International Student Guide to Filing Taxes with No Income

Although it is something that is rarely ever taught or spoken about in school, paying taxes is a crucial part of living anywhere. Filing taxes is one of the rarely mentioned obligations of an F-1, M-1, and J-1 visa holder. Even if you have no income in the United States, as an international student, you must file a tax return on a yearly basis.

Do international students need to file taxes?

Yes, as an international student, you must file at least one tax form for any time you spend in the US during each calendar year in order to comply with US immigration rules. 

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

Although people don’t really talk about it, filing taxes is part of the obligation of a student visa holder. Not only is it mandatory, it can also have a strong impact on your future Green Card approval or affect your approval for future visa applications, if you choose to stay in the country. Moreover, you might be able to claim a benefit for tax deductions or credits especially if your country of residence has a tax treaty with the US.

How can you file taxes with no income?

There is a specific tax form, called Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals With a Medical Condition or Form 8843 for short. This particular form is for nonresident aliens that did not make any US-based income during the past year. You should fill it out, print it, and mail the physical copy to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Here is the IRS’s address:

Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 

Austin, Texas


What do you need to file taxes?

All you need to fill out the form are your personal information, passport, and I-94 record.

How do you determine residency for tax purposes?

There are three types of residency that you should know about: residents, nonresidents, and dual-status aliens. Although most international students are considered nonresidents for tax purposes, it might be worthwhile to go through all the classifications in case you don’t fall into the nonresident category. To be considered a resident, you must pass the Substantial Presence Test, which requires you to be present in the US for at least 31 days or more during the current year and 183 days or more in the period of 3 years that includes both the current year and the 2 years prior. If you identify as a resident for tax purposes then you must pay taxes on your worldwide income. However, if you do not pass the Substantial Presence Test then you will fall into the nonresident alien category and you will only be taxed on US-sourced income and if your country of residence has signed a tax treaty with the US then you might even be partially or completely exempt from tax duties in the US. A dual-status alien is someone who changes residency status during the current year, meaning that they either changed statuses from a nonresident to a resident or from a resident to a nonresident. If you identify as a dual-status alien then you must file a dual status return, according to Publication 519, US Tax Guide for Aliens.

What if you have a dependent(s)?

If you have a dependent(s) and they also did not make income through US sources during the calendar year, then they will have to file the same Form 8843 separately. However, if they did make money through US sources during the year then they would most likely have to file Form 8843 along with Form 1040-NR.

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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