How do international students file a U.S. Federal tax return?

Filing a tax return is not as difficult as you imagine so don’t postpone it until the last minute! To prepare your U.S. Federal tax return, the first thing you need is access to Glacier, a tax preparation software. Generally, the ISSS office will send out an email with a link to Glacier in early February.

After you log in, all you need to do is to follow the instructions on Glacier. The first step is to enter your personal information. Glacier will determine what forms you should prepare for the tax return depending on your visa and residence status. If you are an International student and stay a significant amount of time with only salary income during the past year, you will be required to file 1040NR-EZ and 8843 forms. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to complete these forms because Glacier will help you.

However, Glacier does not know what income you have so you need to recall all the sources of income you gained during the past year. You may need to gather a variety of forms:

  • If you work for the University and received wages, you should find a W-2 form (contact the University Payroll and Benefits if you don’t find your W-2 form online);
  • if you have U.S. income subject to withholding, you need form 1042-S;
  • if you have scholarship or fellowship, you will need the grant letter from your academic institution instead of form 1042.

Now that you have all the documents, you can start the most time-consuming yet important step: entering the numbers into Glacier. At the end of the process, Glacier will tell you if you owe or overpaid taxes. However, Glacier is just a software that helps prepare all the forms needed for your tax return, rather than a way to submit your tax return forms. You will need to download the forms that Glacier prepared for you, sign your name and date with PEN (not pencil), and mail all the required documents to the IRS. The address and necessary documents will be shown on Glacier. Don’t forget the due date varies (although it’s usually April 15th) and make sure you check the date online and mail your forms before the deadline! You can easily find every year’s deadline by googling it.

In summary, there are three important things to file your tax return: get access to Glacier, collect forms that show you have an income, and mail the required documents to IRS before the deadline. Start early, or you will find an hour-long line at the post office and don’t ask how I know that.

Written by: Linxi Liu, Financial Wellness Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.

Reviewed by: Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.