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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

Do US Citizens Living Abroad Need to Pay Taxes?

Updated: Feb 26

If you're a US citizen living abroad, you might be wondering about your tax obligations back home. Whether you're teaching English in South Korea, running a startup in Berlin, or enjoying retirement in Costa Rica, understanding your tax duties is crucial. Let's dive into the essentials of US expat taxes, ensuring you stay compliant while making the most of your international adventure.

Executive Summary

  • Understanding Tax Obligations: Key insights into what US citizens living abroad need to know about their tax duties.

  • Tax Deadlines: Information on when expatriate taxes are due.

  • Reducing Tax Liability: Strategies for expatriates to lower their tax obligations.

  • Tax Treaties: How these agreements affect US citizens abroad.

  • Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures: An overview for those who have not filed or are unaware of their filing requirements.

Why do I Have to Pay US Taxes if I Live Abroad?

As a US citizen, your global income is subject to US taxation, regardless of where you live as US taxes are based on citizenship. This includes wages, dividends, rental income, and more. The principle of worldwide income taxation often surprises many expatriates. However, mechanisms like the foreign earned income exclusion and the foreign tax credit can significantly reduce or even eliminate your US tax bill.

When Are Taxes Due for US Citizens Living Abroad?

Typically, US tax returns are due on April 15th. However, US citizens living abroad receive an automatic extension until June 15th, with the possibility to request further extensions to October 15th, and in some cases, an additional extension to December 15th. These extensions are designed to provide extra time for gathering necessary documents and ensuring accurate filing, accommodating the unique challenges that come with living and working overseas. It's important to note that while these extensions grant more time to file, any taxes owed are still due by April 15th to avoid interest and penalties.

How Can US Citizens Living Abroad Reduce Their Tax Liability?

Expatriates face unique challenges when it comes to managing their tax liabilities. However, the U.S. tax code provides several provisions designed to alleviate the burden on citizens living abroad. Understanding and utilizing these can significantly reduce, or in some cases, eliminate U.S. tax liability.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

The foreign earned income exclusion is a powerful tool for expatriates. It allows you to exclude over $100,000 of your foreign earnings from U.S. taxable income. To qualify, you must pass either the Physical Presence Test, showing you've been present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during a period of 12 consecutive months, or the Bona Fide Residence Test, demonstrating you've been a resident in a foreign country for an entire tax year.

Foreign Tax Credit

Another method to reduce U.S. tax liability is through the foreign tax credit. This credit allows expatriates to offset taxes paid to foreign governments against their U.S. tax liability on the same income. There's no limit to the amount of credit you can claim, as long as it doesn't exceed the amount of U.S. taxes due on the foreign income. This means if you're paying higher taxes in your country of residence, you could potentially owe nothing to the IRS.

Tax Treaties and Totalization Agreements

The U.S. has entered into tax treaties with numerous countries, which can provide additional benefits such as reduced tax rates or specific exemptions from taxation. Similarly, totalization agreements help prevent double taxation on social security for those working abroad. Understanding the specifics of these treaties and agreements can provide further opportunities to reduce tax liability.

Expert Insight: Tax treaties can significantly impact how and where you are taxed. Always consult with a tax professional to understand the benefits available under each treaty.

Getting Caught Up on Taxes

Navigating the complexities of tax obligations can be daunting for US citizens living abroad. Recognizing this, the IRS introduced the streamlined filing compliance procedures to provide a pathway for individuals who have inadvertently failed to file US tax returns or Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs). This initiative is a lifeline for expatriates, offering a way to rectify past omissions without the harsh penalties typically associated with non-compliance.

Eligibility and Requirements

To qualify for the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, individuals must meet specific criteria demonstrating that their failure to report income, pay taxes, and submit required information returns, including FBARs, was non-willful.

Applicants must:

  • Certify that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part.

  • File the last 3 years of federal tax returns, if they were not previously filed, along with all required information returns.

  • File 6 years of FBARs, if applicable, for years that were not previously filed or incorrectly filed.

  • Pay any taxes and interest due.

Advantages of the Streamlined Procedures

The primary benefit of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures is the exemption from failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties, accuracy-related penalties, information return penalties, and FBAR penalties. For expatriates who were unaware of their filing obligations, this can result in significant savings and peace of mind. It's a clear signal from the IRS that it's better to come forward voluntarily than to wait and be discovered.

Expert Insight: The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures are an invaluable opportunity for expats to correct past mistakes without the fear of punitive penalties. It's a chance to start afresh with the IRS.

Need Help With Filing Your U.S. Taxes From Abroad?

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.

FAQ: Filing and Paying US Taxes as a Citizen Living Abroad

Do US Citizens Living Abroad Have to File US Tax Returns?

Can US Citizens Living Overseas Avoid Double Taxation?

What Tax Obligations Do US Expatriates Have Regarding Foreign Bank Accounts?

What Deadlines Should US Citizens Abroad Be Aware Of for Filing Taxes?

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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Feb 25

Nice Post Lewis. Thanks! It seems the FEIE keep you from getting the Child Credit. Is that true? Seems only the FTC allows for that?

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