Bulgaria, with its rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, and affordable cost of living, is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for US expats. From the historical richness of Sofia to the scenic beauty of the Black Sea coast, Bulgaria offers a unique blend of tradition and contemporary living for those relocating abroad. However, US citizens and green card holders living in Bulgaria must be mindful of their U.S. tax filing obligations. This guide offers an overview of US tax responsibilities for expats in Bulgaria.
Who Needs to File US Expat Taxes from Bulgaria?
Regardless of where you live, if your income exceeds certain thresholds based on your filing status, you are required to file a US tax return. These thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation. For the tax year 2023, the filing thresholds are as follows:
Single: If you are single and under 65, you must file if your income was at least $12,950. If you are 65 or older, the threshold increases to $14,700.
Married Filing Jointly: For couples under 65, the threshold is $25,900. If one spouse is 65 or older, it increases to $27,300, and if both are 65 or older, it's $28,700.
Married Filing Separately: This status has a much lower threshold. If you are married but file separately, you need to file a tax return if your income was at least $5, regardless of age.
Head of Household: If you qualify for this status, the threshold is $19,400 for those under 65. For those 65 and older, it's $21,150.
Expert Insight: Even if your income is below these thresholds, there may be other reasons to file a tax return, such as claiming a refundable tax credit or report significant interest in a foreign corporation.
Bulgaria vs US Taxes
Understanding the differences between the tax systems of Bulgaria and the United States is crucial for expats and individuals with financial ties to both countries. Key distinctions include:
Tax Rates and Brackets: The U.S. employs a progressive tax system with rates ranging from 10% to 37%. Bulgaria, however, follows a flat tax rate system for individuals, with a uniform rate of 10%, which is significantly different from the varied brackets in the U.S.
Taxation of Global Income: U.S. citizens, including non-residents, are taxed on their worldwide income. In contrast, Bulgaria taxes its residents on worldwide income as well, but non-residents are taxed only on income sourced within Bulgaria.
Filing Status: In the United States, taxpayers can choose from various filing statuses like 'Single', 'Married Filing Jointly', and 'Married Filing Separately', affecting tax liabilities. Bulgaria's tax system is simpler, with most individuals filing taxes based on their personal income, and there is no specific 'Married Filing Jointly' option.
Social Security Contributions: The U.S. social security system includes contributions for social security and Medicare. Bulgaria has its own social security system, requiring contributions from both employees and employers, covering pensions, healthcare, and other social benefits, though the structure and rates differ from the U.S. system.
Capital Gains Tax: In the U.S., capital gains are often taxed at lower rates for long-term gains. In Bulgaria, capital gains are typically included in regular income and taxed at the flat rate of 10%, which is different from the U.S. system's treatment of long-term gains.
Deductions and Allowances: The U.S. offers a variety of deductions and tax credits to reduce taxable income. Bulgaria also provides certain tax deductions and personal allowances, but these are structured differently from the U.S. system and may have a different impact on the overall tax liability.
U.S. Tax Brackets for 2023 Tax Year (Filed in 2024)
Taxable income range - single filing status
Taxable income range - married filing jointly
Tax Rate (%)
$0 to $11,600
$0 to $23,200
$11,601 to $47,150
$23,201 to $94,300
$47,151 to $100,525
$94,301 to $201,050
$100,526 to $191,950
$201,051 to $383,900
$191,951 to $364,200
$383,901 to $462,500
$364,201 to $462,500
$462,501 to $693,750
US Tax Deadlines for Expats in Bulgaria
US expats residing in Bulgaria must be mindful of several critical tax return deadlines, which differ from those typically faced by taxpayers within the United States. While April 15th is a well-known deadline for all U.S. taxpayers, expats have additional dates to consider. If any of these deadlines occur on a weekend or a U.S. federal holiday, the due date will be adjusted to the next business day.
April 15th: Standard filing deadline for US taxpayers.
June 15th: Automatic two-month extension for US citizens living abroad.
October 15th: Extended deadline for those who request an extension before the June 15th deadline.
December 15th: Additional extended deadline for thoes who requested the additional 2 month overseas extension.
Expert Insight: While extensions are available, they only extend the time to file, not the time to pay any taxes due.
What Tax Credits and Income Exclusions Can Expats in Bulgaria Claim?
Understanding the various tax credits and income exclusions available is essential for expats to minimizing their tax liability and ensuring compliance with U.S. tax laws. Below, we explore some of the key tax credits and income exclusions that are particularly relevant for US expats in Bulgaria:
Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: The foreign earned income exclusion is a significant benefit for U.S. expats, allowing them to exclude up to $120,000 (as of 2023) of their income earned in a foreign country from U.S. taxation. To qualify, expats must meet certain requirements, such as the physical presence test or the bona fide residence test, demonstrating that they have been living and working in a foreign country for a specified period.
Foreign Housing Exclusion: The foreign housing exclusion allows expats to deduct a portion of their housing expenses incurred while living abroad from their taxable income. The exclusion covers various housing costs, including rent, utilities (except telephone charges), and certain insurance premiums. The amount of exclusion depends on the location and can vary significantly based on the local cost of living.
