Personal taxes


How Do I File My Expat Tax Return Step-by-Step?

10 Minutes Read

Are You Wondering How to File US Expat Tax Returns While Living Abroad? Follow This Step-by-Step Guide!



Are you an American living abroad, wondering how to handle your tax obligations? According to the IRS, many Americans living abroad qualify for special tax benefits.

These include Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Tax Credit, but only if they file a tax return. This guide will walk you through the process, helping you ensure compliance and maximize your benefits.

What Are the Tax Filing Requirements for US Expats?

What do expats need to know about filing their tax return?

Do You Need to File a US Tax Return if You Live Abroad?

Yes, if you are a citizen or resident alien living abroad, your worldwide income is subject to income tax. This means you must file a tax return if your income exceeds the filing threshold for your filing status.

This includes salaries, interest, dividends, rental income, and income earned while working abroad. Many expats are required to file, and you must file a tax return even if you live outside the for the entire tax year.

Further reading: What is IRS Tax Form 1040NR for Non-Resident Aliens: Understanding Taxation for Nonresident Aliens and Resident Aliens by Internal Revenue Service

What Forms Do You Need to File for US Expat Taxes?

For expats, the key forms include:

  • Form 1040 (Individual Income Tax Return): The primary form for reporting your income tax.
  • Form 2555 (Foreign Earned Income Exclusion): Used to exclude a certain amount of foreign income from taxation.
  • Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets): Required if your foreign assets exceed certain thresholds.
  • Form 1116 (Foreign Tax Credit): To claim the foreign tax credit for taxes paid to a foreign government.
  • FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR): To report foreign bank accounts if their aggregate value exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year.

Each form addresses specific tax implications and must be filled out accurately to comply with tax laws and maximize your tax savings.

Further reading: Tax Tips For Americans Who Earned Income Abroad In 2022

How to Prepare for Filing Your Expat Tax Return?

What Documents Do You Need to Gather Before Filing?

Before filing your expat tax return, gather the following documents:

  • Income Statements: W-2s, 1099s, foreign pay stubs.
  • Foreign Tax Records: Documentation of foreign taxes paid, essential for claiming the foreign tax credit.
  • Housing Expense Records: Rent, utilities, and other housing costs.
  • Bank Account Information: Details of foreign and domestic bank accounts, especially if you need to file Form 8938 or FinCEN Form 114.
  • Investment Records: Statements for any foreign investments.

Organizing these documents will streamline the tax preparation process and help you claim all eligible deductions and credits, ensuring compliance with expat tax filing requirements.

How Can You Use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) allows expats to exclude a certain amount of foreign earned income from taxation. To qualify:

  • Bona Fide Residence Test: You must be a resident of a foreign country for an uninterrupted period that includes a full tax year.
  • Physical Presence Test: You must be physically present in a foreign country for at least 330 full days during any 12-month period.

Using Form 2555, you can exclude a significant portion of your foreign income, reducing your tax bill. Ensure you meet the criteria and accurately complete the form to benefit from this exclusion. This can result in substantial tax savings and is a critical aspect of managing your tax situation while living abroad.

Step-by-Step Guide to Filing Your US Expat Tax Return

How to Complete Form 1040 for Expats?

To complete Form 1040 as an expatriate:

  • Report Worldwide Income: As a citizen living abroad, you must report all income, both domestic and foreign.
  • Attach Schedule B: If you have foreign bank accounts, you need to include Schedule B.
  • Include Other Relevant Schedules: Depending on your situation, such as self-employment tax, you may need to add additional schedules.

Refer to the IRS website for specific guidance on each section to ensure compliance with tax filing requirements.

How to Claim the Foreign Tax Credit?

To claim the Foreign Tax Credit:

  1. Fill Out Form 1116: This form calculates the amount of foreign tax credit you can claim, which helps offset your tax bill.
  2. Gather Foreign Tax Documentation: You need proof of foreign taxes paid, such as tax returns or receipts from the foreign country.
  3. Complete the Form: Enter the foreign taxes paid, convert them to dollars, and fill in the details on Form 1116.

