How to Claim a Non-Citizen Spouse and Children

If your spouse and children are U.S. citizens, it is easy to claim them on your tax returns. You just provide their name and Social Security numbers. It can be a bit more difficult to claim a non-U.S. citizen spouse or children on your return. But, you’re still able to claim them and take advantage of the tax benefits.

Each person that you claim on your tax return will impact your taxable income. This amount is referred to as an exemption and for 2016 you get $4,050 per person. An example of this: if you claim yourself, your spouse and two children, your taxable income would be reduced by $16,200. This would lessen your tax bill, and depending on your total income, might abolish it.

Resident and nonresident aliens

Your spouse’s residency status will determine how you can claim them as an exemption. Your spouse can either be a resident alien or a non-resident alien. Here are two ways to tell if your spouse qualifies as a non-resident alien.

  1. Your spouse has a green card which gives them government clearance to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. This is referred to as the green card test by the IRS.
  2. Your spouse spent at least 31 days in the year in the United States and at least 183 days for the previous three years. This is referred to as the substantial presence test by the IRS.

If your spouse doesn’t meet these criteria then they are considered a non-resident alien.

Your Spouse’s Tax Status

Generally, all resident aliens are taxed just like U.S citizens. You would just list your resident alien spouse on your tax return and provide their Social Security Number. If your spouse does not qualify for a social security number they will have to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS.

You have two options if your spouse is a non-resident alien.

  1. You can treat your spouse as a resident alien on your taxes. If you decide to do this you can file a joint tax return with your spouse. You will get an exemption for your spouse but any income earned, anywhere in the world will be taxed by the United States.
  2. You can also treat your spouse as a non-resident alien on your taxes. Doing this will not allow you to file a joint tax return and you must file married filing separately. There is still a possibility you can claim your spouse as a dependent on your return if they have no income in the United States and they cannot be claimed as a dependent by someone else.

Dependent Children that are Non-Citizens

If your non-citizen children meet the IRS definition of a qualifying child, you can claim them on your tax return as a dependent. This rule is the same that applies to children who are citizens. Your child qualifies if all the below apply:

  • The dependent is your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half-sibling, step-sibling, an adopted child or a descendant of one of these people such as a grandchild. Both biological and adopted children are treated the same.
  • On the final day of the year your child is either under the age of 19, a student enrolled full-time under the age of 24 or they are permanently and totally disabled.
  • The dependent lived with you for more than half of the year.
  • You provided over half the financial support of the dependent throughout the year.
  • Your child did not file a joint return with their spouse, if they are married, except only the claim a refund of taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid.
  • The child is a U.S. resident alien, U.S. National or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

If your non-citizen child dependent does not have a Social Security number (SSN), you’ll need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS for him or her.