Getting A US Tax Number As A UK Self-Publisher

Before I go any further with this post, I’d just like to say that I am not a financial advisor, an accountant, a lawyer, or anyone else qualified to be handing out any kind of advice. I wouldn’t even trust me with my money, and I am me, so if you do anything I talk about in this post and it goes wrong and you end up owing ten trillion quid in tax and in prison forever, it’s your fault not mine, OK?

That said, many British writers have problems because all the main indie-publishing companies are US-based, or at least operate out of the US, and so require a tax number. The usual advice for this is to get an ITIN. The process for this is as follows:
Get a letter from Lulu, Smashwords, Amazon or whoever’s US office, on headed notepaper, signed physically, posted to your mailing address, if you can find the contact email address to do so. Photocopies or emailed letters won’t do.
Fill out a complicated tax form, that again has to be filled out by hand.
Get an official certified copy of government-issued ID, and attach that to the form and the letter.
Post this back to the US.
Wait six weeks for the US tax office to process the paperwork.
Wait for the information to be posted back to you.

If you’re me, this process also includes “lose the letter”, “lose the printout of the form”, “lose the replacement letter”, “get annoyed emails asking why you’re asking for so many copies of the letter”, and so on, and so for the last four years I’ve been either having companies withold 30% of my money for US taxes or just keep the money until I could get this sorted.

However, there is a much, much, much simpler way to do this, and that is to apply for an EIN — an *employer* identification number — as a sole proprietor.

This can be done by filling out a single form, but the best and quickest way is probably to do it by phone. To do this, follow these simple instructions:

  • Phone 001 267 941-1099. This is unfortunately an international number, but most call plans now include fairly cheap international calls.
  • Press 1 at the prompt
  • Wait about half an hour for the phone to be answered
  • Tell them you’re applying for an EIN as a sole proprietor, and that you are doing so for tax treaty purposes only.
  • When asked if you have form SS-4, say no. They will get the relevant information from you over the phone
  • Answer all the questions. You will be asked to spell pretty much everything. Just do it.
  • When asked the name of the organisation, just give your own name — as a sole proprietor, that’s fine.
  • You will be asked when this dates from. You can backdate it, so if you, like me, have had problems sorting this out in the past, you can give them the date at which you started self-publishing
  • At the end, a number will be read out over the phone. That’s your EIN. It will take up to two weeks to get through the IRS’ computer systems.
  • You now have a tax identification number which can be used for form W8-BEN, which is the form that Lulu, Smashwords, and others need. Amazon KDP now has an automated tax information wizard that you can find in your account settings, which fills out their copy of this form for you, and again you can use this number for that.

    Again, please note, I am NOT a financial advisor or anyone who should be giving anyone advice on anything at all — the fact that it’s taken four years for me to get this sorted should tell you that — but this method took only a single phone call, and should have sorted the problems. I hope it does the same for anyone else who tries it.

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    2 Responses to Getting A US Tax Number As A UK Self-Publisher

    1. prankster36 says:

      Wow! As it happens this is pretty much exactly the information I happen to have needed for the last couple of weeks, with my comic being published by ComiXology. This is so helpful it’s almost like you read my mind…thanks, Andrew!

    2. Thanks Andrew. A timely post. I did all this but just got an email from CreateSpace telling me I haven’t! So hooray that it can be done online because I don’t think I could stand another ticking off