The United States has passed a coronavirus economic stimulus plan to help offset the economic hardship felt by many during the current outbreak known as the economic impact payment. But do US citizens living abroad get the Covid-19 stimulus check? The answer is yes, read on to find out more about how to claim your 2020 economic stimulus payment if you live overseas.
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*Last Update: May 8, 2020 – The IRS has begun to direct deposit economic stimulus payments for people who have their bank information on file. The portal to register your bank account if they do not have it on file is now up, but it appears many people, expats and non expats alike have been getting error messages, possibly due to glitches.
Great news! The Get Your Payment Portal now seems to be working for everyone with a foreign address. I managed to get mine to go through yesterday May 7, and have gotten a number of comments below from others that they are now also able to successfully register, although it appears the IRS has already mailed many of the checks (including in my case).
I will do my best to keep this as up to date as possible as more details come out about how expats can get the Covid-19 economic stimulus. Also, please note that I am not an accountant or finance professional and nothing below should be considered financial advice.
Economic Stimulus for Americans Living Overseas
Officially called the Economic Impact Payment or Recovery Rebate, the United States will soon be distributing $1,200 to most US citizens, including an additional $500 for each dependent child aged 16 or less.
But does the Covid-19 stimulus include US citizens living abroad?
Do Americans that live overseas qualify for the Coronavirus stimulus?
So, there was originally discussion of including minimum taxable income limits or excluding those who claimed the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion from the payments, which would have impacted if US citizens abroad qualify for the stimulus.
However, there are no minimum income requirements, taxable or otherwise, and no mention of any restrictions on the stimulus money for Americans living abroad. That means that US expats qualify for the full stimulus check subject to the same restrictions as everyone else.
You can see more about who is and is not eligible at this page from the IRS. That page has been updated now to include an explicit statement that US citizens abroad are eligible for the stimulus payment.
The exact words are as follows: “Yes, U.S. citizens living outside the country are eligible for the Payment. Anyone eligible to file Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR is an eligible person if they have a valid SSN and can’t be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer. Nonresident aliens who file or would file Form 1040-NR or Form 1040-NR-EZ are not eligible for the Payment.”
You can find that confirmation that US expats will receive the stimulus near the bottom of that page under question 31. Many thanks to the commenter below who let me know that was now up by the way!
So, yes, US citizens who live abroad are definitely eligible to receive the 2020 stimulus check. This is not without precedent as stimulus money for US expats was also provided in 2008, as long as they met certain minimum income requirements. One of the requirements for receiving the stimulus if you live abroad is to be sure you have filed your tax returns for 2019 or 2018.
Note: If you need to file, make sure you use e-File as the IRS has stated that it will not be processing paper returns right now, so it could be sometime. You can get up to 50% off filing electronically and you may even qualify for free e-File.
Continue reading to find out what you need to do to get the stimulus money if you are an American living abroad.
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Who Qualifies for the Covid-19 Economic Stimulus Payments?
Below are the requirements to qualify for the coronavirus economic impact payment for expats or citizens:
- Must have a valid US Social Security number (it appears this applies for the dependents you claim as well)
- You cannot be (and/or have not been) claimed as a dependent
- Must have filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return (except for a few exceptions, including Social Security recipients, more on that below)
Income Thresholds to Receive the Full Stimulus Amount:
- People that File Taxes as Individuals: $75,000
- Married Couples that File Taxes Jointly: $150,000
- People that File as Head of Household: $112,500
What if I make over those thresholds?
After those numbers, the checks so go down by $5 for every $100 dollars over the thresholds to receive the economic stimulus above you make. So for example, if you are single and make $80,000, you would get $950.
For any children under the age of 16, each family will also receive an additional $500.
*Living abroad and worried about health coverage during the global pandemic?
Do I qualify for the stimulus check if I claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?
