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Expat Tax Essentials
Many expats live abroad for years without realizing they need to file US tax returns each year. If this is you, don’t panic. The IRS has created a way for you to get caught up penalty-free called the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.
When moving abroad, it’s often easy to get caught up in the new and exciting. Expats pick up their lives and migrate around the world, in some cases never intending to reside stateside again. To embrace the “new” of their expatriate adventure, US citizens may overlook their “old” responsibilities.
A great example of this is their remaining responsibility to file US taxes. For many of the estimated 9 million US expats currently scattered worldwide, it would come as a great shock to learn that they continue to have a tax-filing obligation with the IRS each year.
The US is one of only two countries that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income regardless of their location (the other country is Eritrea, for all you trivia buffs out there). It is not uncommon to come across expats who have not submitted tax returns in years purely because they were unaware of the need to do so.
What can be done for expats who find themselves in this predicament? If you haven’t filed in ten years, will the IRS want all ten returns? Can I catch up on taxes without facing harsh penalties?
If you find yourself asking those questions, the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Procedures may be the answer you are looking for.
The IRS created this amnesty program to incentivize taxpayers to become tax compliant voluntarily, and so far, it has been a giant success! In fact, it has helped over 65,000 US taxpayers become compliant.
The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures were created to help individuals considered low-risk become tax compliant. The process was designed to be a less burdensome way to get caught up. Streamlined Filing requires only a certain number of tax returns to be filed, which can cut down on the time and effort needed to catch up.
The Streamlined Filing Procedures were created in 2012 to encourage US expats to get caught up on their delinquent taxes. The program was initially thought of as an alternative to the IRS’s other disclosure programs (for example, the now-closed Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program).
In its original incarnation, the program was more strict, and many expats got bumped out of the low-risk category. Fortunately, the IRS removed these restrictions in 2014, opening up the program to a broader audience in an effort to help more taxpayers catch up on taxes.
US expats can use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures to become tax compliant while living abroad. This program was designed specifically for Americans living outside the US to catch up on missed taxes.
This differs from the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, which is a version of the Streamlined program available to current US residents.
Currently, to qualify for the Streamlined Filing program, you must:
To prove eligibility for the Streamlined program, you will be required to include a signed statement (Form 14653) certifying this fact as part of the package that you will mail off to the IRS.
Unlike its older cousin, the OVDP, for which you were required to submit eight years of returns and an array of additional forms, the Streamlined Filing Procedures are, well, streamlined.
To complete your Streamlined Filing, you will need to submit the following:
To file under the Streamlined Compliance Procedures, expats will need to complete all the tax forms required for each federal and FBAR filing, along with a special form to certify eligibility for the program.
Tax forms required for Streamlined Filing include:
Because it requires filing multiple years of tax returns, preparing to file under the Streamlined Procedures can feel like a daunting task. But being prepared will help make the process as painless as possible.
To prepare, we recommend:
You can review all the steps to prepare for Streamlined Filing here.
If you need to amend a Streamlined return, you’ll have to act quickly. Once the IRS has begun reviewing your submission, you cannot amend it.
The process for amending a Streamlined tax return requires you to:
No, the penalties are waived for Streamlined filers.
The great news about the Streamlined Filing Procedures is that the IRS waives all late-filing and late-payment penalties for those who qualify and submit their completed Streamlined filing.
If you qualify for the program and comply with all the instructions for filing, you will not be subject to failure-to-file, failure-to-pay, or FBAR penalties.
If your lack of filing was “willful,” meaning you knew you had to file but decided not to, historically your next best option has been the OVDP. This program, unfortunately, has been closed as of September 2018.
However, because the circumstances of taxpayers with foreign financial assets vary widely, the IRS will continue offering the following options to address previous failures to comply with US tax return obligations:
If you don’t believe you qualify for the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, book a consultation with an experienced expat accountant to have them recommend the best course of action.
Our expert expat CPAs and IRS Enrolled Agents are on standby, ready to help you through every step of the process to make catching up as stress-free as possible with our Streamlined Filing Package.