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: November 8, 2020 – Note that this article is focused on the first round of coronavirus stimulus checks for US citizens living abroad. It looks increasingly likely that there will be a second round. At the end of this article, you’ll find a section on a possible second stimulus, which I’ll do my best to update as we learn more.
Many who are waiting for their Covid stimulus for US citizens abroad like myself live in countries where mail service had been suspended and were unable to enter their direct deposit information. My check was supposedly mailed in May, but mail service to Colombia was suspended and it never arrived. After calling to put a trace on my check, I was able to enter a bank account for direct deposit. See more about how I was able to do so in the section titled “But what if there is no mail service where I live?” In my case, as of this update, I still have not received it, even after entering my bank details.
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.
*Important note: The IRS has set a deadline of November 21 to request your stimulus check during the 2020 calendar year. If you have not filed a 2019 tax return or do not need one, you should file or use the non-filers tool to register your information as son as possible. If you live abroad and did not receive your stimulus check, you should also try to call and put a trace on your check if you want to get it this year. See below for more information.
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 FAQ 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 of the stimulus check for US citizens abroad under the section EIP Eligibility and General Information in question 8 on the FAQ page linked above. That page has changed a couple times, so if that becomes out of date due to further changes I apologize. Still it confirms that you should indeed get a stimulus payment as a US taxpayer abroad.
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.
By the way, many US citizens abroad mistakenly believe they do not need to file taxes if their income is abroad (I believed this for years). That is not the case. Only very high earners are actually liable to pay taxes, but you must file. Learn more about how to file taxes using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion here.
There is an interesting question about the FEIE and the stimulus checks for taxpayers that live overseas. The FEIE allows you to deduct over $100k from your adjusted gross income (AGI), the number used to determine your eligibility for getting an economic impact payment. Therefore, theoretically, the economic impact payment for people living overseas could go out for those that make well over the normal limits. It’s not clear if the IRS is vetting the EIP payments for expats.
Regardless, 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 whether they take the FEIE or not.
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 probably already been made.
Do note 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 have been 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 a 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:
This is probably the case for most of us waiting for our Economic Impact Payments for US citizens overseas, since few of us actually receive a tax return so there was no reason to include bank account information when we filed.
To receive the economic impact payment if you file taxes and live abroad, but did not include direct deposit information, then you will need to register a bank account for the IRS to deposit your stimulus money into.
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 the following:
- Your Social Security #
- Your date of birth
- Your address as it appears on your 2018 or 2019 return
- Your zip code
The IRS portal to register for direct deposit is giving me an error message. What do I do?
I couldn’t advance successfully in the Get My Payment Portal until about mid May weeks of getting an error message saying either the IRS couldn’t determine my eligibility or the information submitted doesn’t match the information on file.
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.
Finally, around mid-May I was able to successfully get into the Get My Payment tool. It appears, although this is somewhat speculation and hearsay, there was a problem with foreign addresses or formatting before.
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 stimulus check has already been sent to my address abroad?
That is what the Get My Payment was saying for me, that my check was mailed to the address on file on May 1st.
It looks like this was the case for lots and lots of expats. From comments below, it sounds like lots of people have received their checks (by the way if you need information on a good US bank account if you can’t deposit the check in a local account, see my comments below).
But what if I still haven’t received my Economic Impact Payment abroad?
Just to be clear it’s not 100% clear if checks are in fact going out on the exact day they are scheduled to be mailed. So, even if it’s been a few weeks since your check was meant to be scheduled, it might still be on the way, especially given that mail may be delayed given the current situation.
But what if there is no mail service where I live?
If it makes you feel any better, this is also my case! 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 all 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, the country 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.
However, if you check has been mailed and service has been suspended to where you live, I recommend calling and putting a trace on it.
The IRS website originally had a note saying that people who have their stimulus checks returned will get another opportunity to enter their bank account information through Get My Payment.
Basically, it sounds like once they have a chance to process and update the system with the returned check, you should be able to enter a bank account for direct deposit. However, I was doing that several times a week all through June and most of July, and nothing changed.
Now, on the IRS FAQ page, under question 52 (as of July 28) “How do I request a payment trace on my Economic Impact Payment?” it says that for economic impact payments sent to addresses overseas, you should initiate a trace after 9 weeks from the mailing date.
How to Initiate a Trace on My EIP if I live overseas?
The FAQ page above says you can call 800-919-9835 or file Form 3911 to request a trace on your stimulus payment if you live abroad. (By the way, you can call toll free 800 numbers from overseas free via Skype).
Here was my experience when I called:
I was on hold for probably 40 minutes or so. The people I spoke with were both pleasant and helpful. The lady helping me told me once I put a trace, after several weeks, they would resend the check. She told me there was no way to input direct deposit information except for when you file.
