Taxes for Americans Living in Canada

For American citizens, the obligation to file US taxes doesn’t end when you cross international borders. In fact, if you are an American living in Canada, it’s crucial to understand that you are required to file tax returns with both the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The unique tax laws and treaties between the United States and Canada can make this process confusing, but failing to file correctly can result in significant penalties.

At Universal Tax Professionals, we provide specialized US expat tax services to assist all Americans living in Canada. Below is a simple guide that aims to offer a comprehensive overview of how American citizens in Canada can approach filing their US taxes. 

Filing Requirements

If you are a US citizen residing in Canada, you must file a U.S. tax return if your income exceeds a certain level, even if all your income is generated outside the United States. For the 2021 tax year, these income thresholds were:

  • Single filers: $12,950
  • Married filing jointly: $25,900
  • Married filing separately: $5 
  • Head of Household: $19,400

Forms To Be Aware Of

  • Form 1040: This is the standard US individual income tax return form.
  • Form 2555: This form is for claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
  • Form 1116: To claim the Foreign Tax Credit.
  • FBAR (FinCEN Form 114): For reporting foreign bank accounts if the aggregate value exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year.
  • Form 8938: Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets; required if you have significant financial assets in Canada.
  • Form 3520: For reporting gifts or trusts from a foreign source.

Special Note: FBAR and Form 8938

It’s important to know that having a foreign bank account may require you to file additional forms like the FBAR and Form 8938, apart from the standard income tax form. Failure to disclose can result in hefty fines.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and Foreign Tax Credit (FTC)

American citizens living in Canada can take advantage of either the FEIE or the FTC to avoid double taxation.

  • FEIE (Form 2555): Allows you to exclude up to $112,000 (for 2022) of your foreign earnings from U.S. income tax.
  • FTC (Form 1116): Allows you to credit taxes you’ve paid to Canada against your US tax liability.

Usually, the FTC is more beneficial for Americans living in Canada due to Canada’s higher tax rates, effectively reducing or eliminating any US tax owed.

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US - Canada Tax Treaty

The United States and Canada have a tax treaty in place that provides rules to prevent double taxation and to resolve various tax issues between the two countries. Some forms of income such as certain pensions, retirement accounts, or social security payments may be taxed differently according to the treaty provisions.

Currency Exchange Rates

It’s crucial to report all figures in US dollars when filing your US tax return. You can use the yearly average exchange rate or the rate on the day the income was received, depending on your circumstances.

Penalties and Compliance

Failure to comply with US tax law while living abroad can result in steep penalties. The IRS has numerous methods for tracking down non-compliant expats, so it’s advisable to consult with tax professionals familiar with both US and Canadian tax laws.

Professional Help

Given the complexity of the tax laws, many American expatriates choose to seek professional help. Hiring a tax advisor who is experienced in US – Canada tax issues can save you time and possibly money in the long run.

In summary, filing US taxes while living in Canada can be complicated but is a requirement for American citizens. By being aware of the specific forms, deadlines, and treaties, and possibly seeking professional advice, you can navigate this obligation more confidently and efficiently

Deadlines and Extensions

The deadline for U.S. citizens abroad to file federal income tax returns is automatically extended to June 15. However, interest will accrue on any taxes owed from the standard April 15 deadline. FBARs have an automatic extension until October 15.

Provincial Taxes

In addition to federal taxes, you’ll also need to contend with provincial taxes in Canada. The foreign tax credit can also be applied to these taxes, but you’ll need to calculate them separately on Form 1116.

Taxes for Americans Living in Canada - Buildings in Toronto

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

About Filing US Taxes for Americans Living in Canada

1. Do I have to file U.S. taxes if I am already paying taxes in Canada?
  • Yes, American citizens are required to file US tax returns regardless of their place of residence, even if they are also paying taxes in Canada. However, various mechanisms like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) can help you avoid double taxation.


2. What happens if I don’t file U.S. taxes while living in Canada?
  • Failing to file your US tax returns or report foreign assets can result in significant financial penalties and possible criminal charges. The IRS has increased efforts to identify non-compliant expats, so it’s crucial to stay up to date with your filings.


3. Can I contribute to my Canadian Retirement Accounts and how does that impact my US taxes?
  • Yes, you can contribute to Canadian retirement accounts like RRSPs. The US – Canada Tax Treaty generally allows for income in these accounts to be deferred for US tax purposes until it is distributed. However, it’s important to file the correct forms to claim this treaty benefit. Other accounts, like TFSAs, do not receive this favorable treatment and may result in US tax liabilities.


4. How do I report income in two different currencies?
  • All income and assets must be reported in US dollars when filing US tax returns. You can use the yearly average exchange rate for conversions, or use the exchange rate in effect on the day the income was received. Consistency is key, so make sure to use the same method for all transactions within the same tax year.


5. I’m behind on my U.S. tax filings; what should I do?
  • If you are behind on your tax filings, it’s essential to become compliant as soon as possible to avoid penalties. The IRS offers various programs, such as the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, to help taxpayers get caught up on their tax obligations. Consulting a tax professional experienced in US – Canada tax issues can guide you through this process.