Coffee heat rising

A Quick Guide to Taxes for Self-Employed American Expats

Susan-B.-Anthony-DollarThe United States is only one of two countries that have adopted a citizenship-based taxation system, the other being Eritrea in Northeast Africa. This means that all U.S. citizens and permanent residents (also known as Green Card holders) are required to file a return and pay tax on their worldwide income, even if they are based in a foreign country.

For self-employed expats who are thinking of starting a business abroad, this could mean an additional layer of complexity to an already complicated system of tax filing and reporting. But just because the U.S. tax system works against expat taxpayers doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals.

Here’s a quick guide to filing taxes as a self-employed expat.

What is self-employment?

People who work for themselves are considered self-employed. While the term is generally associated with small side hustles, working as an independent contractor or opening a business also counts as self-employment.

According to the IRS, a person can be considered self-employed if:

  • They carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor
  • They are a member of a business or trade partnership
  • They are otherwise in business for themselves (including a part-time business)

It’s important to note that a person can be both self-employed and also work as a salaried employee. Many expats have started businesses on the side while holding down a full-time job.

Self-employed expat taxes

Self-employed expats often deal with heavier tax responsibilities compared to their salaried counterparts.

For starters, self-employed taxpayers have to withhold taxes from their income themselves, which results in extra paperwork and research. They also have to pay self-employment tax (for Social Security and Medicare) on top of their income tax.

Self-employed taxpayers may also have to pay estimated taxes quarterly. Ask a tax professional to clarify your tax situation to avoid a hefty penalty at the end of the year.

What is the threshold for self-employed tax

The reporting threshold for self-employed individuals is substantially lower than what most taxpayers are accustomed to. Self-employed expats who earn more than $400 in a year are required to file a tax return.

Is foreign income subject to self-employment tax

All income from self-employment, even from foreign sources, is subject to U.S. taxation. Self-employed individuals are required to pay a 15.3% self-employment tax: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare.

However, you may claim an exemption from paying U.S. Social Security tax if the United States has signed a totalization treaty with your country of residence.

Self-employed tax deductions

The IRS allows self-employed individuals to deduct business expenses from their taxable income, reducing their tax bills. Make sure to take advantage of all the benefits available to you to minimize your tax liability.

Some business expenses you can deduct include:

  • Legal and professional services
  • Business-related travel
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Marketing
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance
  • Business meals and entertainment

Just make sure to keep your records updated in the event of an IRS inquiry. Every deduction must be supported by documentation such as a receipt to justify the claim.

Self-employed tax exemptions

Self-employed expats who already pay income tax to their host countries can take advantage of tax exemptions to minimize their U.S. tax liability on the same income.

For instance, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion allows you to exclude up to $108,700 (for tax year 2021) of foreign-earned income from U.S. tax if you are based in a foreign country.

You may also take a Foreign Tax Credit for foreign income taxes imposed on the same income. Self-employed expat taxpayers may claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on income tax paid to the host country’s tax service. This means you can use your foreign income tax bill to offset your U.S. taxes.

What if I’ve never filed self-employed taxes?

Self-employed American expats who haven’t filed a U.S. tax return may use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures program to report foreign-earned income and pay back taxes without facing penalties.

Tax planning for self-employed expats

Filing taxes as a self-employed expat can be confusing and time-consuming. You are expected to stay on top of your tax obligations while running a business abroad. You also risk incurring heavy penalties if you make a mistake on your tax return. If you want to make sure your taxes are done correctly, your best option is to work with a professional tax service .

The Biggest Bugaboo of Hallowe’en…

Tax records.

Actually, the real biggest bugaboo this year was covid-19, which pretty much put the eefus on Hallowe’en in our neighborhood. Over in lower Richistan, the young parents insisted on entertaining Hallowe’en tricksters and treaters, many of them creating hilarious long ore slides through which they could deliver candy without having to get close to the kiddies and the teenagers. But over here in the peanut gallery, most people simply shut down their property. I turned off the lights and hunkered down in the back of the house, and noticed that most of the houses around me were darkened, too.

Usually Mr. & Mrs. WonderAccountant host a little party on their driveway. Ruby and I go over there and hang out all evening, and a great deal of fun is had by all. The kids are such a kick in their costumes, and they’re usually accompanied by adults who are commensurately decked out. But this year, even if the WonderAccountants hadn’t decided to opt the festivities…well…with a shiny new life-threatening condition, I surely can’t afford to expose myself to a disease that is likely to carry me away, just for the fun of handing out candy to a bunch of strangers’ kids in costumes.

