Filing US Expat Taxes From Abroad: A Complete Guide for 2024

Navigating U.S. tax regulations while managing life in another country presents unique challenges. Double taxation, managing income from multiple sources, differences in currencies, and unfamiliar tax benefits – understanding the intricacies of filing, potential tax benefits, and reporting requirements is crucial to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. 

Further, the regulations and filing norms keep on changing from time to time, which makes the entire process even more challenging. Beyond the standard form, additional formalities and income-unique cases might also be needed. All this, on top of potentially forgetting the intricacies of the U.S. tax system and reporting foreign bank accounts, can lead to errors and penalties.

This comprehensive guide is here to empower you! 

We’ll break down the complexities of expat tax filing, explore strategies to minimize your tax burden and equip you with the knowledge to file your return with confidence. We also share pro tips to make tax filing an easy process and discuss how investing in a tax consultation provider can help you put your filings on autopilot and maximize your savings. 

Understanding Your Tax Obligations as a US Expatriate

Understanding Your Tax Obligations as a US Expatriate

The US expatriates have to file U.S. income tax returns just like US residents. However, their tax obligations can be different and more complex owing to their international status. The taxes can be filed on a fiscal year basis as well as a calendar year basis. Further, the IRS offers an automatic 2-month extension to file tax returns followed by a 4-month extension for specific cases. The 4-month extension, however, incurs penalties and interest on any unpaid tax amount.

Hence, comprehensive and personalized tax advice stemming from a deep understanding of international tax laws, relevant tax forms, and potential tax benefits becomes crucial. 

Determine if You Meet the Definition of a US Expatriate

Understanding your expatriate status is crucial for navigating U.S. tax obligations, ensuring proper filings, and avoiding penalties. Internal Revenue Code (IRC), the governing body, sets specific criteria to determine your status as a US expat for tax purposes.

These rules are applicable to U.S. citizens who have renounced their citizenship or long-term residents who have relinquished their permanent residency status. IRC has set three date ranges for expatriation:

  • On or after June 17, 2008

  • After June 3, 2004, and before June 17, 2008

  • Before June 3, 2004

Checking Your Status as A “Covered Expatriate”

The expats that meet any of the following criteria on or after June 17, 2008, fall under the “covered expatriate” category:

  • Income Threshold: Your average yearly income taxes for the past five years are higher than a specific amount that goes up with inflation (refer to the official IRS sources for specific figures).

  • Net Worth Threshold: Your net worth is $2 million or more on the date of expatriation.

  • Tax Compliance Certification: You fail to certify on Form 8854 that you’ve fulfilled all U.S. federal tax obligations for the five years before expatriation.

If you’re classified as a covered expatriate, a special tax rule (IRC 877A) applies. As per this rule, your entire property is sold for its fair market value on the day before your expatriation. Any gains from this sale are taxed in the same year, after offsetting the potential tax burden by an exclusion amount (adjusted for inflation).

The exclusion amount for tax year 2023 is $821,000. For more details on this exclusion amount and related norms, we recommend visiting the official IRS website.

Expatriation vs. Residency Termination

Expatriation means you are formally relinquishing your U.S. citizenship. This can be done by submitting a voluntary statement of relinquishment at a U.S. consulate or embassy or receiving a certificate of loss of nationality from the U.S. Department of State. 

On the other hand, residency termination for lawful permanent residents (green card holders), happens through revocation by U.S. authorities or by establishing residency in another country under a tax treaty and notifying the IRS.

Identify Different Types of Income to Declare

If you’re a U.S. citizen living and working abroad, filing returns can be complicated, especially if you don’t understand the types of income to declare. The income can be categorized into – earned, unearned, foreign, and variable. 

Foreign earned income refers to the income you receive for services performed while meeting specific criteria set by the IRS. These criteria determine your eligibility for tax benefits such as the Foreign Housing Exclusion and Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE).

What Qualifies as Foreign Earned Income?

The income that meets both of the following requirements is considered foreign earned income: 

  • Tax Home in a Foreign Country: The location where you perform your main business or service activity in a foreign country. So, it’s the base of your operations located in the foreign country.

  • Bona Fide Residence Test or Physical Presence Test: You must also pass either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test. For the bona fide residence test, you need to be a resident of a foreign country for an uninterrupted period (330 full days within a 3-year period). To pass the physical presence test, you need to be physically present in a foreign country or country for at least 330 full days during a 12-month period.

What’s Not Included in Foreign Earned Income?

