Taxation and reporting responsibilities in a foreign country are generally determined on the basis of whether an organization has created a Permanent Establishment (PE) in that country (i.e., a taxable presence). Typically, this is triggered when an organization is engaged in an activity that gives rise to revenue. The threshold for determining whether an activity creates a PE is usually set forth in a tax treaty between the US and the respective country.

Your project will generally avoid PE status if the activity is truly “representative” in nature, such as undertaking a marketing activity where there is no direct or indirect revenue created. However, some jurisdictions abroad may still attempt to regulate and tax these efforts. Distance-learning programs may also be subject to local scrutiny, especially blended or “hybrid” programs, with faculty teaching in-country for part of the program.

Determining PE

While each treaty will have unique language, non-treaty as well as treaty countries usually look for similar criteria, such as:

  • leasing or owning physical office space, ranging from a permanent place of business to an individual’s private residence
  • opening bank accounts
  • employing workers on behalf of the University
    • typical employment relationships or independent consultant status might be interpreted differently in foreign jurisdictions
  • conducting educational programs and seminars, including executive education and study abroad programs
    • factors considered will be the duration of the project, how it’s staffed, and the method and location of payments
  • conducting research activities with a fixed place of operation
    • maintenance of a fixed place of business solely for the purpose of advertising, supplying information, scientific research, or similar activities may qualify for an exemption

PE Rules & Regulations

Permanent establishment brings with it a range of responsibilities that can be burdensome, time-intensive, and costly. Depending on the country, they can include having to:

  • register an entity in-country, whether a branch of BU or other type
  • engage a representative or local agent
  • prepare tax or corporate filings regularly

In some situations, the University may be entitled to not-for-profit status or an exclusion from the typical rules governing commercial operations. However, many local jurisdictions do not recognize US tax-exempt status and make no distinction between educational activities and those for profit. Failure to meet the regulatory and taxation requirements puts the University at financial and reputational risk and could jeopardize the future of your program.

For Help

Gaining a detailed understanding of your destination country’s compliance requirements and how they will be met should be an integral part of your planning process. Contact Global Programs for assistance and/or view a further summary of tax considerations for individuals on international assignments in the Working Abroad section.