Yes, expats qualify for the stimulus money if they claimed the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on their taxes. Again, there is no restriction on expats receiving the stimulus check whether they claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion or not.
There is an interesting question raised however for expats who take the FEIE (as pointed out in a comment below). The income thresholds are based on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), but when filing form 2555 for the FEIE, you deduct your foreign earned income (at least up to the excludable limit) from your AGI.
So in theory, there is an unintentional loophole in the economic impact payment for expats where higher earning individuals’ AGI is reduced by as much as $105,900 (the limit on what you can exclude when claiming the FEIE).
In other words, it would raise the income limits significantly. Whether that is adjusted somehow remains to be seen as it certainly seems to contradict the spirit of the stimulus.
I do have a feeling expats are included in the stimulus less because there is a desire to include expats but rather for simplicity’s sake in processing and getting checks out the door whether than having to determine who still or still isn’t living in the US.
When it comes down to it, the only test of US citizens living abroad is the tax return which applies to last year, so in theory, someone could have filed as living abroad last year, but now be back in the states. Hiring and paying people to do rigorous verification is probably more costly than just sending the stimulus to Americans in foreign countries (but again, that’s just my theory).
With the IRS now explicitly stating that American citizens abroad are eligible for the coronavirus stimulus, there’s no doubt left that expats will receive their economic impact payment.
Can people who claim the foreign housing exclusion or deduction receive the economic stimulus?
Yes, you can receive the 2020 economic impact payment if you claim foreign housing exclusion or deduction. Like above, there are not restrictions outside of those that have to do with your Adjusted Gross Income, requirement to be a citizen with an active Social Security Number, and having filed in 2018 or 2019.
How do US citizens abroad receive their stimulus checks?
What do you need to do to receive your stimulus payment if you live abroad?
You may need to do nothing or you may need to take action to receive the 2020 economic stimulus as an expat living abroad. There are five possible scenarios to receiving your coronavirus stimulus if you live abroad.
What US Citizens Abroad Need to Do to Receive the Economic Stimulus:
You have filed your 2019 or 2018 taxes 2018 AND your forms included direct deposit information:
You don’t need to do anything.
The IRS will use the account information they have on file to direct deposit your check. In fact, it’s possible it may have already been made.
If differences in your income, and/or tax burden between 2018 and 2019 affect your eligibility for the payment or how much you receive, then you should either wait to file (the deadline has been extended to July 15) if your income went up or file as quickly as possible if you income went down.
That of course applies to all cases.
Do not that if you used one of the big electronic filing services such as TurboTax or H&R Block, and in particular if you received an advance on your tax return or received it in the form of a prepaid debit card, your payment may be delayed. My understanding of that is those companies sometimes have the IRS send your return to them, while they send you the money ahead of actually receiving it.
If you used service like that, it is worth following up and checking on, as there are reports some people are going to track their payments and seeing it’s already been paid out but not to their actual bank account.
You have filed your 2019 or 2018 taxes but DID NOT include direct deposit information:
To receive the economic impact payment if you file taxes and live abroad, but did not include direct deposit information, which is likely the case for most expats, then you will need to register a bank account for the IRS to deposit your stimulus money into.
Note that even if you did file for 2018 and are therefore eligible, it may speed up your stimulus payment to go ahead and file for 2019. If your income changed, it may also behoove you to file for 2019 (or not) if you moved above or below the thresholds listed above.
If you do want to file for 2019, make sure you use e-File as the IRS has stated that it will not be processing paper returns right now, so it could be sometime. You can get up to 50% off filing electronically and you may even qualify for free e-File.
How do I register my bank account information with the IRS to receive the stimulus if I live abroad?
There is a an online portal to enter your bank account information for people for whom the IRS does not have a bank account on file to register one for direct deposit of the economic stimulus.
After clicking Get My Payment, you will have to enter your Social Security #, your date of birth, your address as it appears on your 2018 or 2019 return, and your zip code.
