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May 31st 2023

How to get an ITIN as an international student

As an international student, you will need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to pay taxes on non-wage income if you do not have an SSN. Here’s how to get one.

As an international student in the United States, you will need to file tax forms each year with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. agency that collects federal taxes.

If you are not eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) because you are not working, you will need to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to report any non-wage income when filing these taxes. This article discusses what an ITIN is, why you may need an ITIN as an international student, and how to apply for one once you’ve moved.

It also discusses the other benefits that an ITIN may give you beyond tax filings, including applying for U.S. financial products like bank accounts and credit cards.

What is an ITIN?

An ITIN is a unique tax-processing number issued by the IRS for those who pay taxes but are not eligible for an SSN. 

International students are eligible to apply for an SSN as soon as they have a job, including on-campus jobs, as well as off-campus work through CPT or OPT

If you are not working yet, but still have non-wage income to report on your taxes, you will need to apply for an ITIN. See below for common reasons this may apply to you as an international student. 

Also read: ITIN vs. SSN: The Differences Explained 

How to apply for an ITIN as an international student

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to apply for an ITIN as an international student.

1) Determine if you need an ITIN

An international student will only need an ITIN if they are not working, but still need to report taxable non-wage income to the IRS as part of their tax filing process. 

Common examples of taxable non-wage income for international students include:

  • Taxable scholarships, grants, or fellowships received from a U.S. source: 

If a scholarship, grant, or fellowship is applied directly against tuition or you are receiving it from a foreign entity, there is no need to apply for an ITIN to report taxes on it. Make sure to check with the issuing institution on whether your scholarship, grant, or fellowship is taxable. 

  • Passive investing income such as interest income, dividend payments, and capital gains on U.S. stocks

Make sure to read up on which type of investment income you need to pay taxes on if you are investing in U.S. stocks, funds, or other investments. 

  • Other non-wage income from U.S. sources:

Some other common sources of non-wage income include real estate capital gains and gambling winnings. 

Note: if you are not working and do not have any non-wage income to report, you will not need or be eligible for an ITIN when you file your taxes as an international student. Instead, you will only file Form 8843, “ “Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals With a Medical Condition”, as part of your annual federal tax filing process. 

2) Gather your required documents

In order to apply for an ITIN, you must submit Form W-7 with the IRS, along with the following supporting documents:

  • Documents that proves your identity and foreign status—your foreign passport and visa stamp work well, but the IRS also accepts alternative documents listed here

  • I-20 or DS-2019 form

  • A federal tax return, unless you meet one of the qualifying “exceptions”

A common “qualifying exception” for international students is those who earn a taxable scholarship, grant, or fellowship from a U.S. source. In these cases, you must submit a certification letter (with your full name and SEVIS number) from your university in place of submitting a tax return.

Check with your university’s international student office on the requirements for a certification letter and see a sample letter from the IRS here.

Carefully read the IRS W-7 Instructions for detailed information on this application process.

3) Mail your documents to the IRS 

Once you have all of your documents in order, mail them to the IRS at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service

ITIN Operation

P.O. Box 149342

Austin, TX 78714-9342

You can apply for an ITIN at any time of the year where you have a tax filing requirement. As an international student, you can coordinate with your international student office to collect, verify, and submit your application once you have arrived on campus. 

Once submitted, it will take the IRS approximately 7-11 weeks to issue your ITIN. You can check the status of your ITIN number application by calling the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040.

How to apply for a credit card and other financial products with an ITIN

Once you have received your ITIN, you may be able to use it to access U.S. financial products in addition to filing your taxes.

With many U.S. banks, it is possible to apply for a bank account and credit card using your ITIN in place of an SSN. You can read our article on how to get a credit card with an ITIN to guide you through the process.

While applying for your first U.S. credit card, Nova Credit lets you use your foreign credit history from supported countries as part of your application—rather than needing to wait to build a U.S. credit history. If you’re approved for the card, you can start to build your U.S. credit history by responsibly managing the card over time.

Currently, Nova Credit serves individuals coming from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

Editor’s Note: This article is meant as an overview and is not a substitute for tax or legal advice from a professional. Students should reach out to a tax professional or the relevant resources provided by their university with specific questions that relate to their tax status or any other personal tax or legal matter.

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