All US citizens and permanent residents must file federal income tax returns if they meet the IRS filing threshold. The amount of this threshold will vary depending on factors such as age, filing status, and type of income (i.e., income from employment or self-employment). For example, a single individual under the age of 65 would be required to file a 2019 US federal tax return if their gross income exceeded $12,200. If the earnings came from self-employment, this same person would need to file a US federal tax return if their net earnings exceeded $400.
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US citizens and permanent residents working outside the United States generally are still required to file annual US tax returns, and the IRS is constantly updating its technology to better locate those non-filing taxpayers and bring them into compliance. However, in addition to increasing its enforcement capabilities, the IRS has also taken steps to encourage non-filers to come into compliance by waiving penalties for those taxpayers eligible to take advantage of the streamlined offshore compliance procedures.
When they are working outside the United States, most US citizens and permanent residents (i.e., green card holders) will be required to file income tax returns in both their Host country and in the United States. Filing two sets of returns can be a headache for the taxpayer, but it does not necessarily mean that they will be taxed twice on the income earned while working abroad.
It may seem counterintuitive to a US citizen or permanent resident (i.e., a green card holder) who has just taken a new international job, that most will still be required to file US federal income tax returns after relocating. In addition to filing income tax returns, mobile employees may also have other filing obligations including estate or gift tax returns, estimated tax payments, and foreign bank account reports.
A mobile employee moving from their Home country to an overseas location usually discovers fairly quickly that their tax situation has become far more complex as a result of the move. If the employee is moving from a low-tax location to a country with a high income tax, that employee may be facing a major increase in tax liability as a result of the move. Additionally, the mobile employee may encounter tax issues related to the sale or rental of their home, moving expenses for state reporting purposes, state residency issues, and a number of other issues they may not be prepared to handle on their own.