What You Need to Know About ITINs as an Expat

If you must file a US expat tax return, you’ll need to have either a Social Security number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The ITIN is only for taxpayers who aren’t eligible for a Social Security number and its only purpose is for filing US taxes. It’s very important to apply for an ITIN if you do not have an SSN. Here are the details you need to know!

The Purpose of an ITIN

As mentioned above, the purpose of an ITIN is for taxes – it provides no legal status in the United States. In some cases, though, an individual can also use an ITIN to open a bank account or obtain a driver’s license.

Some foreigners may be eligible for an SSN if they are authorized to work within the US. However, the ITIN allows foreigners who aren’t eligible for an SSN to comply with their expat tax filing requirements in the US. These foreigners may have a tax-filing obligation for reasons such as:

  • Reporting scholarship and grant receipts as a student
  • Claiming dependents as a resident US foreigner
  • Reporting US-sourced wages as a consultant or contractor working for a foreign company
  • Filing a joint return with a spouse who has an SSN

If your situation requires an ITIN, you should apply for one as soon as possible to stay on top of your tax filing obligations as a US non-resident.

How Do I Apply for an ITIN?

In order to obtain an ITIN, you’ll need to complete the Form W-7 Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, found on the IRS Website (see below for instructions for filling this form out). You will attach the completed form along with your US individual tax return and send it to the W-7 center, along with the required supporting documentation to verify identity and foreign status. The documentation must be original or certified by the issuing agency. You can view all W-7 Form requirements on the IRS website.

Completing the W-7 Form

First, download the W-7 Form off the IRS website. The IRS will suspend or reject your W-7 if fields are left blank, so if something doesn’t apply to you, include N/A to prevent this from occurring. Also important to note: if you prefer to receive communications from the IRS in Spanish, please make sure you submit Form W-7 (SP).

Reason you’re submitting Form W-7

You may only select one reason for completing the form. If you find that more than one reason applies, check the box that best explains your reason. Note: there is one exception – if you check box “a” or “f”, you may also check box “h”. If box “a” or box “f” is checked and a tax treaty benefit is being claimed, you must enter the treaty country and treaty article number in the space under box “h”.

Name

If you have two family names, write both of them in the “last name” box with a hyphen between them. For box 1a, use your legal name that appears on documents. For box 1b, use your name as it appears on your birth certificate.

Mailing address

If the mailing address used is different than the foreign address in line 3, it must be included here. Do not use a P.O. Box or c/o address unless the post office does not deliver mail to the physical address.

Foreign address

If you’re living in the US and don’t have a foreign address, write the foreign country name and put N/A in the “street address” box. If, however, you put a P.O. box for line 2 “mailing address”, you must list a foreign address here.

Birth information

Enter your date of birth in a month/day/year format, and include your country of birth (and city, state or province, if available). In order to be eligible for an ITIN, your birth country must be recognized as a foreign country by the US Department of State.

Other information

Box 6a: If you’re a citizen of more than one country, you should list both countries with a slash between them.

Box 6c: This is for temporary visas. The “visa type” in your passport is marked as a letter, or letter and number.

Box 6d: There is room for information for one document. If you have two documents, list one here and the other in the margin to the left – or on an attached piece of paper.

Entry date in US: The day you physically entered the country. List an approximate date if you don’t remember the exact day.

Expiration dates: Be sure to list in month/day/year format.

Box 6e/f: It’s unlikely you’ll have this, but if you do and you don’t remember the number, make a note on line 6f (write the name under which it was issued).

Box 6g: You will only use this if you checked the “f” box at the top of your W-7. It would apply if you are here temporarily on a current academic visa or visiting on business.

Signature

Those 14 and older must sign their own W-7 form. For those under 14, a parent or guardian may sign on their behalf – they would do this where it says “Name of delegate” and mark their relationship to the applicant on the right side. If the individual’s delegate is a court appointed guardian or Power of Attorney, be sure court appointment papers or a Power of Attorney form are attached.

Note: You will leave the space labeled “Acceptance Agent’s use only” blank.

Where to Send Your W-7

There are several ways you can submit your W-7. If you mail the form, you will send it to:

Internal Revenue Service
ITIN Operation
Mail Stop 6090-AUSC
3651 S. Interregional Hwy 35
Austin, TX 78741-0000

If you would prefer, you can find an IRS approved acceptance agent or visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. You can find this information on the IRS website. You will receive a letter with your ITIN after approximately six weeks. You should contact the IRS if you do not receive any communication in this time frame. Your ITIN is typically valid for five years, after which, you must repeat the process.

As a reminder, your expat tax return is required to be attached to your W-7 form, so you would likely send in this application after the year-end that the return must be filed. The tax deadline is April 15th for the prior tax year. Be sure to note, you shouldn’t disregard the actual filing deadline of your return – if you have a balance due on your taxes, the IRS may impose penalties and interest for late filing.

Have Questions About Obtaining an ITIN or Filing an Expat Tax Return as a US Non-Resident?

We can help! Contact one of our dedicated CPAs or IRS Enrolled Agents today – we’ll help you navigate the often-confusing world of US expat tax!

Free Guide: 25 Things Every Expat Needs to Know About Taxes

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