An international student’s guide to filing taxes in the US

how to pay taxes
It can be overwhelming to file taxes for the first time in the US. Here's what you should do. Source: Andrew Burton/AFP

As an international student, it’s usually expected that you wouldn’t have to file any taxes. This is true in most countries — except for the US.

Here, international students must file taxes regardless of their employment status. This makes it integral to learn about how to pay taxes in the US. 

What exactly does this entail, though? Here’s a complete guide to filing taxes in the US as an international student. 

How to pay taxes as an international student: A guide

It’s important to find out exactly what taxes you’re required to pay as a student. You should know that all F-1 visa holders are required to file taxes, as part of the conditions of your visa.

This applies regardless of whether you are earning an income or not. 

The good news is that if you are not working or earning any money, you won’t be required to PAY any taxes.

Still, you will have to FILE them — which makes it important to know exactly what you need to do. 

Confused about filing your taxes? You’re not alone. Source: Tony Karumba/AFP

What forms do I need to fill out?

Every international student needs to file Form 8843.

This is essentially used by “alien individuals” to declare the time they spent partaking in other activities — like studying — without earning an income in the US.

It’s important that you know what your resident status is for US tax purposes. Generally, international students would fall under the “non-resident alien” category.

This is used to refer to students on an F, J or M visa. They must also have been in the US for less than five calendar years. 

You won’t be required to pay any taxes through this form. Think of it as a way to let the US government know of your student status and what you’ve been up to since you started university. 

To file Form 8843, you’ll need to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This number will be used to file all future tax returns.

They can expire if they’re not being used, so keep a close eye on them before your tax deadline. 

Had any taxes that were wrongfully charged to you? Use Form 843 to claim a refund. 

What if I’m working part-time?

As an international student on an F-1 visa, you are allowed to work under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) scheme.

Generally, this is limited to 20 hours per week during term time. During holidays, you can work 40-hour weeks. 

If you are working, you’ll need to fill out some additional forms to declare this. Usually, students working part-time will have to fill out a W-4 tax form.

This is for new employees to fill out when they’re first hired at any organisation or institution in the US. 

If you are earning money in any other way, you’ll have to learn how to pay taxes, too. These may include other forms of income that are not traditionally related to working.

To clarify, the income you need to declare includes the following:

  • Wages and compensation
  • Salaries
  • Tips
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Some scholarships/fellowship grants
  • Prizes/awards

Get ahead of the deadline by learning to file taxes. Source: Loic Venance/AFP

When is the deadline?

The US has a strict tax filing deadline of April 15 every year. Make sure to meet this deadline to avoid any complications when it comes to your visa.

This makes it doubly important to learn how to pay taxes long before April comes around. 

Will I need to pay taxes if I’m earning money outside the US?

With the move to online working, many students have begun to source freelance work or other forms of earning income. Just as many work part-time for companies from their home countries. 

As an international student, you are classified as a non-resident. This means that you are able to earn money from your home country without having to pay taxes. 

However, this is a general rule and not applicable across all situations. Be sure to check with your university services to make sure you won’t be crossing any laws while working.