Frequently Asked Questions for International Students

General Tax Questions:

  1. I'm an international student or scholar receiving payment from the university (salary, stipend, fellowship, prize, etc.). Do I need to meet with the Tax Department?
  2. How do I get a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?
  3. What do I do after I receive a SSN or ITIN?
  4. What is a tax treaty?
  5. I am an international student working on campus. Am I exempt from FICA taxes on my paycheck?
  6. I'm an international student working off campus as an employee under CPT or OPT. Am I exempt from FICA taxes?
  7. How do I complete the state tax withholding forms?
  8. What are the standard tax withholding rates for non-salary payments for international students and scholars?

Tax Return Questions:

  1. As a nonresident alien, what type of federal income tax returns should I file?
  2. What state income tax forms should I file as a nonresident alien?
  3. Do I need to file a DC income tax return if I work in DC but live in Maryland or Virginia?
  4. What tax reporting documents and forms should I have received?
  5. Where do I get my tax reporting documents?
  6. Can the Tax Department help me prepare or review my income tax returns?
  7. Is my tuition scholarship considered taxable income?
  8. My spouse and/or children are present with me in the U.S. Do they need to file Form 8843?
  9. I'm married and have a child who was born in the U.S. Can I claim personal exemptions for my spouse and child?
  10. When is the deadline to file my income tax returns?
  11. What if I filed the wrong income tax returns in a previous year?
  12. What if I didn't file income tax returns in a previous year...how do I file them now?
  13. Should I file Form 8843 if I missed the filing for previous years? 

General Tax Questions:

Q. I’m an international student or scholar receiving payment from the university (salary, stipend, fellowship, prize, etc.). Do I need to meet with the Tax Department?

A. Yes. Payments to individuals who are not US citizens or permanent residents are subject to special rules. Please send an email to [email protected] with the nature of your payment so that we can help you with the appropriate documentation required. You will likely be asked to complete the Foreign National Information System with us.

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Q. How do I get a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?
A. An international student or scholar can obtain an SSN if employed on campus. Once you have an offer letter from your department, go to your International Services Office advisor for a SSN eligibility letter. The student then will go to the Social Security Administration at 2100 M Street near campus to apply. Further details on the exact process can be found in ISO’s instructions (PDF).

International students can apply for an ITIN by submitting Form W-7 (PDF) with their annual tax return. Instructions to Form W-7 (PDF) should be consulted.

The Tax Department plays no role in obtaining an SSN or ITIN; however, the student should report it to us when received so that tax forms can be updated and tax treaty eligibility can be determined if applicable.

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Q. What do I do after I receive a SSN or ITIN?
A. 
Please update your SSN at the Center for Career Services located at the Marvin Center first and then contact the Tax Department. The Tax Department will then update and send the applicable tax forms.

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Q. What is a Tax Treaty?
A.
Tax treaties with the US can exempt certain amounts and types of income from US taxation. Treaties vary by country, so if you are receiving income from GW, then meet with the Tax Department to determine eligibility.

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Q. I am an international student working on campus. Am I exempt from FICA taxes on my paycheck?
A. International students are exempt from FICA taxes for the first 5 years on an F-1 visa. F-1 students who have been in the US greater than 5 years may still be exempt if registered for at least half time during a semester, which is administered by Payroll Services. You must complete your tax forms through the Tax Department so that the FICA exemption is applied appropriately.

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Q. I’m an international student working off campus under CPT or OPT. Am I exempt from FICA taxes?
A. International students working off campus under CPT or OPT may still be eligible for a FICA exemption if considered a nonresident alien (generally first 5 years under F-1) for tax purposes. Please see Nonresident Alien Students: Refunding FICA Taxes (PDF) for more information. Note that the Tax Department cannot fill in the forms for you or review the forms provided at the link.

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Q. How do I complete the state tax withholding forms?
A. 
Please refer to the general instructions (PDF) on how to complete your state tax withholding forms. The Tax Department cannot complete or review your forms. You are solely responsible for the proper completion of the tax forms.

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Q. What are the standard tax rates for non-salary payments for international students and scholars?
A.
 Stipend and fellowship payments to those on F or J visas are subject to 14% federal tax withholding. For anybody on a different type of visa, the standard rate is 30% federal tax withholding.

