Frequently Asked Questions
Your US Expat Tax Obligations

Worried about your tax obligations while filing your US expat taxes? Greenback will help you understand these through our in-depth FAQs. Check it out now.

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As an American expat, do I need to file a US Federal Tax Return?

Overall, US citizens and Green Card holders are required to file a US Federal Tax Return each year if their income is over the minimum threshold. No matter where you have earned this income, what currency it is earned in, or whether you have also paid taxes in the country in which you reside, you are required to file in the US if your income is above these levels.

The thresholds are currently:

  • Single with income over $10,300
  • Married filing jointly with income over $20,600
  • Married filing separately with income over $4,000
  • Self-employed individuals need to file if their income is over $400

Note: You may need to file state taxes as well as taxes for your small business operating overseas. Depending on your situation, you may also be required to file additional reports including Form 8938 and the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR or FinCEN Form 114) to report assets held overseas.

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As an American expat, do I need to file a US state tax return?

When it comes to US state tax returns, every state is different. Some states are more favorable for expats, since they have no income taxes. These states include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee are also favorable states because they only collect taxes on dividend and interest income. Unfavorable states include California, South Carolina, and New Mexico; these states see their taxpayers as assets and will leave the burden of proof on you to prove you are no longer a resident.

You may be required to file a state return if you are tied to the state in the following ways:

  • Mortgage or lease payments on property
  • State driver’s license
  • State bank accounts or investments
  • Telephone and utility bills
  • Voter registration
  • Library cards
  • Mail correspondence
  • Association memberships
  • Dependents living within the state

As an American expat, if you have some of the above ties in one of the states that have income taxes, you may be required to submit a state return until you prove residency in another state.

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Can I be subject to AMT even when I am paying foreign taxes?

The short answer is that yes, one can be subject to AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) even when overseas.

Expatriates utilizing the Foreign Earned Income and Housing Exclusions to eliminate or substantially reduce income should be aware of the AMT. This tax is applied to adjusted gross income (after exclusions) plus certain tax preference items and adjustments, which are reduced by an exemption and limited deductions. The exemption is phased out beginning at certain higher levels of income. An individual is subject to the AMT if it is greater than the regular income tax. If the alternative minimum tax applies, certain deductions for tax preference items may not provide actual income tax benefits. The alternative minimum tax may be reduced by the Foreign Tax Credit to the extent that tax is generated by foreign sourced income. However, the Foreign Tax Credit may not offset more than 90 percent of the tentative AMT liability. This Foreign Tax Credit is computed separately from the regular Foreign Tax Credit on a separate Form 1116.

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Does being self-employed change US expat tax obligations?

If you are self-employed and you live overseas, you may still be required to pay self-employment taxes in the US, including Social Security. This would need to be paid before the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, so it is an actual out-of-pocket expense, not something that would be offset on your expat tax return. The rules are different for each country, so it is best to visit the Social Security website to see how this will work in your exact host country. Some countries, such as the UK, require that you either opt out of US Social Security or you may need to pay both in the US and UK. This form of double taxation can add up quickly, so don’t ignore it!

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Does the Net Investment Income Tax affect me as an expat?

The Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) is a regulation that went into effect Jan 1, 2013. It is part of the Affordable Care Act and applies a 3.8% additional Medicare tax on investment income. Unfortunately, expatriates are not exempt from it.

You are required to pay the NIIT if your adjusted gross income is above certain thresholds. For a single filer, that threshold is $200,000, and for a Married Filing Jointly return, the threshold is $250,000.

If you would like more details you can visit the IRS website.

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How do I qualify as an American expat?

The IRS has multiple tools in place to eliminate dual taxation, but you must qualify as an American expat to take advantage of some of them.

In order to qualify as an American expat for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. You must have foreign earned income.
  2. Your tax home must be in a foreign country.
  3. You must do one of the following:
  • Pass the Bona Fide Residence Test – A US citizen who is a bona fide resident of foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year, basically meaning you live abroad with no intention of permanently returning to the USA;
  • Pass the Physical Presence Test – A US citizen or a US resident alien who is physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months; or
  • Be a US resident alien who is a citizen or national of a country with which the United States has an income tax treaty with a non-discrimination article in effect.
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How do I report foreign bank accounts (FBAR)?

As a citizen or Green Card holder, you may be required to file the Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR) with the US Department of the Treasury. This can be done online at the BSA E-filing section of the US Treasury website or we can file your FBAR electronically for you as well. The FBAR deadline will be the same as your Federal Tax Return, and you will have the option to file up to a six-month extension (making the final deadline October 15th in 2018).

You will need to file the FBAR if you have had more than $10,000 in financial accounts overseas at any given time during the year. It does not matter if the $10,000 was dispersed over multiple accounts in varying currencies; if their cumulative value was more than $10,000, they must all be reported on the FBAR. Please note that as of September 30, 2013, all FBAR forms must be filed electronically and no paper forms will be accepted.

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I am an overseas taxpayer and I would like to purchase a property. The property will be in my name; however, since according to US law all properties are shared 50/50 between husband and wife, how should we file this rental income? Is there any way to exclude this income?

Unfortunately, there is no exclusion limit on rental income. The exception to this would be if owning and renting properties is your only job; in that case, you can use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (although you would likely still be liable for self-employment taxes).

As far as reporting the income from the property, if you are the sole owner, you must report 100% of the income from the property. If you own it jointly with your spouse, you can report 50% of the income.

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I am looking at investment options as an American in the UK. However, there is a statute in place that prevents US citizens residing in the UK from opening new investments stateside. This leaves me with UK tax-free government investment options such as ISAs or GIAs (UK versions of IRAs). What is the amount owed to the US on overseas capital gains, or is there a cap before it is applied?

For your investments with your UK tax-free accounts, unfortunately, this income does not have the same tax treatment in the USA. You would need to report the full amount of the capital gains, interest, dividends, etc., on your US tax return. Technically, you should report this income each year you earn it on the account.

The capital gains rates for these accounts is the same as for US income. Capital gains tax rates are based on your ordinary income tax rate, with a max capital gains rate of 20% for investments held more than one year. Investments held for one year or less are taxed at your ordinary rate.

To avoid the onerous paperwork involved with having what’s considered a PFIC (not to mention large preparation fees), you should avoid investing in ISAs that are similar to a mutual fund. Invest where you own the whole stock or bond.

If the Stocks and Shares ISAs are through a bank or financial institution, they are not foreign trusts, as the person who holds the account is the actual owner of the stocks.

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Is it true that if I work overseas as a contractor I can pay zero taxes?

Yes and no. If you are self-employed and you live overseas, you may still be required to pay self-employment taxes in the US, including Social Security. This would need to be paid before the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (which can exclude up to $104,100 of your 2018 income from US taxation), so it is an actual out-of-pocket expense, not something that would be offset on your expat tax return. The rules are different for each country, so visiting the Social Security website is the best way to see how this will work in your exact host country.

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