Passport Pickles

You can lose your passport if you screw up your taxes

I have written several times now on the subject of passports and taxes. The brainchild of soon to retire Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a portion of the 2015 FAST Act provides for nonrenewal of passports of individuals with “seriously delinquent” tax debt.  If the IRS certifies you (2018 total tax debt amount: $51,000), then the State Department will not give you a passport. They are also able to revoke a passport as well.

This has led to understandable confusion. We heard the first IRS certifications were sent to taxpayers earlier this year, telling them that they are on the list. There are ways to deal with this, though, depending on the circumstances of the taxpayer.

Less talked about is another provision: the nonrenewal of passports (or even revocation) if no valid social security number is provided in the application. For ages, applications provided a space to enter one’s SSN.  Many blew that off.  Lack of SSNs did not appear to be an obstacle!  Applicants without a number were asked to enter zeroes and no one checked.  As I understand, the IRS had no effective way of using this data, so it didn’t. Crickets.

But today, under the new law, if you apply today without a valid SSN, most likely your application will be rejected. Yup. No ticket, no laundry.  The law provides that the State Department can deny you a passport for (among many other reasons) not having a valid SSN.

You’ve never had one?  Well, if you are outside the U.S., you may be in for a little excitement. Getting a SSN overseas is far harder than back home. Besides the typical paperwork, you will need to appear in person at the closest Federal Benefits Unit for that purpose, a significant hassle. There are three in all of Mexico and if you are close to one, consider yourself fortunate.

This may affect some who are U.S. citizens but never “got papers” or even considered themselves American.  Foreign-born offspring of U.S. citizens, now adults, may discover they have a long road ahead should they want to get evidence of that citizenship.  Today they will need a SSN. But you may also know, U.S. citizens are required to comply with U.S. tax laws no matter where they are located or when it was discovered they were citizens.  So the “new” citizen may have a tax filing adventure too. The road to that passport may have lots of twists and turns!


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 federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.  This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice. ,