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July 26, 2017

One Financial Mistake That Can Cost Expats Living Abroad Millions - and We See This All Too Often When We do Tax Returns

Too many expats and others living abroad keep all of their savings and investments in low interest paying bank or savings accounts in the USA. This is historically a big mistake.  It is understandable that you want to keep your funds in the USA, because the banks and currency in your country of location may not be stable or safe. However, other than some reserves a US bank account is not the answer.

Investing in the stock market (over the long run and in good conservative companies) and real estate (in areas where history shows the values will increase significantly in the future - Such as California) will give you a nest egg on retirement of 3 to 4 times the amount you will have if you just keep it all in a bank earning interest.  The worst place to keep it as you can see in the following article is under your mattress.

Read More in the following Washington Post article

Remember also, investments in stocks and real estate abroad is mostly treated the same for US tax purposes as investing in US stocks and bonds. However, investing in foreign mutual funds can result in you having to pay higher taxes (thanks to the US Mutual Fund Lobby).  Want to discuss your investment  and tax strategy. Email Don at  We have assisted hundreds of clients on their way to accumulating retirement wealth.

July 12, 2017


Tips on How to Handle an IRS Letter or Notice

The IRS mails millions of letters every year to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Keep the following suggestions in mind on how to best handle a letter or notice from the IRS:

Do not panic. Simply responding will take care of most IRS letters and notices.Do not ignore the letter. Most IRS notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. Each notice deals with a specific issue and includes specific instructions on what to do. Read the letter carefully; some notices or letters require a response by a specific date.Respond timely. A notice may likely be about changes to a taxpayer’s account, taxes owed or a payment request. Sometimes a notice may ask for more information about a specific issue or item on a tax return.

A timely response could minimize additional interest and penalty charges.If a notice indicates a changed or corrected tax return, review the information and compare it with your original return. If the taxpayer agrees, they should note the corrections on their copy of the tax return for their records. There is usually no need to reply to a notice unless specifically instructed to do so, or to make a payment.Taxpayers must respond to a notice they do not agree with. They should mail a letter explaining why they disagree to the address on the contact stub at the bottom of the notice. Include information and documents for the IRS to consider and allow at least 30 days for a response.

There is no need to call the IRS or make an appointment at a taxpayer assistance center for most notices. If a call seems necessary, use the phone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Be sure to have a copy of the related tax return and notice when calling.Always keep copies of any notices received with tax records. The IRS and its authorized private collection agency will send letters and notices by mail. The IRS will not demand payment a certain way, such as prepaid debit or credit card. Taxpayers have several payment options for taxes owed.

Need help understanding a notice or responding to the IRS (or state tax agency). Email us at and attach a copy.

July 8, 2017

Plan Ahead for Tax Time When Renting Out Residential or Vacation Property Outside of USA

