March 5


Do US Expats Need a US Tax Attorney or CPA?

By Jason Kovan

March 5, 2024

International Tax Attorney, Tax Attorney, US international tax attorney, US tax attorney

Navigating US Taxes as an Expat: Why an International US Tax Attorney is Your Best Ally.

Living the expat life comes with incredible experiences and opportunities. However, one aspect that can be far from simple is filing your US federal taxes.

Even though you reside overseas, US tax laws still apply and yet some methods of applying those laws are different for expats.

Understanding foreign income, tax credits, and complex reporting requirements can be overwhelming. This is where a US international tax attorney becomes invaluable.

Why a International US Tax Attorney?

Deep Understanding of Complex Tax Laws

US tax law is a labyrinth, and it gets even more complex for expats. A tax attorney specializing in international taxation understands the nuances of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, foreign tax credits, FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report), FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), and other rules specific to expats.

Imagine you are a US citizen working remotely for a US company while living in Spain. To maximize expat tax benefits, you need to understand your eligibility for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, how it interacts with Spain's tax system, and which deductions apply. A US tax attorney analyzes your specific situation to guide you.

Barcelona Spain. US tax attorney.

Expertise in Cross-Border Tax Issues

Tax treaties between the US and your country of residence, residency rules for tax purposes, and other international regulations can make your situation a real puzzle.

An international US tax attorney is equipped to break down these complexities and find optimal solutions.

Strategic Planning and Tax Optimization

An international US tax attorney goes beyond basic filing. They proactively analyze your financial situation to identify legal strategies that can minimize your US tax liability while ensuring full compliance.

If you own a small business in France, or anywhere else that the US shares tax treaties with, a US tax attorney can advise on structures to minimize double taxation, how to leverage tax treaties, and plan for the potential sale of your business in the future.

IRS Representation

Facing an IRS audit or dispute can be stressful, especially when you're overseas. A US international tax attorney is your skilled advocate, protecting your interests and navigating interactions with the IRS on your behalf.

Venich Italy

International US Tax Attorney vs. CPA

Specialized Focus

While CPAs have valuable accounting knowledge, international tax attorneys hone in on the legal aspects of taxation. They have a deep understanding of the legal implications of various tax strategies.

Situational Advantages

If your tax situation is complex, facing an IRS audit, or involved in a voluntary disclosure program, an international tax attorney offers expertise that may surpass that of a CPA.

Focus on Legal Implications

While CPAs primarily handle accounting and tax preparation, international tax attorneys delve deeply into the legal ramifications of tax choices. They understand how tax laws intersect with areas like business formation, estate planning, cross-border transactions, and immigration status.

Anticipating Potential Disputes

International tax attorneys have a proactive mindset, anticipating how various income sources or asset ownership might trigger IRS scrutiny. They help clients structure their finances and transactions in a way that reduces audit risk and minimizes the potential for disputes. 

Expertise in Complex Regulations

US tax compliance for expats involves numerous intricate regulations (FBAR, FATCA, GILTI, Subpart F, etc.). Tax attorneys are well-versed in interpreting and applying these rules, ensuring clients avoid costly mistakes and penalties.


Navigating Residency Issues

Determining tax residency can be surprisingly complex for expats, especially if they maintain ties to multiple countries. Tax attorneys can advise on factors that determine residency under various tax treaties and assist clients in making strategic decisions that optimize their tax status.


Collaboration for Comprehensive Solutions

In some situations, the best solution requires collaboration between a CPA and an international tax attorney. The CPA can focus on preparing the tax returns and day-to-day financials, while the attorney tackles high-level tax planning, legal structuring, and resolving complex issues.

The Critical Role of Attorney-Client Privilege

Define Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege ensures that all your communications with your attorney are strictly confidential. This allows for completely open discussions, which are crucial in developing tax strategies.

Why It Matters for Expats

This level of protection makes expats comfortable disclosing all relevant financial information to their attorney, no matter how sensitive. This enables the attorney to provide the best possible advice.


It's important to remember that attorney-client privilege usually doesn't extend to communications with CPAs or other tax advisors.

When to Seek Help from a US International Tax Attorney

red flags us tax attorney

Red Flags

Consider consulting an international US tax attorney if you have:

- Significant foreign-sourced income or assets

- Complex business ownership structures overseas

- Unfiled US tax returns from previous years

- An IRS audit notice

Circumstances when consulting a US tax attorney is highly advisable:

You have significant foreign income or assets:

If you earn substantial income overseas, own foreign businesses, or have investments in foreign accounts exceeding certain thresholds, a tax attorney's expertise is crucial. They guide you on foreign tax implications, reporting requirements, and potential tax-saving strategies.

You are unsure about claiming tax benefits:

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and foreign tax credits are valuable tools but can be complex. A tax attorney determines your eligibility, maximizes your benefits, and ensures accurate calculations to avoid underpayment or penalties.

You face complicated business structures:

If your business operates in multiple jurisdictions or you're considering international expansion, a tax attorney helps navigate tax treaties, optimize cross-border business structures, and ensure compliance in all relevant countries.

You haven't filed US taxes in several years:

Non-compliance can lead to significant penalties. A tax attorney can advise on options like the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures or other voluntary disclosure programs to rectify the situation and minimize consequences.

You received an IRS audit notice:

IRS audits, particularly those involving foreign income, are stressful and intricate. An international  US tax attorney represents you before the IRS, interprets complex tax laws, and helps negotiate the best possible outcome.

You're considering renouncing your US citizenship:

Renouncing citizenship has major tax implications. A tax attorney explains the process, potential "exit taxes," and helps you make informed financial decisions.

Remember: Even if your current situation seems straightforward, consulting a US tax attorney for an initial assessment can reveal potential issues and provide valuable guidance for future tax planning.

Case Studies

Case 1: Avoiding Penalties 

A US expat living in Canada failed to file FBARs for several years, unaware of the requirement. An international tax attorney helped them enter the IRS's streamlined disclosure program, minimizing penalties and resolving the issue.


Case 2: Business Expansion 

An American entrepreneur in Germany wanted to expand their business into neighboring countries. A tax attorney advised them on optimal tax structures and ensured compliance with regulations in multiple jurisdictions.

Case 3: Streamlined Disclosure for Missed Filings
Sarah, a US citizen residing in Australia for the past decade, realized she hadn't filed US taxes since moving abroad. She was unaware of her continued filing obligations. An international tax attorney guided her through the IRS Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (referencing relevant forms), helping her become compliant without facing excessive penalties.

Case 4: Maximizing the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Michael, a freelance writer living in Mexico, was struggling to understand the complexities of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (IRS Form 2555). An attorney helped him calculate his eligible exclusion amount, determine qualifying deductions, and optimize his tax liability.

Case 5: Claiming Foreign Tax Credits

Emily, an engineer working for a multinational company in Singapore, was paying income tax to both Singapore and the US. A tax attorney explained how to utilize Foreign Tax Credits (IRS Form 1116) to avoid double taxation and reduce her overall tax burden.

Case 6: Navigating a Complex Audit

John, a US expat in Brazil with various foreign investments, received an IRS audit notice. His tax attorney represented him throughout the process, interpreting complex audit requests, and successfully negotiating a favorable outcome.

Case 5: Business Structure and Treaty Benefits

Sarah, an entrepreneur running an e-commerce business from Portugal, wanted to maximize profits across borders. An international tax attorney advised her on optimal business structures, utilizing the US-Portugal tax treaty to minimize taxes and ensure compliance in both countries.

Case 6: FATCA Compliance and FBAR Filings

Mark, a retired US expat living in Thailand, held substantial assets in Thai bank accounts. His US tax attorney explained the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requirements and helped him accurately file FBAR forms (FinCEN Form 114) to avoid potential penalties and criminal charges.

Case 7: Resolving Past Non-Compliance

David, a US expat living in the UK, hadn't filed US taxes for several years. He feared significant penalties but wanted to become compliant. His tax attorney advised a potential voluntary disclosure program to minimize the consequences and bring him back into the system.

FAQ Section

Q: Am I still required to file US taxes if I live abroad?

A: In most cases, yes. US citizenship and worldwide income generally create a filing obligation. An international tax attorney can evaluate your specific situation.

Q: Do I need both a CPA and an international tax attorney?

A: It depends on the complexity of your situation. A CPA can be sufficient for straightforward expat tax returns. Complex scenarios involving foreign assets, tax treaties, or IRS disputes may warrant the expertise of an international tax attorney.

Q: What is the deadline for filing US taxes as an expat?

A: US expats typically receive an automatic two-month extension, making the deadline June 15th. You can file for an additional extension (IRS Form 4868) to October 15th if needed.

Q: Can I still contribute to a US retirement account (IRA or 401k) as an expat?

A: Yes, but there might be limitations depending on your foreign earned income and whether you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. An international tax attorney can advise on eligibility and potential tax benefits.

Q: Do I need to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes if I work overseas?

A: This depends on several factors, including your work status (self-employed vs. employee) and whether the US has a totalization agreement with your country of residence. A tax attorney can clarify your obligations.

Q: Are there special tax considerations for US expats who own foreign real estate?

A: Yes, you'll likely need to report rental income (if applicable) and might owe property taxes in your country of residence. There might be additional US tax implications depending on the property's value and how it's held.

Q: What if I want to renounce my US citizenship?

A: This is a serious decision with significant tax implications. An international tax attorney can explain the process, potential exit taxes, and long-term consequences.

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