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Understanding your U.S. Tax Obligations

Even if you did not earn any income, if you were physically in the U.S. on F or J status anytime between January 1st – December 31st 2023 and are considered a non-resident for tax purposes, you are obligated to file a Form 8843 with the IRS (the Internal Revenue Service, or ‘IRS’, is the U.S. tax authority).

In addition, if you earned any taxable U.S. source income, you may need to file a federal tax return (Form 1040 NR) with the IRS. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also need to file a state tax return(s).

If you are considered a "resident" for tax filing purposes, you will have different filing obligations. Read on to learn more.

Who is considered Resident or Nonresident for Federal Tax Purposes?

Generally, international students on F-1 & J-1 visas are considered nonresident for their first five calendar years in the U.S.  F-1 & J-1 students usually become resident tax filers after being present in the U.S. for five calendar years.

Most international scholars and researchers on J-1 visas are considered nonresidents for tax purposes for the first two calendar years in the U.S. J-1 scholars usually become residents for federal tax purposes after being present in the U.S. for two (out of the past six) calendar years, including any prior time spent as an F-1 or J-1 visa holder.

If you’ve been in the US for longer than the five year (for students) or two year (for scholars) periods mentioned above, the Substantial Presence Test will determine your tax residency.

Tax Filing Deadline

April 15, 2024 is the tax filing deadline day for residents and nonresidents who earned U.S. income to file Federal  tax returns for the 2023 tax year.

Learn more

OISS has compiled many resources to assist you in understanding and filing your U.S. taxes. Follow the links below to learn more.

How can OISS assist me?

Northwestern's Office of International Student and Scholar Services connects international students scholars with a variety of tax resources.

OISS Tax Resources

OISS Sponsored Tax Workshops

OISS contracts with Young & Associates, a Tax & Accounting Firm based in Chicago to provide online workshops to guide Northwestern International Students and Scholars through the complexities of U.S. income tax and filing requirements.

OISS Tax Workshop Schedule

Sprintax Tax Preparation Software

Sprintax is non-resident tax preparation software. OISS partners with Sprintax to provide access to Sprintax for our international students and scholars who are considered non-resident filers. International students & scholars on F and J visas will receive instructions & a unique access code from OISS via email by late February.

Learn more about sprintax

Sprintax webinar schedule and registration

Sprintax hosts a number of general nonresident tax webinars as well as a few focused on non-resident taxes for students on CPT and OPT.

Sprintax Webinars

Northwestern's Human Resources Foreign National Tax Team

International students and scholars who are employed by Northwestern University or those receiving a scholarship/fellowship from Northwestern will receive tax forms from NU each year. The Foreign National Tax Team (within NU's Office of Human Resources) can help you with tax questions.

Foreign National Tax Team Assistance

understand basic tax forms

How do I know which form(s) to file?

What forms (if any) will I receive in the mail?

What is a Form 1042-S used for and will I receive one?

learn about tax forms

Determining your tax filing status

Before you begin your tax return, you will need to determine your federal tax filing status: nonresident tax filer or resident tax filer.

  • This status determines how you are taxed and which forms you need to fill out.
  • This status is only a tax filing status and does not mean that you are a resident for immigration or other purposes. Some students and scholars are considered to be resident tax filers even though they continue to have a nonimmigrant visa status.
  • Your tax filing status may change over time so it is a good idea to review these guidelines each time you complete your taxes.
  • Read on to learn more.

Non-resident tax filers

Students on F & J visas

Generally, F-1 and J-1 students are considered nonresident tax filers for their first five calendar years in the U.S.  F-1/J-1 students usually become resident tax filers after being present in the U.S. for five calendar years.

J-1 Scholars

Most J-1 scholars are considered nonresident tax filers for the first two calendar years in the U.S.  J-1 scholars usually become residents for federal tax purposes after being present in the U.S. for two (out of the past six) calendar years, including any prior time spent as an F-1 or J-1 visa holder.

Employees of Northwestern & those receiving a scholarship or fellowship from Northwestern

If you are employed by Northwestern University or if you receive a scholarship/fellowship from Northwestern, the Human Resource Foreign Nationals Tax Team can help you with determining your U.S. tax residency status. 

Additional resources

To accurately determine your federal tax filing status, please see the IRS's website or Sprintax's blog page. If you are still not certain, you should create a Sprintax account as described in our Sprintax page. Sprintax will ask you a series of questions based on the substantial presence test to determine your residence status for federal tax filing purposes. Note, if Sprintax determines you are a resident filer, you will not be able to continue to file your taxes with Sprintax. Sprintax is ONLY for non-resident tax filers.

Resident tax filers

International students and scholars who meet the IRS's Substantial Presence Test are considered to be a U.S. resident for tax purposes. Resident filers have many options for filing their tax returns.

TurboTax is a popular tax preparation software for U.S. citizens as well as those considered resident filers for tax purposes.

You may also wish to hire a professional tax accountant. OISS recommends Alejandro Young of Young & Associates, LLC, an income tax and accounting services firm that specializes in all areas of US tax preparation, compliance, and problem resolution.

Tax Treaty Benefits

U.S. tax treaties (also known as double taxation agreements (DTA) are specific agreements between the U.S. and foreign countries that outline how nonresidents will be taxed in each country.

Generally, under these tax treaties, residents of foreign countries (including foreign students and scholars) are taxed at a reduced tax rate and can benefit from exemptions on many different types and items of income.

Currently, the U.S. tax treaty network covers approximately 65 countries all over the world.

Sprintax offers a helpful resource on tax treaties on their their blog page: 
I am a non-resident of the U.S. Can I claim any tax treaty benefits?

Or refer to the IRS Publication 901: U.S. Tax Treaties

State Taxes

If you work or invest in a state that has an income tax (Illinois does have an income tax), it’s likely that you must file a state tax return. This is a separate document to your federal tax return. States are independent from one another in their taxing authority, and all state tax forms differ in some respects. In other words, the type of document you must file – as well as the deadline to file – differs from state-to-state. 

All resident and nonresident aliens for tax purposes who earned income in the state of Illinois in 2023 must complete and file Illinois Form 1040. If you worked in another state in 2023, then you will need to file a return for that state. 

Sprintax can help you prepare your state tax return(s) for an additional fee. The access code provided by OISS does NOT cover the cost of state tax preparation for non-resident filers. The access code covers only filing of the federal forms for those considered non-residents for tax purposes.

An Important Disclaimer

This information is intended only for international students and scholars with income sources and level typical of students and scholars at Northwestern University. Although the information contained in this site has been reviewed carefully and should be adequate to assist most international students and scholars, it is not a substitute for advice obtained from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or a qualified tax accountant. If your visa status has changed in the past year, or you believe you have a complicated tax issue, please consult the IRS or a qualified tax accountant. 

In addition, while the tax preparation software, Sprintax, is being provided to help international students and scholars who are considered non-resident filers with your filing obligations, you are individually responsible for verifying that the correct information has been entered into the tax preparation software and included on all forms and/or other documents printed or derived from the tax preparation software, and ultimately responsible for any errors or omissions. 

OISS staff are not qualified or allowed to answer any tax-related questions or provide individual tax advice beyond the information provided on our website.