Keeping a Missionary Travel Log is simply a record of where you and every member of your family have been over the years.
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Why Keep a Travel Log
The reason to keep it and annotate it every year as you move about the world is that you will possibly need to reproduce that at some future time.
I was totally unaware that this was even “a thing” until I was in the US Embassy in Mexico City. A lady sitting beside me was called up for her turn with the Consulate Office. Since they were 5 feet from me, I heard it all. This “thing” appeared a second time was when talking with another embassy worker that was pregnant. I asked her when she was due. My wife was about at the same point pregnant. I asked her which Mexico City hospital she was going to use, and she said she was flying up to Houston Texas to have her baby. From her point of view, she said that she did not want the “hassle” of bearing a child out of the country!
My Particular Case
I was born on US soil in an American hospital and so I have a regular US birth certificate. But my children and my grandchildren are different stories. My wife is Mexican by the way. If you have a situation where both mother and father are American citizens and the child is born on US soil, you have no problem here. But most missionaries have their kids outside the US and that is where the problems begin to enter in. It is confounded by the fact that the kids grow up mostly outside of the US.
So returning to the lady in the US Embassy with her grown daughter (Okay so this part is somewhat gossip, I admit. And the grandmother and her husband were US diplomate staff that had lived most of their lives outside of the US, and both were American citizens).
The grand-kids US citizenship was based on how many months they lived in the US. They were born outside the US.
Prayer Updates (last 2 months)
In my dealings with our own kids and their American citizenship, I got them Birth Abroad Birth certificates. This requires a Mexican birth certificate legal here in Mexico, and after they validate it, the US Embassy then issues you a birth certificate of “Birth Abroad”. It is a valid US birth certificate.
But in applying for that, please note that I had to give them a relationship (by months, not days) of how many months I was physically present in the US. Me, not the rest of my family. Since I grew up in Charleston SC, and I didn’t first leave the US until around 16 years old, I was good. Sorry, I do not remember the threshold of how many months you have to have lived in the US. The woman in the Embassy, the daughter of the US diplomate corp, hadn’t lived sufficient time in the US for her daughter (a 5-year-old at the time) to automatically get US citizenship. They had jumped around Europe from what it sounded like.
The Problem comes to bear with the Grandchildren
The problem comes in with the grandchildren then. And that if the son or daughter of the missionary likewise is outside of the US for most of their lives. The key here is that they were asking about the grown mother’s time in the US (not the grandmother nor the grandchild).
So this is why you need to keep a small record of your travels. From what I understand, the granddaughter would not be automatically granted citizenship but her parents could apply for citizenship like a foreigner, in other words, like a Mexican. Having American parents, she is much more likely to get it, but it has to go through the process and is not necessarily “A U T O M A T I C”.
For further Reference on this topic
Note: How can a US Citizen have a non-citizen national born abroad? Because it is possible. Read and study this if this applies to you and then go talk to the State Department in the US or your local US embassy if you are abroad.
Note: If I could do things over, would I return my wife to the US to have our children? Yes and no. My wife is Mexican, so her mother was in Mexico living at the time. So I probably won’t. If my kids ever get us grandchildren and their American Citizenship comes up with problems, maybe I would. But if my wife were American and had members of her family (mother, sisters, inlaws etc) she could stay with the last few months of her pregnancy, yes I would. Note that what we paid for the doctors and the hospital was about $1500 US dollars. That enters into play also if money is a consideration.
Missionary Travel Log for Taxes
Having touched on the birth aspect of this, but there is also a missionary tax point of view in all of this.
Let me preface this by saying that for most of my missionary ministry I have read the IRS publications and did my taxes myself. Only recently have I paid somebody else to do it. I would inform you, there is no such thing as a tax accountant that will prepare your taxes as a missionary for you. This is a misconception.
Doing your taxes as a missionary
They will fill out the forms and answer any questions you may have, but you still have to gather all the business expenses and order it, sum it up in each category, and then give them the numbers to put on the forms (1040, Schedule C, etc.). A tax accountant only comes in at the end to fill out the form and mail it in. Also, he is very helpful in answering questions to clear up doubts, and he is supposed to know the tax law if you are doing something that is questionable.
