International Student and Scholar Tax Obligations

Due to legal restrictions, the International Student Services Office (ISSO) cannot advise on tax filing matters. We understand, however, that taxes are confusing and the US tax system is incredibly complex. You should not assume that your tax requirements are the same as anybody else, as subtle nuances can completely change how you should file.

Please be aware that it is the responsibility of each international student and visiting scholar to understand his or her own tax situation, and for that reason, we encourage you to conduct your own research and consult a professional who is skilled in the area of non-resident tax code.

The information provided here is intended only to give you a general sense of taxpaying requirements and should not be considered financial or legal advice. Below you will find some basic information and terms regarding your filing obligations as an international student or scholar, along with links to outside resources and forms.

What is the IRS?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the government agency responsible for the collection of federal income taxes.  All non-immigrants in “F” or “J” status (including dependents) are required to file an individual income “tax return” if they were physically present in the US during the tax year, even if they had no US source income of any kind.

Who must file with the IRS? What forms?

In short, everyone!

All nonresidents in the United States have to file something, regardless of income earned or not earned. Tax law in the United States is extremely complex and each individual's situation varies. We again stress that you always do your research to make sure you are complying and filing appropriately. Here is a quick reference of who should file:

  • If you had no earnings and did not receive income in the US, you still must file the form 8843. This also applies to dependents.
  • If you received taxable earnings or income over the personal exemption from US sources, even if they are covered by the tax treaty agreement.
    • Tax treaties are complicated, and their provisions differ in small but important details. The mere existence of a tax treaty does not mean that each individual student or scholar is covered by its provisions. It is your responsibility to read the treaty that pertains to your country to learn if you are covered. For more information on tax treaties, as well as a list of these countries, see IRS Publication 901.
  • If you received a taxable stipend, grant, or allowance in the tax year for which you are filing.
  • If you overpaid tax that you want to claim back.
  • If you worked in the United States.
    • In addition to filing the form 8843, students who earn income between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the previous year must also file with the IRS form:
      • 1040NR (non-resident alien income tax return) see instructions or
      • 1040NR/EZ (non-resident alien income tax return with no dependents)

This tax filing tree (pdf) might help you understand better which forms you should use.

For additional help or information regarding Internal Revenue Service forms and criteria, consult:

Internal Revenue Service
Phone: 1-800-829-1040 [for tax information]
Phone: 1-800-829-3676 [for tax forms and publications]

Do I have to file a New York State tax return as well?

If you did not work in New York during the tax year in question, you do not have to file a New York State tax return.

If you did work, however, you may have to file a state tax return.

Filing requirements vary depending upon the amount of income earned. See the NYS Form IT-203 and Instructions for details.

*Please note that if you are filing a federal tax return as a nonresident, then New York State also considers you to be a nonresident for tax purposes and you may be exempt from paying certain state taxes.

For additional help or information regarding New York State taxes, please consult:

New York State Department of Taxation and Finance
Phone: 1-800-462-8100 [for tax forms and publications]
Phone: 1-800-225-5829 [for tax information]

What are the deadlines for filing returns?

April 15 – This is the last day to file a federal tax return if you are a resident or nonresident with US source income and the last day to file Form 8843. Therefore, tax returns for tax year 2017 must be postmarked on or before April 15, 2018.

Please note that the tax year in the United States runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 and you must file your tax return each spring for the preceding tax year. Therefore, you will need to file your tax return for tax year 2017 by April 15, 2018.

Before mailing, make sure to photocopy your federal and state tax return and all accompanying documentation for your records. It is recommended that you maintain your tax records for at least three (3) years. If you entered the US in F-1 or J-1 status for the first time in January 2016 or later, you do not need to file a tax return until next year.

What items are needed to prepare tax returns?

