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How do American ESL teachers living in South Korea file their American taxes?

Living and teaching English in South Korea can be a rewarding experience, but it also comes with certain responsibilities, including filing your American taxes. Navigating the tax system as an American ESL teacher abroad can be daunting, but fear not! In this guide, we'll break down the process step by step, ensuring you understand your obligations and how to make the most of your tax situation.

Understanding the Basics

What Are American ESL Teachers' Tax Obligations?

As an American ESL teacher in South Korea, you must still file taxes with the IRS, even though you earn income abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. taxation, but tax credits and exclusions are available to minimize double taxation.

How Does the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Work?

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) allows you to exclude a certain amount of your foreign-earned income from U.S. taxation. For 2023, this exclusion is set at $112,000. To qualify, you must meet the Physical Presence Test or the Bona Fide Residence Test. I suggest filing the FEIE simple form (EZ2555) form, and all of your income from teaching in Korea will be exempt from USA taxes if the total amount is under USD 112,000 annually (2023).

2022 Tax Year

Claiming the Foreign Tax Credit

If you pay taxes in South Korea, you can claim a Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) on your U.S. tax return. This credit helps offset the taxes you've already paid abroad, reducing your U.S. tax liability.

Filing Process

Gathering Necessary Documents

To file your American taxes, you'll need key documents, including your W-2 from your South Korean employer, proof of foreign residence, and records of any income not reported on your W-2.

Filing Options

Explore the various filing options available to American ESL teachers in South Korea, such as filing electronically using tax software, hiring a tax professional, or completing paper forms.

Filing Deadline

Know your tax deadlines. For most taxpayers, the deadline is April 15th. However, if you're living abroad, you generally have an automatic two-month extension, making your deadline June 15th.

Common Tax Deductions and Credits

Housing Exclusion

Discover how to claim the Foreign Housing Exclusion and reduce your taxable income even further if you have eligible housing expenses.

Education-Related Deductions

If you're pursuing further education or have education-related expenses, find out about tax deductions and credits that can save you money.

Retirement Savings

Learn about tax-advantaged retirement accounts like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) that can help you save for the future while reducing your taxable income.

Health Insurance

Understand the importance of maintaining proper health insurance coverage and how it can affect your tax obligations.


Q: Can I avoid paying U.S. taxes entirely while teaching in South Korea?

A: While you may be able to reduce your tax liability through exclusions and credits, completely avoiding U.S. taxes is generally not possible.

Q: Do I need to report my South Korean bank accounts to the IRS?

A: Yes, if your aggregate foreign bank account balances exceed $10,000 at any point during the year, you must report them on FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR).

Q: What happens if I miss the tax filing deadline?

A: You may face penalties and interest on any taxes owed. It's crucial to file on time or request an extension if needed.

Q: Can I claim deductions for travel expenses to the United States?

A: You may be eligible for deductions related to travel expenses if they are directly related to your teaching job in South Korea and meet IRS criteria.

Q: Are there any tax treaties between the United States and South Korea?

A: Yes, there is a tax treaty that can affect your tax obligations, so it's essential to be aware of its provisions.

Q: Can I amend my tax return if I made a mistake?

A: Yes, you can file an amended return using Form 1040X to correct errors or claim missed deductions or credits.


Filing American taxes while living in South Korea as an ESL teacher may seem complex, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it can be a manageable process. Remember to keep detailed records, explore all available tax credits and deductions, and consider seeking professional tax advice if needed. By following the guidelines in this article, you'll navigate the tax system confidently and fulfill your tax obligations as an American ESL teacher abroad.

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