Do I Have to File if I Live Outside the U.S.?

Yes, you do. If you earn income and live abroad, you will have to file a return every year. You will need to report all income earned worldwide if the income meets the minimum income filing requirements for filing status and age (which are the same requirements whether or not you are living in the United States).

Following is a table outlining the 2008 IRS income/status/age requirements for filing:

If your filing status is… And at the end of 2008 you were…* Then file a return if your gross income was at least…**
Single Under 65 $8,950
65 or older $10,300
Married filing jointly*** Under 65 (both spouses) $17,900
65 or older (one spouse) $18,950
65 or older (both spouses) $20,000
Married filing separately Any age $3,500
Head of household Under 65 $11,500
65 or older $12,850
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child Under 65 $14,400
65 or older $15,450

* If you were born on January 1, 1944, you are considered to be age 65 for purposes of filing a 2008 tax return.

** Gross income is all income you received in money, property and services not otherwise exempt from tax, including income from sources outside of the United States. Gross income does not include social security benefits unless you were married, filing a separate return, and living with your spouse at any time in 2008, or one-half of your social security benefits plus your other gross income is more than $25,000 ($32,000 for joint filers).

*** If you did not live with your spouse in 2008 (or on the date he or she died), and your gross income was at least $3,500, then you will need to file return regardless of your age.

For purposes of determining whether or not you need to file, include any income that you might otherwise exclude under the foreign earned income exclusion and/or housing deduction and exclusion (see below). If you are self-employed, gross income also includes Profit or Loss from Business on Schedule C of Form 1040 (or Net Profit from Business on Schedule C-EZ).

You can download all IRS tax forms from the internet.

You may substantially reduce your tax liability if you qualify for a foreign earned income exclusion and/or housing deduction and exclusion. As of tax year 2008, the maximum exclusion amount for foreign earned income is $87,600. The amount you may exclude or deduct for housing expenses depends on your circumstances. Qualifying information is published in Chapter 4, IRS Publication 54.

If you plan to use the exclusions and deductions described above, you will need to file Form 2555 (and use Form 2555 Instructions) or Form 2555-EZ (and use Form 2555-EZ Instructions). Use Form 2555-EZ if you are only planning on using the foreign earned income exclusion. If you plan to use both the earned income and housing exclusions/deductions, use Form 2555.

Don’t forget about taxes in the country where you live. Some countries will credit you for taxes you pay to the IRS, others may not. If you do pay taxes in the country where you live, do not claim those taxes on your U.S. tax return as federal income tax withheld. You may, however, claim the amount as a foreign tax credit or foreign tax deduction. Check out Chapter 5, Taxes of Foreign Countries and U.S. Possessions for more information.

If you have questions, you can contact the IRS in the following ways:

    • Phone: 1-800-829-1040 –this is the national hotline. Expect it to be very busy as tax deadline day looms closer


If you need forms and cannot download them, you can call 1-800-829-3676, or write to the National Distribution Center at P.O. Box 8903, Bloomington, IL 61702-8903.

Learn more about federal income taxes and the law at To find a tax attorney, go to

To learn more about taxes and the IRS, see the following articles:

The Free Advice Guide for Filing Your 2008 Tax Return
Filing Your 2008 Tax Return: Bring on the Paperwork
When You Have to File Your Tax Return Late
When You Need to Pay Your Income Tax Late
What Will It Cost Me to Get My Money Early?