I'm a Canadian-US dual citizen (born in the US to Canadian parents) but I've lived in Canada my whole life (aside from the first 3 weeks). I've never had an American passport or a SSN. I've never filed a tax return in the US, or really done anything there other than some cross-border shopping and being born there.

I've heard that US citizens living abroad need to file taxes in the US. Is this something I'm going to get into trouble for in the future? Should/can I just renounce my US citizenship? Or will it be revoked soon enough with a republican congressional bill against anchor babies? Or can I just continue ignoring things, and assume that since I don't have a SSN, the IRS doesn't have me on record, and won't bother me? Or do I really need to go through the process of getting a US passport and SSN (much of which requires in-person visits to embassies / consulates and other government agencies in both Canada and the US)?

  • Since you were born in the U.S., your U.S. citizenship cannot be taken away by Congress. It's protected by the constitution.
    – user102008
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 20:38
  • Also, it's strange that you were born in the U.S. but don't have an SSN. Nowadays, they pretty much automatically apply for SSNs for babies born in the U.S.
    – user102008
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 20:39

3 Answers 3


The short answer, per the IRS, is yes.

Whether the IRS will come after you, whether you should renounce your US citizenship or what the Republicans will do, I can't answer. If you're really concerned with the question of legality, I'd recommend to talk to an international tax lawyer.

(As an aside, if you do decide to file you can simply request an ITIN number, no need for SSN and passport - follow the link from the above linked article)

  • Yes, you need to file. They can and (anecdotally) do ask people to file returns going back over decades of time when the person has had no financial connection to the USA.
    – poolie
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 22:40
  • 1
    You can only get an ITIN if you are "not eligible for an SSN", and a citizen IS eligible. Further, getting SSN may be inconvenient, but (allegedly because of abuse) IRS makes getting ITIN very hard. But you don't need a passport. Also be sure to follow the "Reporting Foreign Bank Accounts (FBAR)" link; US citizens owning non-US bank or financial accounts and certain investments above thresholds -- as someone living elsewhere usually does -- must report them TWO WAYS (FBAR to FinCEN and form 8398 to IRS); there is no tax, but there can be harsh penalties for not reporting. Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 3:03
  • update: IRS site has been reorganized and that link 404's; try irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/… Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 8:00

Renouncing your citizenship would not remove your tax obligation from past years, and may not remove your tax obligation for the future.

In fact, beginning the process of renouncing your citizenship may trigger a review of your tax records.

See Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship from the U.S. Department of State, especially section E. TAX & MILITARY OBLIGATIONS /NO ESCAPE FROM PROSECUTION.


Yes, you'll probably have to file. Maybe you'll have something to pay.

See here: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p54/ch04.html - most notably the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion that ceilings at 91K USD.

However, you really need to check with a tax pro.

  • There's also a tax treaty with Canada, so income tax paid in Canada offsets any income tax otherwise due from the U.S. tax return, so a balance due is unlikely (but possible, perhaps, under some circumstances?) Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 0:27
  • IRS Publication 901 covers tax treaties. irs.gov/publications/p901/index.html Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 0:30
  • The treaty is surprisingly - how can I say this diplomatically? - aggressive in terms of allowing taxation pursuit of foreign-based US citizens. I guess the exemptions and potential offsets are better than nothing...
    – gef05
    Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 1:26

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