If you are legally married on December 31st of the tax year, then you are considered by the IRS as being married all year; and so you can generally only choose "Married Filing Jointly" or "Married Filing Separately" as your filing status. You cannot ignore your spouse and file as
"Single." The rules for US citizens and non-citizens (whether they live overseas or not) are the same on this point.
Please allow us to explain the full answer to your question in the detailed response below. There is a lot of information contained here.
If you are a United States citizen (or a Permanent Resident) and are married to a non-citizen, then you have some options on how to file your USA tax return, although current United States tax laws do not make this process particularly easy.
Option # 1: You can file your US tax return as Married Filing Separately (which is usually a somewhat unfavorable tax filing status), and just report your own income there. TurboTax can walk you through this process, and help you create the necessary Form 1040. If your spouse does not already have an ITIN number, or a Social Security Number, then this return would have to further be printed and paper filed. If your spouse has a valid ITIN or SSN, then the tax return would be eligible for e-filing. If there is no ITIN or SSN, then in any place where the nonresident spouse's taxpayer ID number is required on a tax form, you would take a black or blue pen and manually write "nonresident alien" or abbreviate as "NRA."
You can also claim a personal exemption for your spouse, if your spouse had no gross taxable income for U.S. tax purposes, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer. This mirrors the similar rule for US citizens and resident aliens filing as Married Filing Separately to claim the personal (dependency) exemption for their spouse, where that spouse has no taxable income, is not filing a separate tax return, and is not claimed as a dependent on any other taxpayer’s return. But, in order to do this and claim the personal exemption, your spouse must also have a valid Social Security Number or an ITIN.
Option # 2: You can elect to include your nonresident spouse on your US income tax return (which may be more or less tax favorable than Married Filing Separately); and file as Married Filing Jointly; but you would need to file a paper Form 1040 tax return in order to do so. The somewhat complicated process for completing this type of tax return is explained in detail at the IRS.gov website here:
Such a tax return (Option # 2) is probably best done by a professional tax preparer.
If you choose Option # 1 and have any difficultly with that, then having the tax return prepared by a professional is also an option here too.
TurboTax has a helpful Frequently Asked Questions webpage about this subject, and you may wish to look at that as well. Here is the link:
Also, you can read the complete answer to a similar question that was asked here about a year ago. There is some good information and advice in there as well:
Thank you for asking this important question.
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