This credit reduces your tax liability, preventing double taxation and providing tax savings for citizens living abroad.

Special Considerations for US Expats

Are You Required to Pay State Taxes as an Expat?

State tax obligations depend on your residency status:

  • Maintain Residency: States like California and New York require you to file state taxes if you maintain residency, even if you are an expatriate.
  • Change of Residency: If you officially change your residency to a state with no income tax before moving abroad, you may avoid state tax obligations.

Check your state's specific rules to understand your tax situation as a citizen living abroad, as you may also need to file a state tax return.

What Are the Tax Deadlines for US Expats?

Key deadlines for expatriates:

  • June 15: Automatic two-month extension from the regular April 15 deadline for taxpayers living abroad.
  • April 15: Interest on owed taxes accrues from this date.
  • Additional Extensions: You can request further extensions, up to October 15.

Being aware of these deadlines helps you avoid penalties and interest on late payments, ensuring compliance with tax requirements and deadlines.

How Do Tax Treaties Affect US Citizens Living Abroad?

The United States has tax treaties with many countries that offer benefits like the ability to claim certain tax credits. Using the foreign tax credit, expats can often reduce or eliminate their tax bill. It's vital to understand these treaties to avoid overpaying.

What Is the Tax Rate for US Citizens Living Abroad?

The tax rate for citizens living abroad varies based on their total income from taxation and other factors. Many tax treaties can influence this rate, and expats may be required to file additional forms to claim treaty benefits.

How Can Tax Software Help With Filing Taxes as an Expat?

Tax software and tax services can simplify the process of tax filing for expats. These tools help ensure you meet all tax requirements and take advantage of available tax credits and deductions.

US Expat Tax Filing: Essential Insights

Expats must file a tax return to comply with tax requirements for expats. Proper tax prep and understanding of unique tax situations for the 2023 tax year are significant. Utilizing a tax treaty benefits and understanding the relevant tax obligations, including days in the and taxes in the United States, is vital.

For those living in the United States or considering a move abroad, knowing the specific tax preparation steps and requirements is essential. A proper tax prep approach can help eliminate their tax liabilities effectively. Remember, a timely extension to October 15 can provide extra time to file without accruing penalties.

Key Takeaways

  • Gather Documents: Collect all necessary financial documents and records to meet US tax requirements.
  • Form 1040: US expats are required to complete Form 1040 with personal and income information for US tax filing.
  • Foreign Income: Fill out Form 2555 to claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and eliminate their US tax on income from US taxation abroad.
  • Tax Credits: Use Form 1116 to claim Foreign Tax Credits and reduce your US tax bill.
  • FBAR: US taxpayers must file a return and the FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) if they have foreign accounts exceeding $10,000.
  • Determine Residency: Calculate your days in the US to determine if you must file a US tax return.
  • Meet Deadlines: Ensure timely US filing, as expats living abroad don’t get automatic extensions for all forms.
  • Pay Taxes: Taxes for expats must be paid by the deadline to avoid penalties, even if you're not living in the US.

How can Taxfyle help?

Finding an accountant to manage your bookkeeping and file taxes is a big decision. Luckily, you don't have to handle the search on your own.

At Taxfyle, we connect small businesses with licensed, experienced CPAs or EAs in the US. We handle the hard part of finding the right tax professional by matching you with a Pro who has the right experience to meet your unique needs and will manage your bookkeeping and file taxes for you.

Legal Disclaimer

Tickmark, Inc. and its affiliates do not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, tax or accounting advice or recommendations. All information prepared on this site is for informational purposes only, and should not be relied on for legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your own legal, tax or accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. The content on this website is provided “as is;” no representations are made that the content is error-free.

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June 28, 2024


Ralph Carnicer, CPA

Ralph Carnicer, CPA


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