The US is one of the few countries in the world that applies its tax laws to citizens overseas. If you’re a US national, you have the same tax filing requirements whether you live in the US or abroad. Moving abroad does not exempt a U.S. citizen from having to file a tax return, even if they made 100% of their income in another country.
As a US citizen, Tax time is a stressful period, and it can be doubly so for U.S. taxpayers living abroad. As though the process of filing your U.S. taxes isn’t complicated enough, doing so from abroad likely means having to submit a greater number of forms to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Even when you know exactly what to file, however, ensuring that your submissions are free of mistakes and that they get to the right offices can be tough when you’re located half a world away, which is why it might be a good idea to retain the services of an international tax specialist with experience helping U.S. expats living abroad. However, If you want to do that yourself – with some planning and organization, filing your documents can be easier.
So to help you, we’ve put together a detailed list of the most important tips that you should keep in mind while mailing your tax returns from abroad. Before jumping to the tips, let’s discuss what forms do you need and where to mail them.
What forms do I need to file?
One of the first and obvious questions most expats have when it comes to mailing their tax returns is what forms they’ll need to fill out to fully comply with the expectations and regulations of the IRS.
So here is the detailed answer:
U.S. expats filing a tax return will need to turn in either IRS Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors.
Because most expats have bank accounts in other countries, many have to meet certain reporting requirements in addition to the standard income tax return when filing their U.S. taxes from abroad. The two most important of these are the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) or IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets – part of the requirements for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).
The second report, IRS Form 8938, is required for those taxpayers who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign financial assets. Any expat filing individually who has more than $200,000 in assets at the end of the year or more than $300,000 in assets at any point during the year must file this form; for married expats filing together, these thresholds are doubled.
Depending on other factors, taxpayers filing from abroad will likely want to submit additional forms as well, especially if they want to exclude their foreign earned income from taxation (IRS Form 2555) or claim a foreign tax credit (IRS Form 1116). A qualified international tax specialist can help you determine what submissions are required in your case.
Where to mail your tax return?
If you are a U.S. citizen or resident from the United States, you lived in a foreign country during the Tax Year, you need to mail your return to the following address:
Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, TX 73301-0215
In case you are expecting a tax refund, you can request to have your refund directly deposited into a U.S. bank account or have the IRS send a check to the mailing address on your tax return.
If you are including an estimated tax payment with your mailed tax return, you should mail your estimated tax payments, along with Form 1040-ES, to the following address:
Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 1303
Charlotte, NC 28201-1303
Taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) within a specified tax period can electronically file their tax return for free using Free File. Taxpayers with an AGI greater than the specified threshold can either use the Free File Fillable Forms or e-file by purchasing commercial software. A limited number of companies provide software that can accommodate foreign addresses. Don’t forget that all figures need to be provided in US dollars ($). Be aware of exchange rates between currencies.
Tips for mailing your tax returns
1. Mail as early as possible
Firstly, We recommend that you prepare and mail your tax documents as soon as possible. By preparing your tax documents today you can ensure that you receive your tax refund without delay.
As you will be mailing your documents to the IRS from outside America, delivery times may take longer than what you would expect if you were mailing from within the US. This is why it’s a good idea to file your documents as soon as possible to ensure they reach the tax office on time. Give yourself plenty of time to locate everything you will need in order to prepare your documents.
2. Use a secure method to mail your return
Always use a secure method when you’re sending returns and other documents to the IRS. It will provide confirmation that the IRS has actually received your documents or payment.
In addition to addressing it correctly and using sufficient postage, be sure the envelope is postmarked no later than the date your return is due. If you use registered mail, the date of the registration is the postmark date; if you use certified mail, the date stamped on the receipt is the postmark date. If you use an IRS-approved private carrier (discussed below), make sure the return is sent out no later than the date due.
You can send your tax return or payment using the U.S. Postal Service if you’re mailing from inside the U.S., but consider using a private delivery service otherwise, especially if you want proof that your tax return was sent on time.
You can use one of the approved private delivery services such as FedEx, UPS, or DHL Express. These companies have operations all over the world, but must use one of the approved classes of service for each carrier:
- Use Priority Overnight Standard Overnight, 2 Day, International Priority, International First, First Overnight, International First Next Flight Out, or International Economy
- Use Next Day Air, Next Day Air Saver, 2nd Day Air, 2nd Day Air A.M., Worldwide Express Plus, Worldwide Express, or Next Day Air Early AM
- Use DHL Express, DHL Express Worldwide, DHL Express Envelope, DHL Import Express, or Import Express Worldwide
The IRS will accept the “sent one” date on envelopes sent using an approved carrier just as it does with U.S. mail.
3. Secure proof of mailing
For added peace of mind, you can buy a Certificate of Mailing at the Post Office. A Certificate of Mailing is a proof of mailing receipt that proves you mailed your tax return on a certain date. After you send your taxes, keep your receipt in a safe place. Most postal services do not keep copies of receipts. If your return is delayed or lost, the postmark may not be available, but your Certificate of Mailing receipt will prove that you mailed your return on time.
4. This is how prepare your tax return for mailing
Your tax return is complete and ready to be mailed. Before sealing that envelope, take a few minutes to make certain that all information is complete and accurate. Avoid mistakes that may delay your refund or result in correspondence with the IRS. Here are just a few items to complete prior to mailing your tax return:
- Sign your return. Your federal tax return is not considered valid unless it is signed. If you are filing a joint return, your spouse must also sign.
- Provide a daytime active phone number. This may help speed the processing of your return if the IRS has questions about items on your return. If you are filing a joint return, you may provide daytime phone numbers for either you or your spouse.
- Assemble any schedules and forms behind your Form 1040/1040A in the order of the “Attachment Sequence No.” shown in the upper right-hand corner of the schedule or form. For supporting statements, arrange them in the same order as the schedules or forms they support and attach them last.
- If you owe tax, make your check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury.” Write your name, address, Social Security number, an active telephone number, and “2000 Form 1040” (or appropriate form number) on your payment. Then complete Form 1040-V following the instructions on that form and enclose it in the envelope with your payment. Do not attach the payment to your return.
5. Keep your US bank account open
You can choose to receive your tax refund either as a bank transfer, check or forward the amount to your 2021 return. However, every year countless nonresidents who file their tax documents from outside the US experience difficulties in accessing their tax refunds.
There are two common reasons for this.
- Firstly, the IRS does not transfer tax refunds into overseas bank accounts.
- Secondly, if you receive your refund as a check, you may find that banks in your home country will not cash them.
By keeping your US bank account open after you leave you can ensure you have fast access to your tax refund after you file your return!
Filing from outside the US can pose its own unique set of challenges. But, with some planning, organization, and a little help from expat tax specialist, filing your documents can be easier than you think!