Filing U.S. Taxes

Every international student and scholar must file a US tax return, regardless of whether or not they receive income. Federal tax returns are filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Missouri state tax returns are filed with the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Taxes are filed by mid-April of the current calendar year for the previous calendar year (January 1 – December 31). For the 2021 tax year (January 1, 2021-December 31, 2021), taxes must be filed by Monday, April 18, 2022.

“Filing taxes” is the process of preparing and mailing the tax returns and required documentation to the IRS and/or state department of revenue office.

“Tax return” or “return” refers to the actual tax form (1040NR) and accompanying forms (Form 8843) that you will submit to the government.

Complete Tax Return in Sprintax

The staff of the Office for International Students and Scholars are not trained in tax laws, cannot give tax advice or assist with the filing of your return, and does not endorse any listed services. We are providing this information to you to help you meet the requirement of filing your tax return.

U.S. Tax Timeline

Preceding Calendar Year:

  • International Students and Scholars are physically present in the US or receive US income.

January – March, Current Calendar Year:

  • International Students and Scholars receive tax documents from Washington University (and any other US organizations from whom you received income).

March, Current Calendar Year:

  • Internationals will first complete the substantial presence test in Sprintax to determine your Tax Status so you will know how you can prepare and file your taxes.
    • Internationals who are determined to be Nonresident Aliens for Tax Purposes will be able to use Sprintax to prepare their federal tax return, as well as any required state tax returns, using the data from the tax documents they received from WashU (and other organizations).
    • Internationals who are determined to be Resident Aliens for Tax Purposes will be directed to use Sprintax’s partner TurboTax, to prepare their federal tax return, as well as any required state tax returns, using the data from the tax documents they received from WashU (and other organizations).

Mid-April, Current Calendar Year: Taxes must be filed by the mid-April deadline (often April 15) for the current calendar year.

  • All Internationals will prepare, print, and mail their federal tax returns and supporting documents to the IRS. In some cases, it may be possible to e-file a federal tax return.
  • All Internationals will prepare, print, and mail their state tax returns supporting documents to the appropriate state department of revenue offices.

Determine Tax Residency Status Using the Substantial Presence Test

Are you a resident alien for tax purposes or nonresident alien for tax purposes?

Most international students and scholars who are on F or J visas are considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes. International students on F-1 or J-1 visas are automatically considered nonresidents for their first five calendar years in the U.S., while scholars/researchers on J-1 visas are automatically considered nonresidents for two out of the last six calendar years in the U.S. If you have been in the U.S. for longer, the Substantial Presence Test is used to determine your tax residency status.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Tax Status vs. Immigration Status

If it is determined that you are a resident alien for tax purposes, this does not change your immigration status. You are still considered an international student on an F or J visa, a non-immigrant status, and not a permanent resident of the U.S.

How you can use Sprintax to determine your tax status

WashU has partnered with Sprintax, offering a tax preparation software designed for international students and scholars.

After you create your Sprintax account and log in, the first thing you will do in Sprintax is answer series of questions, which will determine your tax residency status. You will answer questions about the time you have been in the U.S. over a period of years, as well as the types of visas you have used to enter the U.S. Sprintax will then determine your tax status.

  • If it determines that you are a nonresident alien for tax purposes, you can continue to use Sprintax to prepare your federal (and state) tax returns. Sprintax will ask a series of questions to help you fill out the appropriate tax return forms. Sprintax will complete and generate the tax forms you need to send to the IRS (and state department of revenue office). In general, nonresidents are taxed only on income that is considered U.S. sourced.
  • If it determines you are a resident for federal tax purposes, you will not be able to use Sprintax to prepare your tax return. You will be directed to other resources to prepare your tax return. In general, residents are taxed on worldwide income.

