Self-Publisher Tax ID needed, but I’m not a US Citizen! Help!

UPDATED 3RD JULY 2014

The USA is one of the few countries in the world which taxes its citizens while they are overseas. You could be blissfully working for an employer in Germany and paying income tax in Germany, but still have to file returns and pay income tax to the IRS too. And self-publishing is a jolly fine way to be earning money overseas while not being in the USA.

To prevent US Nationals avoiding this tax whammy, legitimate businesses such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and all the other wonderful places a self-publisher can turn to are forced by law to withhold 30% of your royalties. The idea is that even a US National would rather be declaring tax correctly than have a whole 30% of their income cut off at the knees.

This leaves you, my fine non-American friends, in a bit of a pickle. To prove that you are not an American National (and thereby get your Royalties), you need a Tax ID, but you don’t have a Tax ID, because you aren’t American.

Pickle

Population: you.

What is a Tax ID?

The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) have a variety of numbers on offer. Would you like a number? Yes, you would! The numbers of particular interest to you are:

ITIN: This is the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Many websites will tell you that this is the one you need. Those websites are not necessarily correct.

The trouble with an ITIN is that it is basically a replacement for a Social Security Number, and therefore is only available to individuals who meet particular criteria; a subset of resident or non-resident Aliens, spouses and dependants who are ineligible for an SSN. Most likely, this isn’t you.

EIN: The Employer Identification Number. This is used to identify business entities. That’s you. Self-publishing is a business, even if you are the owner and sole employee of said business.

I am therefore going to walk you through obtaining an EIN.

The Prisoner

Don’t give me that look. You need a number.

Yes please! Give me the EIN!

Calm yourself, John Spartan. Here’s what you’re going to do: you are going to pick up the phone and call the IRS. You will speak to a very nice, helpful person, and they’re going to ask you some questions. What they are actually doing is filling out Form SS-4 on your behalf, so prepare yourself by downloading Form SS-4 yourself before you call. Got it? Good.

Look this form over and familiarise yourself with the sort of questions you are going to be answering. I say this because when I did it I had to ask for the lovely, patient lady to explain things to me like I was five and go through all available options.

Step One: Call the IRS.

Dial +1 267 941 1099 to get through to a dedicated team whose whole job is to help you with this exact requirement. You will reach an automated menu. Listen to it, and select the option which puts you through to an operator.

Tell the nice person that you would like to apply for an EIN, and that you are a foreign entity.

Step Two: Answer all the questions.

Fortunately you already downloaded Form SS-4, didn’t you? Hurrah! So, let’s look at the questions you are most likely to stumble over:

1. Legal Name. This is you. Your real, legal name.

2. Trade Name. This is your pen-name, if you are using one. Or you can create a publishing house if you prefer. Check the laws in your own country about self-employment, registering businesses, and so on before you make this stuff up though.

9a. Type of Entity. If you are working alone and have no employees, you are a Sole Proprietor.

10. Reason for Applying. You are starting a new business.

16. Principal Activity. You are publishing eBooks. The lovely person on the phone will find the right category for you.

The rest just takes some common sense.

The nice IRS person will give you your EIN, and you are free to go. The IRS will also post you a letter containing your EIN, and it’ll only take a week or two to arrive. They don’t mess about!

Rejoice, you now have your Tax ID!

Ein

Not this Ein. C’mon, you were waiting for this gag, weren’t you?

What do I do with my wonderful EIN?

Every self-publishing channel whose business address is within the United States needs your EIN, and they will withhold 30% of your Royalties until they get it from you. That’s not 30% of the list price of your book, it’s a full 30% of your payments after they’ve had their cut out of it, which could leave you with peanuts if you’re selling on Amazon for anything below $2.99.

It’s not so simple as dropping them an email and saying “Here’s my EIN” though. You will, one way or another, need to become intimately familiar with Form W-8BEN.

Some channels need you to print out W-8BEN and complete it by hand, then post it to them. Some allow you to email it. And some let you fill out a virtual W-8BEN on their site without any trauma at all. Download the W-8BEN and we’ll go over it now. You can also download the Instructions for Form W-8BEN if you like, but be warned that it’s full of jargon.

Filling out Form W-8BEN

W-8BEN is still the form that you require as a foreign individual, not W-8BEN-E.

If you are completing the form by hand, you must do so in blue ink. If you edit the PDF and fill in the fields, it’s automatically done in blue for you. Mark checkboxes with a tick/check, not a cross. Amazon let you do this entire process through KDP, but will ask you the same questions as are on the form. The trickier points are:

Part I:

1. Name. This is your real name, not your pen name.

2. Country of Incorporation. The country where you are resident. You cannot use abbreviations here. If you write “UK” instead of “United Kingdom”, your form will be rejected.

3. Type of Beneficial Owner. As per your EIN request, you are an Individual.

4. Permanent residence address. This must match the address on your EIN application precisely.

6. U.S. taxpayer identification number. Enter your EIN, and tick the EIN box.

7. Foreign tax identifying number. This is your unique taxpayer reference number in your home country. For UK citizens this is your National Insurance Number, in France it is your INSEE number, for Canadians it is your SIN, and so on. For a full list of what this means in your country, see the Wikipedia article.

Part II:

9a. Tick this box, and enter your country of residence in the space provided. Again, no abbreviations are allowed. Do not tick b through e.

10. Special rates and conditions. If you are from a country who has a tax treaty with the United States, you must complete this section. Find your country on the list of United States Income Tax Treaties and open your country’s treaty. Skim through it and find the Article which covers Royalties. For the United Kingdom, this is Article 12. Canada, XII. France, 12.

Enter the relevant Article number in the space provided. Specify the percentage withholding rate that your treaty entitles you to. For the UK, this is 0% – check the Royalties Article of your country’s treaty document for your withholding rate. If your country’s treaty says “exempt”, then your rate is 0%.

Specify type of income: enter Royalties in this space.

Explain the reasons the beneficial owner meets the terms of the treaty article: State “Beneficial owner is a resident of” and add your country. Again, no abbreviations.

Part III:

You do not need to complete Part III.

Part IV:

Sign and date the form. For “capacity”, write Individual.

Bingo! Your form is done! You’ll be a dab hand at it by the fifth one you fill out, believe me.

First World Problems

Nobody likes forms. Deal with it.

Oh my god! Is it over?

Almost! I’m just going to run through a quick note on your publishing options now.

Amazon

Amazon got with the program! You can fill out the W-8BEN online and it’s done and dusted in ten minutes. If you hit any snags you can ask Amazon to withhold your entire Royalties payment until the W-8BEN is fixed to avoid them having to withhold 30%.

Draft2Digital

D2D allow you to email them an electronic copy of your W-8BEN. Either complete it digitally (if you have a scanned copy of your signature you can pop in the field), or print it out and sign it then scan it in. Email it to:

sales@draft2digital.com

JPG is acceptable, and D2D will add the form to your account within 24 hours.

Smashwords

You need to print it off and post it to Smashwords. Send it to:

Smashwords, Inc.
Attn:  Tax Compliance Dept.
PO Box 11817
Bainbridge Island, WA   USA  98110

Include your Smashwords screen name or the email address that your Smashwords account is registered to on the W-8BEN.

Google Play

Google Play allow you to fill out the W-8BEN online. To do so, go into your Payment Center and create a Payment Profile. Once you enter your country of residence it leads you through the W-8BEN process automatically.

All Romance eBooks

ARe also allow you to complete this form online. Visit your Publisher Info page and complete the form, et voilà!

Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes

B&N only allow you to use Nook Press if you have a US-based Credit Card. Kobo doesn’t need a W-8BEN, as it’s a Canadian company. And iTunes will only let you in if you’re using a Mac. This is where a distribution channel like D2D or Smashwords can help you out.

That’s all there is to it! You can sit back and have a cup of tea now. Frankly you’ve deserved it.

Tea

Oooh, don’t mind if I do!

25 Comments:

  1. Can cayman islands entities have EIN number.

  2. Hi! Thanks for this great write up! I have a question about the form though.

    I’m unsure about Seciton 12: “Closing month of accounting year”. Where I live, the income you report for the year starts in January and goes to December, so the closing month would be December. Is that correct? I know it’s a silly question, but I’m afraid of making even the smallest mistake with something like this.

  3. Thank you for the guide. I wanted to ask whether this method also solves CreateSpace’s TaxID requirement? Or does this only cover ebooks?

  4. You are amazing! I mean, I don’t even understand my own countries taxes, and I completely capitulated at the idea of another one on top of it. You’re the first person who actually made me understand what this is for and how to get it done. Life saver! :D

  5. Your article is very informative I just have 1 question, i am from Dubai and I noticed that theres no tax treaty with my country so there is no need to get TAX ID number correct? since in the end I will not be exempt from paying tax.

  6. Pingback: e-Publishing Adventures part 1 « Gone to Write

  7. You’re welcome! :)

  8. I love the Cowboy Bebop reference (^_^)

  9. Pingback: How to publish to Google Play - Scarlet Cox

  10. Wow, what a great guide, thanks!!! It sucks for US citizens that they get double taxed while living overseas.

    Is it possible to get an EIN without calling? Maybe by filling in a form and posting it to them or something?

    Also, do you happen to know what to do if you’re planning on writing under several different pen names? Just apply for the EIN under your main one, I presume?

    • Hi Olivia,

      It is possible to get an EIN without calling, but that can take up to two months – it takes the IRS four weeks, but postal services in either direction can add another four weeks depending on where you live.

      For the full range of how to obtain EINs, see http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-to-Apply-for-an-EIN

      Note that to use their online method you must be within the United States.

      You only need an EIN for your main pen-name, or you can even register the EIN as an overarching publisher name. So long as you register each pen-name you use against the EIN you have, the tax is handled correctly. KDP makes this particularly easy as you can publish several pen-names through a single KDP account.

      I hope that helps :)

  11. One thing to mention – wait time! I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes after over an hour of getting busy signals. Holy moly!

  12. I wish you were American and could tell me how to effin’ do taxes.

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