The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2019 (taxes filed in 2020).
Summer brings many unique opportunities, including mission trips, charity work, and volunteering. If you are traveling to another country to serve others, some of your expenses may be deductible.
Can I deduct travel for a service trip?
It depends. Typically, you can write off travel expenses for services performed away from home for a charitable organization, but there must be no recreation or vacation involved on the same trip. IRS Publication 526 talks about the charitable contribution deduction.
What are the requirements?
According to the IRS, you can only deduct volunteer expenses from an overseas trip if the following are true:
- You volunteer with a qualified organization. To see which types of organizations can be qualified, read IRS Publication 526.
- You can only deduct unreimbursed travel expenses, not the value for your time or services. These expenses include:
- Air, rail and bus transportation
- Car expenses
- Lodging costs
- Meal costs
- Transportation costs between the airport or site and your hotel
- You must not use the trip for significant personal reasons, like recreation or vacation.
- You must do substantial work while on the trip. If you do not work or have any duties, you can’t deduct your expenses.
How do I take this deduction?
If you participate in a trip, report your payments to your organization’s finance staff if you plan on taking the deduction. If your expenses total $250 or more, include an acknowledgment that details the following information:
- A description of the services you provided
- A statement from you of whether the organization provided you with any service or good to reimburse you for your expenses.
- A description and an estimated value of any service or good provided to you for reimbursement
- A statement of any intangible religious benefits provided to you
Can I take a deduction if I sponsor someone going on a service trip?
Unfortunately, most contributions of this kind are not deductible. If you give money directly to an individual or to an organization on behalf of an individual, the donation is not tax deductible. However, if you give directly to a church or other religious organization, you can deduct your donation.