Wait, I’m Confused … How Does Taxation Work in the US?

Just like many taxation systems around the world, the US tax system has its share of complications. Learning how to navigate it is critical for anyone living or working in the US. This is especially true if you’re not a US citizen, as there are (unfortunately) a number of additional things to consider. Don’t fret though, we’re here to walk you through some of the key points when it comes to US taxation.

Do I even have to Pay Taxes?

Well they are the only certainty in life, that’s what people say no? That’s not the point, though, because if you’re a student on an F-1 or J-1 visa in the US, you only need to pay if you’ve received an income. Makes sense right? However, note that even if you didn’t work, you still have to file a return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), stating that you did not earn an income. This is also known as the Non-Employed 8843 Form, which can be found on the IRS website.

I did earn income… what’s next?

The bad news is that you have to pay both federal and state taxes. You’ll have to start by getting an ITIN or SSN, along with filing your tax return. This should be done through the W-7 form. There are also a number of other forms which will be mailed to you by your university or employer and which you will also have to fill out.

Once all your forms are complete, you need to mail them to the IRS along with a check if you owe anything.

That’s Awfully Complicated

We know, but here’s some good news. Most international students will actually not need to go through the whole process. In fact, your employer will tend to automatically deduct your taxes and send them to the government. The tax return then becomes the most important form to fill: it tells the government all your sources of income and highlights what you owe. If you owe nothing, well then you don’t need to pay anything extra. There’s a number of other benefits of filing the tax return itself: you might actually get a refund of what you paid if the amount was very small, or be exempt from taxation due to tax treaties with other countries. Tax returns will also protect the income coming from your home country, as that is not taxable. Most importantly, by filing a tax return you will be able to maintain your legal visa status in the US, as it is a required step, even if you earned no money.

For these reasons, always make sure to file your tax returns. If you need any help, check out Sprintax, a tax service dedicated to US nonresidents, and the Tax Form Wizard on

Thank you for reading us and, as per usual, do drop a comment if you have a question that you would like to see answered!