Step-by-Step How to File US Taxes with Sprintax

Step 1: Collect the documents you may need to prepare your US tax return

  • Valid Passport
  • Visa/immigration documents: I-20 (F-1), DS-2019 (J-1)
  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), if you already have one
    • SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER (SSN)
      The SSN is a nine-digit number issued to US citizens, permanent residents, and nonresident aliens who are eligible to work in the US. The SSN is used to report wages to the government, track Social Security benefits, and for other identification purposes. F-1 students who are not working do not need an SSN. Internationals who are employed on campus or students who have CPT/OPT work authorization are eligible to apply for an SSN. Read more about SSNs and how to apply for one.
    • INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (ITIN)
      The ITIN is a nine-digit tax processing number issued to individuals who are not eligible to receive a SSN, but still need to file taxes. If you are not employed, but received taxable income in the US, you should use tax Form W-7 to apply for an ITIN. Read more about ITINs and how to apply for one.
  • Entry and exit dates for all current and past visits to the US
  • Tax Documents you received from WashU or other organizations
    • You may be sent the following documents between January and March if you received US income during the previous tax year. You will use the information in these documents to prepare your tax return.
      1. W-2 (employer sends to you by January 31)
        Form W-2 is used to report wages and salary paid by an employer to an employee, as well as the amount of federal, state, and other taxes withheld from your paycheck. If you have worked in the US during the tax year and received wages or a salary, you will receive a W-2 from each employer. Make sure that your employers have your current address as the paper form may be sent to you in the mail.
      2. 1042-S (employer sends to you by March 15)
        Form 1042-S is used to report income paid to a nonresident, including income covered by a tax treaty, or income from a stipend, scholarship, or fellowship grant. A nonresident employee could potentially receive both a Form 1042-S and Form W-2 or only a Form W-2 if they did not claim a tax treaty allowance.
      3. 1099
        Form 1099 is used to report various types of income other than a salary paid by an employer. This can be interest on bank accounts, stocks, bonds, dividends, or payments earned through freelance employment. (ex: if you worked as an independent contractor, you would receive a 1099 from your employer instead of a W-2.)
      4. 1095-C
        Form 1095-C is a health insurance tax form that shows that post-doctoral scholars and associates (and dependents, if applicable) had minimum essential coverage for the prior year.
      5. 1095-B
        Form 1095-B is a health insurance tax form that shows that students (and dependents, if applicable) had minimum essential coverage for the prior year.
  • Questions about tax documents?
    • Washington University in St. Louis to the WashU Payroll Office.
    • If your employer was not WashU and you have questions about your forms, you should contact your employer.

Step 2: Create a Sprintax account and determine your tax status

WashU partners with Sprintax Tax Preparation, which is a tax preparation software for filing nonresident tax returns. Sprintax, which also has a YouTube channel, will help you determine your tax status, guide you through the US tax preparation process, prepare the necessary documents for your tax return, and check if you are due a refund.

Complete Tax Return in Sprintax

Click on the button above to create your Sprintax account. Accessing Sprintax with your WUSTL Key will provide you a unique code to use for your Sprintax tax return. The code will automatically be added to your Sprintax account to cover the cost of your federal tax return. You will also have the option to purchase the required state tax returns at a discounted rate. WashU does not provide a code for the cost of state returns.

International students and scholars are not required to use Sprintax to prepare their federal or state tax returns. Internationals who are nonresidents for tax purposes, according to the substantial presence test, should NOT use tax preparation software that was developed to prepare resident tax returns, like TuboTax or TaxAct. If the substantial presence test determines you are a resident alien for tax purposes, you could use TurboTax or similar software.

If you incorrectly file your tax return as a resident for tax purposes, you will be required to file an amended tax return. Sprintax can assist with the amendment, however you will be responsible for the amended tax filing fee.

Steps 3-5 for NONRESIDENT ALIENS for Tax Purposes

Step 3: Follow the instructions in Sprintax to prepare your tax return

Nonresident Aliens for Tax Purposes can prepare their return with Sprintax by answering a series of questions and entering the information from their documents. Sprintax will generate the required federal and state tax return forms and instructions for submitting them to the IRS or state department of revenue office. Form 1040NR is the tax return form for nonresident aliens for tax purposes who received income.

Form 8843 – Required for ALL F and J visa holders

Form 8843 is an informational statement required by the U.S. government for all nonresident aliens who entered the U.S. with visa types F, J, M, Q, including any dependents. This means that whether or not you received income, you must file Form 8843.

If you had no US income, Sprintax will generate a completed Form 8843 for you (and each of your dependents).

  • This form must be printed and mailed to the IRS.
  • Each individual who files only Form 8843 must mail their form to the IRS separately, and may not send it together with anyone else’s form. This means the forms for your dependents should each be sent in their own separate envelopes.

If you had income in the form of salary, stipend, or other monetary activity, you will file Form 8843 and a 1040NR tax return. You should include Form 8843 with your tax return.

  • You should include Form 8843 with your tax return.
  • If you are filing Form 8843 for an F-2 or J-2 dependent that is also claimed as a dependent on a tax return, include their forms 8843 with the tax return on which they are claimed.

Step 4. Prepare and file any required state tax returns

After you finish your federal return, Sprintax will inform you if you need to complete a state tax return. If so, you will have the option to use Sprintax for a fee. The discount code from WashU applies to your federal return, not to the state return. It is your choice to use Sprintax or to prepare the state tax return on your own. If you do not wish to use Sprintax to file your Missouri state tax return, please see Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) Information & Assistance (for State Tax Returns).

If you studied at another U.S. university or earned income in another state, you may need to file a state income tax return for every state in which income was earned. Forms can be found on the website of each state’s department of revenue. You are responsible for mailing your tax forms to the appropriate state department of revenue offices.

Step 5. Read the instructions for filing/mailing your returns

It is VERY IMPORTANT that you carefully read the instructions that Sprintax provides. You may be able to e-file your federal tax return directly through Sprintax. However, you will still need to print, sign, and mail required state tax return forms to the state department of revenue office.

If you only need to file Form 8843 (and not the 1040NR), you must print and mail it to the IRS physically. Internationals who only have to submit Form 8843 may not submit it electronically.

