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Taxation of US persons living abroad- General Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by: Zaher Fallahi
Posted On: Feb 13, 2014

1.  I’m a U.S. citizen living and working outside of the United States for many years. Do I still need to file a U.S. tax return?

Yes, if you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien living outside the United States, your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you live. However, you may qualify for certain foreign earned income exclusions and/or foreign income tax credits. Please refer to Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, for additional information.


2.  I pay income tax in a foreign country. Do I still have to file a U.S. income tax return even though I do not live in the United States?

You have to file a U.S. income tax return while working and living abroad unless you abandon your green card holder status by filing Form I-407, with the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Service, or you renounce your U.S. citizenship under certain circumstances described in the tax provisions. See Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, for more details.


3.  What is the due date of a U.S. income tax return?

The due date for filing a federal individual income tax return generally is April 15 of each year if your tax year ends December 31st. Your return is considered filed timely if the envelope is properly addressed and postmarked no later than April 15, Publication 17, Part 1 – When do I have to file?

If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day. If you cannot file by the due date of your return, you can request an extension of time to file. To receive an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return, you should file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF), by the due date of your return. For more information, refer to the Form 4868 instructions.

However, if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, who is either: (1) living outside of the United States and Puerto Rico and your main place of business or post of duty is outside of the United States and Puerto Rico; or (2) in military or naval services on duty outside of the United States and Puerto Rico on the due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic 2-month extension until June 15 to file your return and pay any tax due. For additional information refer to Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad. If you use this automatic 2-month extension, you must attach a statement to your return explaining which of the two situations qualify you for the extension.


4.  I just realized that I must file U.S. income tax returns for prior years.  How many years back do I have to file?

You must file a federal income tax return for any tax year in which your gross income is equal to or greater than the personal exemption amount and standard deduction combined (per the Form 1040 Instructions for the corresponding tax year). Generally, you need to file returns going back six years. This will depend on the facts and circumstances of your particular situation. For example, refer to Information for U.S. Citizens or Dual Citizens Residing Outside the U.S.

Please see also:

the Instructions for New Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures for Non-Resident, Non-Filer U.S. Taxpayers for nonresident U.S. taxpayers living abroad who have failed to timely file U.S. federal income tax returns or Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR); and

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program Frequently Asked Questions (specifically question 9) for taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts or entities.


5.  What is the status of my refund?

You can check the status of any refund you expect as soon as 24 hours after you e-file a return or 4 weeks after you file a paper return. If you included Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation (PDF), wait 11 weeks if you filed your return electronically or 14 weeks if you mailed a paper return.

There are several ways to check the status of a refund.


6. I have completed my tax return and I have a balance due. How do I pay the tax liability?

There are various options for paying your U.S. taxes.

EFTPS (Electronic Federal Tax Payment System).
This is only available if you have a U.S. bank account.

Federal Tax Application (same-day wire transfer).
If you do not have a U.S. bank account, ask if your financial institution has a U.S. affiliate that can help you make same-day wire transfers. For more information on this option, refer to theForeign Electronic Payments website.

Check or money order.
To pay by check or money order, make your check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury” for the full amount due. Do not send cash. Do not attach the payment to your return.

Credit or debit card.
This option is useful if you do not have a U.S. bank account.  Refer to the Pay Your Taxes by Debit or Credit Card website with details regarding this process and fees.

For more information on these payment methods, go to the Electronic Payment Options Home Page.

7.  How can I get a transcript for current or previous years?

You can order either a transcript of your tax return information or a copy of your tax return. If you order a transcript of your return, you will get the information from your tax return. If you order a copy of your return, you will get a copy of the actual return you filed.

Transcript: A transcript of your tax return information is free. You can obtain a free transcript on the IRS.gov website by going to the Order a Transcript page. Transcripts may also be ordered by calling 800-908-9946 and following the prompts in the recorded message, or by completing and mailing a request for a transcript to the address listed in the instructions. Use Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return (PDF), or Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript (PDF), to order a transcript of most information on your tax return for the current tax year and the prior 3 processing years. You also can order a transcript of data from certain information returns such as Forms W-2 and 1099. You can designate (on line 5 of either form) a third party to receive the transcript.

Copy: You can request a copy of your tax return, but in most cases you must pay a fee to do so (currently $50). Use Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return (PDF), to request a copy of your tax return. Copies of Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ are generally available for 7 years from the date you filed the return. You can designate (on line 5) a third party to receive the tax return. Mail the order form and your check for the fee to the appropriate address listed in the form instructions.


8.  Now that I live overseas, how can I find a tax preparer?

IRS employees are not permitted to recommend tax practitioners who prepare income tax returns. However, some Embassies provide this information on the Citizen Services section of their website. Another good source of information is plain word-of-mouth. Speak to other Americans and contact various American organizations present abroad that serve the expat community.


If you need assistance with filing your US taxes, including disclosure of undeclared foreign bank and financial accounts (FBAR), and the IRS representation, please contact Zaher Fallahi, Tax Attorney, CPA, at (310) 719-1040 (Los Angeles) or (714) 546-4272 (Orange County), or e-mail to taxattorney@zfcpa.com.

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