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What Americans Living Abroad Need to Know About Filing Taxes for Expats?

Updated: May 16, 2022

Most taxpayers in the United States are required to file their tax returns with the IRS by April 15 (May 17 in 2021 for 2020 tax return). U.S. taxpayers living and working in another country may also be required to file. However, an automatic two months deadline extension is granted. The deadline for US expats to file their US tax returns is June 15.

U.S. income tax filing requirement

Generally, if any of the below applies to you, you must file IRS Form 1040 by the due date. This obligation is not synonymous with a tax liability or paying tax to the IRS. This filing obligation may entitle you to receive a tax refund even if you live abroad for example or you have earned income under the filing threshold below.

Your income, filing status, and age generally determine whether you must file an income tax return. Generally, you must file a return for 2020 if your gross income from worldwide sources is at least the amount shown below for your filing status:

  • Single: $12,400 (65 or older $14,050)

  • Head of household: $18,650 (65 or older $20,300)

  • Qualifying widow(er): $24,800 (65 or older $26,100)

  • Married and one spouse is 65 or older: $26,100

  • Married and both spouses are 65 or older: $27,400

  • Married and not living with the spouse at the end of the year: $5

  • Married filing separately: $5

  • For dependent of another taxpayer, see the Instructions for Forms 1040 and 1040-SR for more information on whether you must file a return.

  • For self-employed individuals: If your net earnings from self-employment are $400 or more, you must file a return even if your gross income is below the amount listed above for your filing status.

An income tax filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion or the Foreign Tax Credit, which substantially reduce or eliminate U.S. tax liability. These tax benefits are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return.

A taxpayer qualifies for the special 2-month automatic extension if both their tax home and abode are outside the United States and Puerto Rico.

Those serving in the military outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico on the regular due date of their tax return also qualify for the extension to June 15.

Payments for taxes owed were due April 15:

Interest, currently at the rate of 5 percent per year, compounded daily, still applies to any tax payment received after the original April 15 deadline. For details, see the IRS Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad.

Automatic extension available to file a US tax return

Taxpayers abroad who can’t meet the two months automatic extension, June 15 deadline can still get more time to file, but they need to ask for it. An extension request must be filed by June 15. This extension gives people until Oct. 15 to file; however, this does not extend the time to pay tax.

How to file an extension:

One of the easiest ways to get an extension of time to file is through e-filing via Form 4868. Requests may also be made using a paper form. Form 4868 requires taxpayers to estimate their tax liability and pay any amount due.

Another option is to pay electronically, and the IRS will automatically process an extension when taxpayers select Form 4868 and are making a full or partial federal tax payment using Direct Pay by April 15, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or a debit or credit card. There is no need to file a separate Form 4868 when making an electronic payment and indicating it is for an extension.

International taxpayers who do not have a U.S. bank account should refer to the Foreign Electronic Payments section on the IRS website for more payment options and information. IRS tax payments via bank transfers from overseas to the US may be very expensive. Please consider other payment alternatives that are more affordable.

Can I file my taxes for Free? Is there a Free File option?

Yes. U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad can use IRS Free File to prepare and electronically file their returns for free.