As a foreign national, you will find that filing taxes can be a little more complicated, especially if you moved to the U.S. in the middle of the year. Usually, dual status comes as a result of acquiring or revoking a Green Card, arriving or leaving with a visa or expatriation problems. Generally, you can be taxed one of three ways as a foreign national: as a non-resident alien, a resident alien or a dual-status alien. In the case of maintaining both statuses in a year, you will need to file as dual status.
Who is a dual-status taxpayer?
A dual-status taxpayer is an individual who was a nonresident alien at one point and a resident alien at another point—all in the same tax year. This individual will have met the requirements for the substantial presence test, having been in the U.S. for 183 days. Note that dual-status is not in reference to one’s citizenship; it’s only in reference to one’s resident status specifically for United States tax purposes.
Maintaining two statuses at different times means the dual-status tax year has to be split into two parts—one for the resident part of the year and another for the non-resident part.
- Part One: Resident Alien – For the part of the year when you are a resident alien, filing taxes is similar to that of a U.S. citizen, in that you are taxed on worldwide income—income from all sources. So, if you receive income from another country, it is still taxable.
- Part Two: Nonresident Alien – For the part of the year when you are a nonresident alien, you are taxed only on the income you receive from U.S. sources.
How to file dual-status tax return
How you file your taxes depends on which parts of the year you held each status, and you will fill out two forms for the return. As a resident alien at the end of the year, you will file Form 1040 with “Dual-Status Return” written at the top, along with Form 1040NR attached, which serves as a statement showing any U.S. income; you’ll then write “Dual-Status Statement” at the top of the 1040NR.
As a nonresident alien at the end of the year, you will do the opposite and file Form 1040NR as the return and use Form 1040 as the statement—again, with the corresponding dual-status labels for each written at the top. Unfortunately, the dual-status return cannot be e-filed, but there are options for filling them out in a digital format and printing them to be mailed.
Understanding the IRS restrictions for filing dual-status tax returns
It’s important to know which credits and deductions apply to you and your dual-status return so you can utilize the benefits and understand any restrictions. For example, an individual cannot use the standard deduction on Form 1040, though you can itemize certain allowable deductions. You can see the full list of restrictions here.
Electing to file jointly as married couple
As a dual-status alien married to a U.S. citizen or a resident alien, you may elect to file a joint return with your spouse. You will then be treated as a resident alien the entire year, though your worldwide income will be subject to U.S. reporting for the entire tax year.
You can make the election if all of the following apply:
- You are a nonresident alien at the beginning of the year,
- A resident alien or U.S. citizen at the end of the year,
- You are married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien at the end of the year, and
- You and your spouse make the choice together with both signatures.
When you should file
If you’re a resident alien on the last day of your tax year, the deadline to file is no later than April 15 of the year following the end of your tax year.
The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2020 (taxes filed 2021).