Filing U.S. Taxes

Overview

International students and scholars who were in the U.S. for any period of time during any calendar year must file a federal tax statement called an income tax return. Some international students and scholars may need to file a state tax return if you earned income in a state outside of New Hampshire.

When you file your annual tax return by April of each year, you will calculate the exact amount of tax due. Some years you may get a refund and in others you may owe additional taxes.

Filing Is Required

Even if Dartmouth withholds federal income tax from your pay, you still need to file a tax return. The U.S. tax system requires that taxes be withheld from your pay as you earn it. You file a federal tax return after the end of the calendar year to reconcile the taxes withheld with your actual tax liability. The process of completing the tax return determines your tax liability.

You still need to file Form 8843 if you had no U.S. earned income or scholarship during the year.

The tax year is from January 1 to December 31. You file your tax return by mid-April of the following year.

Penalties for Not Filing Taxes

If you owe taxes and don’t file a return, the IRS can assess penalty and interest and seize U.S. bank assets for repayment. Fines and penalties often can be more than the original debt.

The IRS will not impose penalties if no tax is due. However, the terms of your visa require you to comply with all laws of the United States, including the requirement to file an income tax return.

You might be required to show proof that you filed if you wish to change your visa status, obtain permanent residency, or regain entry into the United States once you have left. Don't risk your visa status by failing to comply with this requirement.

Tax Filing Status

Before you begin your tax return, you will need to determine your tax filing status as Non-Resident Alien or Resident Alien for tax purposes. You may also be a Dual Status Alien if you were both a resident alien and a nonresident alien during the same tax year. Different rules apply for the part of the year you are a resident alien and the part of the year you are a nonresident alien.

Non-resident alien, resident alien, and dual status alien are tax status terms, not immigration status terms. If you do not know your tax filing status, you can check the information on the IRS website and IRS Publication 519, the U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens. The Glacier Tax Prep software can also help you determine your status.

Residency Status

Your residency status for federal income tax purposes will depend on your immigration status and U.S. presence over a three-calendar-year period. In general, a nonimmigrant is considered a resident if he or she has been physically present in the U.S. for 183 days or more, based on a formula unless an exception applies. Most students and scholars will meet one of the exceptions for at least part of their stay.

Determining Residency Status for Federal Income Tax Purposes

  • In general, resident aliens are taxed in the same manner as U.S. citizens. They are taxed on their worldwide income; they are allowed the same deductions and credits as U.S. citizens; and they may file a joint tax return if they are married.
     
  • Non-resident aliens are subject to different rules. They are taxed only on income that they receive from sources within the U.S.; they have limited deductions and credits; and they cannot file a joint tax return with their spouse. They are required to file a different U.S. income tax return, either Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ.

The rule for F students is a five-year lifetime limit, which includes any time spent in exempt status as an F visa holder after January 1, 1985.

Tax Forms

All non-resident students and scholars must file Form 8843 to substantiate their non-residence, even if they have no income.

All F-2 and J-2 dependents must also file Form 8843 even if they had no U.S. source income during the tax year. If they have U.S. income, they would be required to file either the Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ, in addition to the Form 8843.

Most students and scholars will find that they can use the form 1040NR-EZ, which is shorter and easier to complete than the 1040NR. However, there are some rules and limits for use of the 1040NR-EZ. You may use the 1040NR-EZ if:

  • You are a non-resident for tax purposes.
     
  • Your only U.S. income was from wages, salaries, tips, taxable refunds of state and local income taxes and scholarship or fellowship grants.
     
  • You do not claim any dependents. Only citizens of Canada, Mexico, India, Korea and Japan can claim spouses and/or children as dependents, and they can only do so by filing form 1040NR. There are special rules related to Indian dependents; not all are eligible.
     
  • You cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person’s U.S. tax return.
     
  • Your taxable income was less than $50,000.
     
  • The only itemized deductions you claim are for state and local taxes. If you wish to claim charitable or other deductions, you must use Form 1040NR.