As the tax lawyer told us in a ministry tax conference one day, there are a lot of iffy questions in the tax law. You can not claim something, and that is the safest. But your best route is to claim everything that is anyway applicable, and the IRS will set you straight if you are wrong.
So one of our valid business expenses is a Travel Allowance. For each day that you are on a valid business trip, you are allowed a per diem for meal allowance, and the travel allowance (a set amount per day as per what city you sleep in) or just actual hotel expenses. Food expenses come under meal allowance.
What is a per diem?
A per diem is an amount that the US government allows you instead of keeping actual expenses. As a businessman, when I travel, the IRS allows this per diem instead of adding up the hotel bill, tips, dry cleaning your suit, costs for washing your clothes on the trip, taxis, etc. It is not the actual expenses, but a “short cut” to having to keep track of all of that stuff. You must be careful that if you count travel or meal per diems, that you do not count any actual receipts for that same trip in your itemized business expenses elsewhere. A per diem is “in place of” counting the actual expenses. So you need to separate the two.
Also, I am not 100% sure, but I do not think you can split using per diems for part of a trip and actual expenses for the rest. That doesn’t check. Ask your tax account to be sure. I would never ask my tax accountant about this because that just really sounds “kinky” to me like I am trying to get away with something, and it really complicates everything tremendously.
Calculating your Per Diem Allowances
But you have to look up each day you were away on business and calculate what the per diem meal allowance was. So to make this somewhat clearer, I will use my situation. I am a US citizen. We lived in Indiana for a while, and at my tax home for that year, it was in West Baden IN. When I left West Baden on business (and always it only counts for meal allowance and travel allowance if you spend the night away), then staying away (sleeping overnight) from that home is a business trip.
When I go to Mexico, I establish a new tax home residence. In my case, in Mexico City. A pastor invited me to go to the countryside to preach for a week. So that is a business trip, but not just living in Mexico City. We returned at one point to Mexico City, and we stayed in a hotel for a week while we were looking for a place to rent. That week was the tail end of a business trip from Indiana back to Mexico and that week counted.
IRS per Diems Lists
The IRS puts out travel per diems that is a list of places and how much the per diem is in each place. For example, Georgia has one rate, but Atlanta has a much higher rate so you get more business expenses off your taxes. Mexico has one rate, but Mexico City has a much, much higher rate.
In our case, I found a hotel that was about $35 a night, but the per diem was $125/night. That is valid to do. You do not count your actual hotel bill but use the per diem rates.
UpComing Future Posts
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How to make a Travel Log
Okay, so the nitty-gritty of this is very simple. You need the name of the member of your family. And you need to presume a base. When we are in the US doing deputation, trips out of the US count. And the people that went. I would assume since we are doing months, 15+ days in a month is counted as out. 14 or fewer days that month is counted as in.
Note that they only are counting the months you have spent “IN” the US in your entire lifetime. Again, this kicks in for your kids and your grandchildren mostly if ever the day comes.
As far as your taxes each, you need to keep that on a daily basis.
TIP: You do know that the US government/Google tracks your every movement? I was in the US, and I got lazy one year and didn’t keep good records. Come tax time, I didn’t have a single trip to do deputation services recorded for my taxes. Try finding every communication between me and the pastors, trying to remember when and where. So basically I could easily get the Sundays, but before and after days no. The particulars were the problem.
Go to your Google timeline. It will give you a very exact picture of where you have spent each day of the year. And you don’t have to do hardly anything to get this laid out for you.
Some Notes on google Timeline
First of all, this won’t work unless you have a google account. It is free. Secondly, it won’t work unless you have your google account on your cell phone. Thirdly, this won’t work if you don’t carry your cell phone with you, or you have it turned completely off. If somebody calls you and the phone rings, it is not totally off.
Also, please note that this is a bare-records kind of thing. It records points along your day or trip, but mostly several a day. You can easily trace your business trips using that. The IRS lets you can “estimate” your costs, so they are not wanting proof. (Hotel receipts would work well here.) They want you to reasonably estimate, so Google Timelines work well. This would be invalid if you give your wife your phone and you went on a business trip, or she went on a non-business trip WITH YOUR PHONE. I doubt that would happen except by accident.
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