Frequently Asked Questions
The US Expat Tax Filing Process
Are you an American living abroad struggling to understand the US expat tax filing process?
Greenback Expat Tax Services makes life better for Americans living abroad and aims to take away the anxiety and hassle of helping US expats become and stay compliant with their US taxes while overseas.
Mistakes on your US expat taxes can be very time-consuming and costly.
Our accountants are all United States CPAs, or IRS Enrolled Agents with extensive and specific experience with expatriate taxation. Our customers value having a dedicated expat expert accountant in charge of their US expat taxes.
We make the process of filing taxes fast and easy by providing our customers with an online system for sharing documents and do our best to make the US expat tax filing process as simple as possible for you.
If you are thinking about working with a US expat tax professional but still have a few questions, get all the answers here.
- How do I file for an extension on a US expat tax return?
- I am a non-resident alien. Will I be taxed differently than a resident alien?
- Is e-filing available for a US expat tax return?
- Is there a computer program for filing US expat taxes?
- What are the tax deadlines for US non-residents?
- What deadlines do US expats need to know?
- What documents do I need to have ready to file my US expat tax return?
- What foreign exchange rate should I use?
- What forms and schedules do I need to file with my US tax return?
- What other information do I need to have on hand while preparing US expat tax returns?
How do I file for an extension on a US expat tax return?
The IRS gives taxpayers living abroad an automatic extension beyond the US tax deadline (April 17th in 2018) to file their US expat tax returns. The automatic extension runs through June 15th. If you need additional time to file your tax return, you can request an extension by filing Form 4868 and submitting it to the IRS. This will provide you with an extension until October 15th.
If you still need more time, you must write the IRS directly and request an extension until December 15th. Additionally, if you need an extension to meet the criteria of the Physical Presence Test or the Bona Fide Residence Test, you can file Form 2350 to request the additional time you need.
Please note: The US Federal Tax Return extension is an extension of time to file and not an extension of time to pay any tax due to the IRS. If you owe tax to the US, your interest will start accruing from the first tax deadline – April 17th. Additionally, if you do not request an extension and do not file, a late payment penalty of 5% may be assessed each month until the tax is paid.[back to top]
I am a non-resident alien. Will I be taxed differently than a resident alien?
Yes, as a non-resident alien, you are generally only required to report income from US sources, not your worldwide income. This income would be categorized into passive income (such as rents, dividends, capital gains, etc.) and earned income (such as income from employment or other businesses activities). Passive income generated in the US will generally be taxed at a flat rate of 30%, although tax treaties may offer reductions or an elimination of the US tax. Additionally, interest earned in depository accounts may be excluded. US earned income will be taxed after taking into account your various adjustments and deductions in the same way US residents are taxed.[back to top]
Is e-filing available for a US expat tax return?
Both the IRS and the US Department of the Treasury allow for e-filing of timely filed tax returns and Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBAR), respectively. The IRS allows e-filing for federal expat tax returns, including all schedules and forms. The US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network recently mandated e-filing for the FBAR.
Note: E-filing is also available if you are filing 2014 and 2015 late tax returns, as long as you aren’t filing under the Streamlined Procedure. If filing Streamlined, you will need to mail paper copies of the returns to the IRS.[back to top]
Is there a computer program for filing US expat taxes?
There is no computer program for expat taxes that we can recommend. Most mainstream tax preparation programs are able to handle simple returns, but they are not prepared to deal with the complexity of an expat tax return or the extra forms that must be submitted with your US expat taxes. While these programs try to guide you through the correct answers to how and if you qualify as an expat, the rules are complex and this can lead to errors on your Form 1116, Form 2555, or FBAR. We file a lot of amended returns for people who tried the DIY method first. It’s better to save yourself the hassle and hire a professional in the first place.[back to top]
What are the tax deadlines for US non-residents?
If you are a resident alien, you generally will have the same filing requirements as a US citizen within the US. As such, you must report all income including interest, wages, rental income, dividends, royalties, etc. on your US return (Form 1040). You must report this income even if it originates from a country outside the US. Fortunately, you are also eligible for the same deductions a citizen would receive; these vary depending on your situation.
