Yes, you will qualify. Though probably not in the first year.
I can confirm this anecdotally, in the sense that I know a number of people in the same situation (it is common) and they also qualify.
For those who want more sources, if you look at IRS publication 54 you will find:
If you go to a foreign country to work on a particular job for a
specified period of time, you ordinarily will not be regarded as a
bona fide resident of that country even though you work there for 1
tax year or longer. The length of your stay and the nature of your job
are only two of the factors to be considered in determining whether
you meet the bona fide residence test.
To meet the bona fide residence test, you must show the Internal
Revenue Service (IRS) that you have been a bona fide resident of a
for- eign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that
includes an entire tax year. The IRS decides whether you are a bona
fide resident of a foreign country largely on the basis of facts you
report on Form 2555. IRS cannot make this determination until you file
You don't give detail, but assuming that:
- You are working on a standard academic position, are in the health care system etc.
- Do not have a long-term arrangement with a US university (e.g., an accepted tenure-track job).
- Do not have other US-based income or businesses.
- Actually live full-time where you work.
Then the salient fact is that you have only the one job and no other employment connection with the US. You have no specific plan about the future, and there is no reason to think that you'll be moving back to the US. (The test is not that there is positive probability you'll move back. That would be true even if you had a tenured job at ETH or something similar.)
Edit: Since this seems confusing to people in the comments, the example from a tax preparation service's site (with which I have no connection) is pretty much standard (emphasis mine):
A US expat accepts a position in China for a period of time. After
remaining in China for an entire calendar year, this person would be
considered to meet the needs of the Bona Fide Resident test. This is
only if he has no immediate plans to move back to the United States.
This last part is key: “if he has no immediate plans to move back to
This is pretty much exactly the situation of the OP, who has a multi-year agreement to work outside of the US, not on a stipend, and apparently no plan at all for afterwards.
However, the first year will be different. The process that has been used successfully by a number of people in the same situation that I know is:
- Assume you move to Europe on Sept. 15, 2015 (this is the specific day you arrive)
- In April 2016, file an extension to Sept. 15, 2016 with a note that you are waiting to qualify under the physical presence test of form 2555.
- On Sept. 15, 2016, send a tax return with a form 2555 exempting the European part of your income from 2015.
As a caution with respect to this answer is that it's summarizing part of the academic samizdat for Americans working in Europe. I'm not a tax lawyer or preparer. You should, of course, verify with a professional. Again, anecdotally, this must be one who deals primarily with expats, since the others tend to completely botch the job, wasting a lot of time and money.