January 9, 2017

Foreign Student Tax Help


All international students must complete and submit tax forms to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you lived in the U.S. for any part of the tax year. Besides being a legal requirement, it is often to your advantage to file a tax return! (Some of your tax withholdings may be refunded.)

STEP #1: Are you eligible? If so, find a tax site!

Remember that the income limit for the program is $56k.

There are a limited number of tax sites that can help you as your tax situation is unique. The full list of walk-in and appointment sites is here:

  • San Francisco County:
    • SF State

Disclaimer: Even though you are very likely eligible for our free tax services, we may not be able to help you with your taxes due to unforeseen circumstances with obscure tax law, site-specific limitations, or the availability of sufficient volunteers.

STEP #2: Gather documents to bring

  1. Passport
  2. Original Social Security card
  3. All tax documents you received for the tax year (W-2, 1099-MISC, 1095-A, 1042-S etc.). If you only have an online copy of your W-2 or 1099-MISC, please print out multiple copies that can be attached and mailed with your tax return.
  4. Routing and bank account numbers if you want direct deposit of refund or electronic transfer of any amount due.
  5. Form 13614NR Non-resident Intake/Interview Sheet completed to the best of your knowledge.
  6. Your AGI (adjusted gross income) amount from last year’s tax return, if you filed a return last year.

The items above may not include all the tax documents you’ll need for your return. Please do not come to the VITA site until you have received all your tax forms. This includes tax documents from all sources of income you received during the tax year (W-2, 1099-MISC, etc.). For example, if you had more than one part-time job or internship, please wait until you receive tax documents from all of them (or follow up with your respective employer) before coming to get your taxes done.

STEP #3: Go to the tax site!

If you made an appointment but cannot make it, be sure to cancel it in advance!


FAQ: Frequently asked questions

What documents are required for the service?
We need to see your Social Security card, passport, wages (W-2 or 1099), and routing number & checking/savings account number for direct deposit. Other documents, such as investment interest may be needed as well.

Do you hold on to any of my original documents?

How long will it take to prepare my return?
It depends on the site’s volunteer staffing level and complexity of your specific tax situation. An appointment is on average 1.5 hours.

Is ALL of the information on the Intake and Interview sheet needed?
Yes. In order to fill out the required forms for your return, we need all the information on the sheet, including date first entered the U.S., visa status, the exact number of days present in the U.S. each year, and school information.

Once I mail the return, how long will it take to process?
It will generally take the IRS and Franchise Tax Board 4 to 6 weeks to process your return from the time you mail it. If you opted for direct deposit of your refund, it will be another week after that to see it appear in your bank account. International students cannot e-file their state returns but may e-file their federal tax returns.

I already filed a return through Turbotax and found out later that it was incorrect. What can I do?
We can prepare an amendment (IRS Form 1040X) for you! We will need to see a copy of your incorrect return and wages. You will still have to fill out the intake/interview sheet. Amendments generally take a few days longer to prepare. You may end up owing some money back to the IRS if you took education credits on the IRS 1040 or the renters credit on the CA 540. The amendment must be mailed and only after the incorrect return has been processed. Note that it generally takes the IRS roughly 8-12 weeks to process an amendment.

What if incorrectly withheld?
IF YOU HAD SOCIAL SECURITY OR MEDICARE TAXES WITHHELD from your paycheck (this should be easy to tell by looking at Boxes 3, 4, 5 and 6 of your W-2’s), first try to contact your employer to get your money back (before you get your taxes done) so that by the time you get to your tax site, they will know if you need to file an IRS Form 843.

If you’re unsuccessful in getting your employer to get you a reimbursement, you can use our 843 Packet Guide (which highlights the instructions in IRS Pub. 4011 – PDF Page 18 and IRS Pub. 519 – Chapter 8). To summarize:

    • Wait 6 weeks after filing your tax return.
    • Attach the following documents:
      1. Form W-2
      2. Copy of your Form 1040NR (or Form 1040NR-EZ)
      3. Copy of visa
      4. Completed IRS Form 8316 (statement that refund could not be obtained)
      5. Other documents as needed (e.g. pay stubs, I-797, I-94, I-20, DS-2019, EAD, etc.).
    • Mail the Form 843 along with supporting documentation to the IRS, per the “Refund of Taxes Withheld in Error” section in Pub. 519
        Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, Ogden, UT 84201-0038
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