Whether you are a temporary nonresident alien in the United States or you’re planning to move to the U.S. permanently, there are actions you can take to get your tax affairs in order. It’s important to know your tax resident status and what specific tax obligations some with your situation.
Planning your finances before you become liable for U.S. taxes or find the U.S. trying to tax your worldwide income can save you a significant amount of money. Taxes can be expensive and burdensome, but there are ways to minimize your tax liability the legal way.
If you’re planning ahead, here are key things to consider and effective ways to save on taxes.
It’s important to know your status – tax resident status is NOT the same as immigration status.
In the United States, even temporary visitors can be tax residents if they spend a certain amount of time in the country. If you are a nonresident alien and you’re planning to stay in the U.S. for some time, make sure you understand when you might convert to a Resident Alien for tax purposes.
Am I a resident for tax purposes or a non-resident for tax purposes? Here’s a chart to help:
|If you are a…||Then you are a…|
|U.S. Citizen||Tax Resident|
|Green Card Holder||Tax Resident|
|Non-U.S. Citizen and Pass Substantial Presence Test||Tax Resident|
|Non-U.S. Citizen and Pass Green Card Test||Tax Resident|
|Non-U.S. Citizen and DO NOT Pass Substantial Presence Test and DO NOT Pass Green Card Test||Non-Resident for Tax Purposes|
Here is a useful calculator that can help you determine if you meet the Substantial Presence Test.
The Green Card test is easy. If you are an immigrant who is a Lawful Permanent Resident, otherwise known a Green Card holder, and you spent at least one day in the United States, you are automatically a tax resident. If you don’t meet this requirement, take the Substantial Presence Test.
There are exclusions from the countable days such as staying in the country for medical treatment and stopping by while traveling between two countries. Some visa types like F-1, F-2, J, J-1, and J-2 are also exempted from the Substantial Presence Test (SPT).
If you pass the SPT, you will be taxed as a U.S. tax resident (a resident alien). If not, you will file taxes as a nonresident alien.
The most important difference between being taxed as a resident alien versus a nonresident alien is that resident aliens are taxed by the US on their US income AND worldwide income. Nonresident aliens are only taxed by the US on their US income.
Another scenario where you may be taxed as a resident is if you surrendered your green card, but you did not comply with the notification requirements.
Some statuses are exempt from being taxed as a resident alien – are you one of them?
While the rules for being a tax resident are clear, there are ways to maintain your status as a nonresident alien. Exempt individuals include:
- Students with F*, J, M, or Q visa types
- Trainees and teachers with J or Q visas
- Professional athletes competing in the US for a charitable sports event
- Government officers from foreign countries with an A or G visa except for A-3 and G-5
- International organization employees
- Immediate family members of any of the visa holders above
*Students on visas enjoy a five-year exemption while teachers and trainees holding J or Q visas are exempt for two calendar years every six years.
Another option is to look for applicable treaties between the U.S. and your country to elect a nonresident alien status. There may be reduced rates under these treaties. The terms governing the rules for each country differ, so check the IRS repository for treaties which may be applicable to your status. In addition, students may qualify for the Closer Connection Exception. The Substantial Presence Test computes countable days in the country based on three years: the current year, the previous year, and two years prior. The Closer Connection provides greater leeway since it only counts the 183 days for the calendar year. You’ll need to meet these requirements to take advantage of this exception:
- Your “tax home” is in a foreign country and, often, this is your permanent residence and where your personal belongings are, and your family resides.
- You are in the US for fewer than 183 days for the calendar year.
- You have to file Form 8840 and claim a “closer connection” to a foreign country. If the IRS establishes that your contact with your home country is more significant than the US, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of being a nonresident alien.
Be aware of the income and asset reporting requirements depending on your status.
According to IRS, you can determine what income to report based on your status. If you meet the requirements as a tax resident, you need to report U.S. and worldwide income to the IRS. While you may not be taxed for the entire amount, you still have to meet the reporting guidelines and prepare to pay tax based on your worldwide income.
Meanwhile, nonresident aliens will only have to pay taxes on the following:
- Effectively Connected income from a business of trade in the United States. Examples include profit from sales of goods in the US regardless of where the inventory was purchased. Learn more >>
- Fixed, Determinable, Annual, or Periodical (FDAP) income within the United States. Learn more >>
Reporting requirements for nonresident aliens include:
- Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Form 114 if the aggregate value of your foreign asset interest exceeds $10,000. You don’t have to include this in your tax return but you have to file this form directly to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department. Learn more >>
- IRS Form 8938 for financial assets maintained by a foreign financial institution with an aggregate value of more than $50,000. These assets include interests in a foreign entity and securities and stocks issues by a non-U.S. person. If you’re a nonresident alien, you only need to file this form if you elect to be treated as a resident for joint income tax filing or if you are a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico or American Samoa. You need to attach this form to your annual income tax return. Learn more >>
- Form 8843 for nonresident aliens who want to exclude days present in the U.S. for SPT because they are either exempt or were not able to leave the country because of a medical issue. Learn more >>
CitizenPath does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.
CitizenPath partner MYRA Wealth specializes in financial, investment and tax planning for international and multicultural families in the United States. If you are a U.S. immigrant with complex tax or financial needs, schedule a free consultation.