Can I claim a family member on my taxes if they don’t live here?

January 13, 2017

So, you’re living and working in Canada, but you might have a child or family member that you’re supporting who’s still living back home, outside of Canada. We know the distance must be tough, and you might be wondering whether or not you’re able to claim them as dependants, even if they’re not in Canada with you. You might have moved here recently, and are waiting for your spouse and children to join you here, or maybe, you’re only in Canada temporarily but are sending money to your family back home.

Whatever the case, when it comes to your taxes, the rule is that you must be a resident of Canada in order to claim personal amounts for your dependants. The only exception is if the Canadian income on your return represents 90% or more of your total world income. So, let’s clarify a few things:

Can I claim my spouse if they’re not living here?

In general, claiming a non-resident spouse is more or less the same as claiming a resident spouse, as long as you have supported them during the year. Here’s a few things to know to make sure your claims go smoothly:

  • To make your claim properly, you’ll need the correct documentation. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) needs proof that you’re in fact providing financial support to your spouse, so when payments are made, keep your documents together. The proof of payment you give to the CRA must include your name, the amount, the date of payment and your spouse’s name and address.
  • The amount you pay to your other half must also be enough to be considered ongoing support – a small payment here or there doesn’t qualify.
  • No matter how much or how little you send your spouse, they won’t qualify if they already have enough income or assistance for a reasonable standard of living in the other country.
  • If your non-resident spouse or common-law partner has some income in your home country, it will also reduce the amount you can claim, even though the income is not reported on a Canadian tax return.

I’m supporting my children back home. Can I claim them as dependants?

Not usually. One of the criteria for claiming the amount for a dependant is that you need to have lived with the dependant in a home that you maintained. This wouldn’t be the case if you’re living in one place and your child is living in another. Here are a few other things to know about claiming your children on your taxes if they’re living elsewhere:

  • The child amount, a credit that used to be in place for children under 18, was eliminated in 2015. So, if you’re married or living common-law there’s no longer anything you can claim for your children, whether they are living here with you in Canada, or living outside the country.
  • The one exception is for impaired children. The family caregiver amount is still available, but it can only be claimed if your child ordinarily resides with both parents throughout the year.

Though your family members might not be eligible as dependants in Canada, there might be other tax credits or deductions you could claim to reduce your tax bill.

Ready to file? Visit a tax expert at an H&R Block office near you, or do it yourself with our online tax software.

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