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.
How to File a Tax Return
Documents You May Need to File Taxes
Tax Treaties and Tax Forms
Employees and Grad Students: Questions on Form 1042s - Contact Payroll
Print General Tax Information
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.
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.
There are on-going reports that some taxpayers receive emails or phone calls, allegedly from some office related to federal or state taxes. These emails and phone calls are a scam; do not engage with the phone caller or click on a link in an email. The IRS never requests PIN numbers, passwords or similar information for credit cards, banks or other financial institutions by email or phone. The emails are a phishing scam and the phone calls are also designed to lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal financial information. Please be aware that the IRS and the California State Franchise Tax Board will only communicate by paper letters, if communication is needed.
If you receive an email that appears to be a scam regarding your personal tax information, do not respond. Instead, please forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and note that you believe you received an illegitimate email phishing for your personal information. Likewise, hang up if someone tries to get your information over the phone, allegedly on behalf of a government agency. Government agencies do not make phone calls.