Overview: U.S. Income Taxes and the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the agency in the U.S. that handles taxes. International students need to inform themselves of their obligation to the IRS. In general, an international student will need to file tax forms, even if they did not earn any income in the U.S. (Much of the information contained on this can be referenced at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website for Foreign Students and Scholars.)
IMPORTANT: Staff in Office of International Student Services (OISS) are not able to give any tax advice as they are not tax professionals.
Who must file tax forms?
All international students and their dependents who are present in the United States are required to file an individual income tax form if they were in the U.S. during the tax year, even if they have no U.S.-source income of any kind. Which tax form(s) need to be completed will depend on your source of income and resident or non-resident tax status (see “Which Form to Use” below).
What is a “tax year”?
A tax year is the same as a calendar year – January 1 to December 31. For tax purposes, when counting presence in the U.S., one must count a calendar year even if only present in the U.S. for one day during that year.
Which form to use
Each international student’s individual situation determines which form(s) to file. Forms come with instructions.
- If an international student received no wages or taxable scholarships from U.S. sources but is a nonresident alien for tax purposes, they must file Form 8843 by June 15, 2020. If only submitting form 8843, a Social Security number or ITIN (individual tax identification number) is not required. If an international student has dependents in the U.S., those dependents, regardless of age, must also file a Form 8843.
- Fill out the form, online or in writing (F-1 students complete beginning and sections 1 and 3)
- Print the form
- Sign on Page 2
- Mail it to the following address:
Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, TX 73301-0215
- Or, drop it off at the following IRS office:
1220 SW Third Ave.
Portland, OR 97204
- If an international student received wages or taxable scholarships from U.S. sources and is a nonresident alien for tax purposes, they must file Form 8843 AND 1040NR-EZ or 1040NR by April 15, 2020. This IRS page can help determine whether Form 1040NR-EZ or 1040NR is appropriate. [Please note: Filing taxes can result in a refund from the IRS if too much was withheld in taxes over the year. Or, it can result in a required tax payment to the IRS if not enough was withheld in taxes over the year.]
Social security and ITIN numbers
Anyone employed in the U.S. should have a Social Security Number (SSN). Those who are not employed, but still need a tax ID number, may apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). A SSN or ITIN is not required for form 8843. Anyone filing tax forms other than 8843 must have a SSN or ITIN.
Before you begin the filing process, be sure you have all the necessary information with you.
- Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement: W-2 forms are mailed to current and former employees. This form shows how much has been earned during the tax year and how much was taken out for taxes. This is only sent to international student who have been employed.
- Form 1042-S: The 1042-S form will only be given to nonresident alien students who have received scholarship or fellowship money that exceeds tuition and related fee charges. The 1042-S form will not be sent if an international has only had a tuition waiver and did not receive any checks. If an international student is expecting to receive a 1042-S form, they should wait until it is issued before filing their tax return.
- Form 1095: The 1095-A, 1095-B, and 1095-C forms are related to health insurance.
- Form 1099 (if applicable): The 1099 form documents miscellaneous income. For example, if an international student has worked as an independent contractor, rather than as an employee, they would receive this form instead of Form W-2.
- Social Security Number or Individual Tax Identification Number (not required if you will file only Form 8843)
- Address information (current U.S. address and foreign address)
- U.S. entry and exit dates for current and past visits to the U.S. — You can get much of your travel information from the online I-94 system
- Academic institution or host sponsor information (name, address, phone)
- Scholarship/fellowship grant letter (if any)
- A copy of last year’s federal income tax return, if filed
Where to get help
U.S. tax laws can be complex and confusing–we all get headaches during tax season–and the laws that apply to international students are not the same as those that apply to U.S. citizens.
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program: Volunteer-run, community tax-assistance services. Find a VITA Program location near you here.
- Multnomah County Libraries: Multnomah County Library branches offer free tax preparation events throughout tax season.
- Washington County Libraries: Washington County Library branches offer free tax preparation events and services.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Visit the IRS Website or call 1-800-829-1040 for telephone assistance. IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers provide face-to-face assistance if you are unable to get your questions answered online or by phone. Assistance is available for preparing your basic individual income tax return if your income is $49,000 or less. For locations and more eligibility information, visit the IRS’s Face-to-face Tax Help.
- Sprintax, an online US tax prep solution for international students and scholars. >> Note: This is not a free service. PCC does not provide any endorsement for this non-resident federal and state tax preparation service.
- Other Helpful Resources:
- NAFSA Federal Income Tax Brochure
- IRS Foreign Scholar and Student Website
- Publication 4011: Foreign Student and Scholar Volunteer Resource Guide: This is a guide for volunteers who are training to help people prepare tax returns. The language is more user-friendly than the language in IRS publications, and it covers the same topics.
- Obtaining ITIN from Abroad
- Local IRS Office Internationally
- Local Taxpayer Advocate
Portland Arts Tax
The Arts Education and Access Income Tax (Arts Tax) funds Portland school teachers and art focused non-profit organizations in Portland. You may be required to pay the Portland Arts Tax if you lived in Portland at any time during 2019. Check the Arts Tax website for information and exemptions.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is meant to provide assistance for PCC international students in meeting their obligation with IRS. Inclusion of references or links to other entities or their websites does not constitute, and shall not be construed or reported as an endorsement or approval by Portland Community College. Portland Community College expressly disclaims any and all responsibility for any problems that may arise with regard to such outside entities. All students are encouraged to exercise their own good judgment when making decisions related to filing taxes.