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Filing Taxes When Married to a Non-U.S. Citizen

Filing Taxes When Married to a Non-U.S. Citizen

Marriage can introduce complexity when it comes to filing taxes. When you’re married to a non-U.S. citizen, your tax situation may require additional consideration. In this article, we’ll explore the key factors to consider and offer guidance on how to navigate the U.S. tax system as a couple with mixed citizenship. 

Determine Your Filing Status 

The first step in filing taxes as a couple with a non-U.S. citizen spouse is to determine your filing status. Typically, the IRS does not allow you to file single if you are married. However, the rules can vary when married to a nonresident alien. You have three filing status options when married to a non-U.S. citizen. 

Married Filing Separately 

Like other married couples, you have the option of filing separately. However, this does come with the same missed opportunities that lie with filing jointly. For example, you won’t be able to claim certain tax credits and deductions. In addition, the tax brackets are not as advantageous as those associated with a joint return. Unfortunately, this may be the only option for some couples. 

Married Filing Jointly 

The IRS does not allow you to file a joint return with your non-resident spouse unless you make an election to treat your spouse as a U.S. resident for tax purposes. This begins with your spouse obtaining an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) if they are unable to get a Social Security Number (SSN).  

In most cases, married filing jointly is the more advantageous choice, as it often leads to lower tax liability and more tax benefits. However, it does come with additional responsibilities. For example, you will need to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) as well as IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets. These forms help give the IRS a full picture of your combined foreign assets.  

Head of Household 

One option most married couples don’t have is to file as head of household instead of one of the married statuses. However, you can only do this if you opt to not treat your nonresident spouse as a U.S. resident for tax purposes. You must pay more than half the cost of maintaining your household for qualified dependents (not including your spouse). Finally, your dependent must have a valid SSN or ITIN. If you can achieve this status, it might be most beneficial as it will come with lower tax rates and better deductions.  

Consider the Foreign Tax Credit 

In some cases, your non-U.S. citizen spouse may be subject to double taxation—having to pay taxes in both the U.S. and their home country. To mitigate this issue, you can explore the Foreign Tax Credit. This credit allows you to offset U.S. tax liability with taxes paid to a foreign country. To claim the Foreign Tax Credit, you typically need to complete IRS Form 1116 (for individuals) or IRS Form 1118 (for corporations). You must provide documentation to prove the foreign taxes paid, such as foreign tax returns and receipts. Consult with a tax professional to determine if this credit applies to your situation. 

Report Foreign Income and Assets 

When you file jointly, both you and your non-U.S. citizen spouse are required to report your foreign income to the IRS. This includes income earned both inside and outside the United States. Accurate reporting is essential, as failing to do so can lead to penalties. The IRS requires U.S. citizens and residents to report foreign financial accounts and assets if their aggregate value exceeds certain thresholds. While this mainly applies to U.S. citizens, it’s essential for non-U.S. citizen spouses to be aware of these reporting requirements if they have ownership in foreign assets. 

Consult a Tax Professional 

Navigating the U.S. tax system when married to a non-U.S. citizen can be complex and challenging. To ensure compliance and optimize your tax situation, it’s highly recommended to consult with a qualified tax professional who specializes in international taxation. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, ensuring that you don’t miss out on valuable deductions and credits while remaining compliant with U.S. tax laws. 


Filing taxes when married to a non-U.S. citizen can be a nuanced process, but with careful consideration, proper documentation, and the guidance of a tax professional, you can manage your tax obligations effectively. Remember that tax laws and regulations can change, so it’s essential to stay informed and up to date on any updates that may affect your unique situation. By doing so, you can navigate the U.S. tax system as a mixed-citizenship couple with confidence and peace of mind. Optima Tax Relief is the nation’s leading tax resolution firm with over $1 billion in resolved tax liabilities. 

If You Need Tax Help, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation 

How to Report Foreign Income

how to report foreign income

Did you know that foreign income is still taxed by the United States? Millions of Americans who earn money abroad or plan to earn money abroad should be aware of their tax obligations. The United States is currently one of the only countries in the world that taxes based on citizenship, and not residency. However, there are some exclusions and foreign tax credits that can reduce your tax liability. Overall, reporting foreign income can be tricky. Here’s an overview of how to report foreign income at tax time

What is Foreign Income? 

