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What Is FIRPTA Withholding?

Written by Rocky Mengle, J.D. (Tax Attorney) • Reviewed by a TurboTax CPAUpdated for Tax Year 2023 • May 9, 2024 2:36 PM
OVERVIEW

Under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA), you may be required to withhold taxes from your payment to the seller if you buy U.S. real property from a foreign person.

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Key Takeaways

  • When a foreign person sells an interest in U.S. real property, the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) may require the buyer to withhold 15% of the purchase price and send it to the IRS.
  • A “foreign person" generally includes nonresident aliens; foreign corporations that haven’t elected to be treated as a domestic corporation; and foreign partnerships, trusts, and estates.
  • No FIRPTA withholding is required if you buy U.S. real property to be used as your primary residence and the sales price is $300,000 or less, while withholding is at a reduced rate (10%) if the residence is sold for $1 million or less.
  • Buyers generally must report FIRPTA withholding to the IRS using Form 8288 and 8288-A within 20 days after the sale.

The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) requires most foreigners who sell or otherwise dispose of U.S. real property to pay capital gains tax on any profits. To make sure the tax is collected, the law also usually requires the buyer to withhold 15% of the purchase price and send it to the IRS. When the foreign seller files a U.S. tax return, the amount withheld is subtracted from any tax due.

That’s the general FIRPTA withholding rule. But there are several exceptions and special rules that can make FIRPTA withholding more complicated. For instance, in some cases, withholding is allowed at a lower rate or isn’t even necessary at all. So, if you’re buying U.S. real property from a foreign person, let’s take a closer look at the core FIRPTA withholding rules to make sure you have a basic understanding of your responsibilities.

But note that the rules can get tricky – especially when the seller is a business, trust, or estate. That’s why it’s best to consult with a tax professional before moving forward with the purchase of U.S. real property from a foreign person.

Who is subject to FIRPTA withholding?

FIRPTA withholding only comes into play when the seller of U.S. real property is a "foreign person." If the seller is a “U.S. person,” FIRPTA withholding is not necessary. As a result, correctly determining the seller's status is critical, since it dictates whether or not FIRPTA withholding is required.

Under the FIRPTA withholding rules, a “foreign person" generally includes:

  • Nonresident aliens,
  • Foreign corporations that haven’t elected to be treated as a domestic corporation, and
  • Foreign partnerships, trusts, and estates.

On the other hand, a “U.S. person” includes:

  • U.S. citizens,
  • Resident aliens (e.g., green card holders), and
  • Domestic corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts.

If U.S. real property is jointly owned and sold by a foreign person and a U.S. person, the buyer only has to withhold FIRPTA taxes on the foreign person’s portion of the purchase price. Unless there’s evidence to the contrary, you can allocate 50% of the purchase price to each spouse if a married couple sold the property.

What real property is subject to FIRPTA withholding?

In addition to the foreign person requirement, FIRPTA withholding is only needed for the sale or other disposition (e.g., gift, exchange, liquidation, etc.) of an interest in real property located in the U.S. or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Among other things, this includes the sale or other disposition of:

  • Land and natural products of the land (e.g., crops, timber, mines, or wells),
  • Buildings and other permanent structures,
  • Options to purchase land, buildings, or other improvements to real property, and
  • Personal property associated with the use of real property (e.g., moveable walls, machinery, or equipment).

The FIRPTA withholding rules also kick in upon the transfer of an interest in a domestic corporation that was treated as a U.S. real property holding corporation (USRPHC) during the previous five years or the time the seller held the interest, whichever is shorter.

A corporation is generally considered a USRPHC if the fair market value of its U.S. real property interests is at least 50% of the combined fair market values of its:

  • U.S. real property interests,
  • Interests in real property located outside the U.S., and
  • Certain business assets.

A creditor’s interest in U.S. real property doesn’t count for FIRPTA withholding purposes.

Exceptions to FIRPTA withholding requirements

There are a number of exceptions to the FIRPTA withholding rules. For example, withholding isn’t required in the following situations:

Purchase of residence for $300,000 or less. If you buy U.S. real property to be used as your primary residence and the sales price is $300,000 or less, no withholding is required.

Certification of nonforeign status. Withholding is generally not required if the buyer receives a “certification of nonforeign status” from the seller, signed under penalties of perjury, stating that the seller isn’t a foreign person. However, withholding is still required if the buyer knows or is told that the certification is false.

Sale of interest in a publicly traded corporation. The FIRPTA withholding rules don’t apply to the sale of an interest in a domestic corporation if any class of its stock is regularly traded on an established securities market. This exception doesn’t apply to certain sales of non-publicly traded interests in a publicly traded corporation.

Statement of non-U.S. real property interest. Withholding isn’t required for the sale of an interest in a domestic corporation if the corporation gives the buyer a statement saying that the interest is not a U.S. real property interest (e.g., the corporation wasn’t treated as a U.S. real property holding corporation during the required time period). The statement must be dated 30 days or less before the sale. Withholding is necessary if you know the statement is false or you receive notice that it’s false.

Nonrecognition of gain or loss. No withholding is required if the seller sends the buyer a notice, signed under penalties of perjury, stating that the seller won’t recognize gain or loss on the sale because of a nonrecognition provision in the tax code (e.g., a 1031 exchange) or a provision in a U.S. tax treaty. The buyer must send a copy of the notice to the IRS within 20 days after the sale. Withholding is required if only part of the seller’s gain qualifies for nonrecognition, or you know (or have reason to know) that the seller’s gain isn’t entitled to nonrecognition.

Withholding certificate issued by the IRS. The IRS can issue a withholding certificate excusing FIRPTA withholding if:

  • The seller is exempt from U.S. tax, or
  • The buyer or seller enters into an agreement with the IRS for the payment of the required tax.

Either a buyer or seller can apply for the certificate. In certain cases, you must use IRS Form 8288-B to apply for this type of withholding certificate.

Seller isn’t paid. Withholding isn’t required if the seller realized $0 on the sale (e.g., the property is transferred as a gift).

Options to acquire property. While withholding is required on the sale, exchange, or exercise of an option to purchase an interest in U.S. real property, no withholding is required for any amount paid upon the grant or lapse of an option.

Property acquired by the government. Withholding is generally not required if an interest in U.S. real property is acquired by the U.S. government, a state or possession, a political subdivision, or the District of Columbia.

Amount of FIRPTA withholding

If FIRPTA withholding is required, the buyer generally must withhold 15% the total amount realized by the seller. The amount realized is equal to the total of:

  • Cash paid, or to be paid (principal only),
  • The fair market value of other transferred property, or property to be transferred, and
  • Any liability assumed by the buyer or to which the sold property is subject immediately before and after the sale.

The withholding rate drops to 10% if the U.S. real property is purchased for use as a residence and is sold for $1 million or less.

Instead of completely eliminating the withholding requirement, the IRS can also issue a withholding certificate to reduce the withholding rate. For instance, this might happen if:

  • The amount to be withheld at the 15% rate would be more than the seller's maximum tax liability, or
  • Withholding at a reduced amount wouldn’t jeopardize the collection of taxes due from the seller.

Use Form 8288-B to request reduced withholding.

TurboTax Tip:

A foreign seller requesting a withholding certificate on Form 8288-B to reduce or cancel FIRPTA withholding must provide a taxpayer identification number. If the seller doesn’t qualify for a Social Security number, he or she can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) by attaching Form 8288-B to a Form W-7 and mailing the required documents to the IRS..

Reporting and paying withheld FIRPTA taxes

If you buy U.S. real property from a foreign person, use IRS Form 8288 to report FIRPTA withholding to the IRS. Complete a Form 8288-A for each foreign person subject to withholding, too. You generally have 20 days after the sale to submit the forms.

Both the buyer’s and seller’s taxpayer identification numbers must be included on Form 8288-A. Foreign sellers who don’t qualify for a Social Security number can request an ITIN using Form W-7.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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  • Maximum Tax Savings Guarantee – Business Returns: If you get a smaller tax due (or larger business tax refund) from another tax preparation method using the same data, TurboTax will refund the applicable TurboTax Business Desktop license purchase price you paid. Additional terms and limitations apply. See License Agreement for details.

  • Satisfaction Guarantee/ 60-Day Money Back Guarantee: If you're not completely satisfied with TurboTax Desktop, go to refundrequest.intuit.com within 60 days of purchase and follow the process listed to submit a refund request. You must return this product using your license code or order number and dated receipt.

TURBOTAX DESKTOP

  • Installation Requirements: Product download, installation and activation requires an Intuit Account and internet connection. Product limited to one account per license code. You must accept the TurboTax License Agreement to use this product. Not for use by paid preparers.

  • TurboTax Desktop Products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees may apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees may not apply in certain states, check here for details. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase. Software updates and optional online features require internet connectivity.

  • Fastest Refund Possible: Fastest federal tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary. The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.

  • Average Refund Amount: Sum of $3140 is the average refund American taxpayers received based upon IRS data date ending 02/17/23 and may not reflect actual refund amount received.

  • TurboTax Product Support: Customer service and product support hours and options vary by time of year.

  • #1 Best Selling Tax Software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2022 TurboTax products.

  • Deduct From Your Federal or State Refund (if applicable): A $40 Refund Processing Service fee may apply to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.

  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies; Requires Intuit Account. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2021 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2021 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Desktop Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.

  • Audit Defense: Audit Defense is a third-party add-on service provided, for a fee, by TaxResources, Inc., dba Tax Audit. See Membership Agreements at https://turbotax.intuit.com/corp/softwarelicense/ for service terms and conditions.

All features, services, support, prices, offers, terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

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