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The short answer to this question is yes. Even those on an F1 Visa need to file a tax return in one form or another.
Everyone living in the United States is expected to fill out a tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the government body which processes all the tax returns, and they ensure that everyone is up to date.
Residents pay taxes to both the State and Federal Governments, and these tax returns need to be done separately. However, these are not the only taxes as there are others.
F1 Students Must File a Tax Return
If you were employed within the current tax year, the following January you will receive a statement of account which will indicate all the money you earned that tax year. The statement is known as Form W-2. There is also a section on the form which advises you whether or not any of your income was automatically sent to the US Government by your employer. However, this is something that you are probably already aware of.
As an international F1 student, you are not exempt from any of this. You are just as liable as anyone else to have all the income you received while working in the United States monitored and thereby taxed correctly.
In fact, one of the conditions of your F1 Visa is that you would file a tax return every year you are in the United States. This is something that you have already agreed to and signed. It is a legally binding contract. Even if you did not work and did not receive any income, there are still IRS forms you are expected to complete.
In this circumstance, you must be able to explain why you are exempt from paying tax. It is absolutely vital that you fill out your tax return correctly. The auditors will not miss anything, so be sure that your tax return is correct and complete so that your future within the United States is secure. The last thing you want is the IRS to assume you’re committing tax fraud. So, ensure you keep reading and find out exactly what you need to do.
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Why File A Tax Return
Basically, in a nutshell, it is the law of the land. If you do not fill in a tax return, you can get into some serious trouble. Is is simply not worth the risk of not doing it. Think about it. It was only on the grounds of tax fraud and tax evasion that they managed to capture and imprison one of America's most infamous criminals namely Al Capone on tax fraud and tax evasion. It is not a laughing matter.
Here are some good reasons to file your tax return:
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that you will be owed some money. You really do not want to be missing out on a refund. As an international student, you may qualify for a tax treaty, for example.
By completing the US tax return, your income from other worldwide sources will be protected from further taxation.
Above all, if you do not file a tax return, you are going back on the promise you made when requesting your Visa, whether it is an F, J, M, or Q visa. This not only looks bad on you and your country. It could land you in prison.
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What Is The Cost Of Filing A Tax Return?
Self-serve Tax Return
If you file your tax return yourself, it is free of charge.
Request help from an accountant
However, it may be better if you seek some kind of help and advice from an accountant, and this is where the cost comes in. It can cost a minimum of $100 from general services. As an international student Sprintax may be a good place to look.
Could It Be Free?
As an international student studying in the US you may be able to find a service to file your return for free. The first piece of advice here is that you should contact the international student department’s office of the particular school, college, or University you are attending and request a full information pack from them.
Alternatively, pay the Finance services office a visit, and speak to them to find out what the procedure is. You may be lucky and discover that your school is enrolled in a particular kind of tax program which may mean that you can file your tax returns free of charge.
Even if your school, college or university is not enrolled in a free program, you may still be able to get help with the cost of returning your tax information. There are various programs and organizations set up by volunteers to assist low-income people, including seniors, and students.
In this scenario, what you should do is pay your local public library a visit and request the relevant information from them. The local library may also hold open events for this exact matter. So, if you are struggling, make the effort and go out to the library and find some valuable help. Tax forms are not the easiest things to understand if maths is not a strong point for you, so get the free help on offer.
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How To File A Tax Return
Okay, so you know you have to fill out a tax return form of some description, so how do you do it? You really do not want to leave this to the last minute as it can be quite confusing.
If you did not work:
As stated before, even if you did not have any employment, and therefore received absolutely no income for the current tax year, you are still not exempt from filling out a form. In case you were wondering though, you are not required to pay any taxes. You only need to fill out the form.
The form you have to fill out is the Form 8843 called the Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals With a Medical Condition.
What about the income you may have received from your home country?
The US will not chase you on any income you received from your own country, or any other country for that matter, but you need to be registered as a non-resident alien for tax purposes. You also, and this is important, are still required to complete a proper US tax return. The non-resident form for tax purposes is the Form 1040NR-EZ. You also need to complete the Form 8843 as well.
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What about students who have worked this tax year in the US?
If you worked on the University campus, it is best to get in touch with the University to get extra help and support from them. But the common rule of law is that if you have received income, you will need to fill out the Form 1040NR-EZ and the Form 1040.
There are other State level forms which you may have to complete too, ask at the school or University. For more information about tax returns there is a manual for more advice here.
Once the forms have been completed, you will need to send them to the IRS for processing. Alternatively, if you received help, the accountant or volunteer will send it off for you.
F1 Visa Students Can Get Help with Filing their Taxes
Simply put, as an international student, you do need to file a tax return. If you are struggling, there are many avenues of help and assistance you can pursue for qualified advice. There is no point sitting there, biting your nails and worrying. Being proactive in these situations will take that weight off your mind.
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