updated 9:34 AM CEST, Aug 16, 2022

Today is Tax Day for U.S. expats (but there's always October, for those who request an extension...)

June 15 may be best known to many as the day that, in 1215, the Magna Carta – a precedent-setting "royal charter of rights" – was signed (by the application of a seal) by King John of England, at a place called Runnymede.

To millions of American expats around the world, though, it is famous for being the day that their U.S. taxes are due, unless they've applied for an extension to October – which they are within their rights to do, but it's not automatically given to them...

(Homeland Americans, of course, are required to pay their taxes by the 15th of April.)

What isn't known is whether the reason that expats are given more time than their Homeland counterparts is because of an official acknowledgement on the part of the IRS that filing one's taxes as an expat is significantly more complicated, in addition to the need to also file such extras as FATCA forms, FBARs and the like. 

Meanwhile, even those expats filing their federal tax returns by June 15 are expected to pay any taxes that they owe by the April deadline, or expect to begin paying interest on the amount due from that date. An extended filing deadline, tax experts point out, does not grant a taxpayer an interest-free loan on the amount they owe.

The FATCA deadline

By now, most American expats will be aware of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), a 2010 law that requires U.S. taxpayers who hold "foreign financial assets" that have an aggregate (total) value of US$50,000 or more are obliged to file a Form 8938, ("Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets", aka as a "FATCA" form).

This must be attached to their annual income tax return (which the IRS is urging taxpayers to file electronically where possible). The FATCA reporting threshold varies, depending on such things as whether the taxpayer is married or single, a bona fide resident of a foreign country, etc., so taxpayers are advised to ensure they get good advice in advance. 

Because it's attached to the taxpayer's 1040 return, the FATCA deadline for expats is the same, which is to say, June 15, unless an extension is applied for. 

FBARs

Although FBARs actually date back to 1970, when something called the Bank Secrecy Act came into force, widespread awareness of them among expat taxpayers is fairly recent, as a result of a combination of more information on them being made available, and publicity about some eye-wateringly huge FBAR penalties that some U.S. taxpayers have been hit with.

One unfortunate result is that for some expat taxpayers, FATCA and FBAR obligations have become a frightening blur. A good explanation was provided earlier this year by the Association of Americans Resident Overseas' Paul Atkinson,  who explained, in an article entitled "FBARs (FinCEN Form 114s), Form 8938s and Form 8966s: not just one but three ways Uncle Sam monitors Americans’ overseas holdings," that individual taxpayers are responsible only for the FATCA Form 8938s and FinCEN Report 114s – leaving the taxpayer's banks and financial institutions to file the Form 8966s, which are their responsibility under FATCA. 

As for the taxpayer's deadline for filing their FBAR forms (which must be done electroncially, using the FinCEN BSA E-Filing System), it's technically April 15, but it automatically extends to Oct. 15 if this date is missed, even if an extension request isn't filed. (This year it'll be Oct. 17, as the 15th falls on a Saturday.)

(London-based tax expert David Treitel, of American Tax Returns Ltd., advises those looking to get an extension to check out this Form 4868, on the IRS's website...)

What if you miss the deadlines?

There's a reason tax agencies have deadlines: to get people to file their taxes. So it's hardly surprising that penalties can result when taxpayers faile to file their returns – or pay their taxes – on time.
 
That said, there are usually options for mitigating the damage.
 
For one thing, if you're owed a tax refund, there generally isn't a penalty for filing late. (But tax experts say you should still file as soon as possible.) 
 
The window for claiming a refund is generally three years from the original tax deadline, so the window for claiming a 2021tax year refund would be expected to close in 2025.
 
If you owe taxes, though, then the IRS may charge additional interest if you're late, or even impose "failure to file" and/or "failure to pay" penalties.
 
Still, the fact that you're an expat means you could qualify to file using the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. If so, the chances are that they might waive any penalties you might otherwise be hit with.
 
If you have questions, you could always contact a tax preparation expert. The American Citizens Abroad has a directory of such firms, which may be viewed by clicking here, and entering the country in which you're currently living. 
 
Another option would be to try to contact someone at the Taxpayer Advocate Service. It's not right for everyone, and it could take some time to get an answer as to whether they would be willing to help, but it's sponsored by the U.S. Treasury in an effort to help U.S. taxpayers resolve their problems, without having to pay a fortune. So if you're interested in finding out more, click here.