US Taxes For Canadian Interns

13 Apr 2017

Helpful hints for Canadian Students with J1 Visas in the United States

As a Canadian student studying at the University of Waterloo, an internship in the United States can be an amazing experience. However when it gets to tax season, things can get a little complicated.


Before I jump into the fun stuff, here's a mandatory disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or a tax specialist. The following is my interpretation of the rules set out on the IRS forms and is only applicable to a small subset of people. When in doubt, check with your accountant. This advice was not intended or written by the practitioner to be used, and that it cannot be used by the taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer.

Who Is This For?

These tips will only apply if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You are not an American citizen (you're an Alien!)
  • You were in the US on a J1 Visa
  • You received compensation from your host company
  • You received one (or more) W-2s
  • You don't have, or did not apply for, a Green Card


This post will not walk you through filling out forms - for that I recommend just using tax software, as it's significantly easier and will save you a ton of time. Instead, this post is a compilation of resources that will help point you in the right direction and help navigate the multitude of forms used by the IRS.

These tips are currently geared towards Federal taxes, but I'll be updating it to add tips for state taxes. If you have any tips you want to contribute, leave a comment, or file an issue on GitHub.

The most helpful place to start is IRS Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens - this post will be linking you to specific points of interest in that document.

Tax Status

Your tax residency status determines which tax forms you have to fill out. This status is determined by the Substantial Presence Test. This test looks at the number of days an individual is present in the United States over the past three years.

According to IRS Publication 519, J1 trainees who have complied with their visa terms are considered exempt and can exclude those days of presence from the substantial presence test. If you claim an exemption, you will have to fill out Form 8843 proving that you were exempt.

If you're not an American Citizen and did not pass the substantial presence test - congrats! You're a Non-Resident Alien!

Tax Software

Should you use tax software? Absolutely - it will speed up the process and make things a lot less painful. There are many options geared towards non-resident aliens and I've personally had experience with the following:

Federal State Federal & State
Glacier Tax Sprintax OLT

Note that your tax software should explicitly support Non-Resident Aliens - some of the more popular options like TurboTax do not!

If your total income for the tax year is less than $64,000, you may qualify for access to free tax filing software. Check out the Free File Software Offers section of the IRS website for more details.

Finishing Up

E-Filing Taxes

If you're like most Nonresident Aliens and have to file a 1040NR, you'll have to paper file taxes - the IRS does not currently support e-filing Form 1040NR. Fortunately, paper filing is reasonably straightforward.


The IRS accepts both single and double sided printouts (see Publication 1167, Section 3.3.8). I'd recommend double sided printing as it both saves paper and becomes quite a bit cheaper to mail, especially if you're mailing via international priority.

Note that printing should result in the same page arrangement as that of the official form or schedule. Therefore you should be careful to only double side pages of the same form - two separate forms should not share the same sheet of paper.

Putting It Together

Assembling a federal return is pretty straightforward:

  1. Review and sign your forms. Your return is not considered valid until it is signed.
  2. Scan or photocopy your entire return for your records. You'll also need to make a copy of your federal return for your state taxes, so do that now.
  3. Prepare payment, if required.
  4. Gather all documents for assembly. The 1040NR goes on top, followed by all other schedules and supporting forms. You should use the 'Attachment Sequence No' on the top right to help determine the order. Staple everything together on the top left. Ensure that you do not staple any cheques or payment vouchers to your return.
  5. Attach copies of your W2 to the first page of your 1040 form - you need to staple them to the section marked 'Attach Form(s) W2 here'. Ensure you only staple your W2 to the first page of your 1040.
  6. Put your tax return in an envelope along with your cheque, if required. And yes, you can fold your tax return to fit it in an envelope.
  7. You're ready to mail!

For some more information, check out this IRS publication or this post on the intuit forums.


Take a look at the Where to File section of That webpage will give you the appropriate mailing address for the type of tax return you're filing. For a 1040NR/1040NR-EZ you will have two options, based on whether you are enclosing payment or not. Ensure you select the right one.

Wrapping Up

That's it for your US Federal Taxes! Don't forget though, you still have to file your state taxes as well as Canadian Taxes. If you've found this useful, let me know! If you have any tips you want to contribute, you can leave a comment, or file an issue on GitHub.