Taxes for International Students

April 9th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

shutterstock_131714795Tax time in the United States is here, with the IRS’s filing deadline of April 15th quickly approaching. Taxes are confusing for anyone, but taxes for international students can add another layer of difficulty given the varying classifications that international students can fall under.

The first thing for international students to determine at tax time is whether they are filing as residents or non-residents. Taxes for international students will mostly fall under nonresident filing status, but to make sure what category you fall under you should go to the Substantial Presence Test on the IRS website. Note that residency status is different from your immigration status, and depends on a number of factors revolving around the dates, length, and nature of your stay in the U.S.

If you find that you need to file as a resident, you can proceed to complete your taxes as any U.S. resident would. Remember that this includes your total worldwide income, not just money earned in the U.S.

But as most taxes for international students are filed as nonresident status, you’ll likely find yourself moving on to the next step: determining whether you’ve had a U.S. source of income. What exactly counts as a U.S. source of income is also outlined in detail on the IRS website.

All nonresidents must file Form 8843. Those without a U.S. source of income get to stop there; nonresidents with a U.S. source of income must also fill out a 1040 NR or 1040 NR-EZ. To fill out either of these latter forms you will need either a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). If you do not have one, you can apply for an ITIN at the time of your filing.

Tax time is a notoriously stressful period for anyone in the United States, and international students certainly aren’t spared. Get started navigating the process as soon as you can so you have time to sort out any snags, and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or school advisors for help! Check out our partner, International Student’s Tax Return Help, for more information.

* Tax, budget and calculator photo courtesy of Shutterstock


How to Budget for Your Spring Break Trip

February 27th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

With spring break just around the corner, now is the time for international students to be planning their budget for their upcoming spring break trip. Follow a few key tips and you’ll find you can have a great time without needing a massive spring break budget!

Book early

It’s no secret that airline fares and hotel rates rise steeply the longer you wait before you book; this is even truer for a notoriously high-traffic time like spring break. Yet with the hectic start of a new semester getting in the way of talking with friends and finalizing plans, many students wait too long and pay an arm and a leg for their trip. Get on your game a few months ahead of time and reduce your overall spring break budget.

School-sponsored trips

Many schools have organizations that will plan their own spring break trips, whether they involve the organization’s interest (an archaeology club trip to Rome, say) or whether it’s just a fun outing. These trips often come at a discount, especially when they are only open to the members of the sponsoring organization. See if you can find any enticing options like this to help you budget for spring break trip.

Get it all together

You can cut down your spring break budget a lot by booking as many parts of your trip as possible together. Get a flight paired with a hotel with a side serving of shuttle service to and from the airport, and you might save yourself a significant chunk of change.

Reduce incidental expenses

There are a lot of little costs that come with spring break that many students forget to include in their budget for spring break: meals, baggage fees, tips, and so on. Do your best to reduce these costs! Pack your things in fewer bags to avoid exorbitant baggage fees, or pay more for a hotel with a kitchenette and save on going out to eat for every meal. If you don’t include these expenses in your budget they can be an unwelcome surprise, but if you consider them you can curb your spring break spending by quite a bit.

Spring break is a time to explore and have fun, so don’t let a budget issue stop you. Follow the above tips to make sure you can do something great!


Should you get a Meal Plan at your School?

February 25th, 2013 by Bryanna Davis

As international students prepare to head to college inside the US, one of the decisions they will have to make is whether or not to enroll in a school meal plan. It’s not as simple as deciding how much you’d like to eat! Choosing a meal plan at your school will depend on a lot of different factors.

What Are Meal Plans?

A school meal plan can come in two basic forms: a plan that will allot a certain amount of meals and a plan that will allot a certain amount of money. A meal plan at your school with limited meals has the advantage of being cheaper, but is usually limited to your school’s cafeteria-style offerings and not specialty restaurants (including fast-food locations on campus). Meal plans that charge money from an account can generally be used at any restaurant on campus (and sometimes even at on-campus stores and off-campus restaurants), but you will need to keep close track of your budget so you don’t run out and wind up paying for food out of pocket!

