U.S. Expats & the Coronavirus Stimulus Checks: Top FAQs for Americans Living Abroad

Do you live in the U.S.? You’ve stumbled upon information for Americans who live overseas. U.S. residents should read this stimulus payment information instead.

As a U.S. expat, you probably have more questions about the CARES act stimulus checks than the average American.

Since you make your income abroad, most of you don't have a U.S. tax liability, many of you haven't filed tax returns in a few years, and some of you have extremely complex tax situations.

To help you out, below we've answered the common (and a few uncommon) questions expats have asked about the stimulus checks and how it will (and won't) affect U.S. citizens who live overseas.

Let's get right to it:

Q. What does the coronavirus stimulus check mean for U.S. expats?

stimulus checks expats will get for coronavirus stimulus bill

The stimulus check expats will get is technically a 2020 tax credit in advance.

It’s part of the coronavirus stimulus package, which is designed to help get the economy back on its feet while we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. In it are a variety of benefits for both individuals and corporations to ease the financial burden of the shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders. For the average American, the main benefits are cash payments and a variety of other debt relief options. The amount each taxpayer will get depends on a variety of factors.

Q. Do I qualify for a stimulus check if I live overseas?

A. Yes, expats qualify for the stimulus checks. You qualify if you fall within the income threshold, have a social security number, and file taxes—even if you live overseas.

Q. Do I need to sign up for it or sign off on it?

A. No, you don’t need to sign up for it or sign off on it to get your check.

Q. What if I don’t have an SSN but filed a U.S. return. Do I get to take advantage of the stimulus payout?

A. No. To receive a stimulus check, you must have a social security number (SSN).

Q. Will I get a stimulus check if I filed a joint return with my NRA spouse with an IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

A. No. Couples filing jointly where one spouse is a nonresident alien will not receive a stimulus payment. If filing jointly, both spouses must have valid SSNs to receive a stimulus payment unless one of them is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. If one spouse is, or was at any point in the tax year, a member of the Armed Forces, they may be eligible to get a stimulus payment.

While taxpayers with SSNs aren’t eligible to receive a stimulus payment if they file jointly with their nonresident alien spouse, those filers may be able to receive the payment on their 2020 return if they choose to file separately from their spouse.

Q. How much will my expat stimulus check be for?

A. Your 2020 expat stimulus check amount will depend on your 2019 income. If you haven't filed your 2019 taxes yet, it will be based on your 2018 income. The payments are based on income thresholds, which you can see in the table below.

If the last tax year's income was under the low threshold, you'll get $1,200 per adult and $500 per child under the age of 17.

If your income was between the low threshold and the high threshold, you'll get a lower amount based on where you fall in-between. If you're above the high threshold, you could still qualify for a check if you have children—each eligible child increases the high threshold phaseout by $10,000.

Stimulus Check Amount Framework*
Filing Status Low Threshold High Threshold
Single Less than $75,000 $99,000
Married Filing Jointly Less than $150,000 $198,000
Head of Household Less than $112,000 $136,500
*This framework by the IRS was designed for U.S. taxpayers with tax liability. Individual amounts for expats may differ.

So, if you and your spouse are filing jointly and you have two children, you'd qualify for up to $3,400. If your joint income was less $150,000, then the $3,400 is what you'd walk away with.

If your joint income was between $150,000 and $118,000 (the high threshold rises $10,000 for each of your children, remember?) then you'd get a phased-out amount.

You can estimate your own payment amount with H&R Block's Stimulus Check Calculator.

Q. Will I have to pay back the amount I get?

A. The current understanding is no, you will not have to pay back any amount, even if you experience a pay hike in 2020.

Q. What if I’m a U.S. expat and I haven’t filed taxes in a few years while I’ve lived abroad?

A. If you live overseas and haven’t filed your 2019 taxes, you still may still be eligible for a stimulus payment based on your 2018 return. However, if you haven’t filed your 2018 or 2019 return, you will need to either file those shortly or wait until next year when you file your 2020 return.

We recommend getting started today with Virtual Expat Tax Services today, as the filing process for multiple years of returns can take longer to complete.

Q. Will this affect my tax return this year?

A. No, it will not affect this year's tax return.

Q. Will I owe tax on this check in 2020?

A. The current understanding is no, this is considered a 2020 tax credit, not income, so you will not need to pay taxes on it in 2020.

Q. How will I get my stimulus check if I’m an American living overseas?

A. There are two ways overseas Americans can get their stimulus payment: direct deposit or through the mail.

You’ll get your check via direct deposit if you either:

  • Received your 2018 or 2019 tax refund through direct deposit
  • Have submitted your U.S. bank account information to the IRS through the U.S. Treasury’s new direct deposit portal

You need to have an account with a U.S. bank in order to get direct deposit.

We recommend you either elect direct deposit in your 2019 tax return or update your address if you:

  • Don’t know what address is on file
  • Don’t feel great about getting mail reliably or quickly in your area
  • Have moved to a different address
  • Want your check sent somewhere other than the address they have on file

If you need to change/update your address, you currently need to file Form 8822, Change of Address and send it to the address in the form.

A way around this is to quickly file your 2019 expat taxes and have the updated address there.

Q. If I live abroad, when will I get my stimulus check if I qualify?

If you are a U.S. citizen living abroad, you should get your check via direct deposit shortly. The U.S. Treasury has already begun the process of rolling them out. If you’re getting your check through international mail, it may take longer.

We’re here to help with your expat taxes no matter where you are

We understand this is a stressful, confusing time, and that's why our expat tax advisors will be standing ready to help you file your U.S. taxes with our virtual services. You can rest assured that we're able to process your returns without disruption. If you're a multi-year tax filer, we recommend starting today as the filing process for multiple years takes longer to complete.

At H&R Block, we're committed to providing information you can trust and use to help navigate the changing tax landscape for Americans abroad. If you'd like to stay informed about the tax impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Americans overseas, visit our Expat Coronavirus Tax Impact page for the latest information.