January 21, 2023

How to Call the IRS for Free (or as Cheap as Possible) from Outside the U.S. (Guest Post)

A guest post originally published here.

As the international member of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) I am frequently contacted by international taxpayers requesting information on how to contact the IRS to ask questions or to resolve an issue. Most issues with the IRS can and should easily be resolved with a phone call. This article attempts to explain how taxpayers with a U.S. tax obligation can best go about contacting the IRS by phone from outside the U.S.

How the IRS Communicates with Taxpayers

It’s first useful to review how the IRS will not communicate with you.

The IRS will never contact you by:

The IRS can contact you by:

For people living internationally, the most common form of contact from the IRS is by regular mail. Generally, the IRS will send you several letters in the mail about the same issue. However, mail is not always a reliable source of communication for people living outside the U.S. and so one of the most frequent complaints I hear is that people don’t receive a letter that the IRS said was sent to the taxpayer. It is frequent for letters to get lost or are delivered after a deadline the IRS is asking the international taxpayer to meet in the letter itself.

It is unfortunate that the IRS has not improved its technology infrastructure to support e-mail or video calling customer support for international taxpayers, because these are much more reliable and more frequently used methods of communication for people living internationally these days. The good news is that the IRS is looking at options and trialing e-mail and online customer service options, but there isn’t a set date for when these communication options will be made available. In the meantime, we have to rely on current methods of communication with the IRS.

Taxpayers can contact the IRS by 3 different means:

It was highlighted in the 2022 National Taxpayer Advocate’s Most Serious Problems report that “Unlike domestic taxpayers who have access to a variety of toll-free lines, the IRS provides one telephone line for taxpayers outside of the United States, and it is not toll-free.”

From the National Taxpayer Advocate‘s Annual Report to Congress: Most Serious Problem #10 Overseas Taxpayers, page 164

I have received reports from international taxpayers who have tried to call the International Taxpayer Service Call Center who were unable to get through only to be hung up on or cut off after waiting on hold for hours. Keep in mind though that this feedback is consistent with feedback about calling the IRS in general, not just with people calling internationally, so it’s not an issue specific to international callers but it does exacerbate the problems people internationally experience with communicating with the IRS. Making calls to the IRS from outside the United States can be costly for people and so the following tips will hopefully reduce your costs and wait time if you need to call the IRS.


Should you call the International Taxpayer Service Call Center or the IRS Mainline Number?

I have heard really mixed results from people calling the International Taxpayer Service Call Center versus the mainline number. Some people couldn’t get through on the International Taxpayer Service Call Center number so they tried the mainline number and got their issue resolved there. I’ve also heard the reverse happening. I’ve also heard of people calling mainline number and not having any issues with their international specific questions being answered, while on the other hand people have reported the agent at the International Taxpayer Service Call Center didn’t understand how to resolve international issues, even though that Service Call Center is dedicated to international taxpayers.

It seems to be a roulette game. My recommendation is to try the one you’re most comfortable with and see what happens. If you’re unsuccessful in getting through or getting an answer from an agent that can assist you, then try the other number and see if that helps you get through and/or speak with an agent that can address your question or issue.

Call When the Phone Lines Open to Avoid Long Wait Times

Whether you decide to call the IRS’ International Taxpayer Service Call Center or their main number, you should call right when they open. Calling right when the call center opens helps reduce your hold time to get through to a service agent that can assist you (it’s not uncommon for you to have to be on hold for hours to get through to the IRS) so being first in line helps reduce your waiting time to speak with someone and ideally resolve your issue or answer your question sooner.

The International Taxpayer Service Call Center’s number is: 267–941–1000 (not toll-free) and is open Monday through Friday from:

The mainline number for calling the IRS is: 800–829–1040 and they are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

Even though what number you call seems to be a roulette game, what I do see consistently works is calling right when the phone lines open gets you to the front of the line to avoid being on hold for prolonged periods of time. I know 6 or 7 a.m. Eastern time is in the middle of the night for some parts of the world, so unless you’re willing to disrupt your sleep schedule, this strategy isn’t going to work for you. In this case, you might want to try the opposite and call at the end of the day, calling frequently peaks during U.S. business hours so trying to call off peak times will usually yield you less waiting times in general.

Calling During Tax Season (February to April) Will Always Prolong Wait Time

In addition, keep in mind that if you’re calling during peak tax season February through April (and especially the week before the tax deadline in April), wait times are going to be even longer since everyone is scrambling to get their taxes done before the deadline. So if you can call earlier in the tax season, that’s always going to be better than calling the day before the deadline. Also, calling off season (not February to April) will also reduce your wait time too.