That notwithstanding, I left a big box of candy out on the sidewalk for passers-by. Usually when you do that, someone will steal the whole thing. Not even the thieves were out and about! 😀 The junk was still out there this morning, and now I’ll have either to throw it away or to donate it to some charity. Personally, encouraging kids to eat that crap is agin’ my religion, so I’ll probably toss it.

Meanwhile, we’re nigh unto the end of the year, and so it’s time to organize this year’s transactions for WonderAccountant’s delectation. Arrrhhhhhh!!! How I hate that task!!!!!

And THAT is the Biggest Bugaboo of Hallowe’en! Eeeeeek!!!

After last year’s torture, I decided I would download and organize a month’s worth of transactions at a time, so that by the end of the year only one miserable month’s worth would await.

But no. Not a chance. I am simply too, toooo lazy to force myself to attend to an aversive task on a regular basis. Plus it’s been a bit of a shitty year health-wise, and so I surely haven’t felt like farting with that garbage. From what I can tell, I kept up with the credit-union transactions through the end of May and the AMEX transactions…well, not at all. I’ve only got one AMEX download: May through June.

It will take hour after hour after brain-numbing HOUR to download these hundreds and hundreds of transactions and organize them by category in Excel.

This used to be an easy task in Quicken. But the program I was using turned out not to be compatible with newer Mac operating systems, so about all I can do is track the stuff in Excel and then pass the Excel files along to WonderAccountant. She can access my CU statements, but of course she has no idea how to categorize about 95% of that stuff. To save her time and my money, I really need to do the scutwork myself.

Ohhh gawd!

You know…as my time on this earth grows shorter and shorter, my patience with things electronic grows shorter, too. I am SO goddamn sick of hassling with computers! And wrangling data. And trying to overcome every damnfool new “improvement” and “update” foisted on us, most of which are far from improvements but represent some new headache. The last thing on this earth I want to do is spend several hours a day the next three or four weeks wrestling with data from the credit union, from American Express, from Medicare, and in Excel.

Well, with any luck at all, given the current state of affairs, maybe this will be the last thing I’ll have to do in that department.

Thank heaven for small blessings…

Come Saturday Mornin’…

Another week has blown past. The older you get, the faster time passes…remember when you were a little kid and an hour seemed like an eternity? Yeah…now it doesn’t even make it up to five seconds.

Finally managed to finish and post this week’s chapter of Ella’s Story. Slowing the post schedule for each bookoid — Ella, If You’d Asked Me, and The Complete Writer — from three a week to one a week was a good idea. That seems obvious in retrospect. But Asked and Writer are already written. And really, if I would get off the dime I could (in theory) write a chapter a week for Ella’s Story.

It’s just that, well…I’m not about to get off the dime. Too many distractions beckon, not the least of which is the doggy drama. One could say it’s not that I have too much to do but that I overly enjoy doing too little.

Right this minute, for example, the dryer buzzes angrily. Yesterday Cassie waddled over to the dog bed parked under the computer desk, dragged herself onto it, and…yeah. Squatted right there and pooped all over it. So much for writing. Get up, drag out the bed, clean up the mess, see that the dog is in a bad way, carry the dog outside to do its business, pick her up, carry her back inside…on and on it goes. Instead of doing this — right this minute — I should be dragging out the garbage, picking up the dog shit out of the back yard (again), cleaning the dog shit off my shoe from where I stepped in it this morning, taking down the leaking hummingbird feeder and power-washing the flagstone beneath it before the day gets warm enough to awaken the Ondt Queen’s hordes, drafting a kind of “g’day” email to send out to my missing clientele, returning to LinkedIn and rebuilding a presence there, starting to work more seriously on Drugging of America, putting a load of actual laundry in the washer, sneaking out with Ruby to squeeze in a mile’s walk, checking the pool chemicals, applying a coat of silicone lubricant to the rubber gasket on the pool’s pump basket, calling my friends to see how they’re settling into their new abode, downloading and entering data into Excel for the tax accountant…

Ugh! There’s the hangup: I hate hate HATE the job of entering day after day of income and expense data into a complicated spreadsheet. So, the chore becomes one of entering month after month of data… And, that, having been put off in a monthly fit of aversion, is going to take several long days of drudging away. I don’t want to do that, so…I don’t do anything. Because really, that should be the first priority (January being more than at hand…), and so of course I can’t do anything else before doing that. Can I?