Not all income you receive abroad qualifies as foreign earned income, and some of the common exclusions are: 

  • Meals and Lodging: The value of meals and lodging provided by your employer is not considered foreign earned income.

  • Pensions and Annuities: Social security benefits, pensions, and annuities are generally not considered foreign earned income.

  • U.S. Government Wages: The income of all the U.S. government employees is not considered foreign earned income.

  • Certain Employee Trust Contributions: Amounts contributed by your employer to non-qualified annuity contracts and non-exempt employee trusts are not considered foreign earned income.

  • Income Received After Year-End: Payments you receive after the tax year following the year you performed the services for which you earned the income are not considered foreign earned income.

Earned vs. Unearned Income

Earned income refers to pay for personal services performed, such as wages, salaries, or professional fees. On the other hand, unearned income comes from sources where your personal efforts aren’t the primary income generator, such as interest, dividends, or rental income.

The source of your earned income is determined by the location where you perform the services for which you’re being paid. So, even if you’re paid into a U.S. bank account, if you earned the income by working in a foreign country, it’s considered a foreign source of income.

While most of your income abroad will likely be classified as earned, income from a business or partnership might have an unearned income component. 

Below, we share a table that categorizes the different types of income into three major categories. For more information and a granular understanding of costs/reimbursements and money received against various processes, such as moving, transportation, etc., we recommend exploring Publication 54 of the IRS.

Earned Income Unearned Income Variable Income
Salaries and wages Dividends Business profits
Commissions Interest Royalties
Bonuses Capital gains Scholarships and fellowships
Professional fees Gambling winnings Rents
Tips Alimony Benefits
Social security benefits

Navigating the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)

Navigating the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)

If you are an expat with a tax home in a foreign country, you can enjoy foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE), only if you meet the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test. If you opt for FEIE, you cannot deduct, exclude, or claim any credit for any item that might be allocated to or charged against the excluded amounts. 

You can choose a limited amount of the foreign earned income for exclusion as follows: 

  • Currently, you can exclude up to $120,000 of your foreign earned income in 2023.

  • You are allowed to exclude either $120,000, or your foreign earned income for the tax year minus your foreign housing exclusion; whichever is smaller.

  • If you and your spouse both work overseas and each of you meets either the residency test or the time spent there test, you can each skip paying taxes on up to $240,000 of your income combined.

In addition to the foreign earned income exclusion, you can also claim a deduction for your housing amount from the gross income if your tax home is in a foreign country. You can qualify for the deduction under either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test.

The housing exclusion applies only to the amount of money considered paid for with employer-provided amounts.

Qualifying for the FEIE via Physical Presence or Bona Fide Residence Test

As discussed above, (FEIE) offers tax relief to U.S. citizens and expats living abroad subject to two tests: the physical presence test and the bona fide residence test.

Physical Presence Test

This test focuses on the number of days you spend outside the U.S. To qualify, you must be physically present in a foreign country for at least 330 full days during a period of 12 consecutive months. This test is generally considered the simpler of the two.

Bona Fide Residence Test

This test focuses on your ties to a foreign country and your intentions for staying there. There’s no set number of days required, but you must establish residency in a foreign country and have closer ties to that country than the U.S. Your housing situation, financial accounts, social ties, and purpose for being in the foreign country are some of the factors considered.

Calculating Your Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Amount

Once you’ve established that you qualify for the FEIE by meeting either the physical presence or bona fide residence test, you can determine the maximum amount of income you can exclude from U.S. taxes. The FEIE limit is adjusted annually for inflation. For tax year 2024, the maximum exclusion is $126,500 per qualifying person. There’s also a separate exclusion for housing costs exceeding a base amount, but that calculation can be more complex.

The other amount is foreign earned income, referring to the salaries, and other forms of compensation, such as self-employment income you got in a foreign country. 

Once you have calculated these two amounts, your actual exclusion amount will be the lower of:

  • Your total foreign earned income for the tax year.

  • The annual exclusion limit ($126,500 for 2024).

For example:

Suppose you earned a salary of $100,000 working abroad in 2024. Since this income is less than the annual exclusion limit ($126,500), the entire $100,000 is excluded from your U.S. taxes.

Additional Considerations

If you are a married couple who is filing jointly, both you and your spouse can claim the FEIE, potentially doubling the exclusion amount, as explained above. To claim the FEIE, you have to file exclusions via Form 2555 or Form 2555-EZ with your U.S. tax return.

