Last Updated on February 13, 2022
How do you file a US tax return when your spouse lives overseas? I was asked this question by a reader the other day and I thought I would try my best to answer it in its own post! If you’re going through the USA spouse visa process, the chances are because of how long it takes, there’ll be a time when you need to file taxes when your husband or wife still isn’t living in the country. My reader was concerned about how the NVC (National Visa Centre) would view their marriage by the way they filed and if they’d need to apply for an ITIN number. This is how we filed ours in 2016 for the 2015 tax year and how we managed to satisfy both of these queries.
DISCLOSURE: I AM NOT A TAX PROFESSIONAL. This is based purely on my experience.
Filing a US Tax Return When Your Spouse is a Non Resident
We got married in the UK, September 2015. I stayed in the UK. My husband returned to the USA to work. It was nearly a whole year before I could finally join him in the States but taxes needed to be filed early 2016.
My American Husband filed as:
Married filing separately
Even though the spouse isn’t living in the country, if you’re married you HAVE to file separately! You do have 2 choices however. To file jointly or separately. If you file jointly, the foreign national spouse has to apply for an ITIN number. Now what with the whole visa process, applying for an ITIN number just adds to all the stress, plus I discovered this option too late. As a Brit, tax returns aren’t something we normally have to even consider.
Filing separately means you won’t get to qualify for the marriage deductions. For a single sponsor this can potentially mean that instead of being in the 30% tax bracket, they could well be pushed into the lower 15% tax bracket, therefore getting a nice tax rebate. For the sake of my sanity during the visa process, an extra year being in the 30% bracket would have to do.
When filling out the taxes as Married Filing Separately, in the box that says spouses SSN/ITIN number, write NRA (Non Resident Alien).
His return was accepted, he received his usual little tax rebate a few weeks later and they were happy with the fact that I was in fact still living overseas and receiving no US income.
What will the NVC think of the marriage in relation to the tax return?
If you choose to file married and jointly, brilliant. The NVC are likely to be happy bunnies.
If you choose to file married and separately, like us, the NVC were happy that we were in fact married for the real reasons. Because:
- On the 2014 tax return my husband filed as Single. They will be able to see this on the transcripts they receive as part for the AOS pack.
- On the 2015 tax return, the year everywhere on our visa application says we got married, he did in fact file as being married. So in the NVC’s eyes, the dates all match up on another official government document.
- His spouse, me, was listed as a Non Resident Alien. Again, keeping the NVC happy because I shouldn’t be in the country earning any sneaky money when I haven’t yet been granted permission to live and work in the US. Non Resident…yep, I match up with my application forms, saying that I live overseas in the UK.
Please remember I am not a tax or immigration expert, this was my experience of the process during 2016 and it was accepted in our case. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!