Does Taiwanese spouse need to file US tax return?

This is my first time to file a US tax return as a married man, and I have a question. My spouse is Taiwanese, and has no US permanent residency or citizenship.

What is the recommended way to file my taxes this year. Can I file as “Married, filing separately”? Does my Taiwanese spouse still need to file a US return since she did not earn any income in the US?

For the record, I plan on excluding all of my Taiwanese income, so I will not owe any taxes regardless of my filing status. I would just like to know what is the best way to file for me and my wife.

Thanks in advance,

You can treat her as a U.S. resident. This would be beneficial if you would derive tax advantages from filing MFJ (Married filing jointly).

Check … 34,00.html

Pay no attention to the small business part of the url above because international filings are handled by the SB/SE (small business/self-employed) operating division of the IRS out of Philadelphia.

If you do elect to file MFJ, you must get an ITIN (individual tax identification number) for her. This could be a hassle – sending in original documents, etc. to Philadelphia.

(I am a consultant to the IRS but my views do not constitute any sort of legal advice).

(edit to add: don’t forget about the foreign income exclusion, if you qualify – form 2555)

Thank you, BAH for your reply.

I understand the benefits of treating my wife as a resident for tax purposes.

However, I am only interested in doing the least amount of paper work for filing taxes. As I said in my first post, I will be excluding all income, so all I am interested in is the simplest way of filing the taxes. Assuming I treat my wife as a non-resident for tax purposes, should I file as married-filing-separately? Also, does she still have to file?

By the way, she already has a social security number from her time studying in the US.

I welcome any replies from people who have done this before.


When I got married I had the same question, so I wrote the IRS to ask them. Here is what they had to say:

A joint return generally cannot be made if either spouse is a
nonresident alien at any time during the tax year. However, if one spouse is a nonresident alien who was married to a U.S. citizen at the end of the year, the spouses can choose to file a joint return. [color=red]If you do file a joint return, you and your spouse are both treated as U.S. citizens for the entire tax year.[/color] For more information on this choice see our Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens,
Chapter 1.

And I still had some questions and here is some more information:

For the year that you make the choice, you and your spouse are required to file a joint income tax return, however, you and your spouse can file joint or separate returns in later years. [color=red]Once made, the choice to be treated as a resident applies to all later years unless suspended or ended in one of the following ways;[/color] (1)revocation, (2) death, (3) legal separation, or (4) inadequate records. Please refer to Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, for detailed information regarding this issue

While you are married you cannot use the filing status of single. You would use either the married filing joint, married filing separate, or you may be eligible to use the head of household filing status if you meet the requirements. Please refer to Publication
501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Status, for detailed information regarding this issue.

As you can see they went into great detail and off my topic question but that additional information may help you here… So basically what they mean is that once you decide to file your taxes with your wife in the US, then you must do it each year after that unless for reasons they stated you want to change it. Because your wife has a social security number it may be different but I doubt it… So long as you are living out of the country it should apply to you. Of course if you decide to immigrate to the US then she would be required to file. You can go to there website if you have further questions for them, and don’t forget if you do ask more info and get it post it back here for the rest of us! See

I hope this helps!

Thank you Jeff for your reply.

  1. You cannot file as single if you are married.
  2. You must file a joint return the first year you make the choice.

Based on these two things, I guess I’ll be filing a joint return this year. Thanks for your help. I guess even though my wife is not a resident of the US, the IRS still considers her as such.

I appreciate the help,


I think you misunderstood something, either that or I misunderstood something… It is my understanding that you do not need to file jointly if your wife is not a US resident, even if you are married and living out of the US. Once you make the choice to file jointly then she must file each year after that.

I have been married for almost two years, the IRS doesn’t even know I am married yet. I haven’t even filed a return in the US for myself since I came to Taiwan. My accountant told me I don’t make enough money in the US or abroad to file. He did tell me to keep records though.

I should clarify the second part of the question above is the response I got from them when I asked about the 2nd, 3rd 4th, 5th, etc. years of marriage. Once you do it, you must always do it unless something happens or you change the status. I hope this is more clear now.

I should clarify the second part of the question above is the response I got from them when I asked about the 2nd, 3rd 4th, 5th, etc. years of marriage. Once you do it, you must always do it unless something happens or you change the status. I hope this is more clear now.[/quote]

Hi Jeff,

Yeah, I guess I missed that part when I read it the first time. You can’t file as single after you have filed a joint return if you are still married. Thanks for pointing that out.


