Important: UH staff cannot assist with completing tax returns. This page contains only general information. Contact the Internal Revenue Service or a certified public accountant for if there are questions about federal tax laws.
Each person who receives income while in the U.S., including international scholars and employees, is responsible each year for submitting a complete and accurate income tax statement to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This is called “filing a tax return.” Even if someone received no income from a U.S. source, they must file a tax form to keep their tax status straight with the U.S. government.
In the U.S., it is each person’s responsibility to meet their tax obligations. The U.S. government will not automatically assess and collect taxes owed directly from a person’s income – each person must determine the amount of taxes due. If an individual fails to pay required taxes, the U.S. government will impose penalties.
Although the U.S. government does not deduct taxes directly from individuals, employers “withhold” (deduct) taxes from employees’ paychecks and pay those amounts directly to the U.S. government on each person’s behalf. At UH, foreign nationals who are paid salaries or stipends must provide estimates of the amount of income UH should withhold from their wages/payments. After the year ends, UH issues a Form W-2 or Form 1042-S (as applicable) to each employee/appointee to show the both the amounts paid and withheld by UH. On the annual tax return, the individual must use the W-2/1042-S to reconcile the amount of tax owed with the U.S. government. If UH withheld more money than is owed in taxes during the year, the employee/appointee may claim a refund for the difference on their tax return.
Most J-1 scholars are not subject to the Federal Insurance and Contributions Act (FICA) tax withholding, which funds the federal Social Security and Medicare programs. J-2 dependents who work in the U.S. and most individuals who hold employment-based immigration statuses in the U.S. are subject to the FICA tax.
SSN or ITIN
A unique tax identification number must be stated on each person’s tax return. Foreign nationals who work in the U.S. should have a Social Security Number (SSN), while those who are in the U.S. and are not employed, but earn income through interest, investments, or rental properties must have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
The deadline to file a federal tax return covering a given calendar year is generally April 15th of the following year. For example, if an international scholar was in the U.S. at any time during the 2015 calendar year, she must file her federal tax return with the IRS by April 15, 2016.
It is possible to apply for an extension of this deadline by filing IRS Form 4868. However, this form must be filed by April 15th and the filing of this form does not extend the time allowed to pay any taxes owed. Taxes are still due by April 15th.
How to determine which forms to file
Before a foreign national can prepare and file a tax return, they must first determine tax status – that is, whether they are a resident alien or a nonresident alien. Resident aliens are taxed on worldwide income, while nonresident aliens are taxed only on U.S. source income. In most cases, the individual should use the Substantial Presence Test (SPT) to determine tax status. Note that any part of a calendar year during which the person was present in the U.S. counts as a full year for tax purposes.
E-3, H-1B, O-1, and TN employees must use the SPT from the date of arrival or change of status in the U.S.
J-1 exchange visitors and their J-2 dependents may be exempt from the SPT only if they have been in the U.S. no more than 2 out of the previous 6 years. A J-1/J-2 in the U.S. for more than 2 calendar years of the prior 6 years must use the SPT to determine residency status. A J-1/J-2 who is teaching or conducting research is exempt from using the SPT and is considered a nonresident alien for 3 years if all income for services done in the U.S. is from a foreign source. Use the “Are you an exempt individual? Decision Tree” in IRS Publication 4011, “Foreign Student and Scholar Resource Guide” to determine exemption from using the SPT.
Once tax status has been determined, the individual can prepare the necessary forms for their tax return.
Nonresident aliens who have U.S. source income must file IRS Form 1040NR, “U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return” or IRS Form 1040NR-EZ, “U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens with No Dependents” along with Form 8843, “Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals with a Medical Condition.” This includes J-2 dependents with U.S. source income. Those who received income subject to withholding in a given year must file by April 15th of the following year. Those with income not subject to withholding must file by June 15th. Some individuals may qualify for a reduced rate on or exemption from U.S. income tax because their home countries have a tax treaty with with U.S. See IRS Publication 901, “U.S. Tax Treaties” for more information.
Nonresident aliens who do not have U.S. source income must file Form 8843 by June 15th. They do not need to file Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. However, they must file Form 8843 to document their status as nonresident aliens who are exempt from counting days toward the substantial presence test.
For examples and more information on how to complete the nonresident alien forms, see:
- Federal tax workshop presentation slides
- Form 8843 exercises
- Form 1040NR exercises
- Form 1040NR-EZ exercises
Resident aliens are subject to the same federal income tax filing requirements as U.S. citizens. Whether they must file income tax returns depends on their filing status and income. If they are required to file income tax returns, they should use IRS Form 1040, “U.S. Individual Income Tax Return” or Form1040EZ, “Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With No Dependents.” See IRS Publication 519, “U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens” and IRS Publication 17, “Your Federal Income Tax Guide” for more information.
IRS contact information
All federal tax forms, instructions, and publications are available on the IRS’s website, but if additional assistance is needed, the IRS can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-829-1040. There are three local offices in Hawaii.
On Oahu, the IRS office is located in the Federal Building in downtown Honolulu at 300 Ala Moana Blvd. (corner of Ala Moana Blvd. & Punchbowl St.). To get there by bus, visit the City and County of Honolulu’s TheBus website, where you can enter your starting and destination addresses to obtain transit directions. It is possible to schedule an appointment at this office to discuss certain topics. Before visiting this office, please review the list of services it provides.
- Hours: 8:30 am – 4:30 pm on Mondays-Fridays; closed on weekends and federal holidays.
- Phone: (808) 566-2705
On the island of Hawaii (the Big Island), the IRS office is located in Hilo at 101 Aupuni St. For public mass transit routes and information, visit the Hawaii County’s Hele-On Bus website. This office provides limited services; it is not possible to schedule an in-person appointment at this office.
- Hours: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm (closed for lunch 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm) on Mondays-Fridays; closed on weekends and federal holidays.
- Phone: (808) 935-8052
Maui’s IRS office is located in Wailuku at 2200 Main St. Please visit Maui County’s Maui Bus website to obtain bus schedules and other information. It is possible to schedule an appointment at this office to discuss certain topics. Before visiting this office, please review the list of services it provides.
- Hours: 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (closed for lunch 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm) on Mondays-Fridays; closed on weekends and federal holidays.
- Phone: (808) 242-6450