Summertime is a time of year when people rent out their property located in a foreign country. In addition to the standard clean up and maintenance, owners need to be aware of the tax implications of residential and vacation home rentals both in and outside of USA. Most of the tax rules are the same for both.
Receiving money for the use of a dwelling also used as a taxpayer’s personal residence generally requires reporting the rental income on a tax return. It also means certain expenses become deductible to reduce the total amount of rental income that's subject to tax.
Dwelling Unit.  This may be a house, an apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat, vacation home or similar property. It's possible to use more than one dwelling unit as a residence during the year.
Used as a Home.  The dwelling unit is considered to be used as a residence if the taxpayer uses it for personal purposes during the tax year for more than the greater of: 14 days   or 10% of the total days rented to others at a fair rental price. Rental expenses cannot be more than the rent received.
Personal Use.  Personal use means use by the owner, owner’s family, friends, other property owners and their families. Personal use includes anyone paying less than a fair rental price.
Divide Expenses. Special rules generally apply to the rental of a home, apartment or other dwelling unit that is used by the taxpayer as a residence during the taxable year. Usually, rental income must be reported in full, and any expenses need to be divided between personal and business purposes. Special deduction limits apply.
How to Report. Use Schedule E to report rental income and rental expenses on Supplemental Income and Loss. Rental income may also be subject to Net Investment Income Tax. Use Schedule A to report deductible expenses for personal use on Itemized Deductions. This includes such costs as mortgage interest, property taxes and casualty losses.
Special Rules.  If the dwelling unit is rented out fewer than 15 days during the year, none of the rental income is reportable and none of the rental expenses are deductible. Find out more about these rules; see Publication 527, Residential Rental Property (Including Rental of Vacation Homes).
 You can get forms and publications on at any time.
Foreign Taxes May Have to be Paid in the Country in which the property is located.  Check with a local accountant. For instance in Mexico you must not only pay income taxes on the rental income but may also have to pay Value Added Taxes.  Failure to register and pay can result in substantial penalties in Mexico and other countries.
Good News - You do get foreign tax credits for income taxes paid in foreign countries which will offset your US taxes on the same income dollar for dollar. Other taxes you pay may be deductible as rental expenses. Most states do not allow a foriegn tax credit on state returns.
Additional Resources:
YouTube Videos:
Renting Your Vacation Home – English | Spanish | ASL
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Email us for US tax and legal planning for the rental of your foreign property or its sale or purchase. Planning ahead can often avoid tax problems later.    Also visit our website at 

June 20, 2017

Understanding the benefits of trusts for US expats and nonresidents with US assets from Fidelity

Understanding the benefits of trusts
 Control of your wealth
 Protection of your legacy
 Privacy and probate savings
They say death and taxes are inevitable. But that may not be completely true. If you die this year, your estate will avoid taxes as long as it is valued at less than $5,490,000—and up to $10,980,000 for a surviving spouse. So who needs a trust?
“Many people are surprised to learn that there are many benefits to having a trust other than potential tax savings,” says Andrew Hamil, head of Fidelity Personal Trust Company. “Though taxes are important, protection of your assets and assuring your family's well-being in the event of incapacity far outweigh the benefits of tax savings for most people.”  Read More

Need help with a US trust or Will to dispose of your US assets, contact  If you have assets located in the country you live in abroad, best to hire a local attorney to draw up the property documents to transfer those assets upon your demise.

June 12, 2017

Taxpayers Abroad Must File by June 15; Extensions Available; New Filing Deadline Now Applies to Foreign Account Report

Taxpayers living and working abroad that they must file their 2016 federal income tax return by Thursday, June 15.

The special June 15 deadline is available to both U.S. citizens and resident aliens abroad, including those with dual citizenship. For those who can’t meet the June 15 deadline, tax-filing extensions are available and they can even be requested electronically. In addition, a new filing deadline now applies to anyone with a foreign bank or financial account required to file an annual report for these accounts, often referred to as an FBAR.

Here is a rundown of key points to keep in mind:

Most People Abroad Need to File An income tax filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the Foreign Earned Income exclusion or the Foreign Tax credit, which substantially reduce or eliminate U.S. tax liability. These tax benefits are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return. A taxpayer qualifies for the special June 15 filing deadline if both their tax home and abode are outside the United States and Puerto Rico. Those serving in the military outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico also qualify for the extension to June 15.
Be sure to attach a statement indicating which of these two situations applies. Interest, currently at the rate of four percent per year, compounded daily, still applies to any tax payment received after the original April 18 deadline. For details, see the When To File and Pay section in Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad. Special Income Tax Return Reporting for Foreign Accounts and Assets
Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to complete and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

In addition, certain taxpayers may also have to complete and attach to their return Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets. Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on this form if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. See the instructions for this form for details.
Choose Free File

