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Expat Tax Filing Status and Gross Income

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Minimum Threshold for Tax Return

Expat tax filing status and gross income is a simple topic compared to complicated ones like self-employment tax or investing. What some expats may not know is that you only need to file US taxes if your worldwide gross income makes over the minimum threshold to file a US tax return. 

While we recommend and encourage you as an American expat to file regardless of what threshold you’re at – because filing can protect you with the IRS and even get you back refunds as an expat – you don’t have to if your income falls below a certain line.

In this post, we’ll highlight exactly what those thresholds are for tax season 2020 in year 2021.

US Tax Filing Thresholds 101


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The significance of having IRS tax filing thresholds for Americans both on land and abroad is so everyone knows if they need to file US taxes or not. In fact, reporting worldwide income to the IRS if you exceed the tax filing threshold is a necessity for all US citizens, regardless of where they live. 

This is where we at MyExpatTaxes come into play – we can help Americans overseas become and stay compliant to enjoy expat life while sticking to their US tax responsibility.

Keep in mind that every year the minimum threshold for tax return will change. This is due to inflation that happens every year within the country and the global economy.

Worldwide Gross Income

Before we show the exact thresholds for each filing position, we should first explain worldwide gross income, as this is what determines whether an American abroad needs to file US taxes or not.

Worldwide gross income is the total pay of what you received that year, before taxes and other deductions. This can be anything from your yearly salary to business income, capital gains, dividends, retirement distributions and other income. It includes income earned from both US and non-US sources.

When you check your tax filing threshold, you need to calculate your worldwide gross income. Then once you figure it out, you can check the information below to see which filing status you belong to.


These are individuals who make no income, or income that falls below the thresholds. For example, if you are a single filer (not married), and made under $12,400 in gross income, you don’t need to file.

However, we do urge you to reconsider not filing. We explain in this blog post reasons why you should file US taxes and protect your tax filing status with the IRS and claim potential refunds.

Single Filers

You need to file a US tax return if you are:

  • Under 65 years old and have a gross income of at least $12,400.
  • Over 65 and have gross income of at least $14,050.

Married Filing Jointly

If you are legally married, and your spouse is a US citizen or Green card holder, you both need to file a US tax return if you:

  • Are both under 65 years old with a combined gross income of at least  $28,400.
  • One spouse is 65 or older with a combined gross income is $26,100.
  • Both spouses are 65 or older with a combined gross income of $27,400.

Married Filing Separately

If you are a US citizen living abroad, who is married to a non-US spouse, or someone 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. Yes – $5!

Head of Household

To determine if you can file as Head of Household:

  • You are responsible for paying more than half in maintaining your home/household during the tax year. This also includes paying more than half for rent/mortgage, groceries, household bills, repairs, etc.
  • This also means you are considered unmarried through the tax year, according to the IRS. Otherwise, you would file ‘’Married filing separately or jointly.’’ If your spouse is a Non-Resident Alien (NRA), you would still qualify under this requirement.
  • Thirdly, you have a qualifying child or dependent. The child must meet the criteria, such as being your biological or adopted child, 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).

Once those three points are confirmed, you will need to file as Head of Household if you are:

  • Under 65 years old, with a gross income of at least $18,650.
  • Over 65 years old, with a gross income of at least $20,300.

Qualifying Widower

Being a Qualified Widower as a filing status means that you retain the benefits from the Married Filing Jointly status for two years after your spouse passed away. You must also have a dependent child in order to file within this status.

As a Qualified Widower, you need to file a US tax return if you:

  • Are under 65 years old, and have a gross income of at least $24,800.
  • Are 65 years or older, with a gross income of at least 26,100.

Self-Employed Individuals

As stated in our Self-Employment taxes blog, self-employed individuals have their own tax filing threshold. It is actually quite low.

Self-employed individuals will need to file a US federal tax return if their net earnings of worldwide income is at least $400. Net earnings is the total amount of sales revenues after operating/business expenses, interest, tax, etc.

Gross Income Over the Minimum Threshold for Tax Return?

If you found you are required to file, after checking your tax filing status, then it’s time to consider us. Our award-winning expat tax software and outstanding customer service can help you, a US citizen abroad, file on time for an affordable price. We have all the tax forms you need to become and stay tax compliant.

Just try out our software before you pay, or check out our reviews on our Facebook page. We are certain you’ll be hooked by the simple, easy-to-do software!

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Expat Tax Tips

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