Need To Get Married?

Your taxes will be impacted if you marry a Mexican

Some expats integrate into Mexico when they move here: they marry a local. Most are eager to just get to know in-laws and new relatives, and not too many pay attention to the tax consequences of marrying a non-US citizen. But you should.

First, consider the likely change in your filing status. Filing status determines your tax rate, personal exemption, standard deduction and other factors that determine your tax; this is a huge thing. People’s circumstances are always different, so there is no way to tell if one status is better than another. If you qualify for more than one filing status, pick the one giving the best result.

Should you bring your new spouse into the US tax system? A “nonresident alien” normally has no US tax obligations or requirements, which means bringing them in is optional. If you do decide to do that, you can file jointly and might find it advantageous.

Remember, each spouse’s worldwide income must be reported and tax paid to the United States, so consider your new spouse’s future earnings. If your Mexican spouse has foreign retirement accounts, like AFORE, bringing them into the US tax system can become quite the headache, as those investments are not - I repeat, not - suited to US persons. Your spouse must get a tax ID number, which is no small feat if done from outside the U.S.

Married filing separately (MFS) is another option. Your spouse’s income does not come in to the computation, so there’s no ID number needed. Many, however, find MFS oppressive and pay far more under this status. Some tax credits are not allowed for MFS filers, but there might be an alternative.

Head of Household might be available if married to a “non-resident alien.” Your spouse doesn’t qualify as the HOH, someone else must be the “qualifying person.” Rules are complex and hinge mostly on who lives with you and who is paying for more than half the cost of keeping your home. “New” relatives acquired by marriage can qualify you as HOH and might get you extra exemptions (besides your spouse’s). 

Do you like your mother and/or father in law enough to have them live with you for more than half the year? How about your brother in law? Daughter in law? They could make a difference in whether you actually pay taxes on your social security benefit after all.

As you can see, marrying “foreign” can have meaningful tax consequences to you.  How you structure your household under these rules can bring joy or despair come tax time.  It’s all up to you.

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to the tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.