I fail to see the point of recording every single goddamn transaction. Why can’t we enter tax-related transactions only? Income: sure. Medical-related expenses: yeah. Business expenses: of course. Property tax, state tax, and car registration: yep. Capital improvements on the house: yes. But come ON: every trip to Costco, Walmart, and Safeway? Every bottle of olive oil, loaf of bread, package of dog food? Seriously? Why is that necessary?

Obviously, for the business “tax-related” would mean every single transaction. But for the personal stuff, what is the point of entering dozens and even hundreds of transactions that are irrelevant for tax purposes? If all I recorded were income, medical and insurance expenses, charitable contributions, tax payments, capital improvements, investment income & expenses…wouldn’t that be quite enough? I mean, for godsake…we know what net worth is, and we know what net income/expense balance is: all we have to do is enter the bank balance at the beginning of the year, the bank balance at the end of the year, and figure the difference. Quickbooks downloads bank transactions and preserves them, in a clumsy way. Fidelity provides reports for all IRA and non-IRA investments. So…why are we doing this?

Add to the list of things to do today: Ask accountant why are we doing this.

Ruby just peed all over one of Cassie’s pee mats. Suspicions confirmed. Because Cassie has come un-house-trained, now Ruby figures she can forget that “outside” rubbish, too.

Cassie fell into a disturbing relapse yesterday. On her best days, she’s far from well. On a bad day? Well: disturbing.

She started having difficulty walking. The past few days, her chassis has just kind of given out: her hind legs either collapse or, on the slippery tiles, slide out from under her. Yesterday she was very weak, and by evening clearly was in pain. I dosed her with half a Benadryl and a baby aspirin at night, and by this morning she seems better.

Sometimes she becomes confused. A few minutes ago I found her standing in the office with her nose sticking into the bookcase. She seemed not to know how to disengage herself from this pose. More and more often, too, she goes outside, she looks around…and she appears mystified. Her expression and body language seem to say What is this place? Where am I and how did I get here?

So…that’s depressing. Yesterday I thought it was “Time,” but knowing she may spring back to at least a marginally acceptable state discourages me from whisking her off to the vet to be put down. And yea verily: this morning she’s not well, but she’s not in those desperate straits, either. Far as the human eye can discern.

I discovered that closing the doors to two of the bedrooms cuts down considerably on the excreta pick-up. Why? That is unclear. But without the freezer/crafts room floor and the spare bedroom floor to use as outposts of the doggy loo, they’re both more inclined to arf at the door when the mood beckons.

But Cassie really needs to be physically guided outside and reminded to do her business about once an hour. Sometimes, if she’s feeling feeble, this entails picking her up, carrying her out the door, toting her to the peeing ground, setting her down, and then picking her up and carrying her back inside. Besides the obvious joy entailed, this poses yet another problem:

SDXB is determined to get me to go on a day trip to Castle Hot Springs with him. So enthused is he about this expedition that he has engineered an entire party with his present girlfriend and one of his other ex-girlfriends., which he expects me to join. He now has this scheduled for early February.

The problem is…if Cassie doesn’t accommodate his plan by shuffling off this mortal coil before then, there’s no way I can go with them.

I can’t leave her with my son: he has a job. (Remember those?) I can’t leave her outdoors all day: for one thing, she’s always been an indoor dog, and for another, even if she were accustomed to spending hours out of doors, it’s too cold now for that.

So…uhm… I really don’t quite know what to say… “Sure, I’ll come along if my dog is dead by then”?


Tax Cuts Coming? Depends on Who You Are…

So we’ve been promised massive tax cuts, hallelujah! And presumably our new President was elected at least partially on the strength of those promises.

Ah, yes. Campaign promises… In the entire history of this country, has even one of them ever been true?

Now we see, studying Mr. Trump’s tax plan, that if you’re a single parent earning $75,000 with two kids who are out of day-care, your taxes would rise by more than $2400.

A married couple earning $50,000, with two school-aged children and no child care costs, would see a tax increase of about $150. A millionaire would get a tax cut of around $317,000. And about half the benefits of the Trump tax cuts will go to the one-percenters.



Of Weather, Dogs, Budgets, Stir-Craziness, and Taxes

At 5:15 a.m., it’s 93 degrees on the back porch, and overcast. Was going to jump in the pool but then heard thunder and thought better of it. Turned around, came inside, fed the dogs, thought better of the better thought, ran outside, and plunged in the pool, thunder rumbling through the skies.

