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Obamacare & Ex-Pats

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A lot of Americans living overseas often write asking about Obamacare and its taxation. As a U.S. citizen you are required to either buy health insurance, which in the U.S. can be very costly, or get hit with a penalty. The penalty rises steadily. This year it is 1% of your income, rising in the future to 2.5%. So it’s not trivial. (I leave aside issues as to whether the I.R.S. can actually collect this tax.)

Of course, it can be argued that everyone *should* have insurance. But what about the Ex-Pat? Well, the Ex-Pat should also have insurance, right? The problem, however, is that insurance bought outside of the U.S. “doesn’t count” when it comes to the individual mandate. So what about the Ex-Pat? Do we have to buy insurance for the U.S. we can never use because we don’t live in the U.S.? Or do we have to pay the penalty? Well, here is the answer:


12. Are US citizens living abroad subject to the individual shared responsibility provision?

Yes. However, U.S. citizens who are not physically present in the United States for at least 330 full days within a 12-month period are treated as having minimum essential coverage for that 12-month period. In addition, U.S. citizens who are bona fide residents of a foreign country (or countries) for an entire taxable year are treated as having minimum essential coverage for that year. In general, these are individuals who qualify for a foreign earned income exclusion under section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code. Individuals may qualify for this rule even if they cannot use the exclusion for all of their foreign earned income because, for example, they are employees of the United States. Individuals that qualify for this rule need take no further action to comply with the individual shared responsibility provision during the months when they qualify. See Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, for further information on the foreign earned income exclusion.

U.S. citizens who meet neither the physical presence nor residency requirements will need to maintain minimum essential coverage, qualify for an exemption or make a shared responsibility payment for each month of the year. For this purpose, minimum essential coverage includes a group health plan provided by an overseas employer. One exemption that may be particularly relevant to U.S. citizens living abroad for a small part of a year is the exemption for a short coverage gap. This exemption provides that no shared responsibility payment will be due for a once-per-year gap in coverage that lasts less than three months.