Stimulus checks and citizenship: Who is eligible based on citizen status, where you live – CNET

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If you’re a US citizen who lives outside the country, you could still be eligible to receive a stimulus check.


Angela Lang/CNET

Good news for mixed-status families and non-US citizens living in the United States: The third stimulus check’s expanded eligibility rules mean a lot of Americans who didn’t qualify for the first two payments will be receiving stimulus money this time around, including non-US citizens who live and work in the United States, US citizens who live abroad and residents of a US territory. The third stimulus payment, which maxes out at $1,400, also features expanded dependent benefits, but stricter income limits.

If you’re still waiting on a check or have questions about the amount you received, the stimulus check eligibility rules can get tricky, especially when matters of citizenship are involved. We’ll break down how the changes could impact you and your family. And if you’re still waiting on a first or second stimulus check, we’ll explain how to claim any missing stimulus money for yourself or your children on your 2020 tax return, even if you don’t usually have to file taxes.

CNET also has guides for what to do if you have a stimulus check problem, what to know for SSI, SSDI and veterans, if you’re an older adult, if you have dependents, if you’re a young adult or if you’re paying or receiving child support. Here’s what we know about the child tax credit payments, and a fourth stimulus check. This story was updated recently.

Do I have to be a US citizen to receive a stimulus check?

Not necessarily. Under the March 2020 CARES Act, all US citizens and non-US citizens with a Social Security number who live and work in America were eligible to receive stimulus payments. That includes people the IRS refers to as “resident aliens,” green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A. This rule was the same in the December stimulus bill that governed the second stimulus check as well. 

If your citizenship status changed since you first got a Social Security number, you may have to update the IRS’s records to get your check through its online nonfilers tool. US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment (more below).

In the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that became law in March, families with “mixed status” — or those whose members have different citizenship and immigration classifications — are eligible for a third stimulus check, though they were excluded from the first two checks. (Note that for a mixed-status family to qualify for stimulus money, one member needs to have a Social Security number.) The bill also includes stimulus checks for up to $1,400 for dependents of all ages

Read more: Every way a third stimulus check could bring your family more money


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Does the IRS count me as a US citizen?

The IRS considers anyone born in the US to be a US citizen, regardless of the tax or immigration status of their parents. A person born outside of the US may also be a US citizen at birth if at least one parent is a US citizen and has lived in the US for a period of time. 

The IRS also considers you a US citizen if you’re over 18 and went through a naturalization process, which typically involves living in the US for three to five years, filling out an application, going for an interview and passing a citizenship test. You’ll need a Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship to prove your citizenship and get a Social Security number to be eligible for a stimulus check of your own (see mixed-status family for other exceptions and details).

Would anyone with an ITIN number be eligible for a third check?

The March stimulus bill states that to be eligible for a third payment, you need a Social Security number — unless you’re part of a mixed-status household, in which case one member will need to have a Social Security number. However, if you have an adopted dependent, an ITIN would suffice.

Am I considered a ‘resident alien’? If so, am I eligible for a third stimulus check?

The IRS defines “resident aliens” as green card holders and workers in the US on visas such as H-1B and H-2A, or those who have a “substantial presence” in the US. All must also have a Social Security number. Resident aliens were eligible for a first and second stimulus check, and are eligible for a third check as well.

What if I’m an undocumented US resident, or don’t have a Social Security number? Do I still qualify for a third stimulus check? 

If you’re a “nonresident alien,” you weren’t eligible for a first or second stimulus check. The government defines a nonresident alien as someone who “has not passed the green card test or the substantial presence test.” If you don’t have a valid Social Security number, you likely weren’t eligible for a first or second stimulus payment. If you filed a US tax return but don’t have a Social Security number, you still weren’t eligible. 

For the third check, if you are a nonresident alien but are in a mixed-status family — where at least one member has a Social Security number — you are eligible for a payment. 

What if my spouse is considered a ‘nonresident alien’? 