The IRS portal to register for direct deposit is giving me an error message. What do I do?
So as of this last update on May 8, I had been unable to properly advance in the Get My Payment Portal. I kept getting an error. When I enter my information, it states that it does not match the records on file.
I’m assuming (at the risk of being wrong) that it had something to do with the format of my address and/or zip code. I was also getting locked out after 3 tries.
That was however different from what I was getting previously, when it was saying, “Payment Status Not Available…According to information we have on file, we cannot determine your eligibility for a payment at this time.” I’m hoping this means progress (?).
From comments below, it looks like this was happening to others as well. In fact, it seems like this was happening to practically everybody trying to register their bank account information to receive the economic stimulus living in a foreign country.
At first I was concerned that this might mean Americans abroad are not actually eligible for the payments, but again, that explicit confirmation from the IRS here in Question 31 removes any doubt that people living in a foreign country will still receive the stimulus check.
Some digging on google makes it look like lots of people are getting that same error message when registering their bank accounts on the IRS website. (Sources: here, here, and here). There are even some reports of some payments being made into wrong accounts.
Especially the first one from Forbes and the last one, a reddit thread, makes it sound like this is happening to lots of people, even non expats trying to receive their coronavirus payment. This USA Today article gives some more insight into why it might be happening.
So, exactly why this is happening to Americans abroad trying to receive the stimulus money is unclear. It could be due to some formatting issue of how foreign addresses and/or zip codes are registered.
It could also be because they are lacking a return or some other information on you, it could just be a glitch, or it could be a result of overloading on the new site.
So, I guess that means we are going to have to wait it out until the platform gets its kinks worked out to confirm. Once I get through successfully, I will update here.
Do note that the system will lock you out for 24 hours after 3 attempts. The information is only updated once a day overnight, so if you are getting the error, it is best just to wait until tomorrow morning to try again.
Good News! Get Your Payment Finally Seems to Be Working with Foreign Addresses!
Yesterday, after seeing in one of the expat in Colombia Facebook groups someone post they were able to get through, and sure enough I was able to as well.
Lots of others have commented below that they are also now able to get through with foreign addresses! So it appears, it was some formatting or data entry issue with the foreign addresses after all. But, it’s finally fixed and people with foreign addresses can enter the Get My Payment Portal!
But what if my check has already been sent?
That is what the Get My Payment is saying for me, that my check was mailed to the address on file on May 1st.
Unfortunately, there is not currently mail service to Colombia from the US, so who knows when or if it will ever arrive! You can see the countries that have suspended mail service on this page (many thanks to Steve for sharing this in the comments below by the way!)
If, your check has not been mailed yet, where you live is on that list, and you can’t successfully enter a bank account for direct deposit, then you may want to see if you can just change your address to a US one, if you have someone trustworthy who can receive the check.
By the way, the checks are being sent out on a schedule according to income. You can see the schedule at this article in Forbes. Thanks to Julia for sharing it in the comments below!
What happens if I don’t register a bank account for direct deposit of my stimulus?
According to the IRS, if you do not register an account for direct deposit, they will mail your check to the address on your 2019 (or 2018) return.
Comments below and people now successfully getting through on the portal indicates they will in fact mail it to foreign addresses, although service to some countries are currently suspended (see the link in the section above).
So it sounds like direct deposit is hands down the best way for how Americans who live in foreign countries can receive their stimulus payments.
Can I receive the stimulus payment in a foreign bank account?
It’s not clear if Americans abroad can receive their economic impact payment deposited into a foreign bank account. I would lean towards probably not, but will try to confirm that once there is clearer guidance from the IRS.
Ok, update, thanks to Stephen in the comments below for sharing this page, where you can see it states the IRS cannot direct deposit funds in a foreign bank account. So we now have a definitive negative answer to that question.
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Can I receive my stimulus into another person’s bank account?
