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It’s a fact that every American and Green Card Holder living abroad must report their worldwide income if the gross income is over the tax filing threshold. US expat taxes are important to handle if you are responsible for paying or filing them. In this guide, you’ll learn US expats tax basics like who needs to file US expat taxes, your tax profile, filing thresholds, tax deadlines, and more.

Who Needs to File US Taxes?

  • US citizens (living in the US or abroad) including Accidental Americans
  • Green card holders
  • Permanent Resident / Resident Aliens of the USA
  • Non Resident Aliens who have US income

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Are you an Accidental American?

You may be an Accidental American and file US taxes if you were or are in the following situations:

  • Born in the US to foreign parents
  • Born outside the US to American parents who were unaware of their status as US citizens and claimed US citizenship for you
  • Born abroad to at least one US citizen parent who claimed citizenship for you
  • Obtained a US birth certification or citizenship around the time of your birth, even if you have been living abroad more than in the US

If you fall within any of the above points, you are a US citizen abroad and may be obligated to file and pay US taxes. Read more below…

Your Tax Profile

As a US citizen abroad, you may or may not need to file US expat taxes as an American abroad. Depending on your status and gross income, this tax filing threshold will help you determine whether you need to file or not.

Pick Your Filing Profile:

Not married (to a US Citizen or non US Citizen) and filing by yourself.

Married filing jointly:
Legally married, and your spouse files US taxes with you using either a SSN or ITIN 

Married filing separately:
Married, however not filing with your spouse (i.e. they are non-US Citizen and don’t want to file US taxes) 

Head of Household:
You are considered unmarried* and responsible for paying more than half in maintaining your household during the tax year (and includes paying more than half for rent/mortgage, groceries, household bills, repairs, etc). You must also have a qualifying child or dependent, who is either your biological or adopted child, and the child has lived with you for more than six months during the tax year, etc (click here for more information via the IRS page).
*You would still qualify as unmarried under this requirement if your spouse is a Non-Resident Alien (NRA).

Qualifying Widower:
You have a dependent child, and retain the benefits from the Married Filing Jointly status for two years after your spouse, who you normally filed jointly with, passed away. 

Check Your Gross Income:

Gross income is normally the total pay of what you gained from your employer (salary or wages), before taxes and other deductions. Your gross pay also includes all other compensation sources such as business income, pensions, dividends, interest, rental income, etc.

Once you know your tax profile and gross income, check to see if you need to file.

US Tax Filing Thresholds for your 2020 Tax Return

As an American abroad, you must file a federal tax return in 2021 if you are:


  • Under 65 and gross income is at least $12,400

Married Filing Jointly:

  • Under 65 (both spouses), and gross income was at least $28,400

Married Filing Separately:

  • Under 65, and gross income was at least $5 – yes $5!

Head of Household:

  • Under 65, and gross income was at least $18,650

Get Organized

Once you are certain you need to file US taxes and you’re ready to start filing through our app, please collect the following materials:

  • Your Social Security Number. If you memorized it and don’t have the card that is fine too.
  • All documents with your sources of income (monthly payslips, invoices, receipts, etc)
  • Monthly statements or end-of-year statements of your bank account to see if you had over $10,000 combined from all your foreign financial accounts at any one time during the year.

Know the US Tax Deadlines

Owe taxes? If you have taxes owed, you need to pay by May 17. Due to the pandemic, the IRS extended the typical April tax deadline to May

Need to file US expat taxes?  US American expats have the opportunity to file later in the game due to an automatic extension to June 15th. This automatic extension is only filing, not for payment of taxes owed.

Need an Extension? If you can’t file by that date, or need more time, you can file for a free tax extension (Form 4868) at MyExpatTaxes (do so before your filing deadline!) for the October 15 deadline.

Final tax deadline for US expats? That would be December 15, which you can apply for before the October 15 deadline. This extension requires a special mailed request to the IRS.

Beyond US Expats Tax Basics

Do you need more information beyond the  US Expats Tax Basics? Read our Expat Tax Guide here.

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Expat Tax Guide

Enjoy our ultimate expat guide that will help you get and stay tax compliant!

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