Finances & Taxes

Finances & Taxes

As you know, higher education in the U.S. is expensive. The greatest problem that international students face after arrival is maintaining adequate finances to meet their expenses.

Scholarships and other sources of U.S. financial aid are very difficult for international students to obtain. Therefore, an essential skill for your college success is your ability to become an effective manager of your money. This is an important skill which you will need throughout your life.

Two Important Areas of Money Management


Establish a bank account

It is not a good idea to carry large amounts of cash with you or to hide your money at home. Instead, establish a savings and/or checking account at a U.S. bank or credit union that is convenient for you.


Choosing the right financial institution is important. Visit several banks and credit unions in San Diego and compare their services, types of checking / savings accounts, and costs before making your decision. Checking account fees and interest earnings on a savings account will vary at different banks.

  • An account can only be opened after entering the U.S. with your student visa.
  • Several financial institutions have offices on the SDSU campus and have representatives at New Student Orientation and Check-in to assist students in opening a new account.
  • There are many financial institutions in San Diego, so when speaking with a bank or credit union, be sure to carefully read all of the options before signing.

You will need several documents to open a checking / savings account, including your passport, F-1 or J-1 visa, and I-20 or DS-2019. Ask the bank or credit union for the exacts documents you will need. A Social Security Number (SSN) is NOT required to open a bank account.

Money transfers

Most banks offer a wire transfer service to their customers for a fee. Do not to wait until the last minute to have needed funds wired to you. It can take a week or longer for money to arrive and be available for your use.

  • If you plan to use a money transfer service, confirm that the bank or credit union you are considering using offers this service.


The best way to manage money is to develop a monthly budget plan. Suggestions for making a budget are:

  • Determine your monthly "fixed expenses." This will usually include rent, utilities, laundry, insurance, toiletries, etc.
  • Estimate your "variable expenses" for a given month. These will include food, entertainment, clothing, books, supplies, and travel.
  • Keep track of all your expenses in a spreadsheet and analyze them regularly to identify unnecessary or wasteful expenditures.
  • Buying and maintaining a car adds a lot of expense to your monthly budget. Fixed expenses are car insurance, vehicle registration, and SDSU parking permit. Variable expenses include gasoline and routine maintenance. One way to cut this expense is to live near the university and therefore avoid the need to have a car. A bicycle is a good means of transportation for students living near the university. Taking public transportation is also another popular option, and SDSU students can purchase a transit pass for a month or semester. 
  • Avoid becoming dependent upon credit cards. The fastest way to bankruptcy is spending money you do not have. The "buy now-pay later" approach to budgeting rarely succeeds.
Plan for unexpected expenses

It is important to remember that your budget represents only an estimate of monthly expenses, and there are always unexpected expenses that arise. Save money every month for the "unexpected".

Your budget and your lifestyle

Many international students live on a lot less than the estimated amount listed on their I-20 form. Others may spend more. Your spending habits depend upon the lifestyle you are used to living. Generally speaking, students live on a lower budget than people who are working and learn how to reduce costs by taking advantage of university and community discounts offered to students.

Fun on a budget

You can learn how to find lower cost entertainment without missing any of the fun! Here are some great ideas for you!

Basic Tuition and Fees / Foreign Tuition

Tuition and fees must be paid after registration for the given term you have enrolled in. F-1 international students pay Basic Tuition & Fees + Non-Resident Tuition & Fees.

Payment information & options

  1. Tuition & Fees must be paid or an Installment Plan must be signed by your fee payment date.
  3. Learn about payment options and the installment plan on the Student Account Services website.
  5. You must also fulfill the health Insurance requirement before your class registration date. (Please allow 3 business days for processing.) Learn more about the health insurance requirement.

Cancellation of your classes

Your classes may be canceled for the following reasons:

  • Dishonored check
  • You did not pay fees and tuition by the fee payment due date
  • You did not pay tuition installments by the due dates in your signed installment plan

The International Student Center is unable to give students specific tax advice since our advisors are not licensed tax professionals. It is the student's responsibility to file the appropriate tax documents by the deadline. Since tax regulations can be complicated, students should only use tax software for international students or consult tax professionals who have training in international student/non-resident regulations to help file your taxes correctly. 

Below is some general tax guidance for international students. 

You must file U.S. tax forms

All F-1 and J-1 students must file U.S. income tax forms every year they are in the U.S. even if they do not earn any money in the U.S.

  • Social Security tax (FICA): International students in F-1 and J-1 status are exempt from Social Security tax (FICA). However, they are generally subject to federal and state income taxes.

Complete your W-4 form accurately

When completing the W-4 form at the beginning of a new job, students often mistakenly claim "exempt" on tax forms, only to find they must pay a large sum of tax when filing their taxes.

Filing deadlines

  • If you earned money from a U.S. employer or received a taxable U.S. scholarship/fellowship/grant in 2023, the deadline to file your tax forms is April 15, 2024. Learn more about paying employment taxes.
  • If you did not earn money from a U.S. employer or receive a U.S. taxable scholarship/fellowship/grant in 2023, the deadline to file Tax Form 8843 is April 15, 2024. You can find this form on the IRS website. For instructions on how to complete this form, review the Tax Presentation by Douglas Kelley below.

ISC Tax Info Session & VITA program

At the beginning of the Spring semester, the ISC partners with the College of Business Administration and their VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program to provide tax services to international students. Services include a Tax Information Session at the ISC and individual tax meetings with volunteers for those who qualify.

  • This year's Tax Info Session took place on January 24, 2024. 
  • The recording of this year's Tax Info Session can be viewed here.
  • The presentation slides from this year's Tax Info Session can be viewed here.
  • Learn more about the VITA tax prepration program and schedule an appointment for your taxes. (Appointment scheduling available toward the beginning of February, and appointments go quickly.)

Other resources

  • State taxes: California state tax forms and information are available on the California Franchise Tax Board website.
  • Federal taxes: Federal forms and information are available on the Internal Revenue Service website.
    • The following federal tax publications are of special interest to international students and available on the IRS website above:
      • Publication 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens
      • Publication 520: Scholarships and Fellowships
      • Publication 901: U.S. Tax Treaties
    • You can also get answers to certain tax questions on the IRS International Tax Law hotline, (215) 516-2000 (press 2, then press 3).
  • Certain tax preparation companies and software can prepare your taxes for you and help you apply for a refund if you are eligible. Some of the best known tax preparation companies and software are not intended for international students/non-resident taxes, so be sure to ask the company in advance. If they are not trained in non-resident taxes, your taxes may be filed incorrectly. One fee-based company that specializes in international student tax preparation is Sprintax