Filing Your Non-Resident Tax Forms using Sprintax (F and J)

If you were physically in the U.S. in F or J status anytime between January 1 - December 31, 2018 you're obligated to send one form, Form 8843, to the U.S. tax agency IRS (Internal Revenue Service), even if you had no income.

Filing Non-Resident Tax Return
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Before You File

We have teamed up with Sprintax to provide you with easy-to-use tax preparation software designed for non-resident students, scholars, alumni and their dependents in the U.S. We (and all other university staff) are not qualified or allowed to provide individual tax advice.

Before you begin, get some background information on U.S. Income Tax Basics and watch our short "Start Here" video below:

Start Here: US Tax Basics for International Students and Scholars
SESSION LEADER: Good morning. Thank you for coming to today’s session on what you as international students and scholars need to know about U.S. taxes.

“Doing your taxes” as they say here in America, is fairly straightforward, but knowing what your obligation is may not be so obvious.

So, we’ll start with a very basic question -- Who here in the U.S. has to “do their taxes”?

The answer is… All of you!

VISITING SCHOLAR: Us? Why? Isn’t it just U.S. Citizens?

SESSION LEADER: Not quite. You see, there are actually two types of tax status in the U.S.--resident and nonresident alien. Since you are new to the U.S. you all are considered Nonresidents. As F and J Nonresidents, there is at least one thing you are required to do --the IRS Form 8843.

STUDENT # 1: Wait— what?? I’m an undergrad and I haven’t worked a single day in the U.S. I still have to submit a tax form?!

SESSION LEADER: Yes. The 8843 is a requirement even if you had no U.S. income. All F and J students and scholars--and their visa dependents, including children--must send this short simple form to the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax agency.

Since this information is probably new for all of you, let’s open the floor for questions!

STUDENT 2: So, I’m a graduate student. I don’t work, but I do get a stipend from my fellowship. That’s not considered income, is it?

SESSION LEADER: Well, actually it is. In addition to paid work, you can also get income from a U.S. scholarship, fellowship, or travel grant that is for expenses other than tuition, such as food and rent. However, if you receive funding from your home country, then that wouldn’t count.

VISITING SCHOLAR: So I’m a visiting scholar and didn’t work last year. I didn’t receive any other kind of income. Does that mean that both my husband and I would have to complete our own 8843 form?

SESSION LEADER: Correct. To complete an 8843 all you need to do is go to the ISSO website for free access to Sprintax, which is an easy-to-use tax preparation software.

STUDENT 1: Do I have to use Sprintax? My roommate used TurboTax.

SESSION LEADER: Good question! No, you can’t use TurboTax because that is only for resident tax returns, and you certainly don’t want to commit tax fraud. Sprintax is designed specifically for nonresidents like you.

STUDENT # 1: So, when is this 8843 form due?

SESSION LEADER: The deadline for sending the 8843 to the IRS is June 15th, IF it is your only requirement because you had no U.S. income.

However, if you did have U.S. income, you will need to file a federal tax return in addition to Form 8843. This is free when you use Sprintax from Columbia’s website.

SESSION LEADER: A tax return has an earlier deadline. It’s usually April 15th, but may vary slightly each year. Check the ISSO website to be sure. Keep in mind that your tax return reports income from the previous tax year.

STUDENT #2: I hate to ask such a basic question, but what exactly is a tax return?

SESSION LEADER: Simply put, a tax return compares the tax that has already been taken out from your income with the amount of tax you may owe to the IRS. Don’t worry, this is all calculated for you when you use Sprintax.

The result is that either the government owes you money and sends you a refund … or you may owe them more money. Oh, and beware of phone scams! The IRS will communicate with you only by mail.

STUDENT # 2: Okay. Anything else I should know?

SESSION LEADER: Well, you may also need to file a state tax return, depending on the amount of your income and the state in which you received it. Sprintax will inform you if you need to file a state tax return and will give you the option of preparing it for a fee.

STUDENT #2: What? You mean this is in addition to the federal tax return?

SESSION LEADER: Yes. This is a completely separate process. Each state has its own tax regulations.

And just to keep things interesting, states define tax status differently than the IRS! For example, New York may consider you to be a resident for state tax purposes, even if you are a nonresident for federal tax purposes. This is all explained on the ISSO website.

STUDENT #2: …Is there anything more?

SESSION LEADER: No, this just about covers the basics, and please — do your taxes on time!

What to Expect

After you log in to Sprintax, it will ask you a series of questions about the the time you have spent in the United States and in which immigration status,  looking back over a period of years. Sprintax will then determine your tax status. If it determines that you are a "nonresident alien" (NRA) for federal tax purposes, you can continue to use it to respond to a series of guided questions. Sprintax will complete and generate the forms you need to print, sign, and mail to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service).