When do I Need a Meal Plan?

Getting a meal plan at your school is almost always a good choice if you fit a certain few criteria. First, a school meal plan will be most useful if you live on or very near campus, allowing you to make it to participating cafeterias/restaurants regularly and get the full benefit of your school’s meal plan. Second, look at the lifestyle you’ll be living in the coming school year. Will you be in a tiny dorm room with just a microwave and mini-fridge? Will you be so busy that cooking your own food is out of the question? If getting a meal plan at your school would positively complement your lifestyle for the semester it can be a great option.

When Don’t I Need a Meal Plan?

If you have specific dietary restrictions, contact your school to find out if any of their participating options available are acceptable to you. Many larger schools will work to accommodate a variety of dietary choices, but if you don’t think you would be happy with what your school offers then skip the meal plan and prepare your own meals. Also, if you’re far away from campus and unable to fully benefit from a meal plan or if you would simply rather prepare your own food, a meal plan certainly isn’t a necessity!

A school meal plan can be a great way to make life easier and to manage your budget. Look into what your school offers and get ready to eat!


Finding a Job During School

February 11th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

working on campusFor international students who don’t receive significant financial aid and need some extra help funding their education in the USA, finding a job is one of the best ways to make ends meet. But, just like with financial aid, on-campus jobs can be hard to come by for international students due to legal red tape. Here are a couple tips to help you go about finding a job to facilitate your education:

  • Know your student visa limitations

Student visas, such as the F-1 visa, restrict international students’ legal right to work in the United States, even if they need a financial boost during college. Students on a F-1 visa can only work in certain capacities, the most freely offered one is on-campus employment. For on-campus work, an F-1 student is subject to the following rules:

  1. You must maintain valid F-1 status
  2. You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
  3. You can work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic semester.
  4. The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

Some exceptions can be made such as if a student is approved for severe financial hardship or an off-campus job on OPT or CPT status. Make sure you check the specific details of your own student visa so you know if you are eligible to work in the United States.

  • Check for jobs off campus

Part of the federal aid that is unavailable to international students is work study, which helps US citizens get on-campus jobs to fund their education. Plenty of on-campus jobs are not officially limited to work study applicants, but work study employees are legally allowed to be paid with federal funds. If you’re an international student worried about finding a job on-campus, check with your advisor to see what options are available and try widening your search to unaffiliated employers in the immediate area where your ineligibility for work study won’t be a disadvantage.

  • Start early

With all the obstacles international students face in finding a job, don’t add getting a late start to your personal list of difficulties! If you are eligible to work in the U.S., start your job hunt before you actually need the money from a job. It may be hard to focus on the job hunt while adjusting to college life, but keep in mind that it is for other students too – so starting on it right away will give you a big head start!

* Photo of paying money courtesy of Shutterstock


Stafford Student Loan Rates Held

July 4th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

What a difference a week makes in the world of financial aid. After all, at this point a week ago, there was every indication that federal student loan interest rates – which had been set to double on July 1st due – would do exactly that. Although both US President Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger – not mention quite a few members of Congress besides – voiced support for measures that would prevent this automatic increase of interest rates.

With such broad support, in and of itself, there was not enough to reconcile differences between the two parties on how to pay for the bill or, ultimately, to bring the matter to a vote. With the issue of funding unresolved, as Congress approached the weekend (and its weeklong recess to commemorate the US’s Independence Day), the general consensus at the Capitol was that, come the new month, the interest rate on federally backed student loans would jump from 3.4% to 6.8%. While this measure only affects federal loans – and not private international student loans – this would indeed affect those students who plan to study abroad with federally-backed student loans.

