What is a Resident Alien?

If you are a citizen of another country, but you spend a significant amount of time in the United States, you may be considered a resident alien. A resident alien is another name for an immigrant or foreign-born U.S. resident who is not an American citizen. Learn more about resident alien status and what it means for your taxes in this article. 

How does someone become a resident alien? 

You are a resident alien if you meet the green card test or the substantial presence test. These aren’t actual “tests,” but they’re factors to help determine your residency status in the United States. 

Green Card Test

If you are a green card holder, you are considered a permanent, legal resident of America. Foreigners typically receive this status upon stepping foot in the U.S. with a green card. So, from an immigration standpoint, you cannot spend more than one year outside the country or establish a primary home in another country.  

If you don’t have a green card, you may be considered a non-resident alien. For more information, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website

Substantial Presence Test

If you do not intend to stay in the U.S. permanently, you may find the substantial presence test more applicable to your circumstances. As the name suggests, this test determines your residency status based on your physical presence in the U.S. throughout the past three years. To pass the test, your length of stay in the country must meet the following requirements: 

  • 31 days during the current year, and 
  • 183 days during a three-year period, including the current year and the two years preceding the current year. You’d meet this 183-day requirement if you’ve been in the U.S.:
    • Every day this year 
    • 1/3 of the days last year 
    • 1/6 of the days two years ago 

Also, you are unable to count days when you’re in the U.S. under the following circumstances: 

  • Days you commute to the U.S. from a residence in Canada or Mexico if you regularly commute from those countries 
  • Days you are in the U.S. for less than 24 hours when you are in transit between locations outside the U.S.  
  • Days you are in the U.S. as a crew member of a foreign vessel 
  • Days you are unable to leave the country due to illness 
  • Days you are an exempt individual 

Exceptions for visa holders 

You may be exempt from these tests if you’re temporarily in the country under the following types of visas:  

  • You’re in the U.S. on foreign government business under an A or G visa 
  • You’re a teacher or trainee in the U.S. under a J or Q visa   
  • You’re a student in the country under an F, J, M, or Q visa 
  • You’re a professional athlete in the country competing in a sports event  
  • If you can’t leave the country for medical reasons 

If you qualify for an exemption, you must file Form 8843 to document your claim. 

What does the resident alien status mean for my taxes? 

All U.S. income is subject to taxation regardless of your residency status. How much you pay varies depending on factors like your income and filing status. For more information about these requirements, read How Much Money You Need to Make to File Taxes. 

What is the difference between a resident alien and a non-resident alien? 

Even if you meet the substantial presence test, you may still be considered a non-resident alien if you support a home in a foreign country. A non-resident alien is someone who is not a U.S. citizen and did not pass the green card test or the substantial presence test. 

Another difference between resident aliens and non-resident aliens is how their income is taxed. Resident aliens must report all of their worldwide income to the IRS yearly. This includes interest, capital gains and losses, and rental income.  

On the other hand, non-resident aliens have reduced tax liability since they’re only taxed on income generated in the U.S. Additionally, non-resident aliens must file taxes using Form 1040-NR to report their U.S. sourced income.  

What is a dual-status alien? 

It’s possible to be a U.S. resident and a non-resident alien in the same year. This makes you a dual-status alien. This typically happens the year someone leaves or enters the country.  

Since it’s difficult to nail down the time periods you were in and out of the country, the IRS will determine your tax liability by differentiating the period when you were in/out of the country. 

  • For the part of the year you were a non-resident alien: The IRS will tax your worldwide income for the period when you were in the country 
  • For the part of the year you were in the U.S.: The IRS will tax all U.S. sourced income during the time you were a non-resident alien 
  • Not effectively connected income: Any income earned during your time as a non-resident alien not linked to a trade or business in the U.S. will not be taxable 

TaxSlayer can help determine your tax liability and provide all the forms for your unique tax situation. Get started now! 

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