Federal Benefits and Obligations
Federal Benefits and Federal Agency Programs and Services for U.S. Citizens Abroad
The federal benefits units in certain U.S. embassies and consulates stand ready to assist you in applying for claims, processing name and address changes, applying for Social Security cards and other services.
Most U.S. citizens who retire or otherwise reside abroad receive their Social Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, Civil Service (Office of Personnel Management), Department of Labor and Railroad Retirement benefits using direct deposit.
Affordable Care Act
U.S. citizens living abroad are generally subject to the same individual shared responsibility provision as U.S. citizens living in the United States. Starting in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have minimum essential coverage (MEC) for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return. However, U.S. citizens or residents living abroad for at least 330 days within a 12 month period are treated as having MEC during those 12 months and thus will not owe a shared responsibility payment for any of those 12 months. Also, U.S. citizens who qualify as a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an entire taxable year are treated as having MEC for that year.
All U.S. citizens are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision as are all permanent residents and all foreign nationals who are in the United States long enough during a calendar year to qualify as resident aliens for tax purposes. Foreign nationals who live in the United States for a short enough period that they do not become resident aliens for federal income tax purposes are not subject to the individual shared responsibility payment even though they may have to file a U.S. income tax return. The IRS has more information available on when a foreign national becomes a resident alien for federal income tax purposes. Learn more here.
For general questions about the Act, see the dedicated ACA website operated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS website includes a link to information about whether U.S. citizens residing abroad are subject to ACA. The Health Insurance Marketplace, sometimes known as the Health Insurance Exchange, is a new way to find quality health coverage. To be eligible for health coverage through the Marketplace, you must live in the United States; must be a U.S. citizen or national (or be lawfully present) and can't be currently incarcerated.
For tax issues related to ACA, see the ACA page within the IRS website. The IRS site provides further links/webpages, depending on whether you are an individual, employer, or other organization. For more information, see the Question and Answer page for Individuals.
You may apply for a Social Security Card for yourself or your children when you are overseas by downloading the application at: Application for a Social Security Card Abroad Form SS-5-FS.
You can apply for SSA retirement benefits and disability benefits on-line at the following site: Your Social Security Payments While You Are Outside the United States.
Medicare is a health insurance program for eligible people who are age 65 or older, or disabled. Medicare generally does not cover health services you get outside the United States. The hospital insurance part of Medicare is available to you if you return to the United States.
Veterans may apply for benefits on-line from overseas using their home computer. The Veterans Online Application (VONAPP) requires that you have one of four specific browsers installed on your computer and a minimum capability of 128-bit encryption. If you do not currently have the correct browser, you can download one for free from the Veterans Benefits website. The Veterans Benefits website will tell you if you need to download encryption software, and they will provide a free download link if this is the case. Please note that the encryption may not work in all countries. Where the (VONAPP) is not available, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can be of assistance.
U.S. embassies and consulates abroad assist the Selective Service System with its registration program abroad. Overseas registrants are encouraged to register with the Selective Service website On-Line Registration. Where on-line registration is not available, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can be of assistance. Current brochures and guidance are also available on the Selective Service website.
Taxes / Internal Revenue Service
U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Resident Aliens are responsible for filing U.S. federal income tax returns while living overseas. The Internal Revenue Service has comprehensive information on how to file from abroad, the regulations and procedures you must follow, and a wide variety of forms and publications to guide you through each step of the process. Answers to many frequently asked questions for those living abroad regarding taxes are available on-line along with the application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. If you are transporting currency or monetary instruments abroad, or back to the United States, you will need to file the appropriate report.
FAQ About Preparing for Tax Season
What Forms May I Need?
- Instructions to Form 1040
- 1116, Foreign Tax Credit
- 2013 Instructions to Form 1116 – 2014 instructions will be available soon, please check for it on www.irs.gov
How Do I Pay My Taxes?
You must pay your taxes in U.S. dollars.
- Direct pay. You can pay online with a direct transfer from your U.S. bank account using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or by a U.S. debit or credit card. You can also pay by phone using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or by a U.S. debit or credit card.
- Foreign wire transfers. If you have a U.S. bank account, you can use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. If you do not have a U.S. bank account, ask whether your financial institution has a U.S. affiliate that can help you make same-day wire transfers.
