Many United States expatriates find love when they travel abroad. It’s not uncommon for an American to come to Costa Rica and come to marry a young Tico or Tica. However, a U.S. citizen needs to consider certain tax consequences when marrying a non-citizen. U.S. citizens must usually file tax returns every year, even when they do not live in the United States. When you are married and you live with your spouse, you cannot file your taxes under the “Single” filing status, you must generally use either “Married Filing Jointly” or “Married Filing Separately.”
For most couples in the United States, joint filing is preferable to separate filing. The IRS prefers that married couples file jointly, and severely limits certain tax credits and deductions for separate filers. A Married Filing Separate status often results in significantly more tax than a jointly filed return or even a Single return.
There is a wrinkle to consider if you are married to a non-citizen. The U.S. typically would not have authority to tax a non-citizen spouse’s income if it was earned outside of the United States. However, if you as a citizen file jointly with your non-citizen spouse, he or she will be taxed by the United States as though he or she were a citizen. If your spouse has any significant income, it might be better to file separately. It is advised that you see a tax professional who specializes in tax returns for U.S. citizens living abroad, such as U.S. Tax International.
Whether you file Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately, you should apply for an ITIN for your non-citizen spouse. An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is an ID number used on US tax returns in place of a Social Security Number. Getting an ITIN can be complicated, and the IRS often rejects the application for minor technicalities. The assistance of a professional can make getting an ITIN much easier.