If we make voluntary cash contributions to help preserve the beautiful churches and fascinating museums we are visiting in Europe, can we deduct the amounts as charitable contributions on our federal income taxes?
Unfortunately not. U.S. taxpayers may not take a charitable contribution deduction for gifts to charities that are not recognized by the IRS. Therefore, even if the gifts actually go to a charitable organization, a contribution to a foreign charity is generally not deductible. This is why so many major foreign charities, like universities or medical centers, will establish U.S. a “friends of” charity in the U.S. so that U.S. citizens can make a gift to the “friends of” organization and take a deduction while essentially assuring that the money will be used for the benefit of the foreign charity. It is also why many U.S. corporations with international reach will set up a U.S. corporate foundation to make gifts abroad. The U.S. corporation could not deduct a direct gift to a foreign charity, but can deduct a gift to a U.S. private foundation, which can then make a gift for charitable purposes abroad.
In addition, an individual would also have to obtain a receipt for an actual cash gift (by coins or currency) to any charity, including a U.S. charity, in order to claim a deduction. Most of the collection boxes we saw on the trip had no one issuing receipts.