5 things every J-1 participant needs to know about US tax

Tax for J-1 students

(Last updated: 29 Apr 2021)

  • What President Trump’s ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ means for J-1 visa holders
  • Understanding J-1 tax obligations and entitlements
  • Sprintax – the easy way to prepare a J-1 tax return!

When President Donald Trump introduced his ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ in November 2017, many J-1 visa holders and international students in the US were left feeling extremely confused.

‘How does this bill affect me?’ ‘Do I have to file a tax return?’ ‘Can I still get a tax refund?’

A lot of questions were left unanswered.

Today we are here to answer these questions! If you’re going on a J-1 trip to the US, simply follow this guide and you’ll be able to keep the IRS (the American tax authority) happy while receiving any US tax back you are due.

So without further ado, here’s 5 things every J-1 participant needs to know about US tax:

1. You have a tax filing obligation

First things first. Every J-1 visa holder in the US must file tax documents at the end of the tax year. It’s the law!

In short, if you worked while in the US on a J-1 programme you will be required to file a tax return. Meanwhile, if you did not earn an income while in the US on a J-1 programme, you should file a Form 8843.

Filing your tax documents

There are a number of ways to file tax documents. For starters, you could file your forms directly with the IRS. But, for many J-1 participants, filing tax forms is an extremely confusing, complicated and frankly boring task!

The fastest, easiest and best way to prepare your US tax return or Form 8843 is to choose Sprintax Returns. More on this below!

Not filing a return

If you don’t file your tax forms after your J-1 program, you may be subject to penalties and interest.

The late filing penalty is 5% of the additional taxes owed amount for every month your return is late, (up to a maximum of 25%). If you file more than 60 days after the due date, the minimum penalty is $205 or 100% of your unpaid tax, whichever is less.

Failure to comply with your tax obligations may also result in you being denied a US visa in the future.

What is a tax residency status?

It’s vital to determine your residency status in order to file a compliant tax return.

The majority of J-1 visa holders are considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes by the IRS.

When you prepare your tax return with Sprintax, our software will determine your residency status based on the information that you provide.

Determine your residency status


2. What does the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ mean for J-1 students?

J-1 program and tax

The ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ has wide ranging effects for all US taxpayers – but particularly for those venturing to the States to study, for an internship or to work and travel.

As most of these changes were activated in January 2018, it’s vital that all nonresidents understand their US tax obligations and entitlements.

The primary change for nonresidents relates to what’s known as the ‘personal exemption‘.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, every nonresident who was working in the US was entitled to a personal exemption of $4,050. In other words, if you were working in the US on a J-1 visa in 2017 you could earn up to $4,050 without paying tax. The personal exemption was also the main means that nonresidents could use to get their Federal tax refund.

However, as of 1 January 2018 (and up to 2025) the personal exemption was reduced from $4,050 to $0. The removal of the personal exemption means that overall taxable income has increased for all nonresidents.

It’s important to note that these amendments do not affect the 2017 (and previous) tax return filing season. So, if you were working in the US on a J-1 visa in 2017, you can still avail of the personal exemption.

3. You could still be entitled to a tax refund

J-1 refund

The removal of the personal exemption means that, for most nonresidents, Federal tax refunds will be reduced. From the 2018 tax year onwards, the only reason a nonresident will be entitled to a Federal tax refund is if too much tax is deducted from their income.

However, even if you’re not entitled to a Federal tax refund, it’s pretty likely you’ll be entitled to a State tax refund.

Our average State tax refund is $1464.

But remember; to receive your State tax refund you’ll have to file your tax return!

Bottom line? You’re legally required to file tax documents. There’s a great chance you’ll be due a State tax refund. So file your return and claim your cash!

Claim your refund with Sprintax here!

4. How much tax will you pay?

From the 2018 tax year onwards, all nonresidents must pay 10% in income tax up to $9,525. And if you earn more than this amount on your J-1 program, you must pay 12% in income tax on the amount between $9,525 and $38,700.

Here are 2 case studies for further clarification:

Case study 1:

Fred travels to Boston on a J-1 visa to work in a restaurant for the summer. During his time in the US he earns $4,000.

If Fred was working in Boston in 2017 he would not have to pay tax on his earnings as his income does not exceed the personal exception amount of $4,050.

However, if Fred works in Boston in 2018, he will not be able to avail of the personal exception and must pay $400 (10%) in income tax.

Case study 2:

Fiona moves to Miami on a J-1 visa and secures work in an office for the summer. During her time in the US she earns $9,000 (the average income for around 50% of all summer work and travel participants).

Had Fiona earned this income in 2017, her tax bill would have been $495 ($9,000 – $4,050 = $4,950. 10% of $4,950 = $495).

However, if she earns this income in 2018 her total tax bill will be $900.

5. Sprintax is the easiest way to prepare your tax return

Sprintax is the only online Federal and State tax filing software for nonresidents in the US.

When you create a Sprintax Returns account, our system will assist you in completing fully compliant Federal and State tax returns.

Our software will also enable you to receive your maximum legal tax refund.

tax refund for international students

Sprintax is also the ‘go-to’ tax filing software for numerous major universities in the US including NYU, Columbia, Arizona State University, Illinois Institute of Technology and Cornell. We’re also the nonresident partner of choice for Turbo Tax.

Why Sprintax?

Sprintax is the only online tax software that allows J-1 holidaymakers to easily e-file their federal tax return and prepare a fully compliant state tax return.

When you create your account you’ll be asked to enter some relevant information into the software. You can then e-file or download your fully completed and compliant 1040NR (nonresident tax return).

Benefits of Sprintax:

  • Compliant US tax return
  • Save time and stress!
  • Determine your residency status
  • Avail of relevant international tax treaties
  • Avail of personal allowances, credits & tax deductions
  • E-file your federal tax return
  • 24/7 Vita Qualified Live Chat facility
  • Maximize your State tax refund

Over 500k people have used Sprintax to prepare their tax returns and get their tax refunds.

How much will it cost?

The Sprintax tax prep fees are:

  • $39.95 – Federal
  • $34.95 – State

(See our full pricing list here)

But don’t forget, most J-1 visa holders are entitled to a State tax refund!

In summary:

  • The majority of all J-1 visa holders are considered nonresidents for tax purposes in the US
  • Every nonresident in the US is legally obliged to file tax documents
  • Failure to do so may result in fines, penalties and future refusal of entry to the US
  • As of 1 January 2018, nonresidents are no longer entitled to claim the personal exemption of $4,050
  • However, J-1 visa holders can still apply for their State tax refund by filing a tax return
  • Sprintax makes preparing your US tax return easy!
  • When you complete your tax return with Sprintax you’ll receive your maximum legal refund

Prepare your US tax return with Sprintax hassle-free!

Get started now


Have more questions? Check out our Complete Tax Guide for J-1 Visa Holders in the US.


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Hey I'm Stacy! I'm dealing with US taxes and can't wait to help you prepare your tax return! I've been working with taxes for like forever, so you can totally trust my expertise. 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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