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Rev. date: 12/8/2016

Resident and Nonresident Aliens

Tax Topic 851
Because residents and nonresident aliens are taxed differently, it's important for you to determine your tax status.

Nonresident Aliens

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

Resident Aliens

You're considered a resident alien if you met one of the following two tests for the calendar year:
  1. The green card test - You're 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you were a lawful permanent resident of the United States according to the immigration laws, and this status hasn't been revoked or administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned.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 doesn't 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 - Don't count the following days of presence in the United States for the substantial presence test:
Exempt Individuals - You're an exempt individual if you fall into any of the following categories:
Even if you meet the substantial presence test, you may still be treated as a nonresident alien if you're 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 can't claim a closer connection to a foreign country if you've 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're a nonresident alien who is engaged in a trade or business in the United States, has any U.S. source income on which the amount of tax withheld didn't fully satisfy the tax due, or seeks to claim a refund of overwithheld or overpaid tax, you must file a Form 1040-NR or Form 1040-NR-EZ. See the Instructions 1040-NR and the Instructions i1040nre.pdf for more information.
Resident aliens must follow the same tax laws as U.S. citizens. If you're a resident alien, you must report your worldwide income from all sources, that is, income from both within and outside the United States. You'll file a Form 1040-EZ, Form 1040-A, or Form 1040 depending on your tax situation; see What Is the Simplest Form to Use to File My Taxes?
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.