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American teacher in Thailand filing US taxes


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Hi. I’ve been a teacher in Thailand for four years. I’d like to catch up on filing my US taxes. I have a low salary by US standards and no assets, so I’m wondering whether I really need to use the streamlined filing procedures to catch up, or if I should just file normally. Any thoughts?

I’ve been told repeatedly that we HAVE to file US taxes, even if our income falls significantly below the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Also, I plan to get student loans for a master’s degree program and need to have filed taxes to meet their requirements. 

Another interesting question is that many of my colleagues and I do online teaching for Chinese companies from Thailand. Income earned in Thailand for a Chinese company. I’ve heard teachers in the USA tell people that they must file as an independent contractor and report the income as ‘self-employment’ income. I wasn’t going to bother to report it because there is no 1099 and my income will already fall well below the FEIE threshold. It just seems like unnecessary paperwork.

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You will be expected to claim the income as self employment income unless you are an employee of the company you work for. You do NOT take the FEIE into account when determining if your worldwide income is high enough to have a US filing requirement. The filing threshold if you have self-employment income is only $400. 

Intentionally not reporting your worldwide income is tax fraud. A majority of overseas employers who pay you as an employee or independent contractor will not give you a US tax form (W-2 or 1099-MISC). This does not mean you, as a US citizen, are not obligated to report the income; you are.

Unless you pay into the social security system of your country of residence and that country has a totalization agreement with the US that exempts you from paying SE tax to the US as well, you may owe the US money for SE tax. If this is the case, you’re probably better off filing through the streamlined procedure. 

(FEIE will not eliminate the requirement for you to pay SE tax, it excludes the income from income tax only.)

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