Automatic Extensions Available Taxpayers abroad who can’t meet the June 15 deadline can still get more time to file, but they need to ask for it. Their extension request must be filed by June 15. Automatic extensions give people until Oct. 16, 2017, to file; however, this does not extend the time to pay tax. An easy way to get the extra time to file is through the Free File link on In a matter of minutes, anyone, regardless of income, can use this free service to electronically request an extension on Form 4868. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and pay any amount due. Another option for taxpayers is to pay electronically and get an extension of time to file. IRS will automatically process an extension when taxpayers select Form 4868 and they are making a full or partial federal tax payment using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or a debit or credit card. There is no need to file a separate Form 4868 when making an electronic payment and indicating it is for an extension. Electronic payment options are available at International taxpayers who do not have a U.S. bank account should refer to the Foreign Electronic Payments section on for more payment options and information. Combat Zone Taxpayers get More Time Without Having to Ask for it Members of the military and eligible support personnel serving in a combat zone have at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file their tax returns and pay any taxes due. This includes those serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zone localities. A complete list of designated combat zone localities can be found inPublication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, available on Various circumstances affect the exact length of the extension available to any given taxpayer. Details, including examples illustrating how these extensions are calculated, can be found in the Extensions of Deadlines section in Publication 3.
New Deadline for Reporting Foreign Accounts

Starting this year, the deadline for filing the annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) is now the same as for a federal income tax return. This means that the 2016 FBAR, Form 114, was normally required to be filed electronically with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) by April 18, 2017. But FinCEN is granting filers missing the original deadline an automatic extension until Oct. 16, 2017 to file the FBAR. Specific extension requests are not required. In the past, the FBAR deadline was June 30 and no extensions were available. In general, the FBAR filing requirement applies to anyone who had an interest in, or signature or other authority, over foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2016. Because of this threshold, the IRS encourages taxpayers with foreign assets, even relatively small ones, to check if this filing requirement applies to them. The form is only available through the BSA E-filing System website. Report in U.S. Dollars Any income received or deductible expenses paid in foreign currency must be reported on a U.S. tax return in U.S. dollars. Likewise, any tax payments must be made in U.S. dollars.
Both Forms 114 and 8938 require the use of a Dec. 31 exchange rate for all transactions, regardless of the actual exchange rate on the date of the transaction. Generally, the IRS accepts any posted exchange rate that is used consistently. For more information on exchange rates, see Foreign Currency and Currency Exchange Rates.

More Information Available Any U.S. taxpayer here or abroad with tax questions can refer to the International Taxpayers landing page and use the online IRS Tax Map and the International Tax Topic Index to get answers. These online tools group IRS forms, publications and web pages by subject and provide users with a single entry point to find tax information. Taxpayers who are looking for return preparers abroad should visit the Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.

More information on the tax rules that apply to U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad can be found in, Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, available on

May 28, 2017

You Can File a Joint Return with Your Nonresident /Noncitizen Spouse- Here is how.

Nonresident Spouse Treated as a Resident
Election to File Joint Return
If, at the end of your tax year, you are married and one spouse is a U.S. citizen or a resident alien and the other is a nonresident alien, you can choose to treat the nonresident as a U.S. resident. This includes situations in which one of you is a nonresident alien at the beginning of the tax year, but a resident alien at the end of the year, and the other is a nonresident alien at the end of the year.
If you make this choice, the following rules apply:
You and your spouse are treated, for federal income tax purposes, as residents for all tax years that the choice is in effect.  You and your spouse are treated as residents for your entire tax year for the purpose of your federal individual income tax return, and for the purpose of withholding federal income tax from your wages. However, you may still be treated as a nonresident alien for the purpose of withholding Social Security and Medicare tax. Refer to Aliens Employed in the U.S. – Social Security TaxesYou must file a joint income tax return for the year you make the choice (but you and your spouse can file joint or separate returns in later years), and Each spouse must report his or her entire worldwide income on the joint income tax return.Generally, neither you nor your spouse can claim tax treaty benefits as a resident of a foreign country for a tax year for which the choice is in effect. However, the exception to the saving clause of a particular tax treaty might allow a resident alien to claim a tax treaty benefit on certain specified income.
Pat Smith has been a U.S. citizen for many years. She is married to Norman, a nonresident alien. Pat and Norman make the choice to treat Norman as a resident alien by attaching a statement to their joint return. Pat and Norman must report their worldwide income for the year they make the choice and for all later years unless, the choice is ended or suspended. Although Pat and Norman must file a joint return for the year they make the choice, as long as one spouse is a U.S. citizen or resident, they can file either joint or separate returns for later years.    
CAUTION! If you file a joint return under this provision, the special instructions and restrictions for dual-status taxpayers do not apply to you.
How to Make the Choice
Attach a statement, signed by both spouses, to your joint return for the first tax year for which the choice applies. It should contain the following information:
A declaration that one spouse was a nonresident alien and the other spouse a U.S. citizen or resident alien on the last day of your tax year, and that you choose to be treated as U.S. residents for the entire tax yearThe name, address, and identification number of each spouse. (If one spouse died, include the name and address of the person making the choice for the deceased spouse.)
Amended Return
You generally make this choice when you file your joint return. However, you can also make the choice by filing a joint amended return on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return within 3 years from the date you filed your original U.S. income tax return or 2 years from the date you paid your income tax for that year, whichever is later. If you make the choice with an amended return, you and your spouse must also amend any returns that you may have filed after the year for which you made the choice.
Suspending the Choice
The choice to be treated as a resident alien does not apply to any later tax year if neither of you is a US citizen or resident alien at any time during the later tax year.
Dick Brown was a resident alien on December 31, 2015, and married to Judy, a nonresident alien. They chose to treat Judy as a resident alien and filed a joint 2015 income tax return. On January 10, 2016, Dick became a nonresident alien. Judy had remained a nonresident alien. Since neither Dick nor Judy is a resident alien at any time during 2016, their choice to treat Judy as a resident alien is suspended for that year. For 2016, both are treated as nonresident aliens. If Dick becomes a resident alien again in 2017, their choice to treat Judy as a resident alien is no longer suspended. Since Dick is a resident alien, they can again choose to treat Judy as a resident alien and file a joint 2017 income tax return.
Ending the Choice
Once made, the choice to be treated as a resident applies to all later years unless suspended (as explained above) or ended in one of the ways shown below. If the choice is ended for any of the reasons listed below, neither spouse can make a choice in any later tax year.
Revocation by either spouseDeath of either spouseLegal SeparationInadequate records
For a more detailed explanation of these items, refer to the section titled Ending the Choice in Chapter 1 of Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
Note: If you do not choose to treat your nonresident spouse as a U.S. resident, you may be able to use head of household filing status. To use this status, you must pay more than half the cost of maintaining a household for certain dependents or relatives other than your nonresident alien spouse. For more information, refer to Head of Household and Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.
Special Situations
If you are a nonresident alien from American Samoa or Puerto Rico, you may be treated as a resident alien.
If you are a nonresident alien in the United States and a bona fide resident of American Samoa or Puerto Rico during the entire tax year, you are taxed, with certain exceptions, according to the rules for resident aliens of the United States. For more information, see chapter 5 of Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
If you are a nonresident alien from American Samoa or Puerto Rico who does not qualify as a bona fide resident of American Samoa or Puerto Rico for the entire tax year, you are taxed as a nonresident alien.
Resident aliens who formerly were bona fide residents of American Samoa or Puerto Rico are taxed according to the rules for resident aliens.
Social Security Number
If your spouse is a nonresident alien and you file a joint or separate return, your spouse must have either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). To get an SSN for your spouse, apply at a social security office or U.S. consulate. You must complete Form SS-5. You must also provide original or certified copies of documents to verify your spouse's age, identity, and citizenship. If your spouse is not eligible to get an SSN, he or she can file Form W-7 with the IRS to apply for an ITIN. Refer to Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN) for more information.

