The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the U.S. government agency that collects taxes. If you work in a paid capacity, your employer will withhold money from your paycheck and send it to the IRS. Other income such as scholarships and fellowships may also be taxed.

At the beginning of each year (due mid-April), you are required to file an income tax return for the prior year, which verifies that the right amount of taxes was withheld. If too much was withheld, you may be eligible for a refund. Or, perhaps not enough was withheld, and you will owe more. In this case, you will need to pay the additional amount.

ALL of the following individuals who were in the U.S. for any period of time during the calendar year (even one day) have federal tax filing obligations the following year:

  • International students
  • International scholars & employees
  • Dependents of international students and scholars

Throughout this page we will refer to any of the above individuals who are in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa as a “foreign national.”

U.S. tax laws are complex and confusing, and the laws that apply to foreign nationals are not the same as those that apply to U.S. citizens. The resources provided on this page may help you better understand your tax obligations, learn where to go for more information, and successfully submit your tax forms. If you have questions about your tax obligations, we recommend you contact the IRS or a qualified tax account professional.

Basic tax terminology

  • Tax Day is the day on which individual income tax returns are due and must be submitted to the federal government. Tax Day falls on or just after April 15 every year.
  • Filing taxes is the process of preparing and sending the tax returns and required documentation to the IRS and/or state department of revenue office.
  • Tax return refers to the actual tax form (e.g., Form 1040 or Form 1040-NR) and accompanying forms (e.g., Form 8843) that you will submit to the government.
  • Nonresident alien vs. resident alien for tax purposes – Before you begin your tax return, you will need to determine your federal tax filing status: nonresident alien (NRA) or resident alien (RA). This status is determined by something known as the Substantial Presence Test (SPT), and it determines how you are taxed and which forms you need to fill out. This status is only a tax filing status and does not mean that you are a resident for immigration or other purposes. Some foreign nationals are considered to be resident tax filers even though they continue to have a nonimmigrant immigration status. Your tax filing status may change over time, so it is a good idea to review these guidelines each time you complete your taxes. Learn more below.
  • State tax return – If you work or invest in a state that has an income tax (Missouri does have an income tax), it is likely that you must file a state tax return. This is a separate and different document than your federal tax return. States are independent from one another in their taxing authority, and all state tax forms differ in some respects. In other words, the type of document you must file – as well as the deadline to file – differs from state to state.
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the name of the U.S. tax collection agency.

Sprintax

Sprintax is a user-friendly tax preparation software for international students and scholars who are nonresident aliens (NRAs) for tax purposes. WashU partners with Sprintax to offer free federal tax filing for eligible NRA F-1 and J-1 students and scholars.

How to Access:

  • Log in to Sprintax with your WUSTL key and password.
  • Complete the Sprintax questionnaire about time spent in the U.S. to determine your tax residency status. If the system determines that you are a NRA, you will be able to continue to use the software.

Features:

  • WashU covers the cost of federal tax return filing for qualified international students and scholars who are NRAs for tax filing purposes.
  • There is an option to purchase state tax return services at a discounted rate. WashU does not cover the cost of any state tax returns.
  • Sprintax will guide you through the entire tax preparation process, help arrange necessary documents, and check for tax refunds or owed amounts.

Important:

  • International students and scholars are not required to use Sprintax to prepare their federal or state tax returns.
  • Foreign nationals who are considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes should NOT use tax preparation software that was developed to prepare resident tax returns (e.g., TurboTax).
  • If the substantial presence test determines you are a resident alien for tax purposes, you could use TurboTax or similar software.
  • If you incorrectly file your tax return as a resident for tax purposes, you will be required to file an amended tax return. Sprintax can assist with the amendment, but you will be responsible for the amended tax filing fee.

Determining tax residency status

How do I determine if I am a nonresident alien or resident alien for tax filing purposes?

F-1 & J-1 students – Generally, international students in F-1 and J-1 status are considered nonresidents for tax purposes for their first five calendar years in the U.S. F-1 and J-1 students usually become resident aliens for tax purposes after being present in the U.S. for five calendar years.

