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Stress-Free Expat Returns: How to Gather All Tax Documents You Need

Stress-Free Expat Returns: How to Gather All Tax Documents You Need

We are now a month away from the US tax deadline.  In order to make this year’s US expat tax return go as smoothly as possible, you may want to start planning for your taxes now.  Although the tax filing deadline for US Expats is 3 months away, the best time to begin gathering and organizing your tax documents is now.  By getting the ball rolling as early as possible, you can avoid the pitfalls of unforeseen problems, get yourUS expat tax return filed early, and avoid the stress of having to complete all the necessary steps at once.  Another benefit to gathering tax documentation early is that you have more time and presence of mind to back up all of your most important tax documents and make or request necessary copies for the future.

In order to help you take the necessary steps to prepare yourself for this year’s US expat tax return with as little stress as possible, we have included some best practices for backing up all of your tax documentation and we’ve provided a list of documents which will be necessary to file a US expat tax return in its entirety.  Some of these documents include 1099’s, W-2’s, previous years’ expat tax returns, mortgage interest documents, and a variety of other documents which will be outlined later in this article.

Best Practices for Backing Up Vital Expat Tax Documentation

While you’re working on compiling all of your expat tax documents, you should also be working on saving each document in a safe location.  The safest and most effective method of saving tax documents is in a digital format.  If saved digitally and stored in a safe location, you can avoid losing your most important tax documents in the event of a fire, natural disaster, or another unforeseen tragedy. 

The first step in storing your tax documents electronically is to scan them to a computer.  Once you’ve scanned each document you will then be able to save it to a disc, thumb drive, or external hard drive.  Having your documents saved in this manner will enable you to view them quickly and conveniently.  Additionally, you will be able to share the documents more easily with the tax professional helping you file your US expat tax return.  Imagine how much easier and more cost effective it is to email a series of tax documents or hand over a disc rather than shipping a bunch of hard copies or handing over a big pile of paperwork.

Once you’ve made digital copies of your most important expat tax documents and you’ve gotten them all scanned and saved, make sure to take the time to make another backup.  The one back up you have can be used in your home or office so you always have quick and convenient access, but what happens if your computer is destroyed in some sort of unforeseen disaster or you all of the sudden need to evacuate your home (which is always a possibility when you’re living in a remote part of the world)?  In order to avoid losing your tax documents in this manner, you can keep your second back up in a secure location such as a safe deposit box.

Gathering Expat Tax Documents

If in previous years you’ve been less than diligent in saving your tax documents or – as a result of international correspondence – you seem to be missing important documents, there are ways of obtaining such documents.  If, for example, you need information on previous year’s returns, the IRS makes it easy to order such transcripts.  You can request free tax transcripts for up to 3 years of previous returns from the IRS.  It’s important to remember, however, that these transcripts only reflect information (including attached forms and schedules) of how your return was originally filed; if there were any changes made to your return once it was filed, those changes will not be reflected.  If you want to order a copy of the actual return including all changes, the IRS makes this possible, too, but it’s not free.  Each year of copies will cost you right at $60. 

Other missing forms could include W-2’s, W-9’s, qualifying donations, mortgage interest documentation, and other forms.  If you are missing a W-2 or W-9, you should contact the company or individual for which you performed services.  Any bank information such as mortgage interest should be obtainable from the financial institution which carries your loan.  The same is true for the institution to which you made a qualifying donation or you can use credit card statements (if the donation was made with a credit card).  Just keep in mind that every tax document originated somewhere and it should still be available at its place of origination.  By starting the process early, you can take the time to request any additional information you need in order to file your US expat tax return appropriately without additional stress.

List of Tax Documents needed for tax return

  • Copy of previous year’s US expat tax return
  • Documents containing wage and withholding information such as 1099, W-2, P45, P60, and forms similar to these from your employer(s)
  • Mortgage interest paid throughout the year on Form 1098 (in the US)
  • Dividends, interest, and capital gains earned
  • Distributions from annuities, IRA, pensions, or other retirement accounts
  • Social security benefits such as SSA-1099 (in the US)
  • Bank statements
  • Insurance policies
  • Medical bills
  • Birth certificate and other documentation relating to citizenship or residency (both in the US and your host country)
  • If you had self-employment income, you should have a statement or balance sheet demonstrating how much income you earned in the current tax year.
  • If you had any additional income from sources like rental property or other profit-bearing assets, you should include a statement or balance sheet of such profit and losses.

If you have questions about the tax documents you should be gathering, make sure to contact a professional here at Taxes for Expats.  Also, if you need help filing your US expat tax return, keep in mind that we charge a flat and affordable rate for US expat tax preparation.

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX