Filing Your U.S. Tax Return: 5 Things You Should Know

filing your taxes

As an international student in the U.S., you are obliged to file a federal and state tax return for each year you are present in the U.S. Even if you have earned no U.S. sourced income, you still need to file a form 8843. All nonresident aliens in the U.S. under F-1, F-2, J-1, or J-2 and other non-immigrant exchange program status must file form 8843.

Generally in the U.S., you will be taxed on:

• Income earned on or off-campus
• Stipend, fellowship, grant
• Any other income from US sources

Here are 5 things you should know before filing your U.S. tax return:

1. Deadlines

Don’t miss the tax filing deadline as you may get penalized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)! This date usually lands on April 15 each year unless it happens to be on a weekend or holiday. For the 2020 tax year, the deadline for filing was extended to May 17, 2021.

2. Get your documents in order

It’s very important that you have the correct documents required to prepare and file your tax return.

These include:

• Passport
• U.S. entry and exit dates for current and all previous visits
• All tax forms you’ve received (including Forms W-2, 1042-S and/or 1099, etc.)
• Visa/Immigration Status information, including Form DS-2019 (for J visa holders) or Form I-20 (for F visa holders) Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
• If you are using Sprintax for State Tax Return(s) preparation only you will need a copy of your already prepared Federal Tax return

• W2 Form:
You’ll need a W2 form to file your tax return if you worked on or off-campus. Your employer will provide you with a W-2 by the deadline and it will reflect your income from the previous year. The form is divided into state and federal sections and there are fields with employer information and details of your income.

• 1042-S
Typically, if you received a scholarship, fellowship, grant, or any other source of U.S. income subject to tax, you’ll need a Form 1042-S to complete your tax return although this form may be used for many other income types as teaching, research, and investment income. You should receive form 1042-S from your university’s payroll department or the party that provided the income.


You’ll need your ITIN for your federal tax return if you do not have and are not eligible for a social security number. If you don’t have one, Sprintax can help organize this for you. You don’t need one if you are just filing a form 8843, but if you have been supplied with one, you must include it on the form.

4. Residency status

The first thing you need to know when filing a tax return in the U.S. is if you are a resident or nonresident alien for tax purposes. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you are considered a nonresident alien unless you meet one of two tests. You are typically deemed a resident for tax purposes if you meet either the green card test or substantial presence test. Sprintax can determine your status for you when preparing your tax return.

5. Tax treaties

If you’re an international student in the U.S., you may be able to benefit from a tax treaty with your home country. Generally, under these tax treaties, residents of foreign countries are taxed at a reduced rate or sometimes even exempt. The IRS has a list of tax treaty countries here.

Read more: US Tax Treaties: What’s the Deal?

Sprintax can check if you’re eligible for a tax treaty when preparing your tax return.


File your US Tax return with Sprintax

Sprintax was created specifically for international students, scholars, teachers and researchers in the U.S. on F, J, M and Q visas, to make tax prep easy.

To begin filing your U.S. nonresident tax return, get started by creating an account. 

Create an account


Watch our video demo to see how it works:


Download our International Student Guide to Studying in USA

Sprintax can make things much easier for you. Check out my blog posts and feel free to ask me any questions.

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