International Student Guide to Filing Taxes with US Income

Studying abroad in the US can be an extremely fun and fulfilling experience, but it also comes with burdens like having to deal with one of the most complex tax systems in the world. Filing taxes can be such a difficult and chaotic task, which is why we wrote this article to help you navigate the process. 

Do international students need to file taxes?

Yes, all international students are required to file taxes. You must file at least one tax form, even if you do not make money in the US, for every calendar year that you spend time in the US on a student visa.

Why is it important for you to file taxes on a yearly basis?

Properly filing taxes in the US is crucial for your current and future stay in the US. If the Income Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finds out that you have not been filing taxes or doing it incorrectly then you might get your visa revoked and damage your record permanently, meaning that you will not be able to apply for a green card if you decide to later on. However, a plus to filing your taxes is that you might be owed tax return or deductions from the government, especially if your country of residence has a tax treaty with the US.

How does the US tax system work?

People who earn income in the US have to pay taxes to the IRS for each paycheck that they receive. You have to pay taxes to both the federal government and state government of the state that you reside in. After filing your tax returns, the IRS looks into the amount of income taxes that you owe against the amount that you have already paid throughout the year; if you have paid more than you owe then you will be refunded, but if you have paid less money in taxes than what you owe then you are responsible in making up the difference.

What do you need to file taxes if you have US income?

You will need your passport, social security number (you should have applied for one as soon as you got a job in the US—read more about it here), I-94 records, Form I-20 or DS-2019 (depending on your visa type), and pay stubs or income records.

How do you file taxes if you have US income?

If you are making US income, you must file four to five documents, which are the Form 8843 (all international students must file this on a yearly basis), Form 1040-NR, W-2 Form (your employer should mail it to you before February),  and a Form 1099 for contract work or Form 1042-S for income that falls under the tax treaty benefits. Once you have filled everything out, you should mail physical copies to the IRS, whose address is:

Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 

Austin, Texas


What if you don’t make any income?

If you’re not making money, you should read this article to find out how to file your taxes! 

What to do if you’re still confused?

You should reach out to your university’s international student office, a tax professional, or accountant to inquire more about the tax process. This article is not meant to substitute for legal advice, it is only an overview of the process.

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