As a Foreign Student, Do You Need an ITIN?

For some time now, the number of international students in the United States has been growing at a fairly steady pace. Over the last couple of school years, foreign students in American universities have exceeded 850,000 scattered throughout the various graduate and undergraduate programs in the nation. That’s a whopping four percent of all U.S. college students, and represents almost ninety percent of all international students attending universities outside of their home countries. It’s also a seventy-two percent increase in the last fifteen years.

If you’re a foreign student attending university in the United States, there are many opportunities available to you. There are also some important obligations that may apply, depending upon your individual circumstances. One of those obligations might involve the need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Yes, even if you are merely attending school in the United States, and are not working at all, you may still need an ITIN if you meet certain criteria.

That might not make sense given that most people consider the ITIN nothing more than an identifier provided so that those who are not eligible for Social Security numbers can still work and pay taxes. However, if you’re a foreign student in the United States and receiving grants, fellowship, or scholarship money, there is always the chance that some portion of that may qualify as taxable income. You may also need to obtain an ITIN if you have dependents that have come to the U.S. on J-2 or F-2 visas.

The reason why these scholarships, grants, and fellowships may trigger income tax questions has to do with their source. If they are coming from American sources, then they qualify as U.S. income – even though you’re not technically employed. This is true for both foreign students and foreign professors. You may not actually have taxable income when all is said and done, but you will want to file a tax return to ensure that you are in full compliance with your legal responsibilities.

As a general rule, you can obtain your ITIN either before you come to the United States, or wait until you are here. If you’re receiving this sort of income from an American source, you’ll want to make sure that you at least have a proper ITIN before the tax filing deadline. Any foreign dependents will also have to have their own numbers.

Obviously, your schedule will be quite busy while you’re attending classes, and this may seem like a tremendous burden. Fortunately, the IRS doesn’t expect you to handle everything on your own, and has resources available in most communities to assist you with the filing process. There are also many immigration attorneys that can help you should you run into any sort of complication.

As one of the hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals taking advantage of the great educational opportunities available in the United States, you enjoy many benefits that most people in the world will never experience. With those benefits comes added responsibility, including various tax filing requirements. By obtaining your ITIN, you can ensure that you’re able to meet those obligations in a responsible manner.

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