Cheap or Free Options for Calling the United States

Many phone companies or mobile networks, especially in Europe, have reasonably priced calling options either from landlines or mobile phones. They might even have special packages that you can sign up for to reduce costs for calling internationally in general or for calling a specific country (like the United States.) Some people I’ve talked to either pay a flat monthly fee and they can call the United States from their non-US landline for unlimited minutes or they can buy a bundle of minutes at a reduced cost. If you make calls to family or friends in the US frequently, these might be reasonably priced options you use anyway, and so calling the IRS might not be costly if you already have an unlimited calling or bundle plan set up.

For people that don’t call the United States regularly, and you only want to make a call to the IRS for a specific question or issue, then Skype or Google Voice is likely going to be the best free or cheap options. Note that you need to have an Internet connection in order to make calls through Skype or Google Voice.

Google Voice

Google Voice is free but requires jumping through a few hoops, including getting a free temporary US phone number from an app and using a VPN to set up the Google Voice account. However, once it is done, you can make any number of free calls to the US with no restriction on minutes. This can be helpful if you anticipate needing to wait on hold with the IRS for extended periods of time. However, you can’t call toll-free numbers using Google Voice, so you’d only be able to call the International Taxpayer Service Call Center’s number on 267–941–1000, you would not be able to call IRS’ mainline number 800–829–1040, since it’s a toll-free number.


You download the Skype app onto your device and top-up the account with as little as $5/€5/£5. You can then make calls using the app to the IRS. $5 gives you roughly 210 minutes to call the United States. However, there is a trick. Once you have a Skype account and there’s a balance on the account, any balance (even if you only have $0.01 left on the account) you can make any number of toll-free calls you like with no limit on minutes. So, if you’re worried about being on hold with the IRS for a long time, you can call the IRS’ mainline number 800–829–1040, and be on hold for any amount of time, and it won’t cost you even 1 cent. But, keep in mind that the IRS mainline number customer support does not have agents are not trained to support international taxpayers, so you might want to instead spend the credit you have on Skype to call the International Taxpayer Service Call Center’s number on 267–941–1000 to speak to someone that can help answer your international specific questions.

I hope this article is helpful in helping you figure out the best way for you to call the IRS from outside the United States. One of the issues I worked on last year for the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel was putting forward suggestions to improve calling communication options for international taxpayers with the IRS. Some of my suggestions included having the IRS upgrade it’s call systems so that it can offer a toll-free number option for every country around the world or including a list of online or app based calling options on the IRS website to help taxpayers find no or low cost options for call the IRS. All suggestions were rejected by the IRS except the call back option which is currently under consideration. We suggested that the IRS create a page on its website for a taxpayer to fill in and receive a call from an IRS agent or to call and request a call back, therefore reducing cost for calling and hold/wait time for the taxpayer. We should hear back on progress of this option sometime in 2023.

Have a Suggestion to Improve IRS Processes or Customer Service?

If you have a suggestion on how the IRS can improve processes or customer service for people living outside the United States with a U.S. tax obligation, please consider submitting a suggestion on the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel’s website here: https://www.improveirs.org/submit-a-suggestion/

About the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel is a United States Federal Advisory Committee whose mission is to listen to taxpayers, identify taxpayers’ issues and make suggestions for improving IRS service and customer satisfaction. TAP is comprised of approximately 75 members who volunteer to serve a three-year term, and represent all 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and a member to represent U.S. Citizens living or working abroad.

About the International Member of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

I am originally from Ohio, went to college in Wisconsin, and moved to London, United Kingdom to do my masters and upon completion was offered a job, and so I stayed. 16 years later, I am married to a Brit, run a UK company, and volunteer to help Americans abroad in tax advocacy work. My three-year term started in 2022. I serve on the Special Projects Committee for TAP, which is the committee that handles international issues within the IRS. I am not an accountant, which makes me a minority on TAP, in addition to being the only member on TAP not in the United States, my unique perspective helps bring clarity to the issues, prioritize problems, and provide solutions. You can contact Rebecca on tapinternational1 at gmail dot com

Disclaimer: Democrats Abroad cannot provide individual tax advice. Advice requires consideration of your individual circumstances and needs, none of which can be done at this event. We are not tax lawyers, accountants, or advisers. Please consult a professional tax adviser/accountant/return preparer when addressing your personal tax matters.

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If you are in need of tax advice you can consult the IRS Tax Return Preparer Directory to find an advisor or tax return preparer near you or providing online services to meet your needs and budget, though buyers need always beware: https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf