Author tips on obtaining an ITIN

Five agency authors share their experiences and tips for obtaining an ITIN to avoid US withholding tax.

I didn’t realise that I needed an international tax reference number until quite late in the proceedings, so I was keen to get my application completed as quickly as possible to avoid having to stump up 30 percent US tax. I followed nearly all of the instructions I found in an article on Andrew Lownie’s website about this very subject. The one difference was that I dealt with the IRS at the US Embassy in London instead of dealing directly with the IRS in the USA. The advantage of doing it this way is that my rejected applications came back faster – a significant consideration when you’ve got only 30 days to complete the process from the initial application. After a few days I had my answer – rejected. I had omitted something vital from my W-7 form. I hadn’t read the article or the notes accompanying the W-7 form carefully enough. The embassy also helpfully told me what was wrong. With the W-7 finally filled in correctly, I returned it to the embassy. But my application was rejected again. This time, the problem was the evidence I had sent to prove that I was about to be paid by a US company. I had assumed they would be satisfied with a copy of the offer letter from the US publisher and a draft copy of the contract. I was wrong. They would accept only a signed and dated copy of the contract or a signed and dated letter on the US publisher’s letterhead confirming that a contract had been signed and that they would be paying me in the current tax year. If I’d waited for the signed contract to wend its way back to me, my advance would have been due and would have had 30 percent tax deducted. Fortunately, my US publisher emailed me a scanned letter that ticked all the IRS boxes. Job done? Well, not quite. The embassy told me my application would now be forwarded to the US (free of charge!) to be considered and they said it would take at least 12 weeks. Luckily, my precious ITIN arrived just a couple of weeks later and I subsequently received my advance without US tax deduction. Phew, what a relief, marathon completed, red tape defeated! Ian Graham

First of all, I requested a hand-signed letter from my US publisher, addressed to the IRS, explaining that I required an ITIN because I would be receiving royalties and applying for a US withholding tax exemption. I sent the signed letter along with my passport and completed Form W-7 to the US Embassy in London. It took them around six weeks to process my application (and that’s without me making an error when filling out the form), after which I received my original documents and ITIN in the post. Finally, I completed Form W-8BEN, using my ITIN, and mailed it to my publisher in compliance with their guidelines. It was quite the headache-inducing experience, and my advice to any author who needs to obtain a tax identification number would be to apply for it today to avoid any unforeseen delay. John Jobling

Yes, it was a tremendous effort to get my ITIN number and very complicated and time-consuming. In the end I had to visit the US Embassy, but it proved useful as I made contact with a helpful official. He was intrigued by the topic of the book I was then writing for a US publisher—Lucky Luciano—he had his own memories to add of investigating the accounts of one of Luciano’s pals, Meyer Lansky, in Florida. It helped to have made some personal contact with one of the officials overseeing the process and it went through smoothly. Tim Newark

So far, the process of applying for an ITIN has been frustratingly slow, and I am still waiting to hear whether or not it has been successful. After standing in a lengthy queue at the American Embassy in London and submitting to airport-style security, I eventually arrived at the head of the Inland Revenue Service line, clutching my paperwork and passport. But although my paperwork was technically correct, the official on the other side of the counter quibbled with the wording of the letter from my publisher.’Subject to the terms of the Agreement,’ the document read, ‘you may eceive one or more payments. ”Too tentative’ the man snorted. ‘Darned legal language. ‘He sent me home empty handed to beg my publisher for an amended letter (it was supposed to state: ’ you WILL receive one or more payments’). So all that queuing was for nothing, and I had to submit a second application. It takes three months to process, and my publisher cannot release my contract(or cheque) until the ITIN arrives. My tips for applying for an ITIN are to arrive at the American Embassy as early in the day as possible, because the queues are horrendous later on. Also, check the wording of your publisher’s letter beforehand - and all your other paperwork. The IRS make no allowance for ambiguity, let alone error. There was a positive side: the visit turned out to be a great networking opportunity. In the queue, I bumped into an acquaintance who is a literary agent, and was able to update her on my book deal. Quite by chance, I also made friends with a well-known novelist, who has been wonderfully generous with advice and support ever since. So, if it’s networking you’re after, I highly recommend the experience. Louisa Treger

I needed an ITIN after Andrew organised a US deal for my history of the SS. I had a look at the IRS website but it wasn’t a lot of help, other than providing a PDF download of the form I eventually worked out I needed. After some web-based research I discovered that the IRS actually have an office at the US Embassy in London with a ‘while you wait’ service and I decided to go there, having checked on their opening hours (not every day, as I remember it). This turned out to be a good solution. The IRS website had explained that to get an ITIN you need to show why you need one (a US publishing contract will do) but also provide proof of non-US citizenship and residence and I was reluctant to post my original passport and other documents to an address in the US. I took along all the relevant documentation to the US Embassy where a helpful official made certified copies which were sent - together with my application - through US government channels to the appropriate IRS office in the States. I’d been told to expect to wait for up to 8 weeks but my ITIN came back about a month later. All in all, a reasonable experience. Adrian Weale