How to Get an ITIN as a Non-US Publisher (for iTunes, iBookstore and Amazon CreateSpace)
Beat the IRS Vogons and follow these step-by-step instructions for your ITIN / W7 application. Here's the guide Apple and co should give you, but don't.
May 1st, 2012 by Becky Turner
This is my definitive guide on how to get an ITIN number - something you must have as a non-US resident if you want to publish anything on Apple's iTunes or iBookstore, or Amazon's CreateSpace, and perhaps even Amazon Kindle one day too (and you thought it was all so simple).
This isn't about the actual process of uploading your content and formatting it for each platform. This is about cutting through the red tape of US tax law as quickly as possible, and at minimal cost to you. Once you have your ITIN, you can publish with any US company you like.
Disclaimer: this isn't legal advice. This is just my own experience.
A Guide for Non-US Publishers
If you are a US resident, you don't need to do any of this hoop-jumping crap. You already have a Social Security Number (SSN) you can use.
However for non-US residents like myself, the fun now begins.
I'm writing this as a New Zealand based author, who writes her own website content and owns a couple of digital products (MP3s and ebooks). It goes without saying that my biggest online market is in the US and so I want to be able to sell my products on the biggest US platforms.
But before I can publish on platforms like iTunes and iBookstore, I'm told I need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). I need to get one from the Inland Revenue Service in the US. Sounds simple? It isn't - because there is no clear explanation of what you need to do (what forms to send, what supporting evidence, where to send it) in one place. (Technically it's all there on the IRS website, hidden in a lot of legal talk and small print, but who has the time to interpret all that jargon?)
My peeve is that the corporations themselves (who require you to supply an ITIN number) make little or NO effort to explain the process.
Indeed, if you're already at the point where you're searching Google for "how to get an ITIN", then you've probably been searching for a while. I spent hours piecing together the ITIN puzzle, taking advice from various websites, forum threads and community pages. There is much confusion over whether you need an SSN, EIN, ITN or ITIN (short answer: overseas individuals need an ITIN) and you'll find conflicting information at virtually every source. It's not even clear what country to send your application to, whether you need to find an acceptance agent, or what you need to pay.
After carefully navigating my way through this complex web of confusion, my application was sent back (marked incomplete) with a completely new instruction no-one else had mentioned before.
Now, finally at the last stage of the process, I've detailed the simplest way to get an ITIN below so you don't make the same mistakes, and can soon start publishing your own products on America's biggest digital platforms...
How to Get an ITIN
Here's my step-by-step guide for non-US publishers to getting an ITIN. I hope this helps clear up the mess which Apple couldn't be bothered to do for its international publishers. (Apple is notoriously poor at these things.)
Bear in mind some things are set in stone (eg, filling out your W7 form correctly) while others are flexible (eg, precisely what supporting evidence you send and where you send your applciation). I've outlined the simplest way I found possible... because the hard way just blew my mind.
1. Print and complete a W7 form from the IRS website.
This bit is fairly easy. You need to print and fill out your ITIN application, which the IRS calls a W7 form.
The W7 form is just one page and very self explanatory. The only bit that may look confusing is the opening ramble: the reason for submitting the W7 form. Tick box H (Other) and write: Exception 1d (Royalties).
If you want more info, view the official W7 instructions created by the IRS which explains, in lots of fancy words, how to fill out the form correctly.
2. Gather your supporting evidence.
Now it gets complicated, depending on what kind of photo identification you hold. With your W7 form, you also have to send the IRS:
- Your passport, or
- Two forms of ID (at least one with a photo ID issued by a government agency, eg your driver's licence)
I don't know about you but I get all anxious at the thought of sending my passport in the mail overseas. The application can take 6 weeks to process, plus 2 weeks in the mail either end. Plus there's the risk of losing your passport in the mail. I really didn't want to risk this because I am a UK citizen with an NZ resident's visa in my passport. To replace it would mean reapplying for my UK passport and my visa, which is expensive.
Now, they DO allow you to send photocopies, but there are some big hurdles. Photocopies must be signed by a US notary public - which is not exactly convenient when we know for a fact that you live outside the US.
The alternative is to send a copy signed (notarized) by a non-US notary public (in NZ that means a Justice of the Peace) WITH an apostille affixed to the copy. I didn't do this, but from what I understand, the notarized photocopy gets send to a government agency in your country who attaches an apostille stamp (whatever that is).
This all seemed like a lot of work to me so I bit the bullet and sent originals of my birth certificate and my UK driver's photo licence (which I don't need because I haven't lived in the UK for nearly five years now). I sent them via recorded delivery which costs a bit more but is recommended.
3. Print an ITIN letter from Apple or Amazon.
Ok, here's another easy step. You're almost done.
As you are submitting your ITIN application under Exception 1(d) you will also need to supply: "A signed letter or document from the withholding agent, on official letterhead, showing your name and evidencing that an ITIN is required to make distributions to you during the current tax year that are subject to IRS information reporting or federal tax withholding."
Download and print off Amazon's ITIN letter for your application.
If you plan to earn royalties from Amazon's CreateSpace, this is fine for the IRS to accept. It may also apply to Amazon Kindle one day if they ever switch to the same policy (only Amazon CreateSpace and Apple iTunes / iBookstore appear to do this now). You only need to supply one such letter from one partner; thankfully I don't need Apple's co-operation.
(I say thankfully because Apple don't seem to supply any such form; not willingly anyway. Other non-US publishers have contacted Apple repeatedly asking for a link to this form, only to be ignored. It's like they don't want international publishers on board iTunes or iBookstore. Note: you don't need an ITIN to publish in the original App Store. No idea why.)
4. Send your ITIN application to the right place.
What is the right place? Good question.
One way is to send it direct to the IRS in the United States:
Internal Revenue Service
PO Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342
You can also send it to the IRS at your local US embassy. There isn't an address listed in New Zealand, so I had to send mine overseas. I chose the UK branch since I'm most familiar with the country:
Internal Revenue Service
United States Embassy London
24 Grosvenor Square
London W1A 1AE
You can also send your application through an acceptance agent who is authorized by the IRS. Be warned, this is simply adding a middle man and will cost you money to have them check all your forms for you.
Obtaining Your ITIN
Once you've sent it all off via recorded mail, put your feet up and wait. Since you followed the instructions on this page it shouldn't have felt like too much of an ordeal. As someone who had to scrape this information together piece by piece, over a number of dull internet hours and with no guarantee of success at the end, I found this a laborious nightmare.
After a number of weeks, my ITIN number came through - hooray! This was only after my application was initially rejected (I was missing step #3) and I got communication from the embassy who explained the extra bits I needed to supply. They actually seem liked helpful people working in a sector full of extravagant red tape. They're not Vogons personally.
As for Apple, shame on them for not supplying any of this information in a clear and practical way, nor responding to requests for help. Amazon at least have this page on Tax Information for Non-US Publishers if you find that you need different forms or supporting evidence for your needs.
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