Can the IRS take my passport? Perhaps, if you owe taxes.

January 16, 2020 by Jean Lee Scherkey, EA
1040 tax return with Passport and $100 bill

The short answer is yes, thanks to an obscure provision that Congress slipped into the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. Nestled within this legislation is a provision that permits the IRS to request the U.S. State Department to deny new passport applications and renewals, or revoke the currently active passports of taxpayers who have been certified by the IRS to have seriously delinquent tax debt.

Most of us like surprises, but for those taxpayers whose passports have been revoked, the realization that their tours of the Museum of Broken Relationships and the Froggyland Museum in Croatia have been suddenly put on hold is like taking an unsuspecting bite of spaghetti and meatballs and encountering the bitter taste of a brussel sprouts instead. And this provision can be utterly devastating for those who depend on crossing the Canadian or Mexican borders daily for employment purposes. If a taxpayer is already overseas when their passport is revoked, the State Department may issue the taxpayer a “limited validity” passport that allows them to return directly to the United States. No matter how you look at it, having your passport revoked is not a pleasant surprise!

The FAST Act defines seriously delinquent tax debt as:


  • A tax debt which has been assessed (This does not include other debts the IRS collects such as FBAR penalties or back child support,) AND
  • That is greater than $50,000, including penalties and interest and indexed yearly for inflation (For 2019 the amount is $52,000, and for 2020 it is $53,000,) AND
  • Where the IRS has filed a tax lien, and the taxpayer’s rights to dispute have been exhausted or lapsed, OR
  • Where a levy has been issued

In February 2018, the IRS began sending to the State Department certifications of taxpayers who had seriously delinquent tax debt. Once the IRS contacts the State Department, the IRS is required to send affected taxpayers notice CP 508C to their last known address to notify them of the impending passport revocation. Later, after the taxpayer is able to resolve the seriously delinquent tax debt issue with the IRS, the IRS is required to send to the taxpayer notice CP 508R to let them know that their passport revocation has been reversed.

In July 2019, the IRS began sending Letter 6152 Notice of Intent to Request U.S. Department of State Revoke Your Passport to taxpayers who are at risk of having their passports either revoked or their application denied. The letter gives taxpayers who are currently state-side thirty days from the date printed on the letter to call the IRS and resolve the dispute, while taxpayers who are already abroad when receiving the letter will have ninety days to settle the matter. If a taxpayer misses this initial window, the State Department will generally hold their application to obtain or renew their passport for ninety days in order to give them additional time to resolve the controversy with the IRS. However, there is no grace period for those who already have a currently active passport, as the State Department will immediately revoke the currently active passports of taxpayers who have been certified as having seriously delinquent tax debt.

Taxpayers who have the means to pay the amount due in full should do so immediately and follow-up with the IRS thirty to forty-five days later to make sure the IRS is “decertifying” the seriously delinquent tax debt status and notifying the State Department to reinstate their passport. Even when a taxpayer owes more than $52,000 and cannot pay the entire amount upfront, there are certain situations where the IRS is supposed to refrain from revoking or denying a taxpayer’s passport. The IRS generally will not request the State Department to revoke or deny the taxpayer’s passport in cases where a taxpayer:


  • Has set up and is making timely payments on an Installment Agreement;
  • Is working with the IRS on an Offer in Compromise (also known as an OIC agreement);
  • Has filed for a valid and timely Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing;
  • Has filed for innocent spouse relief; or
  • Has entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice
However, as with most large bureaucratic institutions, mistakes can happen, and there have been instances when taxpayers who were already cooperating with the IRS in resolving their tax debt have had their passports erroneously revoked.

The law is intended to protect taxpayers with certain hardships from having their passports revoked. These hardships include taxpayers who are in bankruptcy, a victim of tax-related identity theft, placed in currently not collectible status by the IRS, located in a federally declared disaster area, in the military serving in a combat zone, or deceased. Furthermore, taxpayers with pending Installment Agreement or Offer in Compromise requests, or who have entered into another agreement with the IRS to pay the tax due, should not have their passports revoked. If a taxpayer is in one of these situations and has had their passport revoked or their passport application denied, the taxpayer should contact the IRS immediately to have the revocation reversed.

The IRS has stated that it takes approximately thirty days to reverse a passport revocation. However, in some instances, taxpayers and the Taxpayer Advocate Service have reported that it is taking much longer than thirty days. The IRS has a process in place to reduce the processing time for those who have an urgent need to travel from thirty days down to between fourteen and twenty-one days.

For most people, dealing with the IRS is frightening enough. Adding the hardship of losing their passport can feel overwhelming and impossible to overcome. But, as my Dad says, “Perspire not!” If you have an unsettled tax debt with either the IRS or a state tax agency, TaxAudit’s Tax Debt Relief Assistance program is here and ready for your call. Our team of experts will provide an honest assessment of your tax situation, explain your options, and step-in to negotiate with the IRS or state tax agency on your behalf to come up with the best solution. With Tax Audit’s Tax Debt Relief Assistance program, you do not have to walk alone when dealing with the IRS. Instead, we hope you can look forward to strolling the cobblestone streets of your favorite travel destination, sampling the local cuisine, but without any unexpected, bitter surprises!

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Jean Lee Scherkey, EA
Learning Content Developer


Jean Lee Scherkey began her career at TaxAudit in 2015, and her current title is Learning Content Developer. She became an Enrolled Agent in 2005. For several years, Jean owned a successful tax practice that specialized in individual, California and trust taxation, and assisting those impacted by tax identity theft. With over fifteen years of varied experience in the field of taxation, Jean has worked at different private tax firms as a Staff Practitioner, Tax Analyst, and Researcher. Before coming to TaxAudit, she worked over two years for TurboTax as an “Ask the Tax Expert.” In addition to her work in TaxAudit’s Learning and Development Department, Jean is actively involved in the company’s ENGAGE Volunteer Program, which provides opportunities for employees to help and serve the local community.  


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