I'm a U.S. citizen, living in the USA, making US income. I'm about to marry my partner, who has NO ties to the USA: he does not live here, he does not work here, he is not paid by a US company, etc. He doesn't have an SSN, of course, since he's not part of the US economy.

So how will I file my taxes going forward? Married filing separately? (Is this to my benefit?)

And how will I indicate my spouse on my tax return, since he doesn't have an SSN?

2 Answers 2


Congrats on the upcoming wedding!

Here is the official answer to this question, from the IRS.

They note that you can choose to treat your spouse as a US resident for tax purposes and file jointly if you want to, by attaching a certain declaration to your tax return. Though I'm not a tax expert, if your partner has significant income it seems like this might increase your taxes due.

You can also apply for an SSN (used for tax filings, joint or separate return) at a social security office or US consulate, by form SS-5, or file form W-7 with the IRS to get a Taxpayer Identification Number which is just as useful for this purpose. Without that, you can write "Non Resident Alien" (or "NRA") in the box for your partner's SSN, and mail in a paper return like that. See IRS Publication 17 page 22 (discussions on TurboTax here, here, etc.).

  • "You can also apply for an SSN" No, the foreigner spouse would need to have some status that allows employment in the US to get an SSN. Otherwise, they would apply to IRS for an ITIN for tax filing instead.
    – user102008
    May 8, 2016 at 21:05
  • We don't know if OP's future spouse is eligible to work in the US or not. However, a work permit is not strictly required if a person has another good reason why they need an SSN. I did include the ITIN information in the answer primarily because we don't have enough information to recommend either option over the other.
    – WBT
    May 9, 2016 at 3:25
  • "We don't know if OP's future spouse is eligible to work in the US or not." The OP's future spouse is not even in the US, so could not have a status that allows work in the US. Maybe they will move to the US and get into such a status in the future, but that would have to be described speculatively and in future tense. "However, a work permit is not strictly required if a person has another good reason why they need an SSN." And filing taxes is not one of them. By "good reason" you mean an SSN is required by law for something, which it basically never is, especially for foreigners.
    – user102008
    May 9, 2016 at 9:23
  • Yeah, my spouse lives outside the US and isn't coming here any time soon, so he has no visa (beyond a standard 90-day tourist visa that the US grants his country automatically) and doesn't plan on moving here. I'd like to get him an ITIN for credit cards in the meantime, tho-- please see money.stackexchange.com/questions/63883/…
    – Eric
    May 9, 2016 at 14:31

From what you've described, your spouse is a non-resident alien for US tax purposes. You have two choices:

  1. Use the Nonresident Spouse Treated As Resident election and file as Married Filing Jointly. Since your spouse doesn't have, and doesn't currently qualify for, an SSN, he/she will need to apply for an ITIN together with the tax filing. Note that by becoming a resident alien, your spouse's worldwide income the whole year would be subject to US taxes, and would need to be reported on your joint tax filing, though he/she will be able to use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion to exclude $100k of her foreign earned income, since he/she will have been out of the US for 330 days in a 12-month period.

  2. Or, file as Married Filing Separately. You write "NRA" for your spouse's SSN on your tax return. As a nonresident alien, if your spouse doesn't have any US income, he/she doesn't have to file a US tax return, and doesn't need to apply for an ITIN.

Which one is better is up to you to figure out.

  • "Married Filing Jointly usually has a big advantage over Married Filing Separately." Does that assume that both partners would be paying US income taxes on their income if filing separately?
    – WBT
    May 9, 2016 at 4:26
  • @WBT: Yes. But it's more complicated. It's also true in many cases when the non-resident partner is not paying US tax in either case; for example, if the non-resident partner has little or no worldwide income. I'll remove that statement.
    – user102008
    May 9, 2016 at 9:14

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