In the end, though, what a difference a week makes. In a rare flurry of bipartisanship in the United States, an 11th hour compromise was reached. The leaders of the two major parties in the Senate found common ground on how to pay for the nearly $6 billion cost of the measure on Tuesday and it was this compromise measure that passed the House 373 to 52 Friday and, later the same day, the Senate itself 74 to 19. The US President, who actively called for the legislation, signed it into law on Friday. In so doing, the change is estimated to help more than 7 million students who currently receive Stafford loans by saving them an average of $1,000 each on their loans.


Keep Costs Low for Study Abroad

April 23rd, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

Studying abroad is a great opportunity to continue on track and earn credits, but at the same time broaden your experiences and understanding of the world around you. Depending on your industry, studying abroad can be a great way to distinguish yourself and gain meaningful professional experience. Many students who plan to study abroad can combine their class work with an internship in their field, and improve their fluency in a second (or even, third!) language.

However, many students considering studying abroad may ask themselves if it is affordable. If you are one of these students, there are some important tips that will help you keep costs low for study abroad:

Location. Location. Location. The cost of living in your study abroad destination will ultimately depend on where you study abroad.  If you are trying to keep costs low for study abroad, you’ll want to consider a destination that is more economical. Think about your related expenses that you’ll need to cover such as living costs, food, transportation, entertainment, shopping, fitness, laundry and other extracurricular activities. All of these costs will depend on your location. To compare costs, think about not only the country you decide to go to, but also the town or city you choose. If you are dying to study in the United Kingdom, perhaps London might just be too expensive – but what about Manchester or Newcastle? You can still study abroad in the country of your choice, but be sure to investigate the associated costs. Major industrialized cities tend to be much more expensive than neighboring, smaller towns. If a big city is what you want, consider living just outside the city and commuting in, or perhaps consider a big city in a less industrialized country.

Exchange Rates Matter. If you were never finance savvy, here’s your chance to give it a second shot! Exchange rates are the fluctuations of currencies compared to other currency. If you’re a US citizen, more than likely your monetary worth is in US dollars. If the U.S. dollar appreciates (or gains value) compared to your host country’s currency, your dollars can buy even more. If the U.S. dollar depreciates (or looses value) compared to your host country’s currency, you will need more dollars to buy the same amount of goods or services. Over the past year, the U.S. dollar has declined significantly against the Euro and British pound. This means that you need more US dollars to pay for the same goods/services than you would have needed before. So, if you plan to study abroad, it is important to consider this important factor into your decision making. Choose a country where the dollar remains relatively strong and/or stable.

Think Timing. Timing will also impact your wallet! Depending on your study abroad destination, there is a high and low tourist season. Prices from airfare to domestic travel typically fluctuate seasonally. Do the research and plan ahead by trying to coordinate your study abroad trip on an off season period so that prices will be low and in some cases you’ll be able to bargain for better rates. Spring, Fall, or Summer semester gives you the flexibility to choose the best timing to keep costs low for study abroad. Beware, before making arrangements be sure to find out why it’s low season. If you are studying in Costa Rica during the low season, for example, it generally corresponds with the rainy season. Make sure that you are aware of seasonal weather changes so that you are prepared! Also, in some cases, because summer semester is a shorter length of time, rates for a study abroad program are also lower.

We hope that you have found our tips on how to keep costs low for study abroad helpful. We want to hear from you, what have you done to keep costs low when you went overseas?


Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship

February 6th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship
Scholarship Deadline: March 1, 2012

Are you a US citizen interested in studying abroad? If you are currently enrolled in a two-year or four-year undergraduate degree then this may just be your opportunity to study abroad. Two undergraduate students are awarded this scholarships based on need twice a year to attend a non-traditional study abroad experience. If you have knocked off Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, this scholarship may just be for you!

“The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to support students who have been traditionally under-represented in study abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in under-represented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.”