If you are also being taxed in your home country, you may be eligible for a foreign tax credit to use on your US return which will help eliminate dual taxation.
If you are living in the US, you will have the same filing deadline as other residents and citizens, April 17, 2018. However, if your main place of residence is still outside the US, you will have an automatic extension until June 15th for your tax return filing. Please note that all taxes owed will still be due by April 17th.[back to top]
What deadlines do US expats need to know?
Expatriates must be aware of the following deadlines for their US expat tax return.
April 15th (April 17th in 2018):
US filing deadline and the date that tax payments are due, even for expats.
US expats receive an automatic extension until June 15th to file their US taxes; note that taxes are due on April 17th, and interest (but no penalties) will be applied if taxes are not paid by April 17th. Penalties will apply if taxes are not paid by June 15th. The 15th is also the FBAR deadline for US expats; however, there is an automatic extension until the October 15th deadline.
Final deadline for expat tax returns for those who have filed for an extension. This is also the final deadline for filing an FBAR.
Please Note: The US Federal tax return extension is an extension of time to file and not an extension of time to pay any tax due to the IRS. If you owe tax to the US, your interest will start accruing from the first tax deadline – April 17th. Additionally, if you do not request an extension and do not file, a late payment penalty of 5% may be assessed each month until the tax is paid.
Learn more about deadlines and extensions in our blog.[back to top]
What documents do I need to have ready to file my US expat tax return?
Generally speaking, the most useful documents to have available are:
- Copy of prior year’s return (if available)
- Record of wages, compensation, or tips (likely a W-2, P60, P45, etc.)
- Record of interest and/or dividends
- Record of purchase and sale of stock and/or other securities
- Record of sales and purchases of real estate and/or any property
- Record of any mortgage interest
- Record of distribution from pensions, annuities, profit sharing, an IRA, or other retirement accounts
- Record of any Social Security benefits paid to you
- Record of any additional income
You will also need your travel records to determine if you qualify for the Physical Presence Test or your residency status to prove you qualify for the Bona Fide Residence Test.[back to top]
What foreign exchange rate should I use?
The IRS requires all income or expenses to be reported in US dollars. The IRS accepts two methods of dollarization on expat tax returns, both of which have the potential to bring tax savings. The IRS prefers that you itemize all income and expenses and use the exchange rate on the day payment was made or received. That said, there is the option to total all of your income or expenses and use the average annual exchange rate if, and only if, your income and expenses are earned or paid evenly over the year. You need to look at both exchange rates and see which will convert your income into the lowest USD amount.[back to top]
What forms and schedules do I need to file with my US tax return?
No matter the situation, US expats will need to complete Form 1040 – the exact same form you would need to file if you were living in the US. In addition, US expats will also want to complete Form 2555 (Foreign Earned Income Exclusion) and/or Form 1116 (Foreign Tax Credit) to take advantage of the tools in place to avoid double taxation.
The schedules you will need to file depend on your personal circumstances, but the most common ones are:
- Schedule A for itemized deductions
- Schedule B for interest and dividend income
- Schedule C for income and expenses from self-employment
- Schedule D for capital gains or losses
- Schedule E if you own a rental property
If a US expat is associated with any foreign financial accounts where the cumulative balances exceeded $10,000 at any time during the tax year, a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) must be filed with the US Department of the Treasury. The FBAR filing deadline has changed to follow the Federal filing deadline of April 15th (April 17th in 2018), but US expats receive an automatic two-month extension until June 15th. There is also an automatic extension until October 15th.[back to top]
What other information do I need to have on hand while preparing US expat tax returns?
Unlike folks filing from the US, you are going to need to have proof of residency in a foreign country or prove that you were physically present in a foreign country for 330 days within a 12-month period in order to qualify for expatriate status. This could include residency permits, ID cards, or a travel calendar explaining in which countries you were present throughout the tax year. Another key item to have available is the exchange rate – either the daily or annual. The other major tax savings can come from an expat’s ability to deduct part of his or her housing expenses; as such, you will want to keep records for rents paid, utility costs (excluding telephone), and insurance costs.[back to top]