Types of Taxes

US Federal Income Tax - US State Income Tax - Sales Tax

All F-1 Student and J-1 Exchange Visitor visa holders, as well as any dependents accompanying them to the US, are required to file a US federal tax return form even if they have not earned any US income.  You may also have to file state income taxes in addition to federal taxes, and you will most likely pay sales tax on purchases.

Please note that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the official source of information about US taxes, and your university’s international office will be a great resource when filing for taxes.  Any information the IRS or your international office provide will supersede what is on this webpage. This webpage is meant merely to provide a starting point for your own research into tax issues in the US and is not in any way meant to be taken as official tax advice.

US Federal Income Tax

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects all federal taxes. As noted above, all F-1 Student and J-1 Exchange Visitor visa holders, as well as any dependents accompanying them to the US, are required to file a US federal tax return form even if they have not earned any US income. Failure to file a tax form can affect your ability to re-enter the US or the success of an application to change visa status.

Unlike in the UK, the US tax year is the calendar year (1 January to 31 December). The filing deadline is 15 April of the following year.

There is no Pay As You Earn system as in the UK. Under the US system, the individual is responsible for determining income tax liability (how much tax is owed) and for filing an individual (or joint/married) tax return. While you can set tax payments to be deducted from your monthly pay cheques, you will still have to file a tax return to determine how much you owe and whether you have overpaid through your deductions (and therefore will receive a refund) or have underpaid (and therefore have to pay taxes).

Tax Filing Obligation Guide

 

This guide will help you determine what tax filing obligations you have for the tax year. 

I was not present in the US during the X calendar year (2015 for example). I only arrived after January 1, Y (2016 for example).

I was present in the US during the X calendar year (2015 for example). The following describes my situation:

If you are unable to file your forms by April 18, 2016 you must submit an application for automatic extension of time to file your tax return. More information can be found on the IRS website. 

For more information, see our FAQs on federal income tax.

Note: We are not an official source of tax information. Check with the IRS and your university's international student advisor for the most up to date information.

 

US State Income Tax

In addition to federal taxes, you may also have to pay state income taxes. Each state has its own income tax regulations. Some states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming) have no state income tax, while other states have regulations that require international students to file some sort of state tax return even if they are earning no US income. For more information, go to your state’s government website.

Sales Tax

Sales tax in the US is a similar concept to VAT in the UK. Like state income taxes, sales tax varies by state. Some states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and New Hampshire) do not charge sales tax. Other states do charge sales tax but only on particular items. This is not something that you have to file for; rather, it added to purchases at time of sale. It is important to note that US sales tax is not included in the published price of the item. For example, a book may be marked $5.99 but may cost between two and eight per cent more once sales tax is added.