Tax Responsibilities for International Students and Scholars

About Taxes in the U.S.

Tax Requirement and Tax Residency Status

All F and J international students and scholars who were present in the U.S. during any portion of the past calendar year are required to file tax forms with the United States federal government. This is true whether or not you worked in the U.S., gained income in the U.S., or received a scholarship during the past calendar year. The information contained on this website is meant to aid University of Chicago international students’ and scholars’ understanding of the basics of U.S. tax law and begin the tax filing process.

**If you are in F or J status, you are required to file tax documents.**

Important note: OIA does not have tax experts and therefore cannot, by law, answer specific tax questions or help you prepare your tax forms. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to meet your tax obligations and do so accurately.

What is a Tax Return or Tax Filing? Why Do I Need to File?

Any of your earnings in the United States are subject to applicable federal, state, and local taxes. Filing tax paperwork, such as a tax return, is a reconciliation that compares what you actually paid in taxes throughout the year to what you should have paid in taxes.

When you start a new job or receive taxable money, you typically will complete Tax Withholding paperwork, which dictates how much tax should be withheld from your payment. Employers and schools then withhold estimated taxes from your paychecks or other taxable income (such as stipend payments). If the estimated taxes that were withheld from your payment are higher than what you should have paid, you will get a refund after filing your tax return ("tax refund"). If taxes were not withheld, or insufficient tax was withheld, then you will owe money at the time of filing your taxes. You declare your income and account for the taxes owed on a form or set of forms called a “tax return.”

Even if you didn't receive any taxable income, you are required to file some forms for the IRS because of your foreign national status.  The form you will file if you did not have any income is a confirmation that you were present in the U.S. and you did not receive any income.

What Forms Do I Need to Complete?

Although every F and J international visitor must file some kind of tax paperwork, the specific tax forms that must be prepared may vary, depending on your individual residency status for tax purposes and employment status. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency of the U.S. government, determines tax residency based on the two classifications outlined below.

Before you file your taxes, you must determine your tax residency status, which may be different from your immigration status.  The two residency categories for taxes are:

  1. Residents for tax purposes (also called 'resident alien'): All U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and nonresident aliens for immigration purposes who have met the Substantial Presence Test.
  2. Non-residents for tax purposes (also called 'nonresident aliens'): all others, regardless of immigration status.

IMPORTANT: The tax residency categories below are for tax purposes only and are NOT related to your immigration status. You may be in F-1 or J-1 nonimmigrant status and be considered a resident for tax purposes.

Information about how to determine your tax residency status can be found below.

When do I Need to File With The IRS?

When do I prepare my tax forms?

Most of our international population will file their tax paperwork in March or early April.  Preparing a full tax return can take several hours and you may not realize you need additional documentation until after you begin.  Make sure to allow plenty of time to complete your tax forms for the IRS.

If you received taxable income last year, you will need to receive relevant payment documents from your employer or school before you can complete your tax return.  Usually, schools and employers provide these tax documents in February or March.  They are typically provided by mail, so it is important to keep your address updated with current and former employers.

What is the deadline for filing taxes with the IRS?

The deadline for filing your tax paperwork with the IRS depends on whether or not you received any taxable money in the previous calendar year. You must file your taxes before the tax deadlines listed below:

  • If you received taxable income in 2016: April 18, 2017
  • If you did not receive taxable income in 2016: June 1, 2017

Both of these dates are mail deadlines, which means your return must be in the mail on or before the dates listed above.

What if I need more time to file?

You may find that you need additional time to file your taxes.  This might be because you are waiting for an ITIN approval or missing some of your necessary documents.  If you need additional time to file your federal return, you can file for an Automatic Extension of Time to File Your U.S. Tax Return.  You should submit the extension form before the deadline listed above.  More information can be found on the IRS link above.

The extension information above is for the federal return only.  If you are required to make any state filing(s), you may need to apply for a separate extension.  Information about Illinois State tax extensions can be found on the Illinois revenue website. If you received income from other states, you will need to review the regulations for those specific states.

What Happens if I Don't File Tax Documents with the IRS?

Filing tax documents each year is an important part of maintaining your immigration status and is a federal requirement for international visitors and their dependents.  Not filing your required taxes could lead to penalties, such as fines, or even negatively impact your immigration status.

If you apply for future immigration benefits, such as H-1B, Permanent Residency, or other statuses, you will likely be asked to provide copies of tax filings for all previous years you were in the U.S. If you forgot or didn't file in previous years when you should have, the IRS recommends that you file now for previous years. You can find the relevant forms from past years on the IRS website.

The IRS expects you to file your taxes each year--even if you file late.  Penalties for late filing may include fines, interest on taxes owed, or other consequences.  Visit the IRS website for information on Filing Past Due Tax Returns. You can follow up with the IRS or a foreign tax expert if you have questions.

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Steps to Fulfilling Tax Requirements

The steps below provide the basic instructions for meeting your tax obligations.  Click on the links throughout the steps for more information and detail:

STEP 1: Determine Tax Residency Status 

Before beginning the process of filing a tax return you must first determine whether you are a 'non-resident alien' or a 'resident alien' for tax purposes:

STEP 2: Determine If You Received Taxable Income

You will need to know whether or not you received taxable income in 2016 before filing your tax paperwork.  The most common types of taxable income for our international population include wages or payment received from a job or taxable stipends and awards from the University. Generally speaking tuition waivers for degree seeking students are not taxable. Contact the HR person for your department if you are not sure whether your award was taxed or not.

OIA cannot help you determine if you've received taxable income or not.

If you received taxable income in 2016, you should receive documentation from your employer or University with information about payment provided and any taxes withheld from your payment. Contact your employer or entity that provided the grant for questions about if the money was taxable, how it was taxed, or when to expect any relevant tax forms. More information can be found in Step 3 below. 

STEP 3: Collect Relevant Tax Documents

Before you complete your tax paperwork, you will need the following documents:

**If you received taxable money in the previous year (e.g. income, salary, taxable scholarships, grants, or awards), you will need to have any/all relevant tax forms before you can file your tax paperwork. These tax forms might come from U.S. employers, stipend/scholarship providers, or schools. The forms, (e.g. W-2, 1042-S, etc) provide information about the amount of money you were paid and what amount was withheld from your payment for tax purposes.

How do I get the necessary forms?

If you received payment from the University of Chicago, you can check the Payroll website to see when you can expect your UChicago tax forms**.  If you have outside payments, check with your employer or organization that provided the scholarship for information about when and how you will receive the forms.  Your employer/award granter might mail you paper copies of these forms, so it is important to keep former employers aware of any addresses changes.

**IMPORTANT: OIA is outside of the University Payroll process.  OIA does not have copies of or access to your tax forms or other Payroll documents. Visit the link above for information about when and how you will receive your UChicago forms.

​STEP 4: Fill out and Send Tax Paperwork to the IRS

Once you've determined your tax residency status and have any/all relevant forms, you can start filing your tax paperwork. The specific tax forms you must file depend on your tax residency status and whether or not you received any taxable money.

Review the relevant tax residency section below for more information on filing and submitting your tax documents:

Residents for Tax Purposes: Filing Instructions

If you are a 'resident for tax purposes', review the filing information on the link below:

 

 Non- Residents for Tax Purposes: Filing Instructions

If you are a 'non-resident for tax purposes', review the filing information on the link below:

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Helpful Links:

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