FBAR vs 8938: Comparing Two Important Filing Requirements

Woman holds two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, representing how FBAR vs 8938 apply to US expat taxes.

Two of the most common additional US tax forms expats have to file are the FBAR and Form 8938 — but what is the difference between FBAR vs. 8938

While foreign assets are reported on both of these forms, they differ in terms of asset type and reporting thresholds.

It’s important to understand the differences between the forms. Doing so ensures that you are in full compliance with your reporting obligations as a US expat. 

The Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR), aka FinCEN Form 114, is used to report the balances of foreign banks and financial accounts. Form 8938 (i.e., the Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets), in addition to financial account balances, is used to report other types of foreign financial assets. 

When comparing these forms, it’s important to bear in mind that they are not an “either-or” scenario. That is, it is not uncommon to have both an FBAR and a FATCA filing requirement. 

Below, we’ll discuss each of these forms in depth. Topics covered include who needs to file them, which assets to disclose on them, what happens if you file them late, and more.

What gets reported on your income tax return?

Technically, neither the contents of the FBAR nor Form 8938 will be included on your main income tax return form (Form 1040). That form is primarily used to report the income you’ve earned, credits you’ll be claiming, and taxes you owe or refund you will receive.

Form 8938 is submitted along with your tax return as a separate attachment to Form 1040. The FBAR, however, is filed separately and with a different government agency altogether. 

Pro tip:

Unlike IRS Form 8938, the FBAR filing requirement is mandated by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (aka FinCEN).


You may see the term “FATCA” appear in discussions about Form 8938 vs FBAR as well. FATCA is an acronym for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a piece of legislation passed in 2010. FATCA paved the way for the creation of Form 8938 as a way to help deter financial crime and offshore tax evasion.

The FBAR, on the other hand, has existed for much longer. It was first created in 1970 as part of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). This legislative act is designed to prevent money laundering in the US.

Who is required to file Form 8938?

The following groups of expats are required to file Form 8938:

  • Single filers who have accumulated foreign financial assets worth over $200,000 USD on the last day of the year, or over $300,000 USD at any point during the year
  • Joint filers who have accumulated foreign financial assets worth over $400,000 USD on the last day of the year, or over $600,000 USD at any point during the year

FATCA doesn’t just apply to US expats. Americans residing stateside may also need to file Form 8938, although the domestic reporting thresholds are significantly lower. The following groups of Americans living stateside must file Form 8938:

  • Single filers or specified domestic entities who have accumulated foreign financial assets worth over $50,000 USD on the last day of the year, or over $75,000 USD at any point during the year
  • Joint filers who have accumulated foreign financial assets worth over $100,000 USD on the last day of the year, or over $150,000 USD at any point during the year1

Going deeper:

Specified domestic entities include certain domestic corporations, partnerships, and trusts.

FBAR reporting requirements

When looking at Form 8938 vs the FBAR, FBAR reporting requirements are more straightforward. Anyone with over $10,000 USD in foreign financial accounts at any point in the year must file an FBAR.

Note that this figure refers to the total of your foreign financial accounts, not just the individual accounts’ value.

Example FBAR reporting requirement scenario

Shauna is a single US expat living and working on a local contract in Barcelona, Spain. She opened two foreign bank accounts. One is a local Spanish account where she receives her salary, and the second is a Wise account (in euros).

She only uses the Wise account to convert euros to US dollars to send to her US brokerage account but over the course of the year. 

Over the 2023 tax year, the highest amount held in the local Spanish bank account was 7,000 euros. The highest amount in the Wise account was 4,000 euros. 

Did Shauna trigger the FBAR filing requirement? 

The answer is yes

Although neither account individually exceeded the equivalent of $10,000 USD at any point in the year, she still must file an FBAR. This is because the bank accounts’ total of 11,000 euros did exceed the $10,000 limit.

FBAR vs Form 8938: Determining which assets to disclose 

So which assets do you need to report, and on which form should you report them? When in doubt, refer to this handy breakdown, courtesy of the IRS website:2

Types of Foreign AssetsForm 8938FBAR
Financial accounts in foreign financial institutionsYesYes
Financial accounts in foreign branches of US financial institutionsNoYes
Foreign financial accounts over which you have signature authorityNo, unless you otherwise have an interest in the account as described aboveYes, with some exceptions
Foreign stock or securities in financial accounts in foreign financial institutionsAccount itself must be reported, but not the contentsAccount itself must be reported, but not the contents
Foreign stock or securities not held in a financial accountYesNo
Foreign partnership interestsYesNo
Indirect interests in foreign financial assets through an entityNoYes, if you retain sufficient ownership or beneficial interest (i.e. over 50%)
Foreign mutual fundsYesYes
Foreign accounts & foreign non-account investment assets held by foreign or domestic grantor trust for which you are the grantorYes, for both foreign accounts & foreign non-account investment assetsYes, but only for foreign accounts
Source: IRS website


Currency must always be converted back to USD when completing FinCEN Form 114 or Form 8938. You can use the official US Treasury website for the official conversions.

What assets are not required to be filed on either the FBAR or Form 8938?

The assets you don’t have to report on the FBAR or Form 8938 include:

Types of Foreign AssetsForm 8938FBAR
Financial accounts in US branches of foreign financial institutionsNoNo
Domestic mutual fund investing in foreign stocks & securitiesNoNo
Foreign real estate held directlyNoNo
Foreign real estate held through a foreign entityNo, but the foreign entity itself is a specified foreign financial asset & its maximum value includes the value of the real estateNo
Foreign currency held directlyNoNo
Precious metals held directlyNoNo
Personal property held directly, such as art, antiques, jewelry, cars, & other collectiblesNoNo
‘Social Security’- type program benefits provided by a foreign governmentNoNo
Source: IRS website

Form 8938 vs FBAR late filing

Failing to file Form 8938 or the FBAR, or filing them late, can result in fines. In some particularly flagrant cases, criminal penalties may also apply. An example of a flagrant case would be if somebody intentionally hid large sums of foreign assets from the US government for years.

But for those who file late due to an honest misunderstanding, there are amnesty programs:

Finally, we encourage US expats to review our step-by-step guide to filing US expat taxes.

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  1. Do I need to file Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets?
  2. FATCA and FBAR comparison chart source – IRS

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  • How is FBAR maximum account value calculated?

    The FBAR maximum account value is calculated by combining the balances of all of an individual’s foreign financial accounts on the day the total of those accounts reached their highest value in a given year.

  • What is the Form 8938 threshold?

    Single filers living abroad with foreign financial assets worth over $200,000 USD on the last day of the year, or over $300,000 USD at any point during the year, must file Form 8938. For joint filers, those figures are doubled: over $400,000 USD in foreign financial assets on the last day of the year, or over $600,000 USD at any point during the year. For those living in the US, the filing thresholds are much lower.