Coping with tax season on two continents

It’s not unusual for me to wake up from nightmares this time of year and they have almost exclusively to do with taxes; more specifically being late and/or incorrect with taxes in one form or another: not finding all the right documents and being late, using the wrong color pen to fill out forms and being late (does anyone actually fill out paper forms anymore?), getting the math wrong and being late, you get the picture… It’s totally irrational, I know! I figure that my affliction stems from the old Swedish fear of being late, coupled with an overly keen sense of following rules.

Turns out however that filing taxes as an expat can be a little extra stressful and often times, you have to do double duty and file in both your home country and your host country. As an expat, you might be faced with filing in a language that is not your own and that in itself can make the whole process feel almost impossible.

My husband and I met with our tax guy earlier this week and even though we have seen him every year for the past 15 years, I still always come away with questions regarding what certain things actually mean. Take the 1098-T and the 401(k), what are they anyway and what do I do with them? Once the conversation turns to carry-overs, deductions and accelerated depreciations, my head is spinning for sure. I am glad that at the end of the meeting, I can turn to my list of action items that Mr. Taxman helped put together, and just get it done.

I think the best piece of advice I ever got for taking at least some of the stress out of tax season, is also the simplest one — educate yourself on the basics: where are you required to file taxes, when are they due, what kind of help do you need? Once the basics are clear, you can put those worries to rest and focus on more intricate matters.

There are some other good pieces of advice and finding a professional who can help is probably at the top of that list. As an expat it’s important to find someone who is well versed in tax law both in your new country and who is aware of the complications your expat status may or may not add. It may be that you need to consult someone in your home country as well. If you want to read up on your own, most countries have comprehensive websites.

Regardless of how hard it is to get all your papers and numbers together, make sure to do it. Skipping filing taxes may compromise your status as an expat. Personally, I think I am just about ready, if only I can locate that 1098-T… I better find it quickly though — my next wave of tax filing is just around the corner!

By: Felicia Shermis

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