Leapt out, grabbed the hose, watered the withering plants, and flew back inside.

Now at least my hair is wet and braided, which will provide some convenient personal air conditioning for the next several hours.

Damn near 95 degrees at 5 in the morning means no exercise for the dogs. Cassie, with her thick coat and lion-like mane, has never been able to withstand that kind of heat for more than half a mile. Ruby probably could, but it might not be great for her. The prospect doesn’t thrill the human, either.

It means I don’t get any exercise, either. Could do some physical therapy exercises and yoga, but that ain’t the same as two brisk miles. Oh well.


Y’know, in all the years I’ve fed my dogs Real Food, I’ve never kept track of how long a batch of cooked meat, veggies, and starch lasts. Probably scared: I don’t wanna know how much this is costing me!!

However, we now have a hint. On July 15, I made a Costco run that included a giant package of frozen dog veggies ($6.49), a lifetime supply of chicken thighs ($12.64), and a massive amount of pork ($35.55), for a total of $54.68

Divided the pork into three packages. ONE of those lasted 10 days, when cooked with a sweet potato (on hand) and a few handsful of frozen veggies. So that means the $36 worth of pork alone, in theory, should last the dogs for a month.

It’s almost the end of the month. I’ve cooked 1/3 of the pork, half of the chicken, about half the frozen veggies, and embellished the results with about one cup of rice and two sweet potatoes. We have 1½ Tupperware-type containers of chicken-based dog food left — more than enough to last past the 31st. The first chicken cooking will cover 10 days. AND we have the other half of the packaged chicken thighs, still in the freezer: another 10 days! The remaining pork will make another 20 days’ worth of dog food.

30 days: pork
20 days: chicken
50 days: total days covered by Costco run

That means $55 and change is feeding two dogs for almost two months.

Holy sh!t.  I had no idea  feeding them actual, real food was that economical.


I’ve been adding a few bites of kibble (Whole Foods’ house brand) to both dogs’ meals, because I’ve not been confident that my dog food recipe sufficed for a puppy. (And of course Cassie will not put up with Ruby getting anything that she doesn’t get.) But now that Ruby is over two years old, she can go wholly on real food without risk. I think we’ll switch her over to 100% real food, which will cut the length of time the supply lasts by about 50%. But that should be tolerable. Especially since we won’t be buying expensive kibble.

Cassie is now 10 years old, and she’s incredibly healthy. You would never know she’s advanced in age. Her teeth are good. The terrible dog breath she had when she came to the Funny Farm is gone. No aches and pains seem to bother her. She races around the backyard with Ruby — and believe me, despite the short legs (or maybe because of them) a corgi goes like a rocket. Her coat is gorgeous. She eats well. And when the weather is tolerable, she can walk a mile at a fast clip with no problem.

My son’s dog, who gets nothing but the very best high-end kibble, has red swollen gums and bad breath. He obviously needs an expensive dental job. My son can’t afford that and so continues in denial. And (btw) that dog gets the doggywobbles every time he turns around. A vet claims this is because of a congenital intestinal problem, but that speculation has never been proven; one wonders if the issue would resolve in the absence of commercial dog food.

Cassie and Ruby eat everything in sight, and they never, ever get sick. Doggy diarrhea is rarely seen in these parts, unless one of them finds something weird to eat outdoors.

I first discovered this dawg wellness phenomenon when I started cooking Real Food for the German shepherd and the greyhound, during the late Chinese melamine fiasco. The difference in Anna, the decrepit German shepherd, was startling. She had been so crippled with age that she could barely haul herself off the floor. Shortly, she was chasing her ball around the backyard again, something she hadn’t been able to do in many months.


The budget is looking pretty good despite some small overruns.

Last month, on the first, I bought a $50 Costco cash card, solely to buy gas. The first tank of gas lasted until just a few days ago. I now have a full tank, which will probably last until the middle of next month — especially if I opt next month’s junket to Avondale. So apparently in my dotage, it’s costing nothing like $50 a month to buy gas.

As we’ve seen, I indulged myself with a gardening purchase (the composter), which would have led to a budget overrun without the other small surprises. But that may pay for itself this winter when I use it on the proposed vegetable pots.

One reason the budget is so tight at this time of year is that the utility bills are astronomical in this heat. In the winter, though, they’ll drop to almost nothing: both electric and water will fall into pocket change category.