Foreign Tax Credit: The foreign tax credit is designed to prevent double taxation for Americans paying taxes in both the U.S. and a foreign country. It offers a dollar-for-dollar credit against U.S. taxes for any income taxes paid to a foreign government. This credit is particularly beneficial for expats residing in countries with high tax rates, as it can significantly reduce or even eliminate their U.S. tax bill.
Refundable Child Tax Credit: The child tax credit provides a financial boost to expats with children, offering up to $1,500 per child as a refundable credit. To be eligible, children must meet certain requirements, such as age and dependency criteria.
Penalties for Late or Incorrect US Tax Filing
Understanding and adhering to tax filing requirements is crucial to avoid penalties. These penalties can be significant and include:
Failure-to-File Penalty: Generally 5% of unpaid taxes for each month the return is late, up to 25%. If filed more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is the lesser of $435 or 100% of the unpaid tax.
Failure-to-Pay Penalty: Typically 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date, until fully paid.
Fraud Penalties: If inaccuracies are due to fraud, penalties can be up to 15% per month, with a maximum of 75%.
Interest Charges: Compounded daily from the due date of the return until the tax is paid in full, calculated at the federal short-term rate plus 3%.
Essential IRS Tax Forms for Expats Residing in Bulgaria
It's crucial to be aware of the different IRS forms that apply to your situation. Understanding and correctly filing these forms is key to ensuring tax compliance and optimizing your tax situation. The following are some of the most important tax forms that U.S. expats need to be familiar with:
Form 1116 (Foreign Tax Credit): This form is used to claim a credit for income taxes paid overseas, helping to avoid double taxation on the same income.
Form 2555 (Foreign Earned Income): Essential for those claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, this form allows expats to exclude a certain amount of their foreign earnings from U.S. taxation.
Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets): This form is for reporting certain foreign financial assets, including bank accounts, investments, and assets held through foreign entities. The reporting threshold varies based on filing status and whether you live in the U.S. or abroad.
Form 8833 (Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure): Used when a taxpayer takes a position that a U.S. tax treaty with a foreign country overrules or modifies the provisions of the U.S. tax law. It's essential for expats who are claiming treaty benefits that impact their U.S. tax.
Form 5471 (Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations): This form is required for U.S. citizens who are officers, directors, or shareholders in certain foreign corporations. It's a critical form for expats involved in foreign businesses to report their foreign corporation's activities and comply with U.S. tax laws.
Catching Up on Overseas Filing From Bulgaria
US expats in Bulgaria who haven't filed their US tax returns might be eligable to use the IRS streamlined filing compliance procedures to get back into compliance. This program allows for filing the last three years of tax returns and six years of FBARs without late penalties, provided your failure to file was non-willful and the IRS hasn't already contacted you about the delinquent filings. It's crucial to act quickly, as eligibility for this lenient approach is lost if the IRS initiates contact first. This program is an excellent opportunity for expats who were unaware of their filing obligations to become compliant with minimal repercussions.
Does the US Have a Tax Treaty with Bulgaria?
Yes, the US and Bulgaria have a tax treaty in place, but it's important for US expats to note that many benefits of this treaty are limited due to the 'savings clause.' This clause essentially allows the US to tax its citizens as if the treaty didn't exist, which means that most treaty benefits don't apply to US expats. Despite this, the treaty still plays a crucial role in preventing double taxation on income such as pensions, dividends, and interest, by clarifying how these types of income are taxed by each country.
Self Employed Expats in Bulgaria
Self-employed expats in Bulgaria are subject to social security taxes in both Bulgaria and the United States, a consequence of the absence of a totalization agreement between the two countries. Totalization agreements typically prevent double taxation on social security by allowing expats to pay into only one country's system, but without such an agreement, US expats in Bulgaria must contribute to both social security systems.
Foreign Bank Account Reporting
In addition to their tax filing obligations, US citizens who have a combined maximum value of more than $10,000 in foreign financial accounts at any point during the tax year also need to file the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (FBAR). The FBAR, or FinCEN Form 114, is a critical measure for informing the U.S. government about Americans' overseas financial activities, playing a significant role in the prevention of tax evasion. It's crucial for expats to understand that failing to file the FBAR can result in severe penalties, including fines of up to $10,000 for non-willful violations.
Need Help With Filing Your U.S. Taxes From Bulgaria?
At CPAs for Expats, we specialize in helping US expats stay compliant with their US taxes. Our low fees and 4.9/5 rating on independent review platforms attests to our commitment to excellence and client satisfaction. Contact us today, and let our tax experts simplify your life and taxes.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the more common questions we've encountered from our Bulgarian clients throughout our many years of servicing the US expat community in Bulgaria.
Do US expats have to pay taxes while living in Bulgaria?
What is the deadline for US expats to file taxes in Bulgaria?
Can US expats in Bulgaria claim the foreign earned income exclusion?
Is there a tax treaty between the US and Bulgaria to avoid double taxation?
What is the FBAR requirement for US expats in Bulgaria?
Article by Lewis Grunfeld, CPA
Lewis Grunfeld, CPA, is a renowned expert in international and U.S. expat taxation, with expertise spanning over ten years. He has successfully helped thousands of expats around the world navigate complex international U.S. tax regulations, and achieve significant tax savings. His work is driven by a strongly rooted passion for assisting the expat community through a wide range of tax situations, ensuring tailored solutions for each unique situation.