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U.S Tax Info for International Students U.S Tax Info for International Students

Overview of U.S Taxes

This page is for information purposes only and should not be considered financial or legal advice.  Please consult your own tax or financial advisor with any questions.

In the United States, there are several different types of taxes: Federal, state, and social security/medicare (FICA) taxes.  The U.S. tax year runs from January 1st to December 31st. The federal tax filing deadline is April 15th, 2022.

Overview of U.S. Taxes Overview of U.S. Taxes

Federal Tax

Federal income taxes are prepaid by the employer(s) based on the estimate of liability provided by the employee on their Form W-4 (completed by the employee at the time of hire). The taxes paid by the employer are then withheld from the employee's paychecks.

Tax Return

The process of "filing a tax return" allows you to reconcile the amount of taxes that you had withheld from your income during the year with the actual amount of taxes that you owe the U.S. government. Since withholding is only an estimate, employees are given this yearly opportunity to file a tax return with the IRS. In some cases, filing a tax return results in a refund from the IRS because the amount of money withheld was higher than necessary. However, sometimes filing a tax return results in a payment when there was not enough withheld and the individual must send a payment to the IRS with his/her tax return.

Federal tax forms should be mailed to:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, TX 73301-0215

State Tax

Individuals living in Massachusetts may need to file a state tax return if they received any U.S. income while living in the state. If you earned more than $8,000, you must file state Tax Form 1-NR.

State tax forms should be mailed to:

Massachusetts Department of Revenue
(P.O. Box 7000 for a refund) or (P.O. Box 7003 for a payment)
Boston, MA 02204

Social Security and Medicare Tax (FICA)


These taxes support U.S. retirees and the disabled. Non-Residents in F, J, M or Q status are exempt from these taxes while they are considered "non-residents" for tax purposes. If you have been in the U.S. for less than 5 years as an F-1 student you are probably a "non-resident" for tax purposes and exempt from social security taxes. For more information on FICA for Nonresidents:

Types of Income


Non-residents, for tax purposes, are taxed only on their U.S. source income. With a few exceptions, this means that any income received from outside the U.S. is not considered taxable in the U.S. Residents, for tax purposes, are taxed by the U.S. on their income from anywhere in the world.

Sources of U.S. income may include financial aid, on-campus employment, practical or academic training, scholarships, fellowships, and any other compensation received for labor. "Income" is not limited to wages paid in cash, but also includes any portion of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship from a U.S. source that is applied to housing and meal expenses. The portion applied to tuition, fees, and books is not considered income. If scholarship money is provided directly to the student by check or cash, however, it is fully taxable even if the student intends to use it to pay for tuition, fees, and/or books.


Who Must File Tax Forms Who Must File Tax Forms

Who Must File Tax Forms

  • An international student who has been in the U.S for less than 5 years as a student is required to file at least one tax form (Form 8843) even if the student had no U.S. source of income.

  • An international student who earned $4,050 or more must file a Federal Tax return (Form 1040NR/EZ) and may be eligible for a refund, or may owe additional taxes.

  • An international student, who earned less than $4,050, may still want to file a federal tax return to claim a refund.

  • An international student who has been in the U.S. for more than 5 years will most likely be considered a "resident" for tax purposes and will need to complete resident tax forms.

Determining Your Residency for Tax Purposes

The IRS divides everyone into two categories for tax purposes – resident and non-resident:

Residents: All U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents ("green card" holders), and non-resident aliens for immigration purposes who have met the Substantial Presence Test (see below).

Non-residents: all others, regardless of immigration status.

The Substantial Presence Test (SPT) is how the IRS determines when non-resident aliens have been in the U.S. long enough to be considered residents for tax purposes. One must be present in the U.S. for a total of 183 days over a period of 3 years to pass the SPT and be considered a resident for tax purposes. However, individuals in F, J, M, or Q status do not count days during the time they are "exempt individuals". The rules for "exempt individuals" are:

  • F students and their dependents are "exempt individuals" for a period of 5 years throughout their lifetime.

  • During the time individuals in F status are "exempt individuals," they will remain non-residents for tax purposes even though they are present in the U.S. for more than 183 days. Once they leave "exempt individual" status, days of presence will be counted and they may become a resident alien for tax purposes. The Substantial Presence Test is detailed more fully in IRS Publication 519. If you prepare your tax return with the Thomson Reuters software, your residency status will be determined for you by answering a series of questions. "Residents" for tax purposes usually complete Forms 1040 or 1040 EZ. "Non-residents" for tax purposes usually complete Form 1040 NR or 1040 NR EZ.

Identification Numbers

You must have either a Social Security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to complete all tax forms (except Form 8843).

Social Security Numbers (SSNs)

  • F-1 visa holders must have employment authorization (CPT, OPT) or hold an offer of on-campus employment in order to obtain a SSN.

  • F-1 visa holders must apply in person at the Social Security Office.

ITIN Numbers

The IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. (Usually individuals receiving scholarships or grants.) The ITIN is a nine digit, tax processing number issued by the IRS. ITINs are not valid for identification outside of the tax system. By law, an individual cannot have both an ITIN and an SSN. For more information see IRS publication 1915 and Form W-7 and instructions for obtaining an ITIN on the IRS website.

To apply for an ITIN you will need the following documents: 

  • Form W-7

  • A letter from your International Student Advisor

  • A copy of your scholarship/fellowship letter

  • A notarized copy of your passport

  • A notarized copy of your visa

  • Copy of Form W8-BEN

  • Obtaining Forms and Assistance