How to File Your Taxes as an International Student

Jeff Foot | 4-4-2019


  1. The main tax form for residents is 1040-R. This has certain laws and deductions that the form for tax non-residents (1040-NR) do not get. If you file a 1040-R as a tax non-resident, you will be penalized.
  2. Scholarships exceeding the value of school costs (tuition, fees) are taxable income. Plan accordingly. (Athletes, this means you!)

Tax time is here again, which is stressful for U.S. citizens, let alone a visitor from another country who has only been here for a short time. As an international student, you may not be aware that you have to file tax forms, but LewerMark’s partner, Sprintax, is here to help you navigate this complicated system and make the entire process a little easier.

Why Do I Need to File Taxes as an International Student?

To be blunt, it’s the law. But let me elaborate.

Every international student is required by law to file a tax return based on the conditions of their visa, but not everyone will have to pay taxes. As an international student, you are entitled to some benefits and exemptions, so chances are you will not owe anything and could receive money from the U.S. government for any excess taxes deducted from your earnings.

More often than not, international students—especially those who received taxable income while working—filing a tax return will receive a tax refund for overpaid tax. It’s worth checking to see if you have a refund coming to you.

Important Things to Know About Tax Time

  • You must file your taxes by April 15.
  • F-1 and J-1 students are NOT exempt from paying taxes. You must file a tax return if you earn any taxable income by working in the U.S.
  • If you are an F-1 or J-1 student and didn’t earn any taxable income in the U.S., you will still have to fill out Form 8843 and submit it to the IRS.
  • You cannot deduct miscellaneous expenses such as tax preparation fees, investment expenses, moving expenses, deposit boxes, etc.

How Do I File My Tax Return

Now, before you stress out after reading the steps below, there is an easier way to make sure your taxes are filed properly, but let’s look at what you will need to do if you decide to file your tax return yourself.

  1. Determine your residence status for tax purposes. Sprintax has a widget in their app to help file the proper forms.
  2. Determine whether you had any income from U.S. sources. If you worked on campus, you have a Social Security Number (SSN) and will use this for your tax form.
  3. Determine whether you need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). For international students and scholars, you can click here.
  4. Gather the required documents by downloading and printing them from the IRS website.
  5. Gather the documents you received from your income sources.
  6. Follow the instructions for filling out each required form, making sure you fill each out completely with your correct mailing address.
  7. Determine whether you owe additional taxes and if so, write a check for the exact amount.
  8. Mail your tax forms, along with copies of your W-2’s, 1099’s, and 1042-S’s, and a check if you owe anything. Click here for the appropriate addresses.

This process seems straightforward, but steps 6 and 7, in particular, are not as simple as they seem. There are a variety of deductions, exemptions, and credits you may miss if you fill out the form yourself. Also, if you fill it out incorrectly, you might have to pay more than you are supposed to, or worse, not pay enough and be subject to fines, fees, or worse.

What Do I Need to File My Tax Return?

  • Passport or other valid photo ID
  • US entry and Exit Dates for current and all past visits to the U.S.
  • All tax forms, including Forms W-2, 1042-S and/or 1099 – if you received them
  • Form 8843
  • Visa/Immigration Status information, including Form DS-2019 (for J visa holders) or Form I-20 (for F visa holders) Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

If you do not have an ITIN, Sprintax still can help you! (More about this below)


How to Ensure Your Taxes are Filed Correctly

Another way to make sure your taxes are completed correctly is to have an expert prepare them for you. Many Americans take this route when preparing their taxes to avoid any costly mistakes.

Remember our partners at Sprintax that we mentioned? They specialize in filing taxes for international students just like you!

Sprintax has an online tool specifically designed for international students that you prepare your Federal and State tax return in less than 20 minutes! It is way easier than trying to fill out your forms and file them yourself

  • Register here
  • Complete each section
  • Sprintax will prepare your tax return
  • Your tax return will be available for download in your online account.

Now, you will still have to mail your forms to the IRS. American citizens can file online, but as a non-resident, you are required to mail your forms in. Click here to find the correct place to send your tax forms to based on the state you are living in.

Filing taxes was probably not on your list of new things you wanted to experience when you decided to come and study in the U.S. If it was, then we seriously hope you decide to become an accountant. However, filing your taxes is important to do. We hope that the information provided in this blog post and help from Sprintax will help make the process easier so you can get back to focusing on your education.

At LewerMark we specialize in international student health insurance and we are happy to partner with Sprintax to help make tax filing easy for you as an international student.

If you have questions about any of the above or other tax-related questions, it will be important for you to contact a qualified tax professional, like those at Sprintax. They will ensure that you complete your taxes correctly and on time.

Author: Jeff Foot

Jeff Foot is the Executive Director at LewerMark and is responsible for developing new client relationships. He joined LewerMark after spending 17 years at Northwest Missouri State University where he served as Director of Admissions and International Affairs. While at the university he also served as International Affairs Director and Data Specialist for the Intercultural International Center. He has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from NMSU and a Bachelor of Arts Sociology from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Foot also led the English as a Second Language Program at Byuk Sung College in South Korea from 1998 to 2000.