J-1 exchange visitors & scholars – Most international scholars and researchers in J-1 status are considered nonresidents for tax purposes for the first two calendar years in the U.S. J-1 scholars usually become residents for federal tax purposes after being present in the U.S. for two (out of the past six) calendar years, including any prior time spent as an F-1 or J-1 visa holder.

If you hold an immigration status other than F-1 or J-1, or if you’ve been in the U.S. for longer than five years (for F-1/J-1 students) or two years (for J-1 scholars), the Substantial Presence Test will determine your tax residency.

Your tax filing status may change over time, so it is a good idea to review these guidelines each time you complete your taxes. For more information about nonresident aliens for tax purposes, visit the IRS website.

Is tax status different from immigration status?

Yes! A nonimmigrant or an immigrant visa status under U.S. immigration law is different from U.S. tax residency status under U.S. tax law. Terms nonresident alien or resident alien usually refer to tax residency status and tax purposes, while terms such as permanent resident (e.g., LPR or green card holder) refer to immigration status.

Can I use Sprintax to determine my tax status?

Yes! WashU has partnered with Sprintax, a tax preparation software designed for international students and scholars.

After you create your Sprintax account and log in, the first thing you will do is answer a series of questions, which will determine your tax residency status. You will answer questions about the time you have been in the U.S. over a period of several years, as well as the types of visas you have used to enter the U.S. Sprintax will then determine your tax status.

If the software determines that you are a nonresident alien for tax purposes, you can continue to use Sprintax to prepare your federal (and state) tax returns. Sprintax will ask a series of questions to help you fill out the appropriate tax return forms and will complete and generate the tax forms you need to send to the IRS (and state department of revenue office). In general, nonresidents are taxed only on income that is considered U.S. sourced.

If Sprintax determines you are a resident alien for federal tax purposes, you will not be able to use Sprintax to prepare your tax return. You will be directed to other resources to prepare your tax return. In general, residents are taxed on worldwide income.

State Income Tax

In addition to U.S. federal taxes, many states, including Missouri, also charge state income tax. If you earned income in the previous year, you will also need to file a state tax return in April of the following year. For Missouri residents, the Missouri Department of Revenue offers a step-by-step guide to help you determine the correct form to file. File your federal return first. Sprintax can prepare your state tax return(s) for an additional fee.

Tax FAQs

Can someone from OISS help me prepare my U.S. tax return?

No, OISS staff are not tax experts and cannot provide tax advice beyond the information provided on our website.

I was at WashU last year, but I am no longer in the U.S. Do I still need to file U.S. taxes for last year?

Yes. If you were physically present in the U.S. and/or received U.S. income during the previous calendar year, you need to file taxes even if you have returned home and are not in the U.S. currently.

Foreign nationals can prepare their tax return from outside the U.S. and mail it to the IRS from abroad. Foreign nationals who are nonresident aliens (NRAs) for tax purposes can use Sprintax to prepare their tax return from abroad. Log in to Sprintax with your WUSTL Key to prepare and print your tax return, including all forms and instructions for submitting your forms to the IRS and state department of revenue offices. Students can continue to use their WUSTL Key after graduating.

How can I learn more about WashU generated tax documents for foreign nationals receiving funding from WashU?

See our Tax Document page.

What is an ITIN and do I need one to file my taxes?

Nonresident aliens who receive stipends from a WashU stipend, scholarship or fellowship, but will not be employed, such as a graduate assistantship or fellowship will not be eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) and must instead apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Students who receive an ITIN and later become eligible for an SSN must apply for an SSN and cancel their ITIN.

If you already have an SSN, you will use that number to file your taxes and you do NOT need an ITIN.

For full information, please consult the Social Security Number & Individual Tax Identification Number pages on the OISS website.

What is Form 8843 and who must file one?

Form 8843 is not a U.S. income tax return. It is an informational statement required by the IRS for nonresidents for tax purposes. It should be filled out for every nonresident alien present in the U.S. in the previous year, including spouses, partners and children.

If you are not sure whether you are a nonresident for tax purposes, please read the section above about determining tax residency status.

