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Tax Tips for U.S. Americans Abroad

Married Filing Jointly or Separately as an American Abroad?

Married Filing Jointly American Abroad

Today we’re going to cover the popular US tax topic: Married Filing Jointly or Separately as an American Abroad.

A popular reason why U.S. citizens are living abroad is “because of love.” An example can be meeting someone from another corner in the U.S., then deciding to move and live with them in their home country. Other times it’s meeting someone online, visiting them abroad and eventually marrying them. While falling in love may happen by chance, staying in love and living together is a fruitful choice.

But when tax season hits, and you’re a U.S. expat married to a Non-U.S. Citizen Spouse – what do you need to do?

Married Filing Separately as an American Abroad

Filing together with your spouse does normally come with better tax benefits. However, it can cause extra reporting stress for Americans with non-U.S. partners. Let’s take a look to see if makes sense to file Married Filing Separately instead…

If the following is true in your situation:

  • You make less than $100K USD earned income (salaried or self-employed). Plus, you can exclude all of it via the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion benefit.
  • You have less than $12K investment or U.S. sourced income that cannot be excluded through the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
    • $12K is the total standard deduction allowed for Married Filing Separately in 2018
    • U.S. sourced income is detailed more in-depth here!

If it is all true for you, the next step is to just file as Married Filing Separately as an American abroad or Head of Household (if you have qualifying dependents and keep up more than half of the costs of your home). Additionally – due to the expat benefit of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, and the deductions/exemptions, you will most likely owe no taxes and therefore don’t require the extra benefits of Married Filing Jointly.

Just keep in mind, that since you and your non-U.S. partner are married – you are not allowed to file as Single! If you decide not to sign them up with the IRS, then your filing status has to be either Married Filing Separately or Head of Household.

The MyExpatTaxes software is designed specifically for US expats and can determine the correct filing status and benefits to help your spouse file his taxes in as little as 30 minutes (and stress-free!) for an affordable fixed rate.

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  1. Avatar Christine on June 16, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    I am U.S. born American with german citizinship and married to a german.
    I’m not employed – a “stay at home mom”.
    For the german tax we file jointly.
    But as an american, without earnings, what is there for me to do?
    Thanks for your reply!
    Best regards

    • Michelle H. Michelle H. on June 17, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Hi Christine,
      According to our blog here, if you are a US citizen living abroad, who is married to a non-US spouse, or a who does not want to be included on your tax return, you will need to file a US tax return: At any age, if gross income is at least $5 or more. If you find out you did make over $5 in income over the years, you’ll need to make up with back taxes via our Streamlined Procedure process.

  2. Avatar Sharon Jenkins on July 14, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    My fiancé and I are both US citizens, though he is a permanent resident in Canada. We plan to marry fall 2020 but do not plan to live together (outside a few weeks visits) until January of 2022., after I retire. For the 2020 tax year, should we file as married filing separately or can we still file taxes as singles? I earn quite a bit more than he does at this point. Thanks for your opinion!

    • Michelle H. Michelle H. on July 14, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Sharon,

      Once you are legally married you can file either as married filing jointly or married filing separately. However filing together with your US. spouse normally comes with better tax benefits 🙂 If you have more questions, please write to us at!

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