Those awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships will have program tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance and international airfare covered by the scholarship. Scholarships will depend on the expense, need, and length of program however many awards are around $4,000.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is supported through the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000 and is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Applications will be available early January here.


Number of International Students in US Grows

December 6th, 2011 by Keith Clausen

The annual Open Doors Report, published on November 14 by the Institute of International Education, shows that the number of international students studying in the USA for the 2010/2011 academic year increased by 5%, to a total of 723,277.  This follows an increase of 3% last year, and continues the upward trend that started in 2005/2006, when enrollment numbers started to rebound after post-9/11 setbacks.

Countries of Origin

A big story this year, like last year, is Chinese student enrollment.  The number of Chinese undergraduates studying in the US increased by 43%, and overall Chinese enrollment increased by 23% to 157,558, ensuring that China was the largest sending country again this year.  Saudi Arabia also had a large percentage increase of 44%. Here are the top ten countries of origin for international students in the USA:

Rank Place of Origin 2009/10 2010/11 2010/11 % of Total % Change
WORLD TOTAL 690,923 723,277 100.0 4.7
1 China 127,822 157,558 21.8 23.3
2 India 104,897 103,895 14.4 -1.0
3 South Korea 72,153 73,351 10.1 1.7
4 Canada 28,145 27,546 3.8 -2.1
5 Taiwan 26,685 24,818 3.4 -7.0
6 Saudi Arabia 15,810 22,704 3.1 43.6
7 Japan 24,842 21,290 2.9 -14.3
8 Vietnam 13,112 14,888 2.1 13.5
9 Mexico 13,256 13,713 1.9 2.0
10 Turkey 12,397 12,184 1.7 -1.7

Taken together, the top 3 countries sending students to the US (China, India and South Korea) account for almost half of all international students in the US.

Leading Host Institutions and Fields of Study

The University of Southern California maintained its top spot as the US school hosting the most international students with a total of 8,615.  Here are the ten schools in the United States, by total international student enrollment:

TOP 10 INSTITUTIONS HOSTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS, 2010/11
Rank Institution City State Total Int’l Students
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 8,615
2 University of Illinois – UC Champaign IL 7,991
3 New York University New York NY 7,988
4 Purdue University – Main Campus West Lafayette IN 7,562
5 Columbia University New York NY 7,297
6 University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 6,249
7 Ohio State University – Main Campus Columbus OH 6,082
8 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor Ann Arbor MI 5,995
9 Michigan State University East Lansing MI 5,748
10 Harvard University Cambridge MA 5,594

International students have been consistent in the fields of study that they choose, as the top five have not changed.   Business and Management and Engineering are by far the most popular two choices for international students at US schools, followed by Physical and Life Sciences, Math and Computer Science, and Social Sciences to round out the top five.

US Students Abroad

Not only are the numbers for international students growing, but so are the numbers of US students going overseas. According to the Open Doors Report, the number of US students studying abroad increased almost 4% to 270,604. Consistent with previous year records, the most popular destinations for US study abroad students included the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and China as reflected below:

Rank Destinations 2008/09 2009/10 2009/10 % of Total % Change
WORLD TOTAL 260,327 270,604 100.0 3.9
1 United Kingdom 31,342 32,683 12.1 4.3
2 Italy 27,362 27,940 10.3 2.1
3 Spain 24,169 25,411 9.4 5.1
4 France 16,910 17,161 6.3 1.5
5 China 13,674 13,910 5.1 1.7
6 Australia 11,140 9,962 3.7 -10.6
7 Germany 8,330 8,551 3.2 2.7
8 Mexico 7,320 7,157 2.6 -2.2
9 Ireland 6,858 6,798 2.5 -0.9
10 Costa Rica 6,363 6,262 2.3 -1.6

Interestingly, while there are more students studying overseas they are going to non-traditional destinations. There was an eight percent increase for each of the following destinations: Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

For more information, please visit the 2011 Open Doors Report published by the Institute for International Education.

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