I am a non us resident and I have invested in GE Bonds. I forgot to submit the w8 form and after i sold this bond i realized the irs withheld taxes. Now i have already submitted the w8 form. Will I get a refund? many thanks


Minor correction: the financial institution who paid you -- usually the broker or their clearing company -- is the one who withheld estimated tax, and paid it on your behalf to the IRS. This happens automatically; the IRS doesn't take any action specific to you, or even know about you.

Early next year (by Mar. 15 at the latest, but most should do it in Jan.) the payor is required to send you a copy of form 1042-S showing among other things the amounts paid and withheld, and they also send this info to the IRS at that time (they actually paid over the money during the year, but do not link it to you until the 1042-S).

A W8 you provide to the payor now only stops or reduces withholding on future payments (and if you've sold everything, there will be no future payments).

If you do not actually owe US tax on these payments (or owe less than the withholding) you need to file a nonresident income tax return on form 1040NR (or the simplified version 1040NR-EZ if you meet its requirements) for the year; on this form you compute the tax you owe if any, report the amount withheld which is greater than the amount you owe, and request a refund of the amount overpaid. These forms and related instructions are available on the IRS website https://www.irs.gov/forms-instructions . (I think it is still possible to get a paper copy physically mailed to you, but I haven't done that in a long time. Since you are posting here you apparently have access to the Internet and a working browser, so getting the info online is easier and faster.)

Like US citizens filing 1040 while residing abroad, the filing season for you is officially from sometime in mid-January (depending on when they get their systems ready) to June 15 (or if that is a weekend day or US holiday, the next business day). You can extend this to October 15 (or next business day) by filing form 4868. However, if you file after the due date (with or without extension) but within 3 years and are due a refund there is no penalty -- other than the delay in getting your money back.

TTBOMK IRS (or more exactly BFS, who actually makes the payment) can only do electronic payments to US banks and FIs. Unless you have a US bank account, you will get a paper US Treasury check and have to find a way to negotiate it, which may be a problem in some (many?) other countries. Several Qs have been asked about that which may help you.

Added re timing per request in comment.

The fastest way to file, if you can, is electronically (e-file). When e-file was first created it didn't handle nonresident returns; the IRS does now allow it, but different providers may or may not support it. There are three or four, depending how you count, ways residents can (and are encouraged to) e-file:

  1. a professional tax preparer (like a CPA) or a commercial tax prep service (like H&RBlock). These businesses have computer systems that undergo extensive testing to be allowed to interface to the IRS system. It is very unlikely any of these will be available in foreign countries.

  2. commercial tax prep software (web or download). This is offered by the same companies that provide tax prep service and more, like H&RBlock, Intuit (TurboTax), TaxAct, TaxSlayer, etc. In most cases you can either download the software and run it on your own computer, then upload the completed return to the software company who forwards it to the IRS, or you can use their website to access software running in their datacenter, and when complete it simply sends the data to IRS. This software is usually designed -- and advertised -- to 'maximize your refund [or deductions/credits]' and in addition to just entering your data it will generally ask you lots of questions about various situations that might benefit you tax-wise; in my experience this is mostly a waste of my time and more hindrance then help (though I still go through it to get cheap e-file). There is generally a range of options, often starting as low as $20 or $10 and ranging up to $100 or more, that include or exclude various capabilities like complex invesments, self-employment, business with employees, and so on; specifics vary (substantially) by provider. Very often e-filing a state tax return (or returns) costs extra, which matters for nearly all residents but not for you (you care only about Federal not state).

  3. IRS 'Free File (Software)'. This effectively allows use without charge of some version, usually a basic one, of many of the commercial providers from point 2, if you are under an income limit (currently $66,000). I can't find a clear statement whether this applies to nonresidents and/or NR returns.

  4. IRS Free File Fillable Forms. This is the most recent option and is an IRS-run website where you enter data to online forms that mimic the paper ones. The system automatically fills in lines that are purely calculated (like 'add column A and enter here' or 'look up line 7 in table X and enter on line 9') but otherwise doesn't do anything to help or guide you. The user guide clearly says this option does NOT handle NR returns, and also doesn't work if you don't have a US phone number (which I presume you don't). (Note that US citizens abroad, aka expats, usually need to file a 'resident' return on 1040, but may not have a US phone number, or address. It does handle non-US address.)

For options 3 and 4 you can look starting at https://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free but I'm not optimistic.

If you can't find an e-file option that works for you, you must mail in a paper return. In addition to the actual mailing time -- which you can minimize at some cost with a special postal service such as air mail or a private service such as FedEx or UPS -- the IRS will have to transcribe the data from your return into their systems. In the past this often took 6-8 weeks, but I believe it has been reduced in recent years (as over 80% of nonemployment returns now are e-filed, reducing paper workload substantially).

Once your return is in the IRS systems (either e-filed or transcribed) you can track its status with a mobile app or web app at https://www.irs.gov/refunds . That says it is available "24 hours after e-filing [or] 4 weeks after you mailed your [paper] return" which implies they are pretty confident the paper time is now under 4 weeks. From this point actually getting your refund is probably about 2 weeks processing inside the IRS, plus a few days for electronic payment (if you can arrange it, as above) or I believe it's now 1.5-2 weeks for mailing a paper check.

  • thx for the correction! So once I file the 1040nr form I should get the refund. Any idea of how long can it take? many thanks!!! Nov 3 '19 at 20:34
  • Tomas: see edit Nov 5 '19 at 0:31

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