How to File Your US Expat Taxes Without a W-2

File Taxes Without a W2

For most Americans, IRS Form W-2 is the most important tax document to have when filing taxes.

However, if you’re an American living abroad, you may not receive a W-2 — especially if you’re working for a foreign employer. How do you file taxes without a W-2? Does that mean you can’t file a US tax return? Not at all! Here’s how to file your expat taxes without a W-2.

What Is a W-2?

The W-2 is a form that US employers must fill out with information about their employees’ annual income and any taxes that were withheld during the year. It may also contain further details about the employee’s finances, such as:

  • Tips you’ve received
  • Contributions you’ve made to a 401(k)
  • Contributions you’ve made to a health savings account
  • Health insurance premiums covered by your employer

Who Needs a W-2?

W-2s are the standard method for reporting employment income on your US tax return. In most cases, an employer will complete this form and send it to every employee. But as an expat living overseas, you will typically only receive a W-2 if you are employed by a company based in the US. You will probably not receive a W-2 if:

  • You are employed by a foreign company
  • You are employed by an overseas branch or subsidiary of a US company

Regardless, as a US citizen, you are still required to report your worldwide income—both US-source and foreign-source.

Who Doesn’t Need a W-2?

Not every type of income must be — or can be — reported using a W-2. The W-2 is only for traditional employment income and may not be applicable for business owners, independent contractors, and other self-employed taxpayers.

When Should I Receive My W-2?

If you are eligible for a W-2, the IRS requires that your employer send it to you by January 31. If your employer fails to do so, they could face penalties.

Note: the January 31 deadline refers to when your employer must send you your W-2. It may arrive a little later, typically in the first week of February. (Employers can also send a W-2 electronically, which will be much faster.)

What If I Never Received a W-2?

As mentioned above, not all expats will receive a W-2. However, many countries have their own equivalent. Some examples include:

  • Great Britain: Form P60
  • Canada: T4 Slip
  • Australia: PAYG Payment Summary
  • Germany: Ausdruck der Lohnsteuerbescheinigung
  • Japan: Gensen-Choshu-Hyo
  • France: Code General des Impots

These forms will show your income and tax information in the foreign currency used by that country, so you would need to convert the amounts to US dollars to report them on your US tax return.

If you think you should receive a W-2, on the other hand—for example, if you are employed by a US-based company—then there are steps you can take to get one.

1. Check Your Email

These days, many employers make their employees’ W-2s available for download through an online portal. If your employer does this, they may notify you via email. So if you haven’t received a W-2, check your email to see if you missed that notification. It may have ended up in your spam folder, or you may have trashed it without realizing how important it was.

Your employer might also have forgotten to send out the email—or never intended to in the first place. If your employer has an online portal where you access paycheck information, timecards, or other employment information, log into the website to see if your W-2 is accessible there.

2. Ask Your Employer

If you aren’t able to find your W-2 online, contact your employer. Ask if they’ve issued your W-2 yet, and if so, when and how. They may have mailed it to the wrong address or sent a link to the wrong email. Or, the form may have gotten lost in transit some other way.

Regardless, if you have reason to think your W-2 isn’t going to arrive as it should, ask them to reissue it.

3. Contact the IRS

What if your employer can’t or won’t issue your W-2? For example, they may have gone out of business or are simply refusing to respond to your requests for help. In that case, it may be time to involve the IRS.

The IRS recommends that you always contact your employer first and wait until the end of February to receive your W-2 before contacting them. If February is over and your employer still hasn’t gotten your W-2 to you, make an appointment with an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).

Whether you call a TAC or visit a local office in person, be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Your name, address, Social Security number, and phone number
  • Your employer’s name, address, phone number, and tax ID (if you have access to it)
  • The dates you worked for this employer
  • An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld (you can usually find this information on your last pay stub for the tax year)

The IRS will contact your employer to demand your W-2 form and warn the employer of the penalties they may face for failing to issue a W-2 when required.

How to File Your Taxes without a W-2

In some cases, you may be unable to ever get your W-2. You may also not be entitled to one if you work for a foreign employer. In either situation, if you want to know how to file your taxes without a W-2, the answer is Form 4852.

Form 4852 is a substitute that taxpayers can use if they never received a W-2 (or if their W-2 is inaccurate). To use Form 4852, you’ll have to:

  • Estimate your total wages and withholding using your final pay stub
  • Fill out the fields of Form 4852 based on your answers
  • Attach Form 4852 to your US annual tax return and submit both to the IRS

Unfortunately, you cannot e-file Form 4852, so if you’re attaching it to your tax return, you will need to submit them by mail. It may take longer than normal for the IRS to process your return, as well. Just remember that you will still have to pay your taxes by the tax deadline, even if you request a filing extension.

Do You Need Help with Your Expat Taxes?

Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of how to file your taxes without a W-2 form. However, if you still have questions, we have the answers. In fact, we can even prepare and file your expat taxes on your behalf.

At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we’ve spent years helping expats around the world meet their US tax obligations. Just contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you too. That way, you can skip the headaches—and the potential fees for filing late. But if you are, please check out our guide on keeping caught up on your taxes.

Click here to learn more about our services and flat-fee pricing to file your expat tax taxes – even if you need to file your taxes without a W-2.