- Foreign electronic payments.International taxpayers who do not have a U.S. bank account may transfer funds from their foreign bank account directly to the IRS for payment of their tax liabilities.
You also may have to file FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), by June 30, 2015.
Does the IRS Provide Help in Other Languages?
The IRS provides tax information in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Go to www.irs.gov and use the drop down box under “Languages” on the upper right corner to select your language.
Where Can I Get Help?
Contact the International Taxpayer Service Call Center by phone or fax. The International Call Center is open Monday through Friday, from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Eastern Time).
Tel: 267-941-1000 (not toll-free)
You may also contact the IRS office in London, Paris, or Frankfurt. For addresses and telephone numbers, contact my local office internationally.
I Received a Notice from the IRS – What Do I Do?
If you receive a notice from the IRS and need to contact the IRS, call the number listed on the notice or the International Taxpayer Service Call Center (see above).
Where Can I Get More Information?
- For information on the IRS website about international taxpayers, see this page.
- For general information about international taxpayers, see Publication 54, “Taxation of U.S. Citizens and Residents Abroad.”
- For information on the Affordable Care Act and taxpayers outside the United States, see Publication 5187, “Health Care Law.”
I Haven’t Filed All My Tax Returns – What Can I Do?
If you have not filed all the returns required of you and want to catch up on your filing obligations, see this announcement: IRS makes changes to offshore-programs.
Other IRS Issues
Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) provisions of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act of 2010 (HIRE Act) were enacted on March 18, 2010, in order to address concerns with tax evasion by U.S. citizens using offshore accounts. FATCA generally requires a foreign financial institution (FFI) to enter into an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to report information about certain accounts held by U.S. persons or foreign entities owned by U.S. persons.
We have heard reports from U.S. citizens and businesses overseas that they are concerned about the impact that FATCA will have on their ability to receive banking services. Unfortunately, we have seen some U.S. citizens erroneously denied bank accounts or being forced to close existing accounts. Our Embassies are actively reaching out to foreign financial institutions to dispel myths on FATCA and to assist U.S. citizens overseas who may be impacted by misconceptions about FATCA requirements.
On July 19, 2013, the IRS launched a redesigned and updated web page to help individuals, financial institutions and foreign governments comply with the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act. In addition, information is available at the Department of Treasury FATCA website.
Combating Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Federal Tax Administration
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is responsible for oversight of IRS activities and for maintaining integrity in the U.S. Federal tax system. Fraud, waste, and abuse in Federal tax administration are unfair to all U.S. taxpayers and can take a variety of forms. TIGTA's oversight includes targeted audits, programmatic inspections and evaluations, and both criminal and administrative investigations of potential fraud, waste, and abuse. Some examples that should be reported are attempts by taxpayers to bribe IRS personnel, assaults or threats by taxpayers against IRS employees or facilities, and theft of IRS tax remittances. In addition, many other actions fall in this category such as the impersonation of the IRS organization or IRS personnel in schemes involving the Internet or the mail to obtain personal financial information, IRS employees who misuse their position for personal gain, outside contractors defrauding the IRS through false claims, deceptive contract methods, and other fraud circumstances that could impede or hinder compliance with Federal tax laws and regulations; and, apparent abuses of taxpayer protection and rights.
Please report any information that you may have related to potential fraud, waste, and abuse to the TIGTA Hotline.
Other Federal Agencies
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website provides information for travelers, details about importing and exporting goods, and guidelines on bringing food, plant, and animal products into the United States.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides general information about infectious diseases endemic to every country and region in the world. The website also provides health and disease information for each country in order for travelers to protect their health while abroad.
U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries, terrorism sponsoring organizations and international narcotics traffickers based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. OFAC acts under Presidential wartime and national emergency powers, as well as authority granted by specific legislation, to impose controls on transactions and freeze foreign assets under U.S. jurisdiction. Many of the sanctions are based on United Nations and other international mandates, are multilateral in scope, and involve close cooperation with allied governments. Basic OFAC Information for Industry Groups are available on the website for your reference.
Important websites for Federal Benefits and Federal Agency Services
- Social Security
- Veterans Benefits and Services
- Combating Fraud, Waste and Abuse in Federal Tax Administration
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control
- U.S. Census Bureau
- Voting Assistance Program
- Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)