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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

Resident Alien vs. Non-Resident Alien: Understanding the Key Differences and Meanings

Updated: Mar 4

For US tax purposes, the meaning of 'resident alien' versus 'non-resident alien' statuses plays a crucial role in determining one's tax obligations. This guide aims to clarify these terms, providing a clear understanding of their implications for tax compliance.

​Key Takeaways

  • The terms resident and nonresident aliens are only applicable to non-US citizens.

  • Non-US citizens can be subject to US taxes on their worldwide income if they meet certain residency tests.

  • Tax regulations are very different between resident and non-resident aliens.

What is the meaning of the term 'Resident Alien'?

A Resident Alien is a foreign individual who is not a U.S. citizen but resides in the U.S. and meets specific criteria set by the IRS. Typically, this status is determined by the "Green Card Test" or the "Substantial Presence Test." Resident Aliens are generally taxed on their worldwide income, similar to U.S. citizens.

What is the meaning of the term 'Nonresident Alien'?

A Nonresident Alien is a foreign individual who does not meet the criteria to be considered a Resident Alien. They are typically in the U.S. for a short duration, like tourists, or under specific visas. Nonresident Aliens are taxed only on their U.S.-sourced income.

Determining Residency Status

Your residency status is primarily determined by the aforementioned "Green Card Test" and "Substantial Presence Test." If you have a green card and you've visited the US after obtaining the Green Card, you're a Resident Alien. If you don't, the Substantial Presence Test calculates the number of days you've been in the U.S. over the past three years. If it's 183 days or more, you're considered a Resident Alien.

Example: Maria, a researcher from Spain, has been in the U.S. for 200 days in the current year. She would be considered a Resident Alien for tax purposes.

Key Tax Differences

  • Taxable Income: Resident Aliens are taxed on worldwide income, while Nonresident Aliens are taxed only on U.S.-sourced income.

  • Tax Rates: Nonresident Aliens might be subject to different tax rates and can benefit from tax treaties between the U.S. and their home country.

  • Deductions: Nonresident Aliens have limited itemized deductions compared to Resident Aliens.

Filing a Nonresident Alien Tax Return (1040NR)

If you're a Nonresident Alien with U.S.-sourced income, you must file Form 1040NR. This form is specifically designed for nonresidents and differs from the standard tax return forms used by U.S. citizens and Resident Aliens.

Worldwide Income vs US-Sourced Income

Worldwide income includes all income, irrespective of where it's earned. U.S.-sourced income is income earned within the U.S. While Resident Aliens are taxed on worldwide income, Nonresident Aliens are only taxed on U.S.-sourced income.

Important Notices or Exceptions:

  • Some Nonresident Aliens from countries with tax treaties with the U.S. might be eligible for reduced tax rates or exemptions.

  • Not all U.S.-sourced income is taxable. For instance, bank interest from personal savings accounts is often exempt.

  • Penalties can be severe for misrepresenting your residency status or failing to report income.

Navigate Your US Tax Journey with Confidence!

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the maze of regulations surrounding resident aliens vs. non-resident aliens? There's no need to navigate these complexities alone! At CPAs for Expats, we specialize in turning these complex tax issues into manageable solutions. Our 4.9/5 rating on independent review platforms attests to our commitment to excellence and client satisfaction. Contact us today, and let our experts simplify your tax management process, providing peace of mind and significant savings!

Article by Lewis Grunfeld, CPA

Lewis Grunfeld, CPA, is a renowned expert in international and U.S. expat taxation, with expertise spanning over ten years. He has successfully helped thousands of expats around the world navigate complex international U.S. tax regulations, and achieve significant tax savings. His work is driven by a strongly rooted passion for assisting the expat community through a wide range of tax situations, ensuring tailored solutions for each unique situation.


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