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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

Guide to the IRS Streamlined Procedures

Updated: Feb 29

If you're living overseas and have fallen behind on your U.S. tax filings, the IRS streamline procedures offer a lifeline to get back on track without facing steep penalties. Let's walk through what this means for you and how you can navigate the process to update your tax filings smoothly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Eligibility Criteria: Discover who qualifies for these procedures and the criteria involved.

  • Required Filings: Identify the specific documents and forms needed to comply with the streamline foreign offshore procedures.

  • Non-Willful Conduct: Understand what constitutes non-willful conduct under these procedures.

Who Qualifies For the Streamlined Procedures?

To be eligible for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, individuals must meet specific criteria. Here's a breakdown of the key eligibility requirements:

  • Non-Willful Conduct: This is all about your intent. If you didn't report your income or file an FBAR (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report) because of a simple mistake, misunderstanding, or oversight, you're likely in the clear for non-willful conduct. It means you didn't mean to evade your tax responsibilities.

  • Non-Residency Requirement: For U.S. citizens or green card holders, you should have lived outside the U.S. for at least 330 full days in one of the last three years. If you're not a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you need to have not met the substantial presence test in the last three years.

  • No Ongoing IRS Investigation: If the IRS is already knocking on your door for an examination or investigation, you'll need to resolve that first. This program isn't for those currently under IRS scrutiny for undisclosed foreign financial assets.


What are the Filing Requirements for Participating in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?

Getting your paperwork in order is crucial. Here's what you'll need:

  • Three Years of Tax Returns: Missed filing your tax returns for the past three years? You'll need to submit Form 1040 for each year you missed. If you need to correct previously filed returns due to unreported foreign income, amend them with Form 1040x.

  • Six Years of FBARs: You must file FBARs for each of the past six years if the total value of your foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during those years.

  • Certification by U.S. Person Residing Outside of the U.S. (Form 14653): This form is your written statement explaining that your failure to file was non-willful.

Depending on your situation, you might need to file additional forms. There following are some common forms relevant to expats:


  • Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (Form 2555): If you're earning money while living overseas, this form is your friend. It lets you exclude some of that income from your U.S. taxes, up to a certain limit. It's a great way to avoid being taxed twice on the same income.

  • Foreign Tax Credit (Form 1116): Speaking of not getting taxed twice, this form helps you credit the taxes you've already paid to another country against your U.S. tax bill. It's all about making sure you're only paying your fair share.

  • Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets (Form 8938): This one's important for keeping the IRS in the loop about your foreign assets, in line with FATCA requirements. It's a key part of making sure everything's transparent and above board.

  • Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure (Form 8833): If you're benefiting from a tax treaty between the U.S. and another country, this form lets you explain why certain income should be taxed differently. It's all about applying those treaty benefits correctly.

  • Information Returns for Foreign Corporations and Partnerships (Forms 5471 and 8865): For those who have a hand in foreign corporations or partnerships, these forms detail your involvement and financial interests. They're crucial for keeping the IRS informed about your business dealings abroad.

  • Foreign Disregarded Entity (Form 8858) and Passive Foreign Investment Company (Form 8621): These forms focus on specific types of foreign entities and investments that have implications for your U.S. taxes. They help ensure you're reporting everything correctly.

  • Foreign Trust Reporting (Forms 3520 and 3520-A): If you're involved with foreign trusts or have received certain foreign gifts, these forms provide transparency about those transactions. It's all about making sure everything's reported properly.


Filling out these forms can seem daunting, but they're essential for making sure you're compliant with U.S. tax laws while living abroad. Each form has its purpose, helping you navigate the complexities of expat taxes and avoid any unnecessary headaches with the IRS.


What Penalties Can Be Avoided Through the IRS Streamlined Procedures?

  • Late Filing Penalties: Normally, if you're late on filing your taxes, the IRS charges you a 5% penalty on whatever taxes you haven't paid for each month your return is overdue. This can add up to 25% of your total tax bill. But, by using the streamlined procedures, you can wave goodbye to this penalty, making it easier to catch up without the extra cost.

