It has been estimated that there are several thousand Americans living in Latvia.
Living in Latvia is an incredible experience for a number of reasons, including the history, architecture, culture, and countryside, the quality of life, and having the rest of Europe on your doorstep. As an American expatriate living in Latvia though, what exactly do you need to know regarding filing US expat (and Latvian) taxes?
All US citizens and green card holders who earn a minimum of around $10,000 (or just $400 for self-employed individuals) anywhere in the world are required to file a US federal tax return and pay taxes to the IRS, regardless of where in the world they live or their income is generated.
The good news is if you are paying income tax in Latvia, there are various exclusions and exemptions available to prevent you paying tax on the same income to the IRS too.
US taxes – what you need to know
If you earn over US$10,000 (or just $400 of self-employment income), wherever the income originates in the world you have to file IRS form 1040.
While any US taxes due are still due by April 15th, expats get an automatic filing extension until June 15th, which can be extended further on request until October 15th.
If you have overseas assets worth over US$200,000 per person, excluding your home if it is owned in your own name, you also have to file form 8938 to declare them.
If you had a total of at least US$10,000 in one or more foreign bank and/or investment accounts at any time during the tax year, you also have to file FinCEN form 114, otherwise known as a Foreign Bank Account Report or FBAR.
If you pay income tax in Latvia, there are several exemptions that allow you to pay less or no US income tax on the same income to the IRS.
“If Latvian residents work under an employment contract with a Latvian company and the work is performed in the territory of Latvia, the employer withholds income tax at a flat rate from the employee’s income and pays the tax to the Latvian State budget on a monthly basis. At the year-end tax for other types of income is calculated and paid.” – KPMG
The main ones are the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which lets you exclude the first around US$100,000 of foreign earned income from US tax if you can prove that you are a Latvian resident, and the Foreign Tax Credit, which gives you a $1 tax credit for every dollar of tax you’ve paid in Latvia. These exemptions can be combined if necessary. Remember though that even if you don’t owe any tax to the IRS, if your income is over US$10,000 (or $400 if you’re self-employed) you still have to file a federal return.
The US and Latvian governments share taxpayer info, and Latvian banks pass on US account holders’ account info to the IRS, so it’s not worth not filing or omitting anything on your return. The penalties for incorrect or incomplete filing for expats are steep to say the least.
If you’re a US citizen, green card holder, or US/Latvian dual citizen, and you have been living in Latvia but you didn’t know you had to file a US tax return, don’t worry: there’s a program called the IRS Streamlined Procedure that allows you to catch up on your filing without paying any penalties. Don’t delay though, in case the IRS comes to you first.
Latvian taxes – what you need to know
Latvian residents are taxed on their worldwide employment and self-employment income on a scale from 20% to 31%. Non-residents are solely taxed on any income sourced in Latvia.
Foreigners living in Latvia are considered a resident for tax purposes if they have a place of residence in Latvia, or if they spend at least 183 days in Latvia in any 12 month period.
The Latvian tax year is the same as in the US, which is to say the calendar year. If your only source of income is from employment in Latvia, your income will be taxed at source and you won’t have to file a tax return. Otherwise, tax returns are due by June 1st. The Latvian tax authority is simply called the government Ministry of Finance.
We strongly recommend that if you have any doubts or questions about your tax situation as a US expat living in Latvia that you contact a US expat tax specialist.