Topic 851 - Resident and Nonresident Aliens

Because residents and nonresident aliens are taxed differently, it is important for you to determine your tax status.

Nonresident Aliens

You are considered a nonresident alien for any period that you are neither a U.S. citizen nor a resident alien for tax purposes.

Resident Aliens

You are considered a resident alien if you met one of the following two tests for the calendar year:

  1. The green card test - You are considered to have met the green card test if at any time during the calendar year you were a lawful permanent resident of the United States according to the immigration laws, and this status has not been revoked or administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned.
  2. The substantial presence test - For the purposes of this test, the term United States does not include U.S. possessions and territories or U.S. airspace. The United States includes the following areas:
    • All 50 states and the District of Columbia,
    • The territorial waters of the United States, and
    • The seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas that are adjacent to U.S. territorial waters and over which the United States has exclusive rights under international law to explore and exploit natural resources.

To meet the substantial presence test, you must have been physically present in the United States on at least:

  1. 31 days during the current year, and
  2. 183 days during the 3 year period that includes the current year and the 2 years immediately before. To satisfy the 183 days requirement, count:
    • All of the days you were present in the current year, and
    • One-third of the days you were present in the first year before the current year, and
    • One-sixth of the days you were present in the second year before the current year.

Days of Presence in the United States - Do not count the following days of presence in the United States for the substantial presence test:

  • Days you commute to work in the United States from a residence in Canada or Mexico if you regularly commute from Canada or Mexico. You commute regularly if you commute to work in the United States on more than 75% of the workdays during your working period in the current year.
  • Days you are in the United States for less than 24 hours when you are in transit between two places outside the United States.
  • Days you are in the United States as a crew member of a foreign vessel engaged in transportation between the United States and a foreign country or a U.S. possession. However, this exception does not apply if you otherwise engage in any trade or business in the United States on those days.
  • Days you intended to leave, but could not leave the United States because of a medical condition or medical problem that arose while you were in the United States. Whether you intended to leave the United States on a particular day is determined based on all the facts and circumstances.
  • Days you are an exempt individual.

Exempt Individuals - You are an exempt individual if you fall into any of the following categories:

  • An individual temporarily present in the United States as a foreign government-related individual under an A or G visa. However, this category does not include household staff of a foreign government-related individual present in the United States under an A-3 or G-5 visa.
  • A teacher or trainee temporarily present in the United States under a J or Q visa, who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa. You will not be an exempt individual as a teacher or trainee if you were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of 2 of the 6 preceding calendar years. However, you will be an exempt individual if all of the following conditions are met:
    • You were exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of 3 (or fewer) of the 6 preceding calendar years,
    • A foreign employer paid all of your compensation during the current year, and
    • A foreign employer paid all of your compensation during each of the preceding 6 years you were present in the United States as a teacher or trainee.
  • A student temporarily present in the United States under an F, J, M, or Q visa, who substantially complies with the requirements of the visa. You will not be an exempt individual as a student in the current year if you have been exempt as a teacher, trainee, or student for any part of more than 5 calendar years unless you meet both of the following requirements:
    • You establish that you do not intend to reside permanently in the United States.
    • You have substantially complied with the requirements of your visa.
  • A professional athlete temporarily present in the United States to compete in a charitable sports event.

Even if you meet the substantial presence test, you may still be treated as a nonresident alien if you are present in the United States for fewer than 183 days during the current calendar year, you maintain a tax home in a foreign country during the year, and you have a closer connection to that country than to the United States. You cannot claim a closer connection if you have applied for status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States, or you have an application pending for adjustment of status. Sometimes, a tax treaty between the United States and another country will provide special rules for determining residency for purposes of the treaty. See Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, for more information about the substantial presence test.

Dual-Status Tax Year - If your status changes during the year from resident alien to nonresident alien or vice versa, you generally have a dual-status tax year. Your tax on the income for the two periods may differ under the provisions of the laws that apply to each period. See Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, for more information about dual-status aliens.

Forms to File

If you are a nonresident alien, you must file a Form 1040NR (PDF) or Form 1040NR-EZ (PDF) if you are engaged in a trade or business in the United States, have any other U.S. source income on which the amount withheld did not fully pay the tax due, or to claim a refund.

  • If you had wages subject to income tax withholding and file on a calendar-year basis, your return is due by April 15.
  • If you did not have wages subject to withholding and file on a calendar-year basis, your return is due by June 15.

Resident aliens must follow the same tax laws as U.S. citizens. If you are a resident alien, you must report your worldwide income from all sources, that is, income from both within and outside the United States. You will file a Form 1040EZ (PDF), Form 1040A (PDF), or Form 1040 (PDF) depending on your tax situation; see What Is the Simplest Form to Use to File My Taxes?

  • If you are a resident alien filing on a calendar-year basis, your return is due by April 15, and you should file it with the service center for your area.

For any due date that falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day.

Additional Information

For more information, refer to Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, and U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: February 10, 2016