Many American expats are waiting for their $1,200 stimulus checks

James Blake Wiener, an American living in Zurich, is still waiting to receive his coronavirus stimulus check.

James Blake Wiener

Millions of Americans are waiting for their stimulus checks. James Blake Wiener, 34, who lives in Zurich, is one of them.

He’s not alone. Many U.S. expatriates who live in other countries still have not received their payments.

By Wiener’s account, trying to track down his stimulus check has been a comedy of errors.

First, he could not use the IRS’s Get My Payment app because his Swiss postal code has four digits, not the five ZIP code numbers standard in the U.S.

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Then, when he was able to reach the IRS by telephone, he found out his street name was misspelled in their records.

Wiener says he has now received the letter from President Donald Trump confirming his stimulus check was sent, but he still hasn’t received the money.

Wiener said he expects his cash in early July. Because he is still employed with the website Ancient History Encyclopedia, which he co-founded, he said he is not desperate for the aid.

Still, Wiener said it would have helped to have had the money during the lockdown to pay for groceries and cover his health-care costs, including a visit to the doctor.

“A little bit more of a financial cushion would have been nice,” he said.

About 9 million Americans live in other countries, according to the most recent estimate from the State Department. Yet it is unclear how many of those individuals are eligible for stimulus checks, which are based on certain income thresholds and other requirements.

“The majority are waiting longer than four weeks to get the payment, if they get the payment,” Nathalie Goldstein, CEO of MyExpatTaxes, said of those who are eligible.

Who qualifies for payments

American expats already face complicated financial circumstances because they must continue to pay U.S. taxes, even while they live elsewhere.

So many expats were relieved to find out they were also eligible for the payments, which were authorized by Congress as part of the CARES Act.

Still, there are specific requirements that need to be met in order to qualify. Individuals must be able to fill out either a Form 1040 or Form-1040-SR and possess a valid Social Security number. They also can’t be claimed as someone else’s dependent.

I’m not holding my breath for it, though it would be great to receive it. I’m living on almost nothing.

Chip Wiegand

U.S. expat in Barranquilla, Colombia

That’s in addition to meeting the income thresholds: up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples who file jointly. Stimulus payments for those with income above those levels is phased out and cuts off completely for individuals with income over $99,000 and married couples who make over $198,000.

Some expats who earn more than those amounts have still qualified for stimulus payments, according to David McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services. That’s due to the federal earned income exclusion, which excludes money earned and taxed in a foreign country from U.S. taxable income.

Meanwhile, Americans who file jointly with their spouses who are not citizens, and have individual tax identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers, will not receive the  payments.

The payments also depend on Americans abroad keeping up with their federal income-tax-filing requirements. The payments are based on 2018 or 2019 tax returns, whichever was most recently filed.

Some expats have successfully entered in their information into the IRS non-filer tool in order to get their checks, according to McKeegan. 

Who is still waiting for money

Getting stimulus payments is complicated even for those Americans abroad who are current on their taxes.

To better understand why, some — including Wiener — have turned to a blog and comment board on a website started by a fellow U.S. expat in Cartagena, Colombia.

Adam McConnaughhay, 32, editor and writer of the website Cartagena Explorer, first created the site as a travel and history guide to the city.

Adam McConnaughhay, pictured with his wife, has blogged about American expats not receiving their stimulus checks on his website, Cartagena Explorer.

Adam McConnaughhay

But as information developed on the stimulus checks, he decided to write about it to educate himself and other expats. Since then, the post has brought in readers from all over the world, he said.

McConnaughhay, who teaches history, is still employed but is also waiting for his stimulus check. The extra income would have helped as his wife, a preschool teacher, is no longer working due to Covid-19.

“Supposedly it was mailed,” McConnaughhay said. “But I don’t think there’s mail service to Colombia right now from the U.S.”

Through the responses to his website, some patterns have emerged of who is still waiting. They include, in particular, residents of Europe or South America, whose mail may still be interrupted by the pandemic.

McKeegan said it is “a little bit hit or miss,” though he has heard from people all over the world who have received their checks.

Barranquilla, Colombia

Yuliana Valencia / EyeEm

One obstacle that could be contributing to delays, according to Goldstein, is the fact that many expats do not get tax refunds, and therefore wouldn’t have their direct deposit bank account information on file with the IRS. In addition, only expats who have U.S. bank accounts or U.S. addresses will be first in line for their payments, she said.

Chip Wiegand, 60, who lives in Barranquilla, Colombia, is waiting for his payment after Covid-19 brought a halt to his job teaching English as a second language to local business people.

“I’m not holding my breath for it, though it would be great to receive it,” Wiegnand said. “I’m living on almost nothing.

“These past few months have been very difficult as Colombia continues to extend the mandatory national quarantine.”

Still, the country’s response to the coronavirus has been more effective than U.S. efforts, he said.

“I’m glad I’m here.”

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