First, let’s clearly define foreign income. Foreign income is any income you receive overseas. This can include the following:  

  • Foreign wages: Foreign wages are wages paid to you for services rendered or goods sold. This can mean being employed by a foreign company or being self-employed but working abroad. 
  • Foreign interest and dividends: Foreign interest is money earned through foreign bank accounts. Foreign dividends are payouts from foreign-earned stocks.  
  • Foreign real estate: Foreign rental income is income earned on a property you rent out located in a foreign country. Alternatively, if you sell a property that is located outside the United States, you’ll need to report the gains or losses on the sale during tax season.   

How Do I Report Foreign Income on My U.S. Tax Return? 

If you earned foreign income, you would need to report it on Form 1040 when filing your tax return. You may also need to file other tax forms depending on what type of income you earned. For example, if you earned foreign interest and dividends, you’d report these on Schedule B of Form 1040. Foreign business income is reported on Schedule C. Most capital gains are reported on Schedule D. Rental property income is reported on page 1 of Schedule E. However, in more complicated tax situations, there could be additional forms to file, like Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets or Form 114, Report of Bank and Financial Accounts. In any case, you should speak to a qualified tax preparer about which forms your specific tax situation requires.  

What is the Foreign Tax Credit? 

Some taxpayers might worry about paying taxes twice on the same income. The Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) is one of two safeguards that help American taxpayers avoid this issue. This credit allows American expats, or U.S. citizens who live abroad, to offset foreign taxes paid abroad dollar-for-dollar. For example, if you’re an American expat who paid income taxes to the foreign country where you reside, the FTC gives you a tax credit to use on your U.S. income tax return.


To claim this credit, you must be the following requirements: 

  1. The tax must be imposed on you. This basically means that if your resident country does not require income taxes to be paid, you do not qualify for the FTC.  
  2. You must be the one who paid or accrued the tax. This means if you have not paid the tax or accrued it, you do not qualify for the FTC.  
  3. The tax must be the legal and actual foreign tax liability. This means that if the tax is not legal, and you are not required to pay it, you do not qualify for the FTC. 
  4. The tax must be an income tax. This means that if the tax is another type of tax besides income tax, you do not qualify for the FTC. The IRS has specific rules on what they deem to be a foreign income tax. Be sure to check with your tax preparer for clarification. 

How to Calculate the Foreign Tax Credit

Calculating your maximum FTC can be tricky, but essentially you can divide your foreign taxable income by your total taxable income (including U.S. income). Then take this quotient and multiply it by your U.S. tax liability. For example, if you earned $50,000 in Spain and another $10,000 in U.S. income, you’d have a total taxable income of $60,000. Let’s also assume you had a U.S. tax liability of $12,000. You would take your foreign income of $50,000 and divide it by your total taxable income of $60,000 to get 0.83. You would then multiply 0.83 by your U.S. tax liability of $12,000 to get your maximum FTC of $10,000.  

Additionally, the FTC can carry over to the next tax year or carry back to a previous tax year. Unused FTC amounts can be carried over for up to 10 years. Taxpayers can claim the FTC by filing Form 1116.  

What is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion? 

The other safeguard that helps American taxpayers avoid paying taxes twice on the same income is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). The FEIE allows you to exclude all or some of your foreign earned income on your U.S. tax return, including salaries, wages, bonuses, commissions, and self-employment income. It does not include passive or investment income. The FEIE is available to U.S. expats who meet one of the following requirements: 

  • Work outside the United States as an employee 
  • Work outside the United States in a self-employed or partnership structure 
  • Pass the Bona Fide Residency Test. This requires being overseas for work for longer than one year and having a permanent place of work in the foreign country. 
  • Pass the Physical Presence Test. This requires living outside the United States for 330 full days out of the year.  

U.S. taxpayers must use Form 2555 to claim the FEIE and can exclude up to $120,000 of foreign income for the 2023 tax year. The amount is due to increase to $126,500 for tax year 2024. Married couples filing jointly can exclude up to $240,000 as long as both spouses meet either the bona fide residency test or the physical presence test.  

Help Reporting Foreign Income 

Reporting foreign income can get complicated very fast. While this article covers several topics related to foreign income, it really is just the tip of the iceberg and applies to most simple tax situations. American taxpayers who live in the country, as well as expats, who earn foreign income should seek best practices regarding foreign income from reliable and knowledgeable tax professionals. If you need tax help, Optima can assist.  

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