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What happens if a foreigner wins the lottery in USA?

Winning the lottery as a foreigner in the United States can be an exciting but complicated process. There are a number of things that non-citizens need to be aware of if they happen to win a big lottery prize while visiting or residing in the US. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the key things foreigners need to know if they win the lottery in America.

Can Non-US Citizens Play and Win American Lotteries?

Yes, non-US citizens are generally eligible to play American state-sponsored lotteries. The rules vary by state, but in most cases, a foreign visitor can purchase lottery tickets and claim prizes. However, there are some important restrictions and tax implications to consider.

In some states, non-residents are prohibited from playing the lottery. States like Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, and South Carolina explicitly ban non-residents from participating. So foreigners would not be able to legally purchase tickets or claim prizes in those states.

Other states don’t have restrictions based on residency, but do require proof of a Social Security number in order to claim prizes over a certain threshold. For example, in Colorado, non-residents can play but need an SSN to claim any prize over $600.

So in short, playing and winning is usually allowed, but foreigners face some limitations in certain states compared to American citizens when it comes time to collect winnings.

Taxes on Lottery Winnings for Foreigners

Any lottery prize money you win while in the United States is subject to U.S. tax law. For U.S. citizens and permanent residents, lottery winnings are subject to federal tax withholding, taken directly out of the prize money before it is paid out. But for non-resident foreigners, taxes function a bit differently.

Here is an overview of key tax issues for foreigners who win American lotteries:

Federal Withholding Tax

For U.S. lottery winners, a mandatory 24% federal withholding tax is immediately taken out of prize money over $5,000. This does not apply to foreigners. Instead, non-resident aliens are subject to 30% withholding on the gross amount (i.e. the full prize amount before taxes).

Some exceptions:

– If you are from a country with a tax treaty with the U.S., the withholding rate may be reduced to a lower percentage.

– If you claim the gambling losses tax deduction, you may qualify for exemption from withholding requirements.

– If you provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, the withholding rate is reduced to 14%.

State Withholding Tax

In addition to federal tax, some states also take out income tax from lottery winnings. The rate varies by state, ranging from zero tax withholding in states with no income tax, up to 8% top state tax rates. Foreigners are subject to the same state tax withholding rules as U.S. residents.

Tax Treaty Benefits

Tax treaties between the U.S. and foreign countries may entitle non-resident winners to reduced withholding rates. For example, under the tax treaty with Canada, the federal tax rate on lottery winnings is lowered from 30% to 15% for Canadian citizens winning American lotteries. Check if your home country has a tax treaty with the U.S. that includes gambling winnings.

Tax Forms

You will need to provide a completed IRS Form W-8BEN to claim any tax treaty benefits and certify your foreign tax status. The lottery office will withhold taxes at the standard 30% rate unless you submit Form W-8BEN. Note that lottery winners may be required to obtain a U.S. taxpayer identification number (ITIN or SSN) in order to process taxes on the prize money.

Tax Return Filing

Even if U.S. tax is withheld from your prize money, you may still need to file a U.S. tax return to report your lottery winnings. You would file Form 1040NR to report and reconcile any difference between the amount withheld and the actual tax calculated on your total income for the year. Failing to file a return can lead to problems later on when re-entering the U.S.

So in summary, make sure to understand your U.S. tax obligations and withholding rules based on your specific situation. Consider consulting a tax professional with expertise in international tax matters.

Claiming Lottery Prizes as a Foreigner

The process of actually claiming lottery prizes while traveling or living abroad requires some extra steps for non-U.S. citizens. Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Proof of Identity and Eligibility

You must be able to prove both your identity and eligibility to play the lottery in the state where you won. A passport along with your entry documentation / visa / residency paperwork are required.

Tax Withholding

As mentioned earlier, the lottery office will withhold applicable federal and possibly state taxes from prizes over certain thresholds. You’ll need to provide a W-8BEN form to claim treaty benefits.

Collecting the Money

For large jackpot prizes, foreigners may choose to receive annuity payments over many years rather than a lump sum. Talk to a financial advisor beforehand about the better choice based on your situation. Ongoing payments could be subject to 30% withholding.

To actually collect the money, you’ll need to designate a U.S. bank account or representative. Certain states require that lottery prizes be paid into a bank account within the state. You cannot have the money directly transferred to an overseas bank account.

Leaving the U.S.

If you win a jackpot or large prize, consult an expert before attempting to leave and re-enter the U.S. with large sums of cash. There are legal limits on how much money you can physically bring into or take out of the country. Any issues with your immigration status or tax reporting obligations could also pose problems.

Lottery Visa Programs for Big Winners

Some foreign lottery winners strike it so big (we’re talking millions of dollars) that they look into immigrating to the United States. There are actually special visa programs for lottery winners:

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa

For winners of at least $1-2 million, the EB-5 visa offers a path to U.S. lawful permanent resident status via investment. You would need to invest your lottery prize money in an approved U.S. business venture that creates at least 10 jobs for Americans. There are strict eligibility requirements, so consult an immigration attorney.