No Problem Scott. Just wanted to make sure. Besides why give something to the US government if you don’t have to? Besides she doesn’t even make money there why should she be double taxed?

H&R Block informed me some years ago that my Taiwanese wife, residing in Taiwan, with no US income, and with no US citizenship or residency rights, of course does not need to pay any taxes to Uncle Sam.

What possible justification could there be for a non-resident alien [regardless of status of being married to a US national] to pay US taxes?

In terms of a balance of rights and responsibilities – if you say that a Taiwanese spouse (with no US income, and with no US citizenship or residency rights) has to pay US income taxes, based on his/her marriage status to a US national, then this becomes the Taiwan spouse’s RESPONSIBILITY. But where is his/her corresponding RIGHT?

Since there is no balance of rights and responsibilities in this instance, the entire analysis of saying that the Taiwan spouse owes US income taxes appears invalid from step one.

I would recommend the following book:
The Expat’s Guide to US Taxes: 2001/2002 by Jane Bruno

It answered most of the questions I had on this question.

One thing that may be trouble in your case is that your wife has an SSN. If she obtained this SSN as a permanent resident and did not revoke her permanent residency, she may have some tax obligations to the US.

Otherwise your wife is a non-resident alien spouse and may or may not have to be taxes depending on the details.

If you have no children there’s two basic ways to file:

Married filing Jointly: You get the most deductions and so on, but you have to report ALL income for both of you. With the foreign income exemption this MAY be more advantageous. However, if you choose this method you have to continue using this method until you revoke it, and once revoked it is difficult to reinvoke.

Married filing Separately: You only have to report your own income, you can take your wife’s standard deduction as long as she has no US tax obligations. This MAY be more advantageous if your wife’s income is higher than yours, or your income is very low.

If you have a child or other dependent, you may qualify to file as head of household. There’s a lot of requirements here, but this is often the most advantageous ways of filing if you qualify. (Edit: See Publication 501 for details.)

Getting back to your wife’s SSN. Normally a non-resident alien spouse would not have an SSN, but would apply for an ITIN. This looks like an SSN but is a bit different. To get an ITIN one needs to fill out a form and take the required documents to AIT for notarization and send them to the IRS. You will then get back the number in about a month. You spouse will need either an SSN or ITIN for you to file your taxes. (Edit: AIT will copy and notarize the required documents. You do not need to send the originals if they have been notarized by AIT.)

I have just summarized some of the issues. The book above has most of the details and pointers to the IRS forms that will help. You can also call the IRS for advice. The Tokyo office is usually pretty helpful in dealing with overseas resident’s tax issues.

Thanks a bunch for your comments, Jlick. I think you might have answered everybody’s questions with that post.

Be careful about filing Head of Household. If you are married, generally you should file MFS or MFJ. You can file HoH if you and your wife lived separately for at least half the year.

According to the book, you can file as head of household if your spouse is a non-resident alien and you meet the other requirements of head of household. I’ll have to review the exact IRS regulations they cite. The book is back in the US, so I’ll have to update this later (probably when I get around to next year’s taxes).

OK, I found the IRS regulations covering the head of household filing. Go to and enter 501 in the forms and publications box. Click on Publication 501 for the tax year you are interested in. Go to section on head of household. In here you will find out who qualifies as head of household. One of these requirements is that you be considered unmarried. If you have a nonresident alien spouse then you are probably considered unmarried:

You still need to qualify as a head of household otherwise, but if you have a child or a dependent parent living with you (or in cases of a parent they don’t necessarily need to live with you), it is not hard to attain the requirements. Your spouse also definitely needs to be a non-resident alien. In scomargo’s case, he should make sure that his wife’s green card is no longer valid to ensure she is treated as a nonresident.

If you can meet the requirements, this is so much better than married filing separately. It’s unclear if you need to file a change of status if you’ve previously filed as married filing jointly and treating the nonresident alien spouse as a resident but I presume it would still be required.

I’d still recommend the book I mentioned above. It covers this and many other common expat issues quite well.

[quote=“jlick”]I would recommend the following book:
The Expat’s Guide to US Taxes: 2001/2002 by Jane Bruno[/quote]

By the way, this edition is outdated and out of print now. The 2003/2004 edition is being sold as an e-book here:

(I’m getting ready to file taxes…)