American expats are afraid they won't get their stimulus checks because the IRS won't accept foreign addresses or non-US bank accounts

Some American expats are having trouble getting stimulus checks.Tom Werner/Digital Vision/Getty
  • A tool on the IRS website that is meant to collect direct-deposit information to speed up stimulus payments isn't working for some US citizens living abroad.
  • The IRS "Get My Payment" tool asks for the taxpayer's address, but won't accept a foreign ZIP code, preventing them from moving to the next step to input bank information.
  • Even so, you can only enter US bank information. The IRS isn't sending payments to non-US banks.
  • The IRS will mail the stimulus check if a person doesn't have direct deposit, but postal services in some countries aren't operating due to the pandemic.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

Gwendolyn Rodriguez, an English teacher and translator, lives in Guatemala but pays United States income taxes.

Her income and filing status qualify her for a stimulus check under the CARES Act, but she's worried she'll never see the money. That's because a technical quirk in the IRS economic impact payment tool is preventing expats from submitting direct-deposit information online, which is the quickest way to get paid.

Rodriguez filed her 2019 income tax return earlier this year, but she owed money so didn't give bank details to the IRS. She told Business Insider that she tried using the IRS "Get My Payment" tool — which is supposed to collect direct-deposit information of taxpayers in this very circumstance — but it won't accept her foreign address in the initial step because she doesn't have a ZIP code.Advertisement

If the IRS doesn't have a person's bank info, it will send their stimulus check by mail to the address on their most recent tax return or US Postal Service change-of-address form. Rodriguez says her local mail service is wholly unreliable.

The IRS tools for stimulus payments have been fraught with issues since launching around April 13, though there has been at least one technological update. Despite the hiccups, President Donald Trump tweeted on April 30 that "over 120 million" payments had been sent to Americans.

The IRS won't send stimulus payments to non-US banks

Rodriguez is not the only American expat hitting a roadblock. Others who are using a separate IRS tool built for nonfilers are able to get past the foreign address step, but can't enter non-US bank information, according to a letter Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada sent to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig on April 23.
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The IRS doesn't usually send refunds or other deposits to non-US bank accounts, according to its website, and it doesn't appear to make an exception for the coronavirus stimulus checks. Luckily, Rodriguez maintains a US bank account.

Titus asked the federal government to fix these issues so that "thousands of Americans living abroad" can get their stimulus payments. The letter was also signed by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Rep. James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, and Rep. Ro Khanna of California. "It is critical that direct deposit is available, as postal service around the world has experienced service disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic," the letter reads. "We ask that you modify the online tool to include a field for bank accounts with non-US banks and a field for non-US phone numbers, as many non-US phone numbers have more than ten digits."Advertisement

On May 6, Carmelan Polce of Democrats Abroad, the official arm of the Democratic Party for US citizens who live overseas, wrote that some expats who had provided the IRS with their direct deposit for US banks on tax returns have received their stimulus payments and others were getting theirs by mail, but many were still caught in an in-between stage.

Titus' office said in a statement to Business Insider that the IRS is aware of the technical issues, but hasn't addressed it formally or offered a solution.

"US citizens living abroad are eligible to receive direct payments, but the IRS has taken too long to ensure that they can access the relief they deserve," Titus said. "These constituents are too often ignored and I will keep pushing the IRS to get this fixed."Advertisement

Business Insider reached out to the Treasury Department for comment.

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