If it determines you are a resident alien for federal tax purposes, you won't be able to continue using it, but we have prepared a list of resources for filing a resident tax return.

If you had no U.S. Income: Just one requirement, Form 8843

The form 8843 is an informational statement IRS requires to show you were in the U.S. and are a NonResident Alien (NRA). Sprintax will generate mailing instructions and a filled-in 8843 for you to print, sign and date, and mail to the IRS.

If you had U.S. Income: Federal Tax Return Documents

Sprintax will generate your completed tax return documents, a 1040NR-EZ or the 1040NR depending on your personal situation, along with the 8843. A tax return is a reconciliation between tax that has been withheld and tax that is owed--sometimes you get a refund and other times you may owe the government money to make up for the shortfall.

If you had U.S. Income: April 15, 2019

If you had no U.S. Income (Form 8843 only): June 17, 2019 (because June 15th is a Saturday the deadline is the first Monday after)

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Using Sprintax

We've skipped to 46:13 of our 2018 Sprintax Tax Workshop that explains what you can expect when you log in to Sprintax (below).

Using Sprintax
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Want more? Watch the full 2018 Tax Workshop for 2017 tax returns.  Dates and amounts will have changed but concepts and topics remain the same, including tax forms, definitions, myths, and more!

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How to File Your Non-Resident Tax Forms (F and J)

Steps to File Your Non-Resident Tax Forms (F and J)
Step 1.

Gather the documents you may need for Sprintax

If you had U.S. income, make sure you have all the documents you need before completing a tax return in Sprintax. 

*You may receive or not receive this document depending on your personal situation.

Step 2.

Log in here to create a Sprintax account

Access Sprintax through the Columbia University Portal here using your UNI and password. Open your new Sprintax account by creating a UserID and password. (Note that student alumni may continue to use Sprintax with their UNI and password.)

Sprintax will save your information so you can log in and out without starting over. Also, if you use Sprintax in subsequent years your information will carry over.

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Learn more! Watch this section of our Tax Workshop on using Sprintax.

Step 3.

Follow their instructions

If You Had No U.S. Income: Sprintax will generate a completed Form 8843 for you and each of your dependents (if you have any).

With U.S. Income: Sprintax will generate your "tax return documents", including either a 1040NR-EZ or a longer form 1040NR, depending on your circumstances. If you have any dependents, Sprintax will generate a completed Form 8843 for each of your dependents.

Step 4.

(With U.S. income only) If required, complete your state tax return

After you finish your federal return, Sprintax will inform you if you need to complete a state tax return. If so, they will give you the option to use Sprintax for an individual fee. However, it is your choice to use them or to do the state tax return on your own.

Remember that each state has its own income tax regulations and forms. New York State residency rules are different than those of the Internal Revenue Service. You may be a nonresident alien for federal tax purposes but be considered a resident for state tax purposes. 

  • Undergraduate students in a degree program are always considered to be nonresidents by NY State
  • The tax residency status of graduate students and J scholars is determined by the number of days you spent in NY during the tax year (more or less than 183 days) and whether you had a place to live for at least 11 months.  The 2009 amendment for the undergraduate exception states that “the amendment does not provide an exception for graduate students pursuing a post-baccalaureate degree."
  • Students who receive a 1042-S reporting taxable income from a fellowship stipend or travel grant need to take note that federal taxes are withheld, but NY State taxes are not and therefore you are likely to owe taxes on a NY State tax return.
  • For more information, see NY State tax definitions and the part of the Tax Workshop presentation regarding state taxes.

You may be able to e-file a NY State tax return for free, but you’ll need to know whether you’re a non-resident or resident.


Step 5.

Mail your completed federal forms to IRS by the deadline

IRS will begin accepting tax returns on January 29, 2019.

Remember to read the mailing instructions that Sprintax provides, and mail by the deadline

If you have dependents, each one must mail their 8843 in a separate envelope.

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3 Tax Workshops 

The VP of Sprintax will be on-campus to provide a general overview of the U.S. tax-filing process, show how to use Sprintax for your federal nonresident tax return, with time for Q & A at the end. 

You don't have to attend a workshop to use Sprintax, but it does give you an opportunity to get a thorough overview and to ask questions of the Sprintax representative. 

All workshops take place in Davis Auditorium, 412 Schapiro Center (also known as CEPSR).

March 4 from 12:00 to 1:15 PM

March 29 from 2:00 to 3:15 PM (changed from March 27)

April 4 from 3:00 - 4:15 PM

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Need Sprintax Support?

If you need help while using Sprintax, contact them:

Additional IRS Resources

Do You Need A Notary Public?

If you need a notary public to certify your documents for a W-7 application for an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer ID), you can use your smart phone to look for a "notary near me" or google "notaries public" in your zip code.  Some places near the Morningside campus with a notary are Janoff's, Citibank, Claremont Chemist, and the UPS Stores.