  • Passport or other valid photo ID.
  • US arrival and departure record (I-94) with all past visits logged.
  • All tax forms, including Forms W-2, 1042-S, and/or 1099 (if you received them).
  • It is likely you will receive a W-2, which serves as a summary of wages earned and taxes paid with a given employer.
  • Visa/immigration status information
    • DS-2019 for “J” visa holders
    • I-20 for “F” visa holders.
  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
    • You will not need one of these if you are only filing the form 8843.
  • A clear desk and comfortable space to work.

What happens if I don’t file my US tax forms?

  • You may be overpaying your taxes, and you will never receive any money owed to you unless you file.
  • Non-filing of taxes may adversely affect a future change of status application (such as an H1B or Permanent Residency).
  • If you owe money, you could be subject to monetary penalties and fines if you fail to file.
  • In extreme cases involving fraud, you could lose your legal immigration status in the US.

What happens if I missed a year or filed as a resident by mistake?

Don’t panic…accidents happen, but it is important that you take time to correct the past mistake.

If you filed incorrectly, you can amend your past return by filing the 1040X. Follow the 1040X instructions.

If you never filed and you should have, it is never too late and you can submit the appropriate forms now.

  • Be aware, however, that refunds can only be issued for the previous three years.

What is FICA?

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA for short, is a payroll tax to pay for old-age pensions and certain medical benefits. In the US, this tax is popularly known as the "Social Security tax," and individuals employed in the United States must pay this FICA tax. Also, employers automatically withhold this tax from their employees' paychecks and are required to pay a matching amount to the government.

Do I have to pay FICA?

  • Non-resident aliens in F-1 or J-1 visa status are exempt from Social Security/FICA tax until they become tax residents.
  • Generally, students do not pay FICA taxes even after they become residents for tax purposes.
  • J-1 research/scholars generally maintain non-resident status for their first two calendar years in the US, but on Jan. 1 of the third calendar year of presence, they begin to pay FICA taxes.
  • All other non-residents including H-1B, J-2, and TN visa-holders, are subject to FICA taxes from their first day of employment.

Any Social Security/FICA tax paid in error should be refunded to you in the calendar year it has been erroneously removed. Please note that members of a student or scholar family (i.e.,F-2 or J-2 visa holders) and H-1 visa holders are not exempt from Social Security tax and are therefore subject to FICA withholding. Please see IRS Tax Guide for Aliens - Publication #519 for details.

What is an ITIN?

The ITIN stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and it is required for students/scholars who receive taxable income but are ineligible for a Social Security Number (SSN).

  • If you do not have a SSN or ITIN, you will need to apply for an ITIN when filing your return.
    • This scenario is most common with scholarship recipients (such as athletes).
  • You do not need an ITIN for Form 8843.

What is a 1098-T?

Form 1098-T is a tuition statement of qualified tuition and related expenses billed to you by the university.  This form is generally used by tax residents when claiming educational tax credits and it concerns US nationals and tax residents only.

Nonresidents do not need, and cannot use, a 1098-T on their 1040NR/NR-EZ.

Filing help outside of the New York State and IRS websites

Sprintax and Glacier Tax Prep are tax filing services, designed for international students and scholars. There is a fee associated with their services. These are not the only services available, but they are two of the most common with regards to international tax. Be aware that nonresident tax code is not an area that all tax offices will be familiar with.

  • Important: These service providers are not owned by or otherwise affiliated with the SUNY College of Technology at Alfred State. Alfred State hereby expressly disclaims any and all responsibility and/or liability for legal or other claims or demands that may arise from the user’s interaction(s) with the Sprintax or Glacier Tax Prep services. A user who interacts with Sprintax, Glacier Tax Prep, or any other tax agent does so at his or her sole risk. By using this link, the user confirms that she or he has read, understands, and agrees to the preceding statement.

As a final note, we want everyone to be aware that some tax scams exist and it is important that you are very protective of your personal information. The IRS would never ask for personal details without proper communication. If you are not sure about the validity of something, make sure you do some research. Contact the IRS or New York State tax office directly for clarification.