of them even have support offices in certain countries.

Tax filing service websites offer various packages, and the one you should choose should depend on the complexity of your Indian income tax return. The first thing to do is to register on the website and follow the process of filing, which is pretty much like the process for Indian residents. For overseas filers like you, you can send your payment via your international credit card. Usually, the regular packages of these sites range between Rs 250 and Rs 750.

Assisted Return Preparation

If you do not want the do-it-yourself method in filing your tax returns online, you may opt for certain websites that offer a mix of offline and online filing services. If you want this method, you can search for websites that offer such services, choose one, and call the nearest office of the service provider of your choice. Once you decide to avail of their services, they will do the entire tax filing process through email. All you have to do is just send them scanned copies of all the required documents and they will do the filing for you. They will also send you a copy of the ITR-V, which you need to sign and send back to their office. They will then be the one to forward the document to the income tax office in Bangalore. Rates of such service providers depend on the complexity of your tax returns.

The best thing about this option is that you have the benefit of getting professional advice from tax consultants. However, not all service providers of this kind offer complete online assistance, so you really have to be careful in choosing your provider. As a rule, the one you should choose must heavily depend on your needs.

Talk to a Tax Consultant in India

Of the three options you have, this one is the most traditional one. If you take this route, you depend on your chartered accountant or tax advisor in India to file your tax return on your behalf. The advantage of choosing this method is that since you already share a long-term tax advisor-client relationship with each other, he has all your necessary tax information and will certainly be able to guide you through the entire process. The only problem you may have if you choose this method is that you have to make sure that the tax advisor of your choice is accessible and tech savvy enough to be relied on.

Step 2: File your tax returns.

To file your tax returns, make sure that you are able to complete the entire process of filing. Should you wish to do it online, choose a website that offers e-filing services and fill in the details on that website. If you opt for assisted services, send your documents to the service provider who will then complete the filing process on your behalf.

Step 3: Sign your returns.

When it comes to this, you have two options. First, you may purchase a digital signature, although that is not a popular option since it is cumbersome for both the filer and the Indian Government. The other potion is to print out the ITR-V, also known as the acknowledgment, sign it and send it to India’s income tax office in Bangalore. Take note, however, that this acknowledgment document can only be sent via regular or speed post. So if you are sending it from the U.S., then it is best to avail of the regular postal service or courier it to anyone you know in India who can send it via post to the tax office.