US Expat Taxes Explained: Common Expat Tax Forms

US taxes are complex. The US tax code contains over 74,000 pages, and most of them are hard to comprehend – even for professionals! Our experts have compiled a guide to help you understand the most common expat tax forms you may come across as an American living abroad.

Form 1040

This is the big one. Form 1040 has three different versions: 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ, but expats almost always use the original: Form 1040. This form reports your names, Social Security numbers, and address to the IRS. This form has historically been two pages that summarize your income and deductions and calculate the amount you owe or the amount you will receive as a refund. Other schedules and forms should be attached to Form 1040 and then submitted when you file your US tax return.

Form 2555 – Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)

Form 2555 calculates the amount of Foreign Earned Income Exclusion allowed on your US tax return. The form shows your foreign earned income amount, your foreign address, your employer’s address, and the dates you traveled to the US during the year. It also calculates out the amount of foreign housing expenses you may be able to exclude in addition to your FEIE.

Form 1116 – Foreign Tax Credit (FTC)

Form 1116 calculates how much your US tax liability can be reduced due to taxes you paid to your country of residence. Multiple 1116 forms may be included with your tax return, as different types of income have to be categorized in certain ways. Form 1116 will show your income that is subject to foreign taxes, the amount of foreign taxes paid or accrued on that income, and the calculation that takes place to figure out how much your current year taxes will be lowered by the FTC.

Form 8938 – Statement of Specified Foreign Assets

This form is part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) regulations and was created in an attempt to prevent taxpayers from hiding their assets and income from those assets. This form is required if you exceed the following bank account balance thresholds:

FATCA Expat Tax Form

Form 8938 lists your bank account information and balances during the year. It also catalogs the amount of income you have earned from each account during the year. The income reported on Form 8938 should match what you have reported on Schedule B (interest and dividends).

Form 8833 – Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure

Form 8833 is required if you choose to use a provision from a US tax treaty to modify your taxes. This form is generally used when you are excluding income from taxation due to a difference between your resident country’s tax laws and US tax laws.

Form 5471 – Information Return of US Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporation

This form is used for shareholders in foreign corporations. A corporation is a legal entity that has been incorporated under the resident country’s laws. Most filers with more than 10% stock ownership in a foreign corporation are required to file this form. This is an extensive form with multiple pages, and usually requires the financial documents of the corporation. This form is generally filed with your tax return, Form 1040, but may be filed separately in certain circumstances. This form does not tax the corporation; it merely discloses the taxpayer’s interest/ownership in the corporation. Any income received from the corporation will be reported elsewhere on your 1040 in order for it to be taxed accordingly.

Form 8865 – Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships

This form is used for US persons with controlling interest (someone who owns 50% or more) in a foreign partnership, or who owns 10% of a foreign partnership with another US person holding controlling interest. A partnership is an organized and legal entity where two or more people enter a business agreement to work together and split the profits. This form requires information regarding the partner (the filer), and the partnership – including the partnership’s financial information. This form is usually filed with your tax return, but may be filed separately in certain circumstances. This form does not tax the partnership; it merely discloses the taxpayer’s interest/ownership in the corporation. Any income received from the partnership will be reported elsewhere on your 1040 in order for it to be taxed accordingly.

Form 8621 – Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company (PFIC)

A PFIC is a foreign-based corporation where the majority of its income comes from investments such as interest, dividends, and capital gains. The most common types of PFICs are foreign mutual funds and investment accounts including stock accounts. If you own a PFIC, you will need to file form 8621 for each account, sometimes more than one per mutual fund or investment account. Form 8621 requires information regarding the amount of income or proceeds received from each account, each year. This form calculates the tax due on investment income. Income earned from a PFIC account is taxable in the US, even if it is not taxable or is tax deferred in your resident country.

FinCEN Form 114 – Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR)

This form is not technically a tax form, as the IRS does not require it, but most expats will need to file it. FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Center) is a division of the US Treasury Department. The FBAR form reports your foreign financial account information and the highest balance of the accounts during the year. This form is required if you have any foreign bank accounts with an aggregate balance of $10,000 or more during the year. All US persons with bank accounts that exceed the threshold need to file these forms, even minors.

Form 3520 – Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts

Form 3520 is required if you have had certain transactions with a foreign trust (a trust that was not formed under US laws) such as personally owning any assets held in a foreign trust or receiving a distribution from a foreign trust. This form is also required if you receive a distribution of more than $100,000 from a non-residential alien or foreign estate. Form 3520 requires information from the foreign trust and the beneficiary (taxpayer); it is generally several pages long. This form is filed separately from your tax return and is due at the same time as your tax return.

Form 3520A – Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust with a US Owner

This form is required for any foreign trusts with a US owner. If the trust has more than one owner, each owner of the trust is responsible for making sure that the 3520A is filed, and the proper statements are furnished to all the owners. This form has many pages and requires the financial information of the trust as well as the names and information of each owner. This form is filed separately from your normal tax return and is due March 15th each year (or the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of the trust’s tax year).

While this list is definitely not comprehensive, this will give you a basic idea of the tax forms that expats will see most often. Here’s to filing taxes the right way!

Have Additional Questions About Forms?

Greenback is happy to help! We’d love to review your specific situation and guide you through which forms need to be completed. Contact us with any questions you have or get started on your expat taxes today.

Originally published in 2016; updated September 25, 2018.

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