May 12, 2017

US Expatriate Tax Return Extension Form Needs to be Filed by June 15th

Expats living and working abroad can extend the due date of their personal 2016 tax return to 10/15/17 by filing Form 4868 on or before June 15, 2017.  If you owe taxes and fail to file this form penalties will accrue for late filing of 5% of tax due for each month thereafter up to a maximum of 25%.  This is in addition to any other penalties and interest also accruing for not paying any taxes owed on 4/18/17.  The extension form can be download at

If you are still abroad on 10/15/17 after filing form 4868  you can even get a further extension until 12/15/17 by send a letter containing the required information to the IRS.

Filing late is not necessarily bad since many believe it reduces your chance of an IRS audit. The IRS of course will not comment onf these theories.  Have questions? Email or go to 

April 26, 2017


Taxpayers living abroad and in the US who have a tax debt they cannot pay may have heard that they can settle their tax debt for less than the full amount owed. It’s called an Offer in Compromise.
Before applying for an Offer in Compromise, here are some things to know:
  • In general, the IRS cannot accept a settlement offer if the taxpayer can afford to pay what they owe. Taxpayers should first explore other payment options. A payment plan is one possibility. Visit for information on Payment Plans – Installment Agreements.
  • A taxpayer must file all required tax returns first before the IRS can consider a settlement offer. When applying for a settlement offer, taxpayers may need to make an initial payment. The IRS will apply submitted payments to reduce taxes owed.
  • The IRS has an Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool on Taxpayers can find out if they meet the basic qualifying requirements. The tool also provides an estimate of an acceptable offer amount. The IRS makes a final decision on whether to accept the offer based on the submitted application.
  • Taxpayers wishing to file for an Offer in Compromise should visit IRS website’s Offer in Compromise page for more information. There taxpayers can find step-by-step instructions as well as the required forms. Taxpayers can download forms anytime at or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) and ask for Form 656-B, Offer in Compromise booklet.
Additional IRS Resources:
IRS YouTube Videos:
If you need help or assistance we can help. Email us at 

April 24, 2017

New Form 5472 Filing Requirements for Foreign-Owned U.S. Disregarded Entities (“FOUSDEs”) - International Tax Blog

Foreign owned US disregarded entities (LLCs) must now file form 5472 and report  on their assets and activities. Previously this was not a requirement and a a nonresident individually owned  US LLC with only income from outside the US did not in many situations have to filed anything with the IRS.  The penaltty for not filing this form is $10,000. Read more below.

New Form 5472 Filing Requirements for Foreign-Owned U.S. Disregarded Entities (“FOUSDEs”) - International Tax Blog

If you need help filing this form or information on it email us at 

April 18, 2017

US Tax Extension Deadlines

Who Needs to File a US tax Return?
Not everyone is required to file a tax return. The requirement to file depends on a person’s income, filing status, age and whether they can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.  Even if you live and work abroad you must file a US tax return even though you earn nothing in the USA. Anyone not sure whether they need to file a return should see Do I Need to File a Tax Return or refer to Publication 17,   If you are an expatriate read publication 54. Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals,on

Extensions of Time to File
Taxpayers who are not ready to file by the deadline should request an extension of time to file. The deadline for thos living in the US is April 18 and if you live and work abroad June  15th. An extension using form 4868 gives the taxpayer until Oct. 16 to file but does not extend the time to pay. Penalties and interest will be charged on all taxes not paid by the April 18 filing deadline (and this includes expatriates even though their return is not due until June 15th.

Expatriates can by letter secure an additional extension after applying for a regular extension until December 15th. They can also extend beyond that time using IRS form 2350     if they need additional time to qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion physical presence test.

IRS will automatically process an extension of time to file when taxpayers select Form 4868 and they are making a full or partial federal tax payment using IRS Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or by paying with a credit or debit card by the April due date. There is no need to file a separate Form 4868 extension request when making an electronic payment and indicating it is for an extension.
Taxpayers also can complete and mail in Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to get a six-month extension.

