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Tax Obligations for International Students in the US

Embarking on an educational journey in the United States is thrilling for international students. However, alongside the academic challenges, many are met with the complexities of the US tax system, particularly if they’ve generated taxable income during their stay. If you’re an international student with earnings or scholarships, understanding your tax obligations is crucial.

Determine Your Tax Status

The first step is understanding whether you are categorized as a resident alien or non-resident alien for tax purposes. Typically, F, J, M, or Q visa holders are considered non-resident aliens during their first five years in the US. However, the Substantial Presence Test can also determine this.

Tax Identification Numbers

Social Security Number (SSN): If you have authorization to work in the US, you’ll need an SSN for wage reporting purposes.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN): If you don’t qualify for an SSN but need to file a tax return, you’ll need an ITIN.

Understand Your Taxable Income

International students may earn income through various means:

-Wages from an employer (on-campus employment, OPT, CPT, economic hardship).
-Scholarships or fellowships, some portions of which might be taxable.
-Interest from bank accounts, if applicable.

Required Tax Forms

Most international students will file Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. If you’ve received scholarship or fellowship income, you might also need Form 8843.

Tax Treaties

The US has tax treaties with over 60 countries. These treaties can provide numerous benefits like reduced tax rates or exemptions from taxation for certain types of income.

State and Local Taxes

Depending on where you study, you might have to file state and/or local tax returns in addition to your federal return.

Penalties for Not Complying

Not filing or incorrectly filing your taxes can lead to penalties. Always ensure you file your taxes, even if you haven’t earned any income during the year.


Navigating tax obligations as an international student can seem daunting, but understanding your responsibilities can make the process smoother. Always consult with a tax professional or use resources provided by your educational institution. The key is to be informed, prepared, and timely in your tax responsibilities.

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