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How To File Taxes When Marrying A Non-U.S. Citizen

4 min read

4 min read

Imagine you are interning at a museum in Paris. Love is in the air. During one of the exhibits you spent countless hours assembling, you meet a charming Parisian artist and fall in love. So when the museum offers you a full-time position, you eagerly accept. A year later, that charming artist drops to one knee and asks you to get married. Before you know it, you are happily married and living in Paris!

married couple expat

While not every union is that romantic, there are always tax implications to consider when marrying a non-U.S. citizen.

The choice of a tax filing status should be made carefully, as it ultimately can affect not only your tax rates, but also which additional deductions you may be able to claim. The right decision could be the difference between a honeymoon spent in a mosquito-ridden shanty and one spent at a five star resort.

Marrying or Married to a Non-Resident Alien? Filing Status Information

The IRS defers to state or foreign law to determine whether you have a valid marriage. In most cases, a marriage in a foreign country is valid for U.S. tax purposes.

“Can I File Single if Married to Non-Resident Alien?”

Generally, no, you can’t file single if you’re married to a non-resident alien. Married individuals are not allowed to file under the single filing status, and when you are married to a non-resident alien (referred to as a nonresident spouse), you are also unable to file a joint return unless a separate election is made to do so.

Here are the options when you are married to a non-U.S. citizen. You should consider the options carefully, as each will have a different effect on your tax and reporting requirements.

1 – Filing Married Filing Separately

The default filing status for a U.S. citizen married to a nonresident alien spouse is Married Filing Separately (MFS). While the MFS filing status does not pose any additional hurdles for getting your return easily filed, it does come at a cost.

The biggest downsides to married filing separately for a resident or U.S. citizen spouse is the loss of some potential tax credits and deductions, and overall higher tax rates. If you are married to a nonresident spouse and do not have any dependents to claim, this may be the only filing status available to you.

2 – Filing Head of Household

The more beneficial option available if you do have a dependent is to file using the Head of Household filing status. To file as Head of Household, you must have a qualifying person for head of household purposes and meet the tests to use Head of Household status.

In order to use this filing status, you must:

  • Be considered unmarried, and
  • Maintain as your home a household for the qualifying person for more than half of the year, or
  • Maintain a home for your parent you can claim as a dependent. Your parent does not have to live with you.

You cannot claim your spouse who lives overseas as a dependent, but you can claim other people who are U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or U.S. residents, or residents of Canada or Mexico. The qualifying person must meet all the rules or Head of Household status is unavailable.

In many cases, this is the most beneficial status available when you are married to a nonresident spouse because it is accompanied by lower tax rates and additional deductions. Just remember, this status also requires your dependent to have a valid social security number or ITIN.

3 – Filing Married Filing Jointly

The final option is to make an election to treat your nonresident spouse as a U.S. resident for tax purposes. Making this election allows you and your spouse to file a Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) tax return. Filing MFJ will allow you both to take advantage of lower tax rates and deductions that are otherwise not available to MFS filers. However, it will also subject your spouse’s entire income to U.S. taxation and possibly subject your spouse to other informational reporting requirements. FBAR and Form 8938 filing is required if you file MFJ.

Practically speaking, this status is most beneficial if your spouse does not earn any income or otherwise have any accounts or investments that may cause negative tax consequences from the U.S. side.

One additional hurdle for choosing this option will be the requirement for your spouse to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) if they’re not eligible for a Social Security number. So, both spouses need to have either an SSN or ITIN. (Applying for an ITIN requires you to gather additional documentation that must be sent to the IRS. It could also cause delays in the processing of your return.)

Marrying a Non-U.S. Citizen? Get Help

Hopefully, questions like “Can I claim my wife who lives overseas?” and other tricky tax questions about marrying a non-U.S. citizen are answered in this post. But, before you file your return, discuss the best filing status for your particular situation with a tax advisor. The experts at H&R Block Expat Tax Services can assist you with this decision. To set up a free consultation, please visit www.hrblock.com/expats.

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