The reason I don’t allow the power company to prorate the electric bill is that I like having a lot of extra budgetary play in the winter, when I want to buy Christmas presents and have to pony up money for church donations. I wouldn’t feel I could afford those things if I had to pay for part of the summer bills all year round. Plus it’s a good idea to be eminently aware of how much air conditioning actually costs you at any given time…


We’re basically heat-bound here. I feel like I’ve been in jail all summer. Choir is out during the summertime. I suppose I could go to Church on Sundays and socialize a bit…but organized religion per se is not really my thing. I commune best with the Ineffable in nature, not under a roof.  😉

With recreational shopping out (permanently, it seems), hiking out because of the heat, and the cultural scene in estivation, there’s really nothing to do here but read the news on the computer and work. Hence: a 400-page book in draft, in a matter of days. Amazingly enough.

Thank God for the swimming pool. This summer was the first in two years that I’ve been allowed to get in the water. It’s a life-saver.

Wish it had some kind of shade screen over the top, so I could swim in the heat of the day. When I was young, dumb, and didn’t give a damn, I used to drop into the pool several times a day, just to keep cool. Now…not so much. Too scared about melanoma.

Adventures in Medical Science do that to you: create fear.

The weather this summer has been a real bear, and it looks like this is going to be a permanent thing. My son figures the Valley will remain livable until the mid-2020s, which is about when we’ll run out of the water the Central Arizona Project has been quietly pumping back into the aquifer. But water or no, if this kind of heat continues, the low desert really will become uninhabitable.


He’s talking about moving to Oregon, if his employer will allow him to work from home — as apparently is in the cards. I don’t know if I could afford to live there…the taxes, I fear, are too high. calls Oregon “moderately friendly” for retirees. It’s a little hard to tell, though, because they don’t seem to take sales taxes into consideration. In Arizona, sales taxes are around 10% — depends on the municipality, because some cities tax food and some don’t. Property taxes are apparently higher because the cost of real estate is higher, and Oregon has no sales tax. It does have an estate tax, starting at $1 million — that presumably would not apply when I croak over. Or I could just start maxing out transfers of assets to my son before I die.

If you believe SmartAsset, it looks like Oregon is comparable to Arizona. In Oregon, you supposedly will pay $1,598 on a $40,000 income. In Arizona, the figure is $480. Huh…how do you suppose they have the chutzpah to put those two in the same category? They can’t possibly be figuring the sales taxes in there. Sales tax amounts to hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year here!

Must say that the prospect of moving across the country doesn’t appeal. I’d have to sell all my furniture, since the cost of a moving van is pretty prohibitive. Once there, I’d have to refurnish with Ikea junk or spend months searching for replacements in estate sales. Ugh! Not much fun, either way.

Heh… In the “very tax friendly” category, SmartAsset lists Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming. :-0 Talk about “out of the frying pan, into the fire!” None of those are places I would jump to live in.

Hm. Ordinary unexceptional “tax friendly”:

Colorado is considered tax-friendly: that’s interesting. I could stand to live in Colorado. None of the others appeal, though, with the possible exception of Idaho and maybe New Hampshire.

Colorado: $1,852 taxes on 40 grand. Idaho: $837. New Hampshire: $0.

Zero? What are they smoking over there at SmartAssets??

Ah: here’s the explanation: SmartAssets’ figures don’t include property taxes. Well, hell. Then their calculations mean exactly nothing. It’s the property taxes that do you in when you’re retired!


All these gingery calculations you see in the media about where to retire on a shoestring are pretty silly. None of them compare apples with oranges or take all the factors into consideration. For example: how much is it going to cost you to fly back and forth to visit grandchildren? If a state doesn’t have property taxes, how is it paying for its infrastructure? You can be sure the Tooth Fairy isn’t covering the cost of roads and schools…

So, let’s move to Mexico or Colombia, hm?

Those schemes fail to mention that Medicare doesn’t cover you when you’re out of the country. And as sad as America’s healthcare system is looking, our doctors and hospitals are still a lot better than what you’ll find in most of those “affordable” countries. Assuming you survive, say, a stroke or a heart attack, how much will it cost to fly you to the US for quality care? And how much more will your care cost you after medical attention has been delayed for the period it takes you to get transportation back to Medicare Heaven?

Welp. I don’t know if Arizona will remain livable for the remainder of my assigned years. If it doesn’t, I suppose Oregon or Colorado would suffice.

Wherever my son goes…I probably would follow him. Oregon, though: that would be good.