Federal and State tax preparation for International Students and Scholars

Overview of International Student and Scholar Tax Obligations

The information in this tax section is intended to give you a general sense of your tax-reporting requirements. The staff at the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) and the International Affairs Office (IAO) are not qualified or permitted to answer individual questions.

There are different rules and forms for Non-Resident Aliens (NRAs) and Residents for federal tax purposes.

Your tax status is based only on your presence in the U.S. over a period of years with special rules for students and scholars in F or J status.

Students in F-1 and J-1 status:

Generally considered NRAs for their first 5 years in student status. The tax year is January 1 - December 31. Any time spent in the U.S. whether it’s 1 day or all 365 counts as one tax year. Once you enter the 6th year, you become a resident for tax purposes. For example:

  • if you arrived in 2011 or later in F or J status you will be an NRA for 2015.
  • if you arrived in 2010, then 2015 was your sixth year and you would have become a resident for federal tax purposes.

Scholars in J-1 status:

Typically considered NRAs for their first 2 years in the U.S. Scholars who arrived in 2014 or later will be NRAs for the 2015 tax year; 2013 or earlier will be residents.

Other non-immigrant statuses:

Dependent on the substantial presence test.

FORM 8843: Required of all Fs and Js even without any income

All non-immigrants in F or J status (both principal and dependents) that are deemed NRAs are required to mail form 8843, an individual federal tax form to the IRS, if they were in the U.S. for any part of the tax year, January 1 to December 31.

If there wasn’t any income, this form is mailed alone. If you did have income, the 8843 will be included with other forms in your non-resident tax return.

Don’t commit U.S. tax fraud in error by filing a tax return for which you are not eligible. You cannot choose to file a resident tax form (1040 or 1040EZ) if you are a non-resident for federal tax purposes.

What is a tax return and what is the deadline?
April 18, 2016 is the due date for a 2015 tax return.

Simply put, a tax return is a report of both income and taxes withheld, if any, during the previous tax year. If taxes that were withheld were more than required, you’ll get a refund, and if there’s a shortfall, you’ll owe the government money. The federal tax authority is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In addition, each state has its own tax regulations and forms, and you also may need to file a state tax return each state in which you had income.

Sources of income include but are not limited to:

  • On-campus employment
  • Scholarship/fellowship grants/stipends that do not go toward paying tuition
  • Graduate or teaching assistantships
  • Practical or academic training
  • Salary for a teaching or research appointment for scholars

Sprintax is here to help


The ISSO has teamed up with Sprintax to provide you with easy-to-use tax preparation software, designed for non-resident students and scholars at Columbia. Alumni are also welcome to use it. Sprintax will prepare form 8843 if that’s all you need or a full federal tax return if you’ve had U.S. income - free of charge when you access and create a Sprintax account through this page. Once you enter your personal details, it will guide you through the process and what you need to do.

Your federal tax forms are free of charge ONLY if you log in with your Columbia UNI and password using the Create Account button at the bottom of this page. If you create your account at sprintax.com, you will be charged for your federal tax form preparation.

Sprintax will:

  • Determine your tax residency status (if you discover you are a resident for tax purposes, please see RESOURCES FOR RESIDENT ALIENS FOR TAX PURPOSES)
  • Identify which forms you need to file based on your personal circumstances
  • Apply tax treaty benefits, if any
  • Complete and generate the forms you need, along with mailing instructions. (A non-resident tax return cannot be submitted electronically)
  • Provide 24/7 Live Chat help and FAQs
  • Other help - Contact Sprintax by email at hello@sprintax.com or call 1-866-601-5695

Sprintax can also:

  • Prepare state tax returns (for a fee)
  • Generate form 843 to request a refund of Social Security / FICA payments if withheld in error (for a fee).

Documents required when using Sprintax:

  • Passport
  • Visa/Immigration information, including Form DS-2019 or Form I-20
  • Social Security or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (if any)
  • Entry and exit dates for current and past visits to the U.S.
  • Tax-related forms that report U.S. income

You may receive one or more of the following or none depending on your personal situation:

W-2: W-2 form reports your wages from each employer. Make sure that any employers from 2015 have an up-to-date address for you. If you worked for Columbia and you didn’t receive a W-2, go to W-2 Information

1042-S: Issued for two purposes.

1) It reports scholarships, fellowships, grants, awards and any other stipend or payment made to you by a U.S. source that was NOT compensation work. If your scholarship or fellowship provided tuition exemption or reduction, but no stipend, you will not receive a 1042-S form. A tuition benefit is not taxable but payment for living expenses is taxable income.

2) A 1042-S also reports earned income (wages) which are exempt from tax because of a tax treaty between your country of residence and the U.S. If you received this type of income, you should receive this form by mid- March every year.

If you are supposed to receive the 1042‐S, you cannot prepare and file your 2015 income tax returns without it. If Columbia University is the payer, it is mailed at the end of February. If your address has changed, send an email to the Human Resources office which issues the 1042‐S to Carlos Lira-Coppo with your correct current address in the email message.

1099: Interest earned on bank accounts, stocks, funds, independent contractor work

1098-T: Reports tuition. Irrelevant to the majority of international students because NRAs are not eligible to claim education expense tax credits on a non-resident tax return.

Create a Sprintax Account

1. Access Sprintax through the Columbia University Portal using your UNI and password
2. Open your new Sprintax account by creating a UserID and password.

Resident for tax purposes?

Resources for resident aliens for tax purposes. Click here