  • Late Payment Penalties: If you owe taxes and don't pay on time, there's usually a 0.5% monthly penalty on the amount due, and this can keep growing indefinitely. The streamlined process gives you a pass on this penalty, easing the financial pressure as you work to get your tax status right.

  • Accuracy-Related Penalties: When your tax return underreports your income significantly, the IRS can tack on an extra 20% penalty on the amount you owe. Thankfully, this penalty is also off the table when you correct your filings through the streamlined procedures.

  • Penalties for International Information Non-Compliance: Not filing certain international information forms, like Forms 5471, 8865, and 8858, can cost you $10,000 for each form, each year. The streamlined procedures offer a reprieve from these hefty fines, encouraging you to fully disclose your foreign financial activities without the fear of these penalties.

  • FBAR Non-Compliance Penalties: Forgetting or neglecting to file an FBAR when you should have can result in a $10,000 penalty for each account, each year. The streamlined procedures recognize that sometimes these mistakes are just that—mistakes. So, they protect you from these penalties, acknowledging the non-willful nature of your oversight.

  • Criminal Penalties: Deliberately avoiding tax and FBAR filing requirements can lead to serious criminal charges, including hefty fines and even jail time. The streamlined procedures are designed with the non-willful violator in mind, offering a way to correct past mistakes without the threat of criminal charges hanging over your head.


What Are the Most Common Mistakes in Streamlined Procedure Filings?

When you're working through the IRS Streamlined Procedures, paying attention to the details is key. A few common slip-ups can trip you up, but knowing what they are ahead of time can help you steer clear. Let's dive into some of the mistakes you'll want to avoid:

  • Inaccurate or Incomplete Forms: Make sure every tax return and FBAR you submit is accurate and fully filled out. Mistakes or missing information can slow things down or prompt questions from the IRS. It's a good idea to follow the IRS instructions closely or get advice from a tax pro to make sure everything's in order.

  • Misunderstanding Non-Willful Conduct: This is a big one. You need to have a clear grasp of what "non-willful" means in this context. It's about honest mistakes, like a mix-up or not getting the law right, not about trying to dodge your duties. When you're explaining your situation on Form 14653, being open and detailed about how your oversight happened is crucial.

  • Overlooking Tax and Income Types: Don't miss out on reporting any kind of foreign income you've got, whether it's interest, dividends, wages, or something else. And make sure you're upfront about all your foreign assets and accounts. It's all got to be on the table.

  • Failing to Pay the Correct Tax Due: Remember, even though the streamlined procedures let you off the hook for some penalties, you still need to pay up any taxes you owe, plus interest. Do the math carefully to make sure you're paying the right amount.


By keeping these points in mind, you can navigate the streamlined procedures more smoothly and avoid common pitfalls that could set you back. It's all about being thorough, accurate, and honest in your filings.


Is Seeking Expert Help for Your Streamlined Filing Worth It?

Considering the complexities, consulting with a tax expert who understands the ins and outs of expatriate taxation can be a game-changer. They can confirm your eligibility, help with the paperwork, and provide peace of mind that you're doing everything correctly. It's not just about easing the process; it's about ensuring you're fully compliant in the most stress-free way possible.


Navigating the IRS Streamlined Offshore Procedures doesn't have to be daunting. With the right approach and possibly some expert guidance, you can correct your tax filings and move forward without the burden of potential penalties. It's all about taking the right steps to ensure you're in good standing with the IRS while living abroad.


Need Help With the IRS Streamline Procedures?

Join over 1,000 expats who've successfully caught of on their US taxes via the streamlined procedures. 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 get things back on track for you.




Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the most common questions we've encountered from expats around the globe regarding the Streamlined Procedures.

What are the IRS Streamlined Procedures for expats?

Who is eligible for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?

What forms are required for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?

Does participating in the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures elevate the risk of an IRS audit?

Will participants in the Streamlined Program receive a confirmation letter upon completion?


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.



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