Bank Accounts

Students and scholars will find life much easier with a checking account at a local bank. A debit card, also known as an ATM card, enables you to make purchases and access funds from a cash machine (ATM). Some debit cards can also be used as credit cards.

Maintaining a good credit history in the U.S. is very important, and credit card debt can create economic disaster. For this reason, OISSS recommends using debit cards rather than credit cards when at all possible. Credit cards should be used with caution. If when opening a bank account the teller requests a SSN, please note that this is not required (if you don't yet have a SSN). If the teller doesn't know how to input in the computer without the SSN, politely ask if a manager is available to assist.

Some cash machines will accept debit cards from international banks, as long as the international bank card permits foreign withdrawals. The student or scholar should inquire of their bank in their home country as to this possibility.

Paying Taxes

Any international student or scholar who was physically present in the U.S. during the previous calendar year must file tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) between January 15 and April 15 each year, even if he or she had no income. If no income was earned, the student or scholar files the Form 8843. If he or she earned income, he or she must file the Form 8843 and the Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ to the federal government, as well as the Form PA-40 to the state of Pennsylvania. OISSS annually offers workshops to help students and scholars with their tax forms.

Some countries have tax treaties with the U.S. that exempt the student or scholar from a certain amount of taxes. In many cases, students and scholars can actually get money refunded to them because the employer may have deducted more taxes than necessary from their paychecks. You must file the tax forms if you want a refund.

You will need the following papers in order to answer all the questions on the tax forms:

  • Passports (current and previous expired passports)
  • Visa, I-94, and I-20 or DS-2019
  • Social Security Number (if they have one)
  • All entry and exit dates to and from the U.S. (passport stamps are helpful in determining the exact dates)
  • U.S. and foreign address information
  • University address and name/address/phone of academic director
  • Tax forms received, including: W-2 forms, 1098 form, 1099 INT, and any others.
  • Scholarship letters specifying the amount of scholarship received
  • Copies of tax forms from previous years, if they were filed
  • If the student or scholar has family members on dependent visas, he/she will also need ITIN numbers for these dependents. (Depending on the country of citizenship, one may or may not be able to claim tax exemption for dependent children. The student or scholar should consider this when filling out the W-4 form for employment.)

If the F-1 student has already begun application for lawful permanent residency, he/she will file taxes as a resident, using a different set of forms and processes. There are various types of software available to help with filing taxes, but when purchasing, be sure the product will handle non-resident tax forms.

Immigration Attorneys

The Office of International Student and Scholar Services can assist with routine immigration needs such as extensions, employment authorization applications and other student-related documentation. For other immigration purposes, it may be necessary to hire an immigration attorney. Attorneys charge fees, for which the student or scholar is responsible. The student or scholar should inquire of OISSS as to whether an attorney is needed for a particular situation and/or for referral to a reliable attorney. OISSS strongly encourages students and scholars to diligently follow visa regulations to minimize difficulties that might require legal services.

OISSS offers occasional workshops on immigration themes such as other professional worker visas available to college graduates and family-based immigration for internationals who marry U.S. citizens.

Students and scholars are encouraged to investigate various attorneys to decide which one best suits their needs.