We won 1st Place Sports Media Pearl Award

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam -- August 19,2015 -- 12 Year old Ngoc Sang, a student at the Christina Noble Children's foundation, winds up for a return volley to his coach. (Ehrin Macksey / The National)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — August 19,2015 — 12 Year old Ngoc Sang, a student at the Christina Noble Children’s foundation, winds up for a return volley to his coach. (Ehrin Macksey / The National)

Just found out that myself, the writer and The National Newspaper won a Sports Media Pearl Award(http://is.gd/Yg9KyI) for a story we did about NGO Christina Noble Foundation in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam http://is.gd/1GYowc Not only did we win an award but we also won a $50,000 donation for the Christina Noble Foundation.

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Taxes for working as an American Expat Photographer

I have been living and working abroad for over 8 years in both New Zealand and Vietnam. In this time I have gone back to visit my family in the Florida, but it was usually for Christmas and I never stayed longer than 3 weeks as everyone, including me had to get back to work and life.

During my time abroad I had asked other US expats what they did for taxes and if we had to file if we were working abroad. I got 2 answers from most people:

1) No we don’t need to file as we are working abroad.

2) I have no idea.

This was quite confusing to say the least so last year I contacted an accountant in the USA and started doing my own research on the whole tax question for American Expats. What I found made my heart sink and is a good lesson for other American expat freelance photographers who are abroad almost year round.

Here is a list of things I learned:

1) Yes you need to file taxes every year regardless if you worked or not or if you are working for a foreign employer. No ifs ands or buts.

2) If you are freelance and are not legally working for any company(work permit or legal employment) then you are considered a sole-proprietorship business. This totally sucks by the way for 100% freelance photographers.

3) If you have setup a legal business in another country, for example Vietnam, and that country is not part of the Double Tax Treaty you basically have to pay taxes in both countries. There are a good amount here but more than likely only 20% of the countries in the world(I didn’t count).

4) If you visit the USA more than 30 days in a single year then you are no longer exempt(or significantly reduce your deduction) for income tax for IRS Foreign Earned Income Exemption as you need to qualify for either the  Bona Fide Residence Test or Physical Presence Test which most of the time requires that you have not been in the USA for more than 30 days. Please keep in mind income tax is different from Social Security & Medicare which is not included in the Foreign Earned Income Exemption.

4) As a sole-proprietorship business (freelance photographer) even if you don’t have to pay income tax you still will probably have to pay for Social Security & Medicare unless the country you are living and working in has a shared Social Security & Medicare treaty or also called Totalization Agreements. There are not that many countries who are part of this agreement so you will probably need to pay this.

5) Social Security & Medicare is 15% of your Net income. So even if you don’t have to pay income tax you still will need to pay 15% for SS and Medicare unless you have no income because you bought more equipment than your income. If you did this then you got bigger problems.

6) Keep receipts for everything you spend on your photography business. I MEAN EVERYTHING. Since last year I started keeping receipts like a I have a compulsive hoarding condition. I recommend you do the same and also write on the top of your receipts what it refers too. Only thing you can’t write off is food or at least I haven’t figured it out yet.

7) If you have over $10,000 USD or equivalent money in a foreign bank you need to declare this to the US Treasury. Keywords here are “in a bank.”

Thank god I got a minor in business in University so I understood a little bit about tax law and could read through the mind numbing IRS material and understand it for the most part. After I had self educated myself I basically went to a bar and got drunk thinking about how much I would need to pay the IRS.

A little history about myself so that you can follow the rest of my story. When I went to New Zealand after University I was not a photographer and I was not freelance or working for myself. I was traveling around in a campervan and worked as a bartender or on a farm to make a little more money to keep traveling. Since I was working legally in New Zealand and working for legal businesses in NZ this saved me big time.

Back in #2 I stated that if you were truly a freelance photographer(self employed) then your basically a business in itself in the eyes of the IRS. Well it turns out that if you are working legally for a business in another country(legally employed) with no ties to the USA you don’t owe anything. Not Income tax(as long as you qualify for the FEI tests) and not Social Security and Medicare. Thank the gods there was at least some kind of break. You can read more about this in IRS Publication 54 or can be simply read here on the IRS website: Persons Employed by a Foreign Employer.

So this is one way to save you from the IRS tax man and also confirms why most American expats working for a foreign employer abroad don’t have to pay any kind of tax in the USA.

I would also like to state that my first accountant didn’t know a thing about expat tax and was quite frustrating to work with. Even though I sited IRS documents and tax law reference numbers backing up my case, he still felt that I should be paying Social Security & Medicare as he considered me as self employed even though I was legally working for a foreign employer.

