The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires all international students and scholars to file a tax form. According to the information on the IRS webpage regarding Taxation of Nonresident Aliens, all international students and scholars should plan to declare their income (or lack of income) to the federal government every year by filing a tax return on or before April 15th. Tax returns include all income earned during the previous calendar year (January-December). At the beginning of each year, you will receive documents in the mail or via electronic means that are used to calculate any tax responsibility you may have for earnings during the previous calendar year. If you received no income, you may only need to file a form 8843. According to the IRS, filing a tax return is required whether or not you worked in the US, gained income in the US, or received a scholarship. The good news is that if you earned income in the US, you may be eligible for a tax refund if more tax was taken than what you owe.
There are also state taxes due for some states. Florida does not require that you pay state taxes. For anyone who earns income in California, taxes are paid to the State of California Franchise Tax Board (FTB). All non-immigrant international students and scholars who earned income in California during any part of the previous calendar year would need to file a tax return to the State of California Franchise Tax Board by April 15th of the current calendar year.
There are many resources available to help you understand your tax responsibility, including How Income Taxes Work in the US. We also recommend that you read the IRS Publication 519, “US Tax Guide for Aliens”. This will help you to become familiar with some of the terminology and concepts related to your tax responsibility.
Please note: Staff at TSRI cannot advise on tax matters. If you need tax advice, please see our Tax Filing Resources page for a list of resources and professionals who can help, and for contact information for the local IRS and California State Income Tax offices. Remember that millions of people in the US file tax returns each year. Do not wait until the last minute to try to get help on the phone or in person because it is often very difficult to do so as it gets closer to April 15th each year.
The IRS gives you many choices on how to file your tax return, as does the California FTB (if you earned income in California). To determine what income tax forms you need to use, you will need to determine if you are “non-resident for tax purposes.” This is related to the cumulative length of time you have been in the US and the visa status(es) you have had during that time.
All of the methods below are acceptable ways to prepare your tax return:
The IRS requires that you have certain tax documents in order to complete your tax return. You will need to receive these tax documents before you can begin. TSRI sends out tax documents by the end of January each year to your home address.
If you have been a student or employee somewhere else during the tax year, please contact your previous school or employer to make sure they have your correct address and to confirm when you can expect the tax documents. You will need tax documents from all employers or scholarship sources in the previous year before completing your tax return. In addition, if you received income as a student or scholar in another state during the previous tax year, you will need to file state tax return forms in every state in which you worked during the previous calendar year, unless that state does not require state income tax. Other forms from other sources such as banks and investment accounts may also be emailed or posted to an online account. This usually happens within the first two months of the year.
Examples of documents you may need include:
Information and links to the forms in this section are found on our Tax Filing Resources webpage.
The most common forms used by nonresident taxpayers to file federal tax returns are the 1040NR and the 1040NR-EZ. In addition, California nonresident taxpayers may file a 540NR. If you did not receive any money from a US source, you may only need to file Form 8843.
If you have been paid by a US source, you may be affected by a tax treaty. For more information about tax treaties, read publication 901.
If you filed US taxes in 2015 for the 2014 tax year and included a form 1042-S, you may receive a notice from the IRS, possibly claiming you owe tax money. This is a nationwide problem related to some computer programing issues at IRS. Please read the information on the TSRI Payroll webpage, Message To All Form 1042-S Recipients, to find out what to do if you receive an IRS notice. If you are unable to access the TSRI Payroll webpage at this time, you are welcome to send an email to TSRI International Services Office to obtain further information.
Beware of identity theft, scams, and phishing. The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will never contact you via email. Any unrequested email appearing to originate from the IRS should not be opened. Never give personal information in an email (social security number, ITIN, passwords, date of birth, etc.). For more information, read Suspicious Emails and Identity Theft.
The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) has been alerted in 2016 that taxpayers are receiving emails allegedly from TAP about their tax refunds. These emails are a scam; do not click the links in them. TAP never requests or has access to personal or financial information of taxpayers. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar information for credit cards, banks or other financial institutions. These emails are believed to be part of a phishing scam, where unsolicited emails pose as legitimate organizations to lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal financial information.
If you receive an email that appears to be from TAP regarding your personal tax information, do not respond. Instead, please forward them to email@example.com and note that you believe you received an illegitimate email phishing for your personal information.