Taxpayers Who Can’t Pay
Taxpayers should file by the deadline, even if they can’t pay, or pay as much as possible and ask the IRS about payment options. By filing a tax return, even without full payment, taxpayers will avoid the failure-to-file penalty. This penalty is assessed when the required return is not filed by the due date or extended due date if an extension is requested.

The failure-to-file penalty is generally 5 percent per month and can be as much of 25 percent of the unpaid tax. The penalty for returns filed more than 60 days late can be $205 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

The failure-to-pay penalty, which is the penalty for any taxes not paid by the deadline, is ½ of 1 percent of the unpaid taxes per month and can be up to 25 percent of the unpaid amount. Taxpayers must also pay interest on taxes not paid by the filing deadline.

April 8, 2017

Cut IRS Audit Risk, Extend your April 18 IRS Tax Deadline To October 16

The IRS keeps secret what could cause your return to be audited (other than computer audits caused by omission of w2, 1099 or other items reported to the IRS separately from your return). However, after over 30 years of preparing tax returns and observing the results it does seem clear that extending your tax return using Form 4868 does appear to reduce your chance of audit.

 Several years ago an IRS agent confidentially to us that returns are audited in the order they are picked for audit (filing early or on time would cause your return to be picked first) and those filed later under extension are not as likely to be audited because the limited audit staff might not get around to auditing those returns filed undertension because they are busy with returns filed earlier in the year.

Read more in the Forbes article below.

Cut IRS Audit Risk, Extend April 18 Tax Deadline To October 16

If you have questions, are being audited or ? email us at

April 2, 2017

Everything You Wanted to Know About Expat Foreign Earning Income Exclusion (IRC 911)

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If live and work abroad, you may qualify for the foreign earned income and foreign housing exclusions and the foreign housing deduction.
If you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien of the United States and you live abroad, you are taxed on your worldwide income. However, you may qualify to exclude from income up to an amount of your foreign earnings that is adjusted annually for inflation ($92,900 for 2011, $95,100 for 2012, $97,600 for 2013, $99,200 for 2014 and $100,800 for 2015). In addition, you can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts.
You may also be entitled to exclude from income the value of meals and lodging provided to you by your employer. Refer to Exclusion of Meals and Lodging in Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, and Publication 15-B, Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits for more information

Foreign earned income elgible for exclusion does include wages (even if paid from US employer) or self employment income and does not include the following amounts:
  • Pay received as a military or civilian employee of the U.S. Government or any of its agencies
  • Pay for services conducted in international waters (not a foreign country)
  • Pay in specific combat zones, as designated by an Executive Order from the President, that is excludable from income
  • Payments received after the end of the tax year following the year in which the services that earned the income were performed
  • The value of meals and lodging that are excluded from income because it was furnished for the convenience of the employer
  • Pension or annuity payments, including social security benefits
Self-employment income: A qualifying individual may claim the foreign earned income exclusion on foreign earned self-employment income.  The excluded amount will reduce the individual’s regular income tax, but will not reduce the individual’s self-employment tax.  Also, the foreign housing deduction – instead of a foreign housing exclusion – may be claimed.  Unless the country you work in has an agreement with the US  Social Security Admnistration you will have the pay US self employment tax (social security plus medicare) on your net profit. The foreign earned income exclusion does not apply to the self employment tax.
Figuring the tax: Beginning with tax year 2006, a qualifying individual claiming the foreign earned income exclusion, the housing exclusion, or both, must figure the tax on the remaining non-excluded income using the tax rates that would have applied had the individual not claimed the exclusions.

References/Related Topics

Need more information or wish to discuss your situation, or need help with the preparation of your expat tax return or catching up for past unfiled years, then email us at or go to our website at for more information. We have been assisting expats with their US taxes for over 30 years.