Will American expats in Cambodia get a US stimulus payment?

May 21 update from the US Embassy: The Embassy recently received 187 U.S. Treasury checks (economic impact payments) for U.S. citizens and is in the process of notifying recipients in Cambodia of their arrival.  Recipients must be registered in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order for us to have contact information and to make notifications when we receive such checks.

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Safety (CARES) Act, every American citizen who qualifies will be receiving a $1,200 payment from the US government. People started seeing deposits in their accounts a few weeks ago, but Americans abroad have wondered if they are eligible.

American flag in Cambodia

Since I don’t have a check yet to take a picture of, here’s a photo of an American flag on the Mekong in Phnom Penh.

Although the CARES Act seemed to include all American citizens, the IRS page initially said that “U.S. residents will receive the Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 for individual or head of household filers…” suggesting that non-residents were not eligible.

However, over the weekend the IRS has posted clarification on their site that reads:

As a U.S. citizen living abroad, am I entitled to a Payment?

Yes, U.S. citizens living outside the country are eligible for the Payment. Anyone eligible to file Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR is an eligible person if they have a valid SSN and can’t be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer. Nonresident aliens who file or would file Form 1040-NR or Form 1040-NR-EZ are not eligible for the Payment.

You can read more about who qualifies, but most Americans who made less than $99,000 last year are eligible for the stimulus payment (although those making more than $75,000 will get less than the full amount), including retirees and those on SSI. The catch is that you need to have filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes, which if you are earning overseas you are legally required to do each year.

So the next big question is: how will expats in Cambodia receive their payments?

For those who were owed a refund on their 2018 or 2019 taxes and entered direct deposit information on their return, they will receive their payment by direct deposit and it may have already arrived, as the first payments went out on April 15th.

If you were not required to file a tax return, the IRS will let you fill out a form for non-filers where you can enter in your direct deposit information.

Expats abroad who are self-employed or have needed to make payments on their taxes in 2018 and 2019 and therefore did not include direct deposit information on their taxes are currently in a sort of limbo. There is an online site where you can check the status of your payment and enter payment information, but most expats are finding that they either get a message that says “Payment status unavailable” or “The information you entered does not match our records.”

“Payment status unavailable” can mean many things, but many, including myself, have found that their status changed after a few days. I went from getting “Payment status unavailable” to “The information you entered does not match our records.” Unfortunately the IRS website appears to not be able to handle foreign addresses, and the issue seems to be postal codes — the site will not accept foreign postal codes, but using a US zip code or leaving it blank doesn’t work either. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way around it at this time.

However, getting one of these messages does not mean you won’t be getting your check! Qualifying expats will likely be getting paper checks mailed to the address used on their last tax return. If your address is in Cambodia, you may be waiting for a while, as mail services at a near standstill in the country. Your other option is to file your 2019 taxes as soon as possible and include direct deposit details, even if you are not due a tax return.

Another issue that may be affecting American expats in Cambodia is that if you file a joint return with your spouse or partner and that spouse or partner does not have an American social security number, you are not currently eligible for the stimulus payment. There is currently a lawsuit pending about this.

If you are a VA or SSI recipient and don’t file a tax return and have dependents (eligible children are granted a $500 payment), you need to add them using the Non-Filers tool by May 5th.

If you still have questions, check out the Democrats Abroad FAQs about the CARES stimulus payments for Americans overseas.

If you’re an American living in Cambodia and you’ve received your stimulus payment, please post a comment about how you received it, and if you had a foreign address on file with the IRS.

Update: On May 13th the “Check your payment” site started accepting foreign addresses and allowing expats who have a foreign address to check the status of their payment. Unfortunately, on the same day they stopped allowing people to enter in their bank details. What this means is that most expats abroad are being mailed checks.

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