Steps 3-5 for RESIDENT ALIENS for Tax Purposes

Step 3: Prepare your tax return using these resources

If Sprintax determines that you are a resident alien for tax purposes, you should not prepare a 1040NR return in Sprintax. You will need to file a 1040 tax return instead. The good news is that as a resident alien for tax purposes, you are able to file your taxes online, and you have access to a number of free or low-cost programs to help you prepare your tax return. Sprintax has a partnership with one of these programs called TurboTax, and after determining your tax residency in Sprintax, you will be prompted to use TurboTax to prepare your 1040 tax return.

Other Resources

Step 4. Prepare and file any required state tax returns

After you finish your federal return, you may also need to complete a state tax return. It is your choice whether to use Sprintax’s partner TurboTax or another resource to prepare the state tax return. Please see Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) Information & Assistance (for State Tax Returns).

If you studied at another U.S. university or earned income in another state, you may need to file a state income tax return for every state in which income was earned. Forms can be found on the website of each state’s department of revenue. You are responsible for mailing your tax forms to the appropriate state department of revenue offices.

Step 5. Read the instructions for filing/mailing your returns

It is VERY IMPORTANT that you carefully read the instructions provided for filing your federal and state tax returns. You may be able to e-file or you may be required to print, sign, and mail the forms to the IRS or state tax office.

If you only need to file Form 8843, you must print and mail it to the IRS physically. Internationals who only have to submit Form 8843 may not submit it electronically.

Resources

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited-English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with free electronic filing to qualified individuals.

There are VITA sites around St. Louis that have different dates/times available. You can find VITA sites near you on the IRS website at Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers or Metro-St. Louis Community Tax Coalition.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Information & Assistance (for Federal Tax Returns)

The IRS has resources available to help with the filing of both nonresident and resident federal tax returns.

You may also be able to get assistance from the IRS Taxpayer Assistance office. Appointments are required. Find out how to contact your local office.


Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) Information & Assistance (for State Tax Returns)

The Missouri DOR has resources available to help you file your Missouri state tax return. Remember, your state tax return is different from the federal return.

Avoid Scams

Beware of scams! The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will never contact you via email, text message, or social media.

Any electronic communication from someone who claims to be the IRS should not be opened, as it likely contains some sort of virus or malware. Never provide your Social Security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to anyone via email, text message, or social media.

Learn more from the IRS about tax scams, or about avoiding scams in general.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can someone at WashU help me prepare my US taxes?

Unfortunately, neither Washington University nor the OISS is able to provide assistance or advice regarding filing taxes. Please see the above resources for more information.

Can I pay someone to prepare my US taxes?

If you are unable to file taxes or are uncomfortable using the resources listed here, you can hire an accountant who understands international taxation. Search for an accountant on one of the following online directories:

If you choose to hire an accountant, ask questions to determine if they understand international taxation and nonresident taxes. Be sure to ask about tax treaties, Nonresident Alien exemptions, and deductions on tax returns.

I am on OPT or STEM OPT and did not get a GLACIER code to use GTP to prepare my tax return. How can I get one now?

We are no longer partnering with GLACIER for tax return assistance. WashU graduates who are working on OPT or STEM OPT can log in to Sprintax with their WUSTL Key.

I graduated last year and am no longer in the US. Do I still need to file US taxes for last year?

Yes, if you were physically present in the US or received US income during the previous calendar year, you would need to file taxes, even if you have returned home and are not in the US currently.

International students and scholars can prepare their tax return from outside the US and mail it to the IRS from abroad. Internationals who are nonresidents for tax purposes can use Sprintax to prepare their tax return from abroad. Log in to Sprintax with your WUSTL Key to prepare and print your tax return, including all forms and instructions for submitting your forms to the IRS and state department of revenue offices. Students can continue to use their WUSTL Key after graduating. If Sprintax determines you are a resident alien for tax purposes, you can follow the instructions above to prepare, print, and submit your tax return using another tax preparation resource.

How do I know if I need to file US taxes?

Every international student and scholar must file a federal tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If you were physically present in the US during the previous calendar year, you would need to file taxes, even if you did not earn income. You may also need to file state taxes.

What if I did not work or earn any money in the US?

For the purpose of filing taxes, “income” refers to money earned while working in the US, as well as money received in other ways. For example, if you are the recipient of a scholarship, stipend, or grant in the US, those funds could be considered taxable “income,” and you would have to file a tax return (form 1040NR). If you are a Nonresident Alien and did not have any income in the last calendar year (January 1-December 31), you still need to file Form 8843.

I was not able to travel to the US because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I still need to file taxes?

If you received income from the US, you may need to file taxes, even though you were not physically present in the US and were studying from outside of the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You should contact the WashU Tax Office if you have questions about this.

What if I was in the US in a previous tax year and did not file taxes?

You can file taxes for previous years. You should file the prior year tax return as soon as possible. You can download prior year tax return forms at IRS.gov and complete the returns yourself, or you can use Sprintax to prepare the tax returns for previous years. Contact the WashU Tax Office with questions about your tax documents from the university for previous years.

How do I know if I owe the government taxes or if the government will give me a refund for the taxes that were already withheld?

You will not know if you owe money or if you are due a refund from the government until you prepare your tax return.