Nonresident Tax Filers

  • If you are a nonresident tax filer with U.S. source income and are using Sprintax to file your tax return, your Form 8843 will be included in the forms that Sprintax generates for filing.
  • If you are filing your 1040NR form yourself, you must also include Form 8843.

Resident Tax Filers

  • If you are considered a resident for tax purposes, you are not required to file Form 8843.
Who should complete ONLY Form 8843?

If you are a nonresident tax filer, and have NO U.S. source income in the tax year for which you are filing, you only need to complete and file Form 8843 with the IRS to fulfill your federal tax filing obligation.

What does it mean to have no U.S. source income?

Not having any U.S. source income means that you did not receive wages, salary, awards, prizes, or taxable stipends, scholarships or fellowships (i.e., the amount of scholarship or fellowship that exceeds the amount of your tuition) from a U.S. institution, organization or company. Financial support, (such as sabbatical salary or a scholarship) from your home country or an organization outside the U.S. is not considered U.S. source income.

Note: If you are a nonresident tax filer with U.S. source income and are using Sprintax to file your tax return, your Form 8843 will be included in the forms that Sprintax generates for filing.

What is Form W-2?
  • Form W-2 reports your wage earnings if you worked during the tax year.
  • If you had more than one employer, you should get a W-2 from each employer.
  • W-2s are issued by the end of January for the previous calendar year.
  • Make sure all employers from last year have an up-to-date address for you. If you have not received this document by January 31, be sure to contact your employer right away to request it.
  • If you did NOT work, you will not receive a W-2.
I was employed by WashU last year. When and how can I access my W-2?

W-2s are available as of January 31 for the previous year. View step-by-step instructions on how to find your W-2 form in Workday.

What is Form 1042-S?

Form 1042-S is used to report income paid to a nonresident, including income covered by a tax treaty, or income from a stipend, scholarship or fellowship grant. A nonresident employee could potentially receive both a Form 1042-S and a Form W-2 or only a Form W-2 if they did not claim a tax treaty allowance.

1042-S forms from WashU will be available in FNIS (Foreign National Information System) no later than March 15th. For more information about Form 1042-S, please see Tax Documents.

What is the difference between Form 1040 and Form 1040-NR?

Form 1040-NR (U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return) is the income tax return form that nonresident aliens in the U.S. must file if they had any income from U.S. sources throughout the year.

Those considered resident aliens for tax filing purposes and U.S. citizens file Form 1040.

I was in the U.S. for some period of time during a previous tax year and I did not file taxes. What should I do?

You can file taxes for previous years, but you should do so as soon as possible as there are penalties for filing late. You can download prior year tax return forms at IRS.gov and complete the returns yourself, or you can use Sprintax (if you are considered a nonresident alien for tax purposes) to prepare the tax returns for previous years. Contact the WashU Tax Office with questions about your tax documents from the university for previous years.

Beware of Tax Scams

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Be suspicious of any communication claiming to be from the IRS received via email, text message or social media.

Any electronic communication from someone who claims to represent the IRS should not be opened, as it likely contains some sort of virus or malware. Never provide your SSN or ITIN to anyone via email, text message or social media.

Scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters and emails. Many IRS impersonators use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a fabricated tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest or deport their would-be victim if they don’t comply.

How To Report Scams: Taxpayers can use these options to report phone, email and other impersonation scams:

  • Report impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage. Taxpayers can also call 800-366-4484 to report impersonation scams.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or an IRS-related system like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.
  • For a comprehensive listing of recent tax scams, consumer alerts and how to report them, visit Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts.
Disclaimer Statement

While the content on this page has been carefully reviewed and should be sufficient for most WashU international students and scholars, it does not replace advice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or a qualified tax accountant. If your immigration status has changed in the past year, or if you believe you have a complex tax issue, please consult the IRS or a qualified tax accountant.

WashU provides access to the tax preparation software Sprintax to assist international students and scholars who are considered non-resident filers. However, you are individually responsible for ensuring that all information entered into the software is accurate and that all forms and documents generated from the software are correct. You are ultimately responsible for any errors or omissions.

Please note that the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) staff are not qualified or permitted to answer any tax-related questions or provide individual tax advice beyond the information provided on our website.