Tax Filing Obligations for F-1 Students

Tax Filing Obligations for F-1 Students

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States classifies all people in the US as either Residents for Taxes or Nonresidents for taxes.  

Residents for Taxes are US citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders), and non-immigrants who are determined to be residents for taxes by application of the Substantial Presence Test. 

Nonresidents for Taxes are non-immigrants who do not meet the standards of the Substantial Presence Test OR who are exempt from having to use the test at all. 

Why should this matter to you?

Residents for Taxes are taxed on their world-wide income.  For these people, both income from US sources AND income from abroad are subject to US tax.

Nonresidents for Taxes are taxed only on their US sourced income.

What category do you fall into? 

IRS has determined that F-1 students who have been in the US for 5 years or less are nonresidents for taxes because the IRS code exempts students from the Substantial Presence Test for the first 5 years the student is in the US. See Exempt Individual Decision Tree


  • The 5 years are cumulative.  If you have previously studied in the US as an F-1, J-1 or M-1 and have gone home and now returned, that previous time in the US in one of those statuses is added to your current F-1 time.
  • Any part of a year that you are in the US in F-1 status is considered to be the whole year.  Examples:  If you first arrived in the US as an F-1 on December 27, 2009, then 2009 is your first year in F-1 status.   
  • F-1 dependents (spouses and children in F-2 status) are also classified as exempt individuals.
  • If you are married to a resident for taxes (US citizen, Permanent resident, a temporary worker in the US like H1, L1, TN, etc, or another F-1 who has been her for more than 5 years) AND you have filed or will file a joint tax return, you are automatically considered to be a resident for taxes.

What do you have to do to claim Exempt Status?

  • The IRS requires that you complete and mail the IRS Form 8843 each spring to declare your exempt status for the previous year .  When the 8843 will be mailed by itself (no other form required), it must be sent in by June 15.  If you are required to file a Tax Return (complete a 1040NR or 1040NR EZ form) due to having earned wages, the return AND the 8843 are to be mailed together by April 15.  See below for further information on completing an actual "tax return."
  • Dependents are also required to complete and mail in the 8843, completing only Part I on the form. 

What do you have to do if you had a job and earned wages?

Generally you will have to file a nonresident tax return.  Nonresident tax returns are filed using the 1040NR form or the 1040NR EZ form.  (EZ just means it is "easy" to fill out.) Please note that the popular tax preparation software products like TurboTax and TaxAct do not have a functionality for nonresident tax returns. Nonresidents for taxes CANNOT use those products.  Instructions on how to complete the 2014 1040NR form can be found here.  The instructions for the 2014 1040NR EZ form can be found here.

Nonresident tax returns can be moderately complicated especially if there are scholarship, stipends, or international tax treaties involved.  Additional complications might include investments and capital gains, gambling winnings, etc.

Specific issues:

  • Nonresident tax payers cannot file joint returns and most cannot claim exemptions for dependents.
  • Nonresident tax payers can claim a Standard Exemption for themselves.  However, they cannot claim the Standard Deduction. (Exception - Indian nonresident tax payers can claim the Standard Deduction.)
  • Click here to view the PowerPoint presented at on-campus nonresident tax workshops.

For assistance with the preparation of your tax return you can use, SprinTax , a software product designed specifically for nonresident tax returns or you can engage the services of a CPA but ONLY with one who is familiar with nonresident taxes.