Prize and award payments are subject to 30% federal tax withholding.

Payments may be eligible for treaty relief. In addition, payments to those that are considered resident aliens (generally an F-1 student who has been in the US longer than 5 years) may not be subject to the 14% or 30% direct tax withholding requirement.

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Tax Return Questions: 

Q. As a nonresident alien, what type of federal income tax returns should I file?
A. 
If you have earned income in a given year, then you will be required to file the below income tax forms:

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Q. What state income tax forms should I file as a nonresident alien?
A. 
Generally if you lived in DC, MD, or VA for the full year, then you would file the below income tax forms:

If you moved states, read the state form instructions for the relevant states to determine residency and the proper form, as some states have part-year forms. If you lived in a state other than DC, MD, or VA and earned income there, then you may have a filing requirement. See the applicable state tax authority's website.

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Q. Do I need to file a DC income tax return if I work in DC but live in Maryland or Virginia?
A. 
Generally not, as you must file a resident tax return with the state in which you live due to the tax reciprocity agreement amongst DC, MD, and VA. Please see the respective state return instructions for further information.

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Q. What tax reporting documents and forms should I have received?
A. 
You should have received the following depending on your income types:

  • W-2 - received for salary/wages (may be from GW or outside employer)
  • 1042-S - received for tax exempt salary/wages, stipends, prizes and also for taxable stipends and prizes
  • 1099-MISC - received for compensation from outside company if they treated you as a contractor
  • 1098-T - nonresident aliens can ignore this form

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Q. Where do I get my tax reporting documents?
A. 
You can get your tax reporting documents from:

  • W-2 from GW - retrieve from GWeb Information System or contact Payroll Services at 571-553-4277
  • 1042-S from GW - email the Tax Department at [email protected] (include GWid in your email)
  • 1099-MISC - contact your outside company
  • If missing a W-2 or 1042-S from outside companies, contact them, not GW.

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Q. Can the Tax Department help me prepare or review my income tax returns?
A. 
No, we unfortunately cannot. We are providing software that will provide free preparation of the federal income tax return forms. See our Sprintax instructions page.

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Q. Is my tuition scholarship considered taxable income?

A. A tuition scholarship to a degree seeking student is not considered taxable income and does not need to be reported on an annual income tax return.

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Q. My spouse and/or children are present with me in the U.S. Do they need to file Form 8843?
A. 
Each individual who is a nonresident alien and present in the U.S. under an F, J, M, or Q immigration status (both "-1" and "-2") is required to file Form 8843 - regardless of the age of the individual or whether any income was received by the individual. If you have a child who was born in the U.S., Form 8843 should not be filed for that U.S.-born child.

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Q. I'm married and have a child who was born in the U.S. Can I claim personal exemptions for my spouse and child?

A. Only U.S. nationals, residents of Canada, Mexico, and South Korea, and residents of India who were students or business apprentices may claim an exemption for a spouse or a dependent.

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Q. When is the deadline to file my income tax returns?
A. 
April 15th of each year.

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Q. What if I filed the wrong income tax returns in a previous year?
A. 
If you find out now that in a past tax year you filed the wrong income tax return form, you should correct the previously filed tax return by filing an amended tax return. To file an amended tax return, you generally would complete Form 1040-X, which is available on the IRS website.

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Q. What if I didn't file income tax returns in a previous year...how do I file them now?
A. 
If you find out now that in a past tax year you were supposed to file an income tax return, but you failed to do so, you should file a late income tax return as soon as possible. To do so, obtain the Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR‐EZ if you are a nonresident alien or 1040EZ or 1040 if you are a resident alien for the tax year that you wish to file a late tax return from the IRS website. Be sure to also get the instructions for the preparation of that year’s forms as the tax rates and exemption amounts are different for each tax year. You may not simply lump the amounts from a previous tax year onto this year’s tax return – each tax year must be separated and corrected.

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Q. Should I file Form 8843 if I missed the filing deadline for previous years?
A. 
If you were unaware of the fact that you were required to submit Form 8843 for previous tax years in which you resided in the U.S. in F or J student/scholar status, you may file retroactively for each year the form was not filed. Simply include a separate Form 8843 for each year that was missed. When filing forms retroactively, cross out the year in the upper right hand corner and write in the year for which you are filing.

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