Students and income tax: all about tax returns

Here in Québec, like everywhere else in the world, filing income taxes is a must! As an international student, filing your first tax return can seem as daunting as surviving your first snowstorm. So we’ve put together this useful guide to tell you all you need to know.

What exactly is a tax return?

“Doing your taxes” means filing a return. All Québec residents have to complete an income tax every year, providing the government with on their earnings, expenses and tax deductions to determine how much income tax they owe—or how much they can get reimbursed—at the end of the fiscal year.

Simply put, the government uses your tax declaration to determine your balance sheet for the fiscal year, taking into account your earnings, contributions and benefits.

Where do our taxes go?

Income taxes are collected by both the provincial and federal governments to fund various public services and programs—from health care, education and social assistance to wildlife preservation, maintenance of roads and public transportation, and maintenance of public spaces like libraries and parks.

Looking for a crash course on income taxes? Visit the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website. Here you’ll find four tax courses presented in a fun and easy to understand way, which you can follow at your own pace. Take a look to unravel the mysteries of T4 forms and tax credits!

How are income taxes collected?

Here’s an example. Sarah works part-time in a small café in Montréal while studying at university. Each time she receives a paycheque, her employer deducts a portion that is sent to the federal government (the CRA) and another portion that goes to the provincial government (Revenue Québec). These tax deductions are based on Sarah’s annual earnings.

At the end of the year, Sarah files her two tax returns with the federal and provincial governments. These declarations include all information about her annual income, as well as expenses that are eligible for deductions (medication, tuition fees, psychological consultations, etc.). The government then provides her with a detailed list of all eligible deductions, credits and expenses. Finally, the government agencies will ask Sarah to pay a final balances if her deductions don’t cover the total tax payable. Or, if she pays too much, the government will reimburse any amount overpaid.

Québec and Canada. Two governments, two declarations.

When you live in Québec, you need to file not one but two tax returns. Since there are two levels of government in Québec (provincial and federal) and they both have different tax collection rules, all Québec residents are required to file two tax returns each year.

I’m an international student. Do I still have to file a tax return?

Every person with resident status in Québec has to file an annual tax return, regardless of whether they work or not.

Canada declaration

To find out your federal tax obligations as an international student, visit the CRA website and determine your residence status in Canada. You can find out whether you have to file a tax return and if you’re entitled to any benefits.

Québec declaration

To find out your provincial tax obligations as an international student, visit the Revenue Québec website and determine your residency status in Québec.

I’ve worked in Québec. How do I declare my income?

Thankfully, you don’t need to save every pay stub and bust out your high-school algebra! At the end of the year, your employer will send you a T4 slip with all the tax information you’ll need. The T4 summarizes all of your income and related deductibles for the year to take away the stress of tax season.

I’ve never worked in Québec. Do I still need to fill in an income tax return?

Yes. Although the name suggests otherwise, an income tax return is not only used to declare your income. It’s also used to report your expenses, which could lead to tax credits for you at the end of the year.

It pays to be a student

As a student, you’re entitled to a tax credit in Québec and in Canada for study-related expenses (tuition fees, exam fees, textbooks, etc.), even if you didn’t work that year and even if you don’t need the credit. The cumulative amount of your expenses will be kept on file and can be carried over to future years, so you can reduce the amount of income tax you owe if and when you need.

Note that even if somebody else paid your tuition fees on your behalf, you’re still entitled to tax credits. Since you’re the one investing time and energy in your studies, it’s only fair that you’re the one to benefit! You can also transfer any unused portion of your tax credit to a loved one—a win-win situation!

When do I need to send in my declaration?

From January 1 on, you can start working on your New Year resolutions … and on your tax return! But you have until four months after the holiday season to tackle it.

April 30 is the deadline for submitting your returns to both the provincial and federal governments, whether or not you worked during the tax year. If you earned income as a self-employed worker, you have until June 15 to submit your return. But before you get too excited about the extended timeline, you should know that self-employed tax returns are a little more complex to fill out!

Resources to help you

Not all of us are born with a natural talent for filling out tax returns! Thankfully, there are a bunch of resources available to guide you through the process.

Free government support

Need help preparing your provincial and federal tax returns? Thanks to the the Income Tax Assistance Volunteer Program, there are volunteers who can support you free of charge! This program is offered jointly by the CRA and Revenue Québec. Designed for residents of Québec, it allows you to kill two birds with one stone… without spending a dime!

Visit the CRA website to find out if you’re eligible for support from these free tax clinics.

Support from your school

Your school is committed to your wellbeing and success—even when it comes to doing your taxes! Several educational institutions offer tax clinics or information sessions on campus to help you file your returns. Ask your school if you’ll be able to learn about all things taxes on your next lunch break.

Secure online tools to file your declarations

If you’re looking to educate yourself on all things taxes and fill out your return solo, there are several online tools available to help. Just one of them is UFile Online, a platform that covers the similarities and differences between the two levels of government, and the steps you need to take to file your return for each.

And there you have it … a beginner’s guide to the art of income taxes! Instead of getting stressed out this tax season, remember that April 30 also marks the start of spring (always something to celebrate!). And because life is cyclical, by the time the next tax season rolls around, you always have winter fun to look forward to!