How to File a US Tax Return When Your Spouse is a Non Resident

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

Background Info.

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!

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How to File a US Tax Return When Your Spouse is a Non Resident

2 thoughts on “How to File a US Tax Return When Your Spouse is a Non Resident

  1. LOL I remember you asking me this same question. I was told by the chap at the IRS you only need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number if you wanted to file jointly, i.e. if you both have US income to declare. So if you are living in England your US spouse files as married filing separately, using NRA and you just don’t file (because you have no US income to declare) and that worked for us.
    Last year was a bit more complicated for us as I had to file in the UK, where I jointly own some land with my sisters and pay taxes to the UK for rent received, but didn’t earn anything in the USA at that point and moving here coincided with the end of the UK tax year, so I got some money back from them. I had to draw a chart of what happened when in terms of working out which tax year it fit in for each country!! Then we filed jointly in the US.
    This year I will have to file my US taxes declaring all my income, including UK bank interest and rent, I then I have file my UK taxes declaring the same, but asking for relief from taxes as I have paid in the US and there is a reciprocal agreement between the two countries. I am NOT looking forward to it 🙁

    The IRS website is a godsend. This is what they say about the ITIN:

    Do I need an ITIN?
    Does the following apply to you?

    You do not have an SSN and are not eligible to obtain one, and
    You have a requirement to furnish a federal tax identification number or file a federal tax return, and
    You are in one of the following categories.
    Nonresident alien who is required to file a U.S. tax return
    U.S. resident alien who is (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return
    Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien
    Dependent or spouse of a nonresident alien visa holder
    Nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit
    Nonresident alien student, professor or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exception

    If so, then you must apply for an ITIN.

    1. 😮 that is CRAZY!!! I guess there are lots of people that aren’t completely cut off from the UK. I put my UK bank into my Mum’s name but the bank said if it was one that made interested and they knew I was living overseas, that they would shut it down!

      I’m already dreading next years (as in a whole year away) because I’m hoping by the end of next year I’m making enough on my blog that I’ll have to pay tax (well I don’t want to pay it but I’m going to have to declare it!)

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