What Is the Minimum Income to File Taxes for Expats?

Like all US persons, expats are required to file a Federal Tax Return if their income is above a certain threshold. But what is the minimum income to file taxes for expats? And are there reasons an expat might want to file their taxes even if they don’t reach the threshold? Here’s the rundown.

Do Expats Have to File a Federal Tax Return?

Yes. America is one of only two countries in the world that taxes its citizens living abroad. So no matter where you live or how much you travel, you still have to file your taxes with Uncle Sam. The only exception to this is if your income is below US minimum filing requirements.

That income includes worldwide income, too—not just income that came from the US.

For example, if your income comes primarily from a local business you operate in Germany with no American customers, you still have to report that income on a US tax return if it exceeds the minimum filing requirements.

Many expats are also required to file additional forms, such as:

  • FinCEN Form 114: Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR)
  • Form 8938: Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets (FACTA)

But for now, we’re focusing on Form 1040: U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. That’s the one every expat will need to file as long as they meet the income threshold. (And in some cases, it can be wise to file your Federal Tax Return even if you don’t.)

So what is the minimum income to file taxes for expats? Let’s take a look.

How Much Do I Have to Make to File Taxes?

One convenient aspect of US tax law is that the minimum filing requirements are generally the same for everyone, including:

  • US citizens
  • Resident aliens
  • Expats
  • Digital nomads

However, it will change based on your filing status. For example, the minimum income required to file taxes will change depending on whether you file as single or married. There are also special circumstances where you may need to file even if your income is below the usual threshold, such as if you’re self-employed.

To help clear things up, here is the minimum income to file taxes for each filing status:

Single

  • If you are single and under the age of 65, you are required to file a tax return if your gross income exceeds $12,200.
  • If you’re 65 or older, then the minimum income required to file goes up to $13,850.

Married, Filing Jointly

In most cases, the minimum filing requirements for anyone filing jointly is double the requirements for singles.

  • If you and your spouse are both under the age of 65, you are required to file a tax return if your gross income exceeds $24,400.
  • If you and your spouse are both at least 65, the minimum income is $27,000.
  • If only one spouse is 65 or older, the minimum income is $25,700.

Qualifying Widow/Widower

Filing as a qualifying widow or widower means that your spouse passed away during the tax year and you have at least one dependent child.

If you meet his standard, the minimum filing requirements are the same as when filing jointly with a living spouse: $24,400 if you’re under 65 and $25,700 if you’re 65 or older.

Married, Filing Separately

This one might be the most surprising income threshold on the list. If you are married but filing separately, you only need a gross income of $5 to be required to file a tax return. (No, that’s not a typo. $5 is all it takes!)

Head of Household

Head of household means that:

  • You are legally single
  • You pay more than half the cost of supporting and housing a dependent, such as a child or parent

When you meet these standards, you may be eligible to file as a head of household. So what is the minimum income to file taxes as a head of household?

  • If you’re under the age of 65, the minimum income is $18,350.
  • If you’re 65 or over, the minimum income is $20,000.

What Special Circumstances Can Lower Minimum Filing Requirements?

There are some situations that can lower the income threshold for your filing status. Regardless of your gross income, you will typically still need to file a tax return if:

  • You earned more than $400 in self-employment income
  • You owe taxes on a retirement plan or health saving account
  • You owe household employment taxes
  • You earned at least $108.28 from a tax-exempt church or church-controlled organization
  • You received distributions from a health or medical savings account
  • You owe Social Security/Medicare taxes on unreported income, such as tips

What Are the Minimum Filing Requirements If I’m a Dependent?

While most US persons are held to the same filing requirements for filing taxes, dependents are in their own category. Once again, however, the minimum income to file taxes for dependents living abroad is the same as dependents in the US.

Let’s break it down by filing status again.

Single

As a dependent, if you are single, under the age of 65, and not blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $1,100
  • Earned income of more than $12,200
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $1,100
    • Your earned income plus $350, up to $12,200 total

If you are single, 65 or older, or blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $2,750
  • Earned income of more than $13,850
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $2,750
    • Your earned income plus $2,000, up to $13,850 total

If you are single, 65 or older, AND blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $4,400
  • Earned income of more than $15,500
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $4,400
    • Your earned income plus $3,650, up to $15,500 total

Married

As a dependent, if you are married, under the age of 65, and not blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $1,100
  • Earned income of more than $12,200
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $1,100
    • Your earned income plus $350, up to $12,200 total
  • Gross income of more than $5 if your spouse files a separate return with itemized deductions

If you are married, 65 or older, or blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $2,400
  • Earned income of more than $13,500
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $2,400
    • Your earned income plus $1,650, up to $13,500 total
  • Gross income of more than $5 if your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions

If you are married, 65 or older, AND blind, you must file a tax return if you received:

  • Unearned income of more than $3,700
  • Earned income of more than $14,800
  • Gross income of more than the larger of either:
    • $3,700
    • Your earned income up plus $2,950, up to $14,800 total
  • Gross income of more than $5 if your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions

 

Why Should I Consider Filing Even If I Don’t Meet the Minimum Filing Requirement?

While some expats may be below the minimum income to file taxes, there are often still good reasons to file a US tax return anyway. First and foremost, you won’t receive a refund without filing your taxes.

But beyond this, there are tax credits that you can’t claim without filing a return, such as:

  • Health Coverage Tax Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • American Opportunity Credit
  • Credit for Prior Year Minimum Tax

By choosing to not file a tax return, you could miss out on some extra cash in the bank.

Get Help With Your Expat Tax Return

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the minimum income to file taxes for expats. But filing taxes can be complicated—especially for Us citizens living abroad. At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we can help.

The Greenback team is made up of CPAs and IRS Enrolled Agents with the specialized expertise needed to help expats meet their tax obligations and optimize their financial strategies.

Get started on your Expat Taxes with Greenback.