2020 General Tax Information 

Navigating income taxes rules can be a challenging experience for international students and scholars in the United States. The following information will help explain the basic tax related issues you might experience while in the United States. Please read the following information carefully.


If you are an F or J student who entered the U.S. for the first time in 2016 or later, or if you are a J scholar who first arrived in the U.S. in 2019 or 2020, you are a nonresident for 2020 U.S. tax purposses.   The law requires nonresidents to file a tax report with the U.S. government for every year they are present in the U.S. whether or not they worked or earned income in the U.S.

PLEASE NOTE:  If you are a nonresident for U.S. tax purposes, it is not legal to file a resident tax return using Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ.  Filing resident tax forms when you are a nonresident is tax fraud and can jeopardize your legal U.S. immigration status.  If you are an F-1 or J-1 student who has been in the U.S. since 2015 or earlier, or a J-1 scholar who has been in the U.S. since 2018, you may be considered a resident for 2020 U.S. tax purposes and can use the same forms and tax software products that apply to U.S. citizens and residents.  However, if you are an F-1 or J-1 student who first entered the U.S. in 2016 or later, or a J-1 scholar who entered the U.S. in 2019, you cannot use tax software or tax forms that are for U.S. citizens and residents.  Instead, nonresidents should read on to learn more about nonresident tax returns and how to prepare them.



If you had no U.S. source income during 2020, you should file only Form 8843. Submit this form by June 15, 2021, and you’re done. (Note, you can also use Sprintax to prepare Form 8843 - see below).

If you worked and/or had U.S. source income in the United States during 2020,  you must file Form 1040NR along with Form 8843 to determine if you are  due a refund or if you owe additional tax for 2020. You must file Form 1040NR and Form 8843 even if all your income for 2020 was exempt under a tax treaty.


Ordinarily you must prepare, print, sign, and mail your 2020 U.S. income tax return no later than April 15, 2021.  However, for 2020 tax returns the IRS has extended the filing deadline to May 17, 2021.  Keep a copy of your income tax return for your records. 

The State of Iowa 2020 tax return deadline has been extended from April 30, 2021, to June 1, 2021.



Gather your materials:

  • If you worked at ISU during 2020, your W-2 form summarizing your income and tax payments will soon be available to download and print from your Workday page.
  • If you worked for any other U.S. employer (perhaps you were on CPT or OPT) you must have a W-2 form for that job, too. Contact your employer if you have not received their W-2 form by the end of January 2021.
  • If you claimed a tax treaty or had a taxable scholarship in 2020, watch for an e-mail from ISU asking you to authorize electronic delivery of Form 1042-S through the FNIS system.  If you do not authorize electronic delivery, make sure your address in AccessPlus is up to date as your Form 1042-S will be mailed to you in early February 2021.  PLEASE NOTE: The tuition benefit of a graduate assistantship (GA) is not a taxable scholarship. No Form 1042-S is issued or needed for GA tuition benefits.
  • A copy of your 2019 State and U.S. tax returns (if any) will be very useful in completing your 2020 tax returns.

Use the ISSO's free tax preparation software:

On January 15, 2021, we sent a message to your ISU email address announcing that the 2020 Sprintax software is ready for you to use free of charge to prepare your nonresident Forms 1040NR and 8843. If you are an F-1 or J-1 student who first entered the U.S. in 2016 or later (or a J-1 scholar who first entered in 2019 or after), Sprintax will help you complete all required nonresident U.S. income tax forms for 2020. If you are an ISU student or scholar and do not receive a Sprintax message by February 14, 2021, please contact   NOTE:  It is not legal to use resident tax forms (1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) or software packages if you are a nonresident.  Please be sure to file the appropriate forms.


Get some tax help:

  • The Ivy College of Business offers federal and state tax help by (virtual) appointment only starting February 24, 2021, and ending April 14, 2021.   Details about the College of Business VITA tax help site for 2020 tax returns can be found here.  
  • If you are a resident for U.S. tax purposes (F or J students who have been in the U.S. more than 5 years, and J scholars who have been in the U.S. more than 2 years), the Ames Public Library may have assistance available, if public health protocols permit them to safely reopen their building.  We will post information on this option if it becomes available.  Note, the Ames Public Library site does not prepare nonresident returns



    It is not yet possible to file a nonresident tax return electronically. You must prepare, print, sign, and mail your 2020 U.S. income tax return to Austin, Texas, if you are due a refund, or to Charlotte, North Carolina, if you must pay additional tax. State of Iowa tax returns are mailed to Des Moines.



    Because it’s the law! (And because you may be due a refund which the government will not send to you unless you request it on your tax return.)

    One final note….the tax rules and processes for nonresidents are very different from those that apply to U.S. residents. The tax forms that an F-1 or J-1 student who arrived in 2016 or later and a J-1 scholar who arrived in 2019 or later must complete are very different from the ones that apply to your American friends and colleagues. Do not be tempted to make the wrong choice. If you are unsure about your tax status in the U.S., Sprintax will analyze your situation and determine if you are a resident or nonresident for 2020 U.S. tax purposes.

    Disclaimer: The resources on this page were prepared by the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) as general guidelines to assist you in preparing your Iowa and federal government income tax returns. The information here is not to be construed as professional tax advice and does not apply to every situation. If your tax circumstances are more complicated (for example, if you had income from both Iowa and another U.S. State) you will want to obtain professional tax advice from resources in the community.