FAQs for Nonresident Aliens

Am I required to file a federal income tax return?

Yes, if you have a taxable scholarship or earned income in the US. If you are a nonresident alien (tax terminology) and must file a return. Fortunately, you pay federal income tax only on the income you receive from U.S. sources.International students who do not fit the profile described in the "VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE" section should contact the Tax Help Desk for information on how to comply with U.S. income tax requirements.

If you do not have taxable scholarship or earned income in the US, you need only complete Form 8843. A separate book of instructions is available for you.

What happens if I don't file?

If you owe taxes and neglect to file, you may be subject to monetary fines or, in extreme cases involving fraud, loss of your immigration status. If you have no tax liability, there is no monetary fine for not filing. However, the terms of your visa require that you stay in compliance with all laws of the U.S., including income tax filing. If you apply for residency at a later date, you may run into complications if you are unable to show proof of tax compliance.

Does the federal government expect me to pay income tax on U.S. scholarships/grants?

Students receive scholarships/fellowships/grants/stipends/waivers from various sources. Regardless of the term used, the taxability of scholarship depends on its nature: 

  • Scholarship which covers tuition, fees, and required books is not taxable there is no requirement to perform services for the scholarship.
  • Scholarship which covers room and board is taxable.
  • Scholarship awarded for research, good-works, enrichment, counseling, or any other, regardless if used to pay tuition, is taxable income.
  • If you have Swarthmore 2013 taxable scholarship you will receive Form 1042-S from the College. Swarthmore will pay the federal tax caused by your Swarthmore "not-for-service scholarship" if you desire assistance. This help is only offered through February 27, 2014. Button to schedule a tax appointment, to get your credit and/or check to the IRS processed.

Is there a tax treaty between my country and the U.S. that can save me money on my federal income taxes?

Some countries have tax treaties with the U.S. that include substantial tax benefits for students. If you have U.S. source income and find your country listed on the Tax Treaty website, you will want to set up an appointment with the Tax Help Desk for assistance in completing your tax return. Tax treaty benefits seem complicated, but after working with the Tax Help Desk, you probably will be comfortable completing your tax return on your own in future years.

What do I do first?

Set up a file to hold the 2013 tax-related documents needed to prepare your return:

  • W-2 Income Statement(s): Your employer(s) will send you a statement of 2013 wages earned and taxes withheld (Form W-2 or Form 1099). Contact your employer if you do not receive your 2012 W-2 by early February.If you lose your W-2, ask your employer for a new one.
  • Form 1042-S: Swarthmore College will send you a 2013 1042-S if you have taxable scholarship which must be reported on your federal tax return or if you have scholarship exempt from taxation due to a tax treaty with your country.
  • Lang, Mellon or Swarthmore Foundation grant amount: If any of these programs award you a service, enrichment, or summer grant that isn't reflected on a W-2 Statement, collect documentation showing the amount you received during the 2013 tax year (spring semester '13; summer '13; fall semester '13).

Which federal tax form do I file? Can you give me some help in completing the forms?

Swarthmore Internationals MUST file Form 8843. Many Swarthmore foreign nationals will also need to file Form 1040NR-EZ. Form 1040NR-EZ and instructions are available on our Foreign Nathional Students Federal Income Tax Return Guide website. A sample tax return, form 8843, and line by line instructions are also available on our site.

I had bank interest on my U.S. checking/saving account. Is that income I must put on my taxes?

No. Simple bank interest is not considered income for nonresident aliens and does not need to be reported. However, if your bank sends a statement of interest earnings (form 1099-INT), do keep this with your tax records.

What if I had more than one employer during 2013?

You should receive a W-2 statement from each employer. The amount you enter on Line 3 of the 1040NR-EZ should include all wages from all employers. Do not file a separate return for each job.

My employer withheld Social Security and Medicare taxes from my salary. Can I get this refunded?

Yes! F-1 and J-1 nonresident aliens are not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes. Refund of these taxes should first be requested from your employer. If your employer is unable to refund these taxes, you should file IRS Form 8843 for a direct refund from the IRS. When is the deadline for filing my federal income tax return? The 2013 federal income tax return must be postmarked by April 15, not necessarily received at the IRS by that date. If you owe money to the IRS, you may have to pay penalties and interest for not sending your return in on time. If you do not owe any tax, there is no fine for late filing. However, the Immigration and Naturalization Service may not look kindly at late filing.

If I owe tax, to whom do I make the check payable?

If you owe taxes, make your check payable to the United States Treasury. Make sure that your name, U.S. address, and social security number are on the front of the check, and write "2013 1040NR-EZ" in the memo section.

Where do I mail my tax return?

Mail your return to: Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service Center, Austin, TX 73301-0215. You do not need a street address or building number. It's okay to fold the return.You are not required to send your return by a special service mailer - regular mail is fine - but make sure you use sufficient postage.

Should I keep a copy of my return?

Absolutely! Also, keep a copy of all attachments, such as your W-2 and 1042-S. It may be necessary to refer to a previous year's tax return or to produce evidence that you submitted a tax return for a previous year. You should keep copies of your tax returns for seven years.

Next year I plan to attend a spring '15 study abroad program. I won't be in the U.S. when it's time to file my 2014 federal tax return.  What can I do to make the 2014 federal income tax process go smoothly?

  • Make sure the Swarthmore payroll office (as well as any other U.S. employer) has your study abroad address to forward your W-2 statement and if applicable, your 1042-S. Alternatively, you can arrange to have your tax statements mailed to your home address. Your family can make copies and send the originals directly to you.
  • Bring a copy of your 2013 tax return.  Your 2013 tax return will guide you as you complete your 2014 return. 
  • You can download the 2014 tax forms, or have a friend mail the forms to you.
  • If you receive a 1042-S from Swarthmore reporting taxable scholarship you must contact the Tax Help Desk in early March '15 via email (taxes@swarthmore.edu) to request assistance with tax due to scholarship.

Do I need to file a Pennsylvania State Income Tax form?

If you earned more than $33 in Pennsylvania in 2013 you must file a Pennsylvania state tax return.  Foreign nationals should file Form PA-40 (check off the "Nonresident" box on the Form). Your Pennsylvania taxable income includes only wages you earned in Pennsylvania.  It does not include any interest or dividends that you received in 2013.  Also, Pennsylvania does not tax scholarship.   However, please note that federal tax treaty wage benefits do not apply to PA taxes.  You can download Form PA-40 and its instruction booklet: www.revenue.state.pa.us (select "individual" and "personal income tax"). If you worked in a state other than Pennsylvania you may be required to file a state income tax return with that state.  Check with the tax department of the state you worked in.

I have further questions that are not answered here. Should I email or wait for my tax appointment?

You are welcome to contact the Tax Desk by emailinng taxes@swarthmore.edu .  There will also be time during your appointment for questions so either option is fine.