Tax Resources

International students and scholars are required by law to file documentation with the IRS for each tax year (January 1 - December 31) that they were present in the US, even if they had no US income.  Filing is each individual’s responsibility and it is important that documentation is filed on time.  US tax laws can be complex and confusing and the laws that apply to internationals are not the same as those that apply to US citizens. We have compiled these resources to help you to better understand your tax obligation and to successfully submit your tax forms. 

Please note: ISSS staff are not qualified tax accountants. While we may be able to help with some very basic questions, we are not able to advise students and scholars on individual tax cases.

If you did not have any US income:

If you received no US-source income during the tax year 2016, you must complete Form 8843 and send it by mail to:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Austin, TX 73301-0215

This form is solely informational – you will not be required to submit any payment. 

If you are submitting only Form 8843, the deadline for posting is June 15, 2017.

If you are submitting Form 8843 along with Form 1040NR, 1040NR-EZ, 1040, or 1040-EZ, the deadline for posting is April 18, 2017.

If you did have US income:

While employers do deduct money from your pay check throughout the year and send it to the IRS, it may not equal the exact amount owed at the end of the year.  If too much was deducted, you may be eligible for a refund.  Or, if not enough was deducted, you may owe more.  Salary from a job is not the only kind of earning taxed -- many types of income are taxable.

Before you file

Before you begin the filing process, be sure you have all the necessary information with you.

  • Form W-2: W-2 forms are mailed to current and former employees.  This form shows how much you earned last year and how much was taken out for taxes.  You will only receive this form if you have been employed.
  • 1042-S: The 1042-S form will only be given to nonresident alien students who have received scholarship or fellowship money that exceeds tuition and related fee charges.  You will not receive a copy of the 1042-S form if you only have a tuition waiver on your account and do not receive any checks.  If you expect to receive a 1042-S form, wait until it is issued before filing your tax return.
  • Passport
  • Immigration document --  I-20 (F-1 status), DS-2019 (J-1 or J-2 status), or approval notice (H1B)
  • Social Security number or Individual Tax Identification number (ITIN)
  • Address information: current US address and foreign address
  • Entry and exit dates for current and past visits to the US
  • Academic institution or host sponsor information: name, address, phone
  • Scholarship/fellowship grant letter, if any
  • A copy of last year's federal income tax return, if filed

Determining Residency for Tax Purposes

In legal terms, noncitizens of the US are called "aliens." There are three types of aliens for tax purposes: (1) nonresident; (2) dual-status; and (3) resident.  These categories are for tax purposes only and are not related to your immigration status.   You may be in F-1 or J-1 nonimmigrant status and considered a resident for tax purposes.

Nonresident for tax purposes

F-1 students and J-1 students are considered nonresident for tax purposes if they have been in the US for a total of less than five years.  J-1 scholars are considered nonresidents for tax purposes if they have been in the US for less than two years.  H1B scholars are considered nonresidents if they have been in the US for less than 183 days.

Nonresidents will use Form 1040NR (instructions) or 1040NR-EZ (instructions) in addition to Form 8843

Forms must be sent by mail to:

If you are not enclosing a payment:

Department of the Treasury 
Internal Revenue Service  
Austin, TX 73301-0215  

If you are enclosing a payment:

Internal Revenue Service  
PO Box 1303  
Charlotte, NC 28201-1303  

Deadline for posting is April 18, 2017.

Resident for tax purposes

If you are an F-1 or J-1 student who has been in the US for more than 5 years, a J-1 scholar who has been in the US for more than 2 years, or an H1B scholar who has been in the US for more than 183 days, you will be considered a resident for tax purposes.  This is for tax purposes only and will not affect your immigration status.  Residents will file the same form as US citizens, Form 1040 (instructions) or 1040-EZ (instructions).

Forms must be sent by mail to:

If you are not enclosing payment:
Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Fresno, CA 93888-0014

If you are enclosing payment:
Internal Revenue Service
PO Box 7704
San Francisco, CA 94120-7704

Deadline for posting is April 18, 2017.

Filing tips

  • Make photocopies of your documents for your records
  • Be careful to complete the correct form
  • Sign and date all forms, and be sure to mail them before the stated deadline
  • If including payment, take a look at the IRS guidance on paying by check or money order. If you need information on how to write a check, refer to the guide on the Finances page.

Assistance

Tax filing is a complicated process and many people in the US choose to hire an accountant or use a software program to complete their taxes. However, not all of these services take into account the particular circumstances of international students and scholars. If you would like to use a software program, Sprintax is a good resource. Their tax software is specifically designed for international students. You will need to fill in your information and answer some questions, and the software will determine what forms you need to file. The cost of this service is generally between $15-$75 dollars, depending on how many forms you are required to file.

Tax Treaties

The US has income tax treaties with many different countries.  Residents of these countries may be taxed at a reduced rate or be exempt from US income tax withholding on specific kinds of US-source income. Treaties vary among countries.  If the treaty does not cover a particular kind of income, or if there is no treaty between your country and the US, you must pay tax on the income in the same way and at the same rates shown in the instructions for Form 1040NR.

Taxable Income

Some kinds of income are taxed while others are not. For students and scholars who are considered nonresidents for tax purposes, interest income is not taxed if it comes from a US bank, a US savings and loan institution, a US credit union, or a US insurance company. Generally income from foreign sources is not taxed. Wages that appear on form W-2 are taxable. Scholarship or fellowship income that requires services (i.e. teaching assistant) will be treated as wages (like employment). Scholarships, fellowships, and grants may be partially taxed. For degree-seeking students, portions used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and required equipment are not taxed; portions used for other expenses, like room, board, and travel, are taxable.

Social Security and Medicare

Nonresident students and scholars in F-1 and J-1 status, who are also considered nonresidents for tax purposes, should not have Social Security or Medicare taxes withheld from pay.  If these taxes have been withheld, contact your employer for reimbursement.  If you cannot get a refund from your employer, use Form 843 to request a refund from the IRS.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

If you are filing a tax return and are not eligible to apply for a Social Security number, you may obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) .  A Social Security number or ITIN is necessary only if you are filing a tax return.  If you earned no US-source income and are only submitting form 8843, you do not need to apply for the Social Security number or ITIN.

Identity theft

Please be careful of fraudulent scams and internet "phishing" that use the IRS name or other tax-related references to gain access to your personal information in order to commit identity theft. The IRS does not send unsolicited emails or request personal information by email.  It also does not request PIN numbers, passwords, or similar secret access information to individuals' credit cards, banks, or other financial accounts.  You can learn more about scams on the IRS website and report phishing scams to the IRS.

State Income Tax

The State of Washington is one of only seven states without a state income tax. If you worked in another state during the tax year, you may need to file a tax return for that state in addition to your federal filing.  You will be able to find information on state income tax through that state’s department of revenue services.

Resources

Internal Revenue Service

Publication 4011: Foreign Student and Scholar Volunteer Resource Guide

Publication 519: US Tax Guide for Aliens

Publication 597: Information on the US - Canada Income Tax Treaty

Publication 901: US Tax Treaties

VITA: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Federal Income Tax Forms and Publications

 

Page Updated 11.22.2017