What is a Nonresident Alien?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 February 2020
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A nonresident alien is a citizen of one nation who is visiting another. Nonresident aliens are considered legal aliens because they have obtained the proper permits to be present in the host country. People who work while visiting are subject to taxation. The tax laws which surround aliens, resident and nonresident, vary internationally. People who will be working in a foreign country should research ahead of time to make sure that they will comply with the tax code.

Nonresident aliens are not citizens or nationals of their host nations. They have also not established residency. As a result, for tax purposes, they are often only required to pay taxes on income earned in their host nations. They may also be exempt from certain types of tax payments, such as Social Security in the United States. The nonresident alien is still required to declare income, however, and can be subject to penalty if tax returns are not filed.


One example of a nonresident alien can be seen in the United States. There are two possible tests which can be used to assess whether or not someone is a nonresident alien. The first is the green card test. If someone has been issued with a green card, she or he is a resident alien. If not, the person is classified as a nonresident alien. The second is known as the “substantial presence test.” If someone has lived in the United States for less than 31 days out of the last year and 183 days out of the last three years, he or she is a nonresident alien.

When a nonresident alien leaves the country, it may be necessary to obtain a certificate of compliance from the tax authorities. This certificate indicates that the person is current with taxes and has complied with the tax law. Tax agencies generally recommend filing for this document at least two weeks before the planned date of departure to ensure that it will be completed in time.

Nonresident alien laws allow people to work in foreign countries without taking on all of the burdens associated with resident aliens or citizens. This is done to avoid situations in which people are reluctant to do business in a foreign country or to work in a foreign country because of the tax consequences of doing so. Because the threshold between resident and nonresident aliens can vary, it is critical to make sure that one has the most current information from the host government before filing tax paperwork and other documents, so that the paperwork will be done properly.


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