Under the CARES Act, if you had a Social Security number but your spouse is a nonresident alien, and you filed taxes jointly, you weren’t eligible to receive a first stimulus payment. If filing jointly, both spouses must have had valid Social Security numbers to get a payment, unless one of them is a member of the US Armed Forces during the tax year. However, if you file your 2020 taxes separately from your spouse, you may be eligible to get a payment on your 2020 return

But this rule changed under the bill governing the third check: Families with mixed status, or those whose members have different citizenship and immigration classifications, are eligible for a third stimulus check, though to qualify, one member needs to have a Social Security number.

If I’m a US citizen living abroad, am I qualified for a third stimulus check?

Yes. US citizens living outside the country were eligible for the first and second stimulus payments, and are for the third payment as well, so long as they meet other eligibility criteria

If you’re a US citizen abroad, meet those criteria and filed tax form 1040 or 1040-SR (for older adults) in 2018 or 2019, the IRS should have either direct deposited your first two payment into your US bank account (it can’t deposit money into foreign bank accounts), or mailed it to you using your information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return or from your Social Security retirement or other federal benefits program. (If your money didn’t arrive, you can claim it on your 2020 tax return.) The third stimulus check is based on either your 2019 or 2020 tax return — whichever the IRS has on file more recently. 

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Citizenship laws and stimulus money are complicated, and the rules changed from check to check.


Sarah Tew/CNET

I live overseas. How will my third check arrive? 

A third check will likely arrive the same way that the first two did. If you’re living overseas or in a US territory, it’s likely that your first two checks were either direct deposited into your US bank account (the IRS can’t deposit money into foreign bank accounts), or that it was mailed to the address the IRS has on file for you, based on your tax return or from your Social Security retirement or other federal benefits program. 

If you’re a beneficiary of the SSI or SSDI program and have a foreign address, you’ll likely receive your third payment by a check in the mail, since again, the IRS will not deposit payments into foreign accounts. In addition, here’s more information for US veterans.

Once your third check is approved and sent out, you can track the status of your payment by visiting the IRS Get My Payment webpage, or track it through USPS if you’re expecting a check to arrive by mail. 

If I live in a US territory, am I eligible for a third stimulus check? 

If you’re one of the 4 million people living in a US territory — Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — you were eligible for a first and second stimulus check, and will be for a third as well. However, the IRS doesn’t distribute the payments to the five territories. Instead, local tax authorities do, based on information provided by the IRS. If you live in one of the territories and didn’t receive a first or second payment, you should contact your local tax authority. 

What if I live in one of the Freely Associated States? 

If you are a citizen or a resident of the Freely Associated States — the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands or the Republic of Palau — you may not be entitled to a payment. However, if you are a resident of a US territory for the tax year 2020 for US territory income tax purposes, you may be eligible for a payment through the US territory tax agency. You should get in touch with your local tax agency to find out. 

If you are a US citizen or resident for federal income tax purposes but live in one of the Freely Associated States, you may be eligible for a payment from the IRS. 

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People who live in US territories were eligible for a first stimulus check under the CARES Act.


Angela Lang/CNET

What if I didn’t file taxes for 2018 or 2019?

If you’re a US citizen living abroad or a citizen of a US territory and didn’t file taxes for 2018 or 2019 but are eligible for a stimulus check under the CARES Act or the December stimulus package, you can claim that money now in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return from the IRS. Even if you don’t usually have to file taxes, you’ll need to this year to claim that money.

This credit would either increase the amount of your tax refund or lower the amount of the tax you need to pay by the amount of stimulus money the government owes you on the first and second payments. Find out more about how to claim a missing stimulus payment here, as well as everything you need to know about how your taxes impact your stimulus payment

What should I do if I live abroad or in a US territory and didn’t receive the first or second check? 

If you meet all of the eligibility requirements but did not receive your first payment under the CARES Act, you can claim that money on your 2020 tax return now in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit from the IRS.

In certain cases — like if you received a letter from the IRS confirming that your payment was sent, but never actually got the money — you may need to contact the IRS to trace the missing payment

What if I live abroad or in a US territory and didn’t receive the extra $500 or $600 per child dependent? 

If you have a child dependent age 16 or younger who qualified for an extra $500 under the CARES Act or $600 under the December relief package, you can also claim that money as a Recovery Rebate Credit from the IRS.

For more information about stimulus payments, here’s how to find out which IRS priority group you’re in to see when to expect your payment, and what we know so far about the possibility of a fourth stimulus check. 

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