I’ve had a lot of people ask this in the comments. It makes sense if you don’t have a US bank account and you are unable to get it into a foreign one.
It would seem that it would be possible, but it’s hard to say for sure until we are actually able to successfully access the tool to register. Theoretically, there are lots of US residents without bank accounts, so it seems to follow if you consent to it going to another account, there shouldn’t be an issue. Still, that’s speculation and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth until I know for sure.
If you do decide to go this route, you’ll want a way for that person to transfer or send you the money. Below are several good options for sending money abroad:
- World Remit makes it easy and has better exchange rates and lower fees than many banks offer on wire transfers. You can even get your first 3 transfers free!
- Transferwise also has great exchange rates and low fees (it’s a good idea to compare rates!)
- MoneyGram is also an option, although it only allows from transfers from the US to abroad and not vice versa.
Reportedly, some fintech apps like PayPal (which owns Venmo) and Square Cash App are also allowing account holders to receive their stimulus payments there and can provide you with a routing number. So if you don’t have a US bank account but one of those, it is also an option. Full Disclosure: I own stock in both PayPal and Square.
You have not filed your 2019 taxes and did not file in 2018 either (and need to):
Almost all American citizens, even expats have to file taxes and report their income, even if you have no tax burden because you have received no income in the US itself. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t know that for years).
If you did file in 2018 but haven’t yet in 2019, doing so could possibly speed up your stimulus check. It is also worth keeping in mind if your income has changed and if that affects the amount you would receive (you can see the thresholds above).
So, you should file ASAP if you do in fact need to, and include direct deposit information even if you do not owe or receive a return. That should speed up when you do get the economic impact payment.
If you do need to file, consider using E-file where you can get up to 50% off filing and may even be able to file for free! *Do not that the IRS site has said it is no longer processing paper returns, so if you haven’t filed yet, you definitely should do so via E-file.
You are a retiree abroad who receives Social Security and do not file taxes:
If you are a US citizen who lives abroad and currently receives Social Security and are not obligated to file taxes, then you do not need to take any action.
The IRS will pay into the account registered on your form SSA-1099 (where you normally receive your SS payments). This also applies if you are retired from the railroad, and the account on Form RRB 1099 is where you will receive your stimulus payment.
Do note, that if you have dependents that qualify for the $500 payment, the IRS would not have this information if you have not filed taxes. So if that is the case and you’d like to receive those payments, then you should file even if you are not obligated to.
If you do not have to file and do not receive Social Security:
I don’t know tax law well enough to know if this applies to anybody, but in the event that you do not have a tax filing obligation and do not receive Social Security benefits, then you must file a simple tax return so the IRS will have your information.
The page for doing so is now up. Go here to double check your eligibility and enter your payment information if you are a non filer (and do not receive Social Security).
There you have it, a complete guide to claiming your 2020 economic impact payment if you live abroad, including here in Colombia. I hope it was helpful, and that more importantly you and your loved ones are safe and healthy and stay that way.
If you’d like to know more details about the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress, check out this great FAQ from the New York Times. In addition to the page linked earlier, there’s also this one from the IRS that has good information on eligibility and what people should do to be able to claim the economic impact payment.
If you are living here in Colombia (or not) and would like to donate part or all of your economic impact payment, please check out this Facebook page where you can find a number of organizations helping to ease the economic pain felt by average Colombians.
Happy Exploring Safe Sheltering in Place!
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Hi all, just a quick note. This post really took off in ways I honestly didn’t expect. I’m so glad it has been helpful for people, and I just want to thank everyone who has shared their experience in the comments and been nice enough to help each other out. It’s nice to see, and even when discussing the IRS, there hasn’t been any name calling!
If you’re now able to successfully get your payment, I’m glad, and if you ever want to come visit Cartagena or Colombia, I hope you’ll consider coming back to the site to help plan your trip. If you’re like me and your check was mailed to an address in a country where USPS has suspended service, then well I guess the saga continues!