If even reading this title made you cringe as much as I do at the mere thought of tax season, and you’re living abroad hiding paperwork under your bed, this is for you. Benji (that’s Benjamin Franklin) said it best:“The only things in life you can’t escape are death and taxes.”
Living abroad means you’ll be dealing with the extremely heart-wrenching, headache-inducing inevitable reality that is taxes. You may be the other side of the Atlantic, as I am in France, but no matter where you are in the world, you can’t run, and you can’t hide. Benjamin Franklin isn’t credited with saying, “The only things in life you can’t escape are death and taxes” for nothing.
Taxes are stressful enough in your own country. When you have to tack on numerous trips to a foreign tax office to make sense of your payslip and rummage through your belongings to try to track down a boatload of requested paperwork, the experience becomes all the more burdensome.
But the minor consequence of potentially getting kicked out of the country for tax evasion is certainly enough to light a fire under your butt. It’s good for you, really. Dealing with taxes overseas forces you to be self-sufficient, but also, to swallow your pride and realize no, you’re not invincible, nor do you know it all, so you may need to ask for help. Do it. Be proactive and persistent.
Thankfully, there are lots of resources out there to help, and many people who have been in the boat before you. The information is plentiful, so take your time to do your research and find the best options are for you. But for now, here are a couple pointers to survive tax season:
Ask the locals
They’ve been there, done that, and have the insiders’ scoop on their tax season (and probably got the t-shirt but only nerds wear tax season shirts). Plus, your foreign friends will be able to help with any foggy translations.
Ask other expats
Same idea as the one above. But unlike the locals, they’ll know some of the same hoops you have to jump through as a foreigner and may be able to save you some time and a few wine-induced headaches (as they likely made mistakes their first time around).
Go straight to the source
Go to the big boys at the tax office. You’d be surprised how much they’ll help. In Paris, each arrondissement has a tax office. Block out some time, go when they open, and expect to wait. Check the website or call ahead to check which documents you’ll need to bring with you. Plus, completing your files with the team who will eventually be processing them assures you won’t be audited.
Use your research skills
This is where those extended research sessions in the university library come in handy. There are plenty of reputable printed publications and blog posts on this very topic, so invest time to sift through the garbage, and find some real answers.
There is no shame in taking this route. In fact, if you’re willing to invest the money to consult a professional, you’ll certainly save time and hassle, but again, do your homework to find the best option price- and service-wise. From my experience, I can recommend Greenback Expat Tax Services for U.S. citizens abroad. They connect you with a CPA or IRS-enrolled agent at a flat-fee pricing, which is certainly hard to argue against. For me, they have personally been a godsend. Plus, they can help you file extensions (these are common for expats, ain’t no shame in this game).
Last but not least, DON’T PANIC, and BREATHE.
Pray, even. Worrying never got you anywhere, so stop fretting, grab a double espresso, and get started. (Reward yourself with champagne later.)
While taxes may seem daunting, like most challenging, administrative adulting aspects of life, the hardest part is simply getting started. So, step away from your computer and at least start to tedious task of sorting through your paperwork, so you get back to reveling in your exciting life abroad.