That of course contradicts the IRS’s own Get My Payment tool, which asked for bank accounts and just wasn’t functioning in time for taxpayers with foreign addresses, and also what they originally said to do if your check didn’t arrive. It also contradicts what others have said in the comments below.
So I decided ok, well, let’s put the trace, and also change my address to a US one, so if it does get sent out again, it will at least go to my mother’s address and not be stuck in limbo with the mail suspension to Colombia.
To do the trace and address change, I had to fill out Form 3911 anyway, even after calling. So, you could just do that first, although it was kind of nice talking to someone to confirm as well.
Interestingly enough, the woman I spoke to told me one address and fax number, and the page lists different ones for addresses overseas and from my home state. I faxed it to all three! I also included my direct deposit information and did the address change on the form just to be on the safe side.
You can find Form 3911 here. Make sure you write “2020 EIP” on the top, and you enter 2020 as the tax period and leave the date filed blank.
I am finally able to enter direct deposit information for my stimulus payment abroad!
Lo and behold, about 4 days after calling and faxing Form 3911 for the trace, Get My Payment changed and let me enter a direct deposit account!
It’s not clear to me if the call and/or the trace made any difference. The tool still took my foreign address and not my US one, so at least the address change had not taken effect. It may just be a coincidence that the check had been returned, processed, and the tool updated.
Or it may be that putting the trace prompted the update. I don’t know. I do know I’m happy I was able to input the direct deposit information. As of a few days later, I have not received the payment deposited yet and the Get My Payment tool says it will update with a payment date when it is set. I will be sure to update once I do get it to give an idea of turn around (as of 8 days later, there is no payment date listed).
Another useful resource may be this Facebook group that Amy Mortenson from the comments below started for those of us waiting for stimulus payments in countries with mail suspended.
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 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?
No, the IRS cannot deposit the economic impact payment into a foreign bank account. 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.
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.
However, given stories of fraud and scams, I would lean towards this probably not working, not because you wouldn’t be able to enter another bank account, but because the bank might reject the deposit in another person’s name. However, that’s speculation on my part. If anyone has tried this, let us know how it went in the comments!
Update (August 3): Someone in the comments below confirmed they were able to successfully enter another person’s bank account and receive their payment there. So, disregard what I said above.
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.
Also, the IRS has sent out at least some payments as prepaid debit cards instead of checks. It’s not clear how they decide which to send, and if you can use a US debit card in your country will depend, but it may be a solution if you have no US based bank account. It’s unclear if you can request a debit card, but you could always try calling and asking.
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.
What to do if I live abroad and still have not received my stimulus check?
Well, then feel better that you are in the same boat that I am. I recently called to inquire and the IRS agent claimed there was no record of my trace, so I tried to do it via a scan and fax service again (I guess I should call to confirm that they got it). The Get My Payment tool still says it will update with my payment date for direct deposit.
At this point, I may try to fill out the non-filers tool to see if that causes it to go through and call one more time. The good thing is, even if you don’t get the stimulus money abroad this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 taxes. In that case, you should just be sure to use an address in the US or a bank account they can direct deposit to when you complete your taxes next year and be sure to claim it as even if you owe no taxes or would not get a return normally, they should pay you the payment then.
By the way, if you live abroad, you should be sure to check out my guide to filing the foreign earned income exclusion to help you file next year and beyond.
Will I get a second stimulus check if I live abroad?
As of the last update of this post on August 2, Congress is negotiating a further economic package. Most reports seem to indicate that it will include more direct payments, presumably with expats included in that second economic impact payment.
It is worth keeping in mind that the fact of the matter is, the only way the IRS knows if you live abroad is if you file the Foreign Income Exclusion and or Foreign Housing Deduction, both of which apply to the previous year. So, in theory, you could have filed that in 2018 or 2019 and now be back in the states. Independently verifying that is probably not worth the IRS’s time, so I would expect expats would be included on a second round of stimulus payments.
Some reports have mentioned that a second round of stimulus payments may have lower income thresholds but also include more per dependent. You can see some details of what’s being discussed at this article from Forbes.
With the election now (presumably) over, I would expect with less partisan campaign points to be scored we may see a deal soon, or in a worse case scenario one shortly after the inauguration of the next president, although that is speculation on my part.
As far as what expats should do to be eligible for the second economic impact payment, I would suggest nothing for the time being if you managed to get the first with no problem. If you have not filed for 2019, you should as the deadline has passed, or if you had trouble getting your check in the mail, it may be worth go ahead and putting a trace and seeing if that helps you input direct deposit information to speed up receiving the second 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!