Federal Income Tax Information for International Students

***Please Note: The ISO staff are not tax professionals. The information below is intended only as a guide to direct you to the proper resources. If you need help with your taxes, you should consult a tax professional.***

If you are an international student and DID NOT have sources of U.S. income in the past year:

Form 8843 will allow you to maintain your nonresident status. A nonresident status is generally more advantageous for international students if future income is to be earned. All international students are required to submit this form to the IRS regardless of whether or not income was earned in the past year.

  • No other forms must be filed.

If you are an international student and HAD sources of U.S. income in the past year:

*If U.S. income is less than the personal exemption amount (generally $3,650) and no tax refund is due, you may not need to file this form.


For more detailed information, please download the NAFSA Federal Income Tax Brochure.


General Information about Income Taxes and Tax Residency

Taxable income may include on-campus employment, scholarships, fellowships, graduate assistantships, practical or academic training, and any compensation received for labor.


Scholarships are taxable only in the amount that exceeds the cost of tuition. Example: Your tuition in 2012 was $12,000 and your 2012 scholarship was $15,000. You would have to pay tax on $3,000.

Determining your tax residency status (resident or nonresident) is independent of your visa status. Filing as a resident or nonresident is for taxation purposes only and will not affect your current visa status.

If you have earned income greater than $3,650 in the United States during the calendar year 2012 you must file tax form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. Regulations vary depending on whether you file as a resident or a nonresident. In most cases it is more advantageous for international students to file as nonresidents.

Even if you did not earn income in the United States but want to remain a nonresident for future taxation purposes, you must file form 8843.

Advantages of filing as a nonresident include: No taxation of foreign income, no taxation of interest paid by US banks and tax treaties (tax exemption agreements between the U.S. and other countries) with your home country that may offer greater tax exemptions.

If you have considerable income from sources outside the U.S. there may be greater advantages to file as a resident alien.

Non-Resident Status

If you have lived in the United States as a student for five years or less you may file as nonresident. However, you must file form 8843 annually to maintain this nonresident tax status.

Resident Status

You may file as a resident if:

  • You were physically present in the U.S. for 31 days in 2012


  • You were physically present in the U.S. for total of 183 days over a three year period (2012, 2011, 2010) including:
    • All the days present in 2012
    • 1/3 of the days present in 2011
    • 1/6 of the days present in 2010

For more information and examples of how to calculate this formula, please visit the IRS website.

Where to File

Department of the Treasury 

Internal Revenue Service Center

Austin, TX 73301-0215

All tax forms or extensions must be filed by April 15, 2013.


Helpful Resources:

NAFSA Federal Income Tax Brochure.

The Tax Guy - Information for International Students.

Alphabetical list of tax treaties.

Additional tax forms.

IRS website