Making Sense of Bankruptcy: Can a Non-Citizen File Bankruptcy?
Aug. 3, 2015
Yes, you can usually file bankruptcy in the United States regardless of your citizenship status.
Here’s the sentence we’re explaining today:
Citizenship is not a statutory requirement for filing bankruptcy, but rather you need to reside or have a “domicile” in, or have property in the United States, plus meet a practical identification requirement.
Under the Bankruptcy Code Who May Be a “Debtor”?
The Bankruptcy Code places no citizenship requirement for filing bankruptcy. Section 109(a) says that “only a person that resides or has a domicile, a place of business, or property in the United States… may be a debtor… .” for filing bankruptcy.
So you don’t need to be a citizen, or even legally in the country. Everyone, citizen or not, legal or not, can potentially file bankruptcy in the United States.
Reside in or Have a “Domicile… in the United States”
To reside somewhere simply means that you live there. So to file bankruptcy in the U.S. you just need to live here.
To have a “domicile” means being physically present in one location with the intention of making that place your present home. Generally the longer you has been in one place and the more you have put down roots—such as by signing an apartment rental agreement or getting a state driver’s license—the easier to show that you’ve established a domicile. But simply put, if you consider a place within the U.S. as your home and you have treated it that way, then that place is very likely your domicile. This qualifies you for filing bankruptcy in the U.S.
Have “Property in the United States”
If you have any meaningful amount of property–a bank account or other kinds of financial accounts, a vehicle, personal possessions—this alone may well be enough to qualify you as a debtor.
Practical I.D. Requirements
The forms used for filing a bankruptcy ask for a Social Security number, although the Bankruptcy Code does not explicitly state this requirement. So if you have a valid Social Security number appropriately issued by the Social Security Administration, use it.
Otherwise, get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (“ITIN”) from the IRS, and use that. The “IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs.”
Then about a month after your case is filed you will personally need to show proof of your identity at the so-called Meeting of Creditors. The purpose for this is for the bankruptcy trustee to be able to verify that you—the person attending the “Meeting” and answering some questions there under oath—is the same person who filed the bankruptcy documents. This is supposed to prevent identity fraud within the bankruptcy system.
Proof of identity at the Meeting usually requires two documents: one showing your SSN or ITIN—such as the original Social Security card it that’s available, or some other paper received from the government or from an employer showing the number; plus 2) some form of photo identification—such as a driver’s license or passport.
If you are not a citizen but meet these conditions, you can file for bankruptcy.