Please note that this information is shared for general understanding only and tax laws can be intricate, especially regarding exclusion amounts. Consulting with a qualified tax professional can ensure accurate FEIE exclusion and help you maximize tax benefits and other deductions you might be eligible for.

The Importance of Reporting Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)

The Importance of Reporting Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)

The FBAR, or Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, is a yearly report that you file with the U.S. government to report your foreign bank accounts, investment accounts, or anything else holding your money overseas. 

Recognizing Which Accounts Need to Be Reported on FBAR

If all your foreign accounts add up to more than $10,000 at any point in the fiscal or calendar year, you have to file an FBAR. The detailed guidelines for filing the FBAR are available on the official IRS website and we recommend that you go through them before filing to avoid any errors. 

The US government also offers some exceptions, like accounts at U.S. military banks, and accounts with annual money less than $10,000 all year. FBAR helps the government track potential tax evasion and money laundering, so it’s a critical task in filing taxes. 

Steps to File Your FBAR Electronically With FinCEN

Here is the step-wise process to file your FBAR via the online form:

  • Click Start Now under the Online Form E-Filing Method.

  • Submit your contact information on the Filer Contact Information webpage. The email address you submit will be used to send messages regarding the status of your FBAR submission. 

  • Next, click on the Start FBAR option at the bottom of the Filer Contact Information page to access the FBAR Homepage.

  • Submit a descriptive name to identify your FBAR (e.g. ELLA FBAR 2024).

  • Complete the FBAR form, return to the Home tab, click Sign the Form to accept the signature agreement, and complete the submission.

  • If you encounter any error or wish to make any changes to the FBAR form after you have signed it, you can simply click Remove Signature from the Home tab.

  • You can complete the submission by returning to the Home tab and clicking Submit. After this, a confirmation page will be loaded onto your screen. 

  • You can download your FBAR copy on the confirmation page to retain a read-only copy of your FBAR form. You can also save the confirmation page for record keeping. 

Once the submission is complete, you will receive an email regarding the status of your FBAR submission. In approximately two business days, you will receive a second and final email informing you that FinCEN has acknowledged your FBAR submission and you will be assigned a unique BSA ID. This will complete your FBAR submission. 

Bilateral Tax Treaties and Avoiding Double Taxation

Bilateral Tax Treaties and Avoiding Double Taxation

Expats can benefit from tax treaties between the U.S. and the country of their current residence. These agreements prevent double taxation on your income by dividing taxing rights or offering reduced rates. It is important to note that not all countries have treaties with the U.S., so it’s crucial to find out if a tax treaty exists between the US and your host country.

How to Find Out if a Tax Treaty Exists Between the US and Your Host Country

You can easily find out whether a tax treaty exists between the U.S. and your host country by visiting the IRS List of Income Tax Treaties, which is the most authentic and reliable source for the most updated information. If, however, you are daunted by the technical information, getting in touch with a tax expert is the best option.

You can easily find whether there is any treaty that you can benefit from and also identify any state-specific tax norms that can maximize your returns. 

Claiming Benefits Under a Tax Treaty on Your US Return

If you are living in a country that has a tax treaty with the US, you are eligible for tax relief as per the specifics mentioned in the treaty. Common benefits include reduced tax rates on certain income types or complete exemption from U.S. taxes on foreign earned income.

Based on the specific treaty and your earnings, you may need to file specific forms with your U.S. tax return to claim the benefits under the tax treaty. The relevant forms for each treaty are available on the IRS website alongside the treaty details.

Essential Documents Needed for Filing Taxes From Abroad

Other Reporting Requirements for Expats

Filing taxes from abroad requires the right documentation and proper records of all the income and exclusions.Here’s a detailed breakdown of the essential documents you’ll need to gather to file your U.S. tax return as an expat:

Proof of Foreign Status
  • Passport: Your valid U.S. passport serves as primary proof of citizenship.

  • Foreign Residence Permit/Visa: If you hold a residency permit or visa in your host country, include a copy for documentation purposes.

  • Departure/Entry Stamps: Copies of your departure and entry stamps from your passport can be helpful if you were abroad for extended periods or made multiple trips.
Income Verification
  • Foreign Income Statements (W-2 Equivalent): Many countries have their own version of a W-2 form that employers provide to document your salary and any taxes withheld. Obtain copies of these documents from your employers abroad.

  • Self-Employment Income Documentation: If you’re self-employed overseas, gather records like invoices, bank statements reflecting business income, and receipts for business expenses.

  • Investment Income Statements: Collect statements from all your foreign investment accounts showing dividends, interest income, capital gains, and any foreign taxes withheld.

  • Pension or Retirement Income Statements: If you receive pension or retirement income from abroad, obtain documentation detailing the amounts received and any taxes withheld.
Foreign Tax Payments
  • Tax Receipts/Payment Vouchers: If you paid taxes in your host country, collect official receipts or vouchers as proof of these payments.

  • Foreign Tax Return (If Applicable): While not always required, consider including a copy of your foreign tax return, especially if it helps clarify your tax situation abroad.
Deduction and Credit Documentation
  • Moving Expenses: If you qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign housing exclusion, maintain detailed records of moving expenses incurred, including receipts for transportation, storage, and temporary living arrangements.

  • Housing Costs: For the foreign housing exclusion, gather documentation related to your housing expenses, such as rental agreements, utility receipts, and property taxes paid.

  • Education Credits: If you have children attending school abroad and claim education credits, collect copies of tuition receipts and enrollment documents.

  • Charitable Donation Receipts: For charitable contributions made abroad, keep receipts detailing the donations and the donee organization’s official charity status documentation (if applicable).
Other Potentially Relevant Documents
  • Foreign Bank Account Statements: Depending on the value of your foreign accounts, you may need to file an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts). Having bank account statements readily available can simplify this process.

  • Foreign Driver’s License/ID: While not directly related to taxes, having a copy of your foreign ID or driver’s license can help verify your residency status in your host country.

  • Proof of Health Insurance: If you’re claiming health insurance benefits as an expat, maintain documentation of your health insurance coverage.

Gathering Records of Income, Expenses, and Taxes Paid Abroad

Many institutions (employers, banks, tax authorities) offer options to download or request documents electronically. This can save time and ensure you have readily accessible copies. You should scan and save digital copies of all your documents for easy organization and reference.

Clearly explain to employers, banks, and other institutions that you need these documents for U.S. tax filing purposes. Gathering all the necessary documentation upfront allows you to streamline the tax filing process for yourself and your tax professional. Remember, this is not an exhaustive list; additional documents might be required depending on your circumstances. 

Consulting with a qualified tax professional specializing in expat tax matters is always recommended to ensure you have everything you need for a smooth and accurate tax filing experience.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Filing as an Expat

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Filing as an Expat

Filing taxes from abroad can come with certain complexities and pitfalls, some of which are shared below. 

Misunderstanding Eligibility for FEIE

Not everyone qualifies for the FEIE. It is important to check whether you pass the physical presence test or the bona fide residence test to avoid filing errors. Further, incorrect calculations and not applying exclusions to the lower of your total foreign earned income or the annual exclusion limit can lead to problems and penalties.

Neglecting to File FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts)

The FBAR filing requirement applies if the combined value of your foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any point during the calendar year. Accounts at U.S. military banks are exceptions to this. The deadline to file your FBAR is typically April 15th of the year following the calendar year you’re reporting. Missing this deadline can lead to unnecessary penalties.

Overlooking Foreign Tax Payments

The foreign tax credit allows you to claim credit for income taxes you already paid to a foreign government. Gather receipts or payment vouchers for foreign taxes paid. Tax treaties between the U.S. and many countries help prevent double taxation on the same income. Research if a treaty exists and understand its provisions to avoid paying taxes twice.

Recordkeeping Issues

Maintain detailed records of your income (foreign W-2 equivalents, self-employment income documentation, investment statements, etc.), foreign tax payments (receipts, tax returns), and deductions/credits (moving expenses, housing costs, education receipts, charitable donation receipts). Having a system for organizing your documents (physical folders or digital files) will save you time and frustration come tax filing time.

Failing to File or Late Filing

Even if you qualify for the FEIE and owe no U.S. income tax, you may still be required to file a U.S. tax return if you meet certain income thresholds. The standard filing deadline for U.S. tax returns is April 15th, with extensions available if needed. Penalties can apply for late filing.

Ignoring State Filing Requirements

Some U.S. states still require you to file a state tax return even if you live abroad. Research your specific state’s residency requirements for expats.

Going Alone with Complexities

Expat tax situations can be intricate. Consulting with a qualified tax professional specializing in expat tax matters can ensure you take advantage of all available deductions and credits, avoid costly mistakes, and navigate the complexities of filing from abroad.

If your residency status, income sources, or tax situation changes throughout the year, be sure to adjust your filing approach accordingly. Also, tax laws and regulations can change, so staying updated on the latest expat tax information is crucial. Reputable tax professional resources or the IRS website can be helpful sources.

By understanding these common pitfalls and taking proactive steps to avoid them, you can file your taxes from abroad with confidence and ensure you’re following all the necessary regulations. Remember, this information is intended for general knowledge only, and consulting with a qualified tax professional is always recommended for personalized tax advice.

Other Reporting Requirements for Expats

Essential Documents Needed for Filing Taxes From Abroad

Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets)

This form reports certain foreign financial assets you hold during the tax year. It’s filed with your regular U.S. tax return. You generally need to file Form 8938 if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets exceeds $50,000 at any point during the year (or $100,000 if filing jointly). 

Specified foreign financial assets can include bank accounts, brokerage accounts, investment accounts, and certain types of retirement accounts held overseas.

Exceptions: If you already reported these assets on other forms like Form 3520 (Foreign Trusts) or Form 5471 (Foreign Corporations), you might not need to file Form 8938 again. However, you still need to identify which forms you filed on Part IV of Form 8938.

Form 5471 (Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations)

This form reports information about certain foreign corporations in which you have an ownership interest (at least 10% of the voting power or value). Generally, U.S. citizens or residents who control (own or have authority over) a foreign corporation must file Form 5471. 

There are exceptions and exemptions based on the corporation’s size and activity level. Form 5471 can be complex, and consulting with a tax professional familiar with international tax matters is often recommended, especially for those with significant ownership in foreign corporations.

Form 3520 (Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts)

This form applies to U.S. persons with certain transactions or receiving gifts from foreign trusts. 

FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR)

As discussed previously, the FBAR reports foreign bank and financial accounts exceeding $10,000 in value at any point during the year.


This is not an exhaustive list, and additional reporting requirements may apply depending on your specific circumstances. Consulting with a qualified tax professional specializing in expat tax matters is crucial to ensure you’re filing all the necessary forms and complying with all IRS regulations.

How Can doola Help?

doola is a one-stop destination for all your tax filing needs worldwide. We offer highly comprehensive plans for the management of taxes, transactions, and online businesses from any part of the world.

Here’s how doola can be your expat tax-filing hero:

  • doola’s resources and tools can help you determine if you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and guide you through the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) filing process. Our user-friendly platform simplifies tax filing for expats. Say goodbye to mountains of paperwork! 
  • doola helps you gather and organize your income documents, foreign tax payments, and other relevant information. You can connect with a network of tax professionals experienced in handling expat tax situations get personalized advice and ensure you’re maximizing deductions and credits you may be eligible for.
  • doola can help you navigate the intricacies of state filing requirements that may apply to you as an expat. doola offers flexible pricing plans to suit your needs, making expert tax filing support accessible.

We understand the challenges of living abroad and offer multilingual support for added convenience.

For more information or to grab a free tax consultation with us please get in touch with our team of experts today!



How can I determine my tax obligations as a US expatriate living abroad?

As a US expat, your tax obligations depend on factors like time spent abroad and income sources. The IRS website and consult with a tax professional can help you determine your filing requirements and potential benefits like the FEIE.

What is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and how can it benefit expats?

The FEIE lets qualifying US expats exclude part of their foreign income from US taxes, reducing their tax burden. To benefit, you typically need to spend significant time outside the US and earn income abroad. 

Why is it important to report foreign bank and financial accounts through FBAR as an expat?

Failing to report your foreign accounts (over $10,000) through FBAR can lead to hefty penalties from the IRS. It helps them track potential tax evasion and money laundering, ensuring you’re following financial reporting regulations.

How can bilateral tax treaties help in avoiding double taxation for US expatriates?

Tax treaties between the US and some countries prevent double taxation on expat income. They split taxing rights or offer reduced rates, ensuring you don’t pay tax twice on the same earnings.

What are the essential documents required for filing US taxes while living abroad, as an expatriate?

The essential documents for filing US taxes as an expat include the following:

  • SSN or ITIN

  • W-2 or 1099 forms, Sche

  • Schedule C for self-employed individuals

  • Form 2555 for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

  • FBAR reporting for foreign financial accounts over $10,000

  • Form 8938 for specified foreign financial assets above certain thresholds

Based on your income and other special cases, you might be required to fill out some other forms. Hence, we recommend checking with an expert or going through the official IRS website thoroughly. 

doola's website is for general information purposes only and doesn't provide official law or tax advice. For tax or legal advice we are happy to connect you to a professional in our network! Please see our terms and privacy policy. Thank you and please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions.

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