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New to the US? Confused about Taxes?

If you're an international student who is new to the United States, we know that it's easy to get lost when it comes to taxes. Here are some basic pointers to get you started, although keep in mind this isn't tax advice - everyone may have different tax situations or questions.

  • Read through our US Income Taxes page for basic information about how US income taxes work.
  • Most international students and scholars who are new to the US are considered tax non-residents. The US differentiates between tax residents (which includes US citizens and permanent residents) and tax non-residents, and the tax rules and obligations are different for each. International students on F and J visas are usually considered non-residents for the first five years of physical presence in the US. For example, if 2021 is your first year of physical presence in the US on an F-1 visa, then you are likely a tax non-resident. Compared to tax residents, tax non-residents have certain benefits and certain restrictions. There are also different forms that you'll need to fill out at different stages, depending on whether you're working and receiving US source income (see next points).
  • Understand the concept of US source income. For tax non-residents, US source income refers to income earned while you are in the US (or to income earned from US sources). US source income can include your wages (salary) from an on-campus job, or the taxable portion of a scholarship or fellowship. Non-residents are usually taxed only on US source income.
  • If you are working on-campus this semester (or off-campus at some point in the future), understand tax withholding. Under the US income tax system, part of your paycheck may be taken out or "withheld" by your employer and submitted to the government as income taxes. Later, in the new year (by April 15), you'll file a tax return to calculate whether too much, or too little, tax was withheld during the previous year. If too much tax was withheld, you'll be eligible for a refund; if too little tax was taken, you may be required to pay additional tax.
    • When you start working you may be asked to complete Form W-4, which informs the employer how much taxes to withhold. Non-residents must complete Form W-4 using special instructions from the Internal Revenue Service.
    • Depending on your country of citizenship, students and scholars may also be able to get tax treaty benefits which will further reduce the amount of tax withholding on your pay. For more information about whether your country has a tax treaty with the US that can help to reduce your taxes, go to Publication 901.
  • Get a Social Security Number (SSN) if you have an on-campus job and don't already have a SSN. You don't need a SSN to apply for a job or even to start working, but if you do get an on-campus job (or later, an off-campus job), you will need to apply for a SSN if you don't already have one. Social Security Numbers are also private, permanent numbers so keep them safe. Read through our Social Security page to get started.
    • Keep in mind that having a SSN is needed if you are working in the US, but just having a SSN doesn't grant you permission to work. You should consult with the International Center about what kind of work you can take while in the US as an international student or scholar on a visa. If you are eligible to work in the US, you can then apply for a SSN.
  • Look for information from the International Center in early 2022 about the 2021 tax return filing season. Every spring, usually by April 15, most students and scholars will need to complete at least one tax form to report their tax situation for the previous year, even if you did not earn any US source income. The International Center will have announcements and links to resources in early 2022 to help you with your 2021 tax return.

Unfortunately, the International Center cannot provide direct tax assistance or tax advice on individual cases, and we cannot complete your tax forms for you. However, hopefully the information above will be of help in getting you oriented to US taxes. When you need to file a tax return in early 2022, we will also make software available to assist you with the tax filing process.