I basically had to fire him and I learned another lesson, not all accountants or lawyers understand or can understand the complexities of Expat Tax Law. They are just not used to it as it is kind of special considering there are not a lot of expat Americans working for themselves. Not that I’m an expert in this either but I check my facts and contacted other accountants who are more specialized in this field and they confirmed I was correct. The accounting company I now deal with for all my tax filing is Tax Planner CPA. They have possibly the worst designed website which is utterly cheesy, but it has tons of information on it and once you start talking to them they have excellent service and communication. They also charge a fair price for supplying a Tax Lawyer for consultation as well as their really good CPAs and guarantee that you won’t have any problems. The old accountant from before was charging me twice what Tax Planner CPA charges and for inexperienced advise.

For me as a freelance American photographer in Vietnam this USA tax law is quite frustrating. I have other photographer friends living and working abroad from France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand ect. and none of them need to pay taxes(income tax or social security programs) as long as they don’t live in their respective country for 3-6 months. 3-6 months!!!!! I have no idea why America is only 30 days but my goodness it seems short.

To me it seems America has some of the worst expat tax laws for their citizens. This is not just for us freelancers but it applies for anyone who wants to start a business abroad whether that be a bar, travel agency or any business where they are the sole owner of the business. It is almost like USA Gov doesn’t want Americans to be go out in the world and become world citizens or business owners in other economies. I doubt China does this.

In my opinion it would be more fair to give expat Americans 3 months to visit the USA to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income as well as being able to opt-out for Social Security & Medicare if you do qualify as living outside of the USA for 9 Months out of the year. Of course if you opt-out then you would not receive this benefit later. Keep in mind though as an expat you may not be able to utilize the benefit abroad anyways so you are basically paying into a system you can never use.

Now a final note to keep things clear. I love the USA and I’m proud to be an American. I am not advocating that I don’t want to pay taxes, of course who does, but I am stating that the taxes should be fair and with current USA tax laws I don’t think they are. I do pay income tax in Vietnam and I have a Vietnamese tax ID number. Every year I get a statement from the good old VN Gov showing how much in taxes I paid and it is a decent figure. The problem then is I also need to pay taxes in the USA which at the minimum is 15%(SS + Med). Depending on how good my year has been I can pay anywhere between 25-35% in tax in total for both countries. Ouch!!!

I wish all of us American Expat photographers got together with ASMP and the NPPA and hired some lobbyists to help modify these laws to make them more reasonable. Maybe if this blog post goes viral this will happen but I’m not going to hold my breath.

If anything I hope that American Expats photographers can use my lessons learned to help them figure out what they need to do for their taxes.

I will be posting some more photography business lessons in the future so keep tuned if you care to hear me ramble more.

Vietnam Photographer Ehrin Macksey

i + Vietnam Photography

Ah little square boxes how I love thy. These days it seems that everyone does too and I’m not setting any trends by doing it as well, but one day it got me thinking.

In the middle of this year I started to take daily images about my life and environment in Vietnam. This should not be a shock for most people but, after being based here for over 6 years, I have been finding myself slightly numb to some of the amazing daily things I see here. So I decided something needed to change and I needed a little daily project to spark some new life into the relationship I have with this country. Basically it is me and not you Vietnam.

It is simple really, when driving around Hanoi or other places in the country and I see something interesting instead of my thinking, “oh that is a good photo wish I had my camera with me” or “I wish I had wasn’t in a rush to be at ……” I stop and whip out the trusty phone. I know I should have my camera with me at all times but surprisingly I don’t carry all 5kg of camera with me when I go to the supermarket, a meeting or for a bicycle ride. The camera I do have available everywhere I go is my iPhone and thus it is what I use most times. There have been times I really wished for a better quality images but for me this is just part of a habit for me to slow down, see more and to take images freely of what I see. Since I have started this project it has revitalized my curiosity for this country once again. Experimenting and keeping things fresh is what is all about with all relationships and photography is no different.

Of course all of these images are posted on Instagram(Ehrin_Macksey) in case you want to follow me.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

Sydney Morning Herald: Save The Children Laos Assignment Outtakes

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

With only a population 6.5 million people and 5,086 sq. km., Laos is a sparsely populated country. Even though the country is developing it is still quite rural with the majority of towns and villages being connected by waterways and dirt roads.

4 months ago I shot an assignment for the Sydney Morning Herald covering what Carol Perks and Save The Children are doing to help improve the lives of the people in Laos. The article ran in their weekend magazine, Good Weekend, this past week. Seems it can only be read online via SMH’s iPad app which is a little bit of a shame.