E-2 Visa

For larger prize amounts of $5 million or more, the E-2 investor visa could be an option. You would need to make a substantial investment in an American business and take an active managerial or directing role. The E-2 allows you to live in the U.S. renewably as long as the business remains operating.

B-1 Visa

This business visitor visa allows you to remain in the U.S. for up to 6 months to “wind up your affairs” after winning the lottery. You could use this time to meet with financial planners, tax experts, and potential business partners to figure out your next steps after becoming an instant millionaire.

Just be aware that these investor visas require actual engagement in an active U.S. business – merely winning the lottery does not automatically qualify you. Talk to an immigration lawyer to discuss the best options based on your lottery prize amount and desire to gain legal residency in America.

Scams and Frauds Targeting Lottery Winners

Unfortunately, big lottery winners often become targets of scams, fraudulent investment schemes, and dishonest individuals looking to take advantage of them. Here are some common cons and crimes that disproportionately affect lottery winners:

Fake Agent Scam

Criminals impersonate lottery officials or government agents offering to collect your prize money for a fee. Any such call demanding an upfront fee is always fraudulent.

Advance Fee Loan Scam

Scammers target lottery winners with promises of business loans, debt consolidation offers, or mortgage financing against their future prize payments. Victims pay upfront fees but no actual loan is ever provided.

Fraudulent Investments

Lottery winners get bombarded with investment pitches, often involving Ponzi schemes, foreign currencies, crypto, and other risky assets. Very few of these turn out to be legitimate.

Bogus Charities

Questionable charities approach recent winners feigning urgent needs for donations. Always do your own research before providing any sizable charitable gifts.

Fake Jackpot Scam

You get a call or email telling you that you’ve won a lottery you never entered. They ask for personal details and payment of “fees” to release your non-existent winnings.

Prize Delivery Scam

Scammers tell you they have a valuable prize to deliver if you just pay the customs fees, courier costs, or processing charges. The prize doesn’t actually exist.

The best protection is being wary of any unsolicited contacts, maintaining strict privacy after your win, hiring reputable financial and legal advisors, and never paying any funds to collect supposed winnings. Legitimate lotteries will never ask you to pay money upfront in order to receive a prize.

Handling Media and Publicity After a Big Win

For jackpot and other substantial lottery winners, dealing with sudden media attention and publicity after your win can be challenging:

– Most states allow you to remain anonymous when claiming lottery prizes, or claim through trusts or other entities to maintain privacy. Avoid announcing your specific identity.

– Hire a lawyer and/or public relations advisor to manage media interactions and protect your privacy. Set clear boundaries with reporters.

– Give thought as to whether accepting interviews or publicity is beneficial or not. Avoid revealing sensitive personal or financial details.

– Change your phone number, set social media accounts to private, and avoid sharing personal information to reduce unwanted solicitation.

– Politely decline most media interview requests. Avoid being featured in “lottery winner roundup” TV news stories.

– If granting interviews, do so cautiously and only with reputable news outlets. Decline questions you don’t want answered.

– Consider limiting mention of family members, employers, hometowns, etc. to protect their privacy as well.

The attention that comes with winning a major lottery prize places you under intense public scrutiny. Protect your safety and privacy by being very selective about any media engagement.

Financial and Estate Planning for Lottery Winners

Coming into sudden wealth through a lottery prize win requires diligent money management and thoughtful financial planning. Here are some tips:

Assemble a Team of Advisors

– Accountant/CPA – For ongoing tax filing and compliance
– Financial advisor – To prudently invest winnings
– Lawyer – Draft agreements and provide oversight
– Insurance agent – Review coverage needs

Pay Off Debts

– Pay off credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, etc.
– Be wary of making informal IOUs to friends/family

Create a Formal Budget

– Make a budget reflecting your current and future financial goals
– Include priorities like education, retirement, charity
– Budget based on investment income, not just prize money

Invest Wisely

– Diversify investments across stocks, bonds, real estate
– Work closely with a fiduciary financial advisor
– Set up trusts and tax strategies to sustain wealth

Plan Your Estate

– Draft or update your will to reflect new assets
– Set beneficiaries for assets like retirement plans
– Explore setting up trusts to manage inheritance wishes

Live Modestly

– Avoid the temptation to indulge in lavish purchases
– Focus on sound investments for long-term security
– Let excitement fade before making major lifestyle changes

Thoughtful planning and restraint is key to ensuring lottery wealth provides long-term financial stability.


Winning a large lottery prize as a foreigner in the United States involves some unique considerations but can certainly be a life-changing event. While non-citizens are eligible to play and claim lottery prizes, there are important restrictions related to taxes, visa status, and residency to factor in. Claiming winnings also involves navigating U.S. tax obligations and immigration rules.

Financially, winners must exercise caution in managing sudden wealth and avoid being taken advantage of. Major wins also often come with intense media pressure that should be addressed cautiously. But with proper planning, advice, and support, foreigners can achieve the American dream of cashing in on a big lottery payday.