This was such a great assignment which brought me to Luang Probang and Sayaboury to document the operations that Save The Children are doing there.

Carol made quite an impression on me. She is highly driven, speaks Lao, adventurous, strong minded and has accomplished just amazing things to help improve the lives of the people of Laos in her 17 years working there. After spending 3 days with her and seeing all the programs they have implemented for mother and child welfare, hospitals and water and sanitation development in these areas I couldn’t help but leave impressed.

Since the global crises funding for much needed projects like hospitals and medical equipment has dwindled for the Laos Program. If you would like to make a donation to help Carol and Save The Children to continue their amazing work in Laos please make a donation to Save The Children and specify that your donation should be made for the Laos Program.

Here are some outtakes with captions from my shot so that you can see more about what Carol and Save The Children are doing.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

Carol Perks lived and worked 17 years in Sayaboury, Laos for Save The Children.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

The large rivers like the Mekong River stops the continuation of roads connecting provinces. The Laotian government is building a bridge scheduled for completion in 2014. In the mean time, the only other mean of crossing the river is by ferry.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

Children at the Bong Village Elementary School in Sayaboury do their daily studies. Most schools in Laos are basically equipped and have little or no text books and rely on the students to copy everything they are taught.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

At the Namphone Village, Save The Children and local government partners have organized a mobile clinic. Even in the rain more than 200 Lao and Ethnic Minority people came to get their children immunized.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) A small child waits for her checkup At the Namphone Village Mobile Clinic. (Right) A small child with large Stye a waits for her checkup at the Namphone Village Mobile Clinic.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Local clinic staff administer vitamins and routine immunizations to the children at the Namphone Village Mobile Clinic. (Right) Carol Perks talks to local clinic staff as they administer children with vitamins and routine immunizations.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

A woman waits with her sleeping baby to receive immunization shots.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Carol Perks and local staff help make final preparations for the opening day of the Phongesaart Clinic. (Right) A pregnant Ethnic woman accompanied by her mother-in-law is the first patient to receive an examination at Phongesaart Clinic.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

A pregnant Ethnic woman accompanied by her mother-in-law is the first patient to receive an examination at Phongesaart Clinic.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) A local man receives a check up and his wife sits on the floor while people outside wait patiently for their turn. (Right) People’s sandals lay outside in the mud of the Phongesaart Clinic as they get their examination.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) A young mother has her baby checked as Carol Perks makes sure everything is running accordingly. (Right) The patient ward of the Phenang Hospital. This hospital is in dire need of updated facilities in order to adequately serve the 55,000 people relying on them for medical treatment.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

A child waits for her checkup at the Sayaboury Hospital maternity ward.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

People waiting outside the Sayaboury hospital for treatment.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

Medical staff check up on their patients status at the Sayaboury Hospital.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

A baby lies in the last of the working Sayaboury Hospital’s incubators which was purchased with funding by Save The Children. The other two incubators are in need of repair which is difficult to come by due to the remote location of the hospital.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Dr. Phoutionesy is in charge of the Sayaboury Hospital’s Maternity Ward. She is close friends with Carol Perks and is a local government partner for Save The Children.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Mrs. Manibanh, a midwife in Sayaboury, often helps deliver babies at the hospital and has been repeatedly asked by Carol to join the hospital full time. (Right) A Laotian woman’s child is receiving an IV drip at the Sayaboury Hospital.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Old broken equipment sits in the hallway just outside of the Sayaboury Hospital Maternity Ward. (Right) The delivery room at the Phenang Hospital. This hospital is in dire need of updated facilities in order to adequately serve the 55,000 people relying on them for medical treatment.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Save The Children and their partnership with local governments and organizations has all but eradicated Malaria in the area. Even this gaol has been reached, Save The Children provided training to local hospital staff for routine testing of Malaria to make sure it stays under control. (Right) Malaria test slides sit out after being washed.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Children wash their hands and face with fresh and safe water in the newly built bathing area built by Save The Children. (Right) A Khmu Ethnic boy stands in the middle of his rural village. Carol and Save The Children provided water sanitation in the form of safe latrines, irrigation and bathing areas for the village.

Laos Photographer Southeast Photographer editorial ngo documentry photographer Ehrin Macksey

(Left) Two women in the rural mountain area of Laos clean their vegetables in a stream. In the rural areas of Laos with no running water, people normally come to streams and rivers to take baths and clean their vegetables. (Right) Carol Perks travels in a Save The Children 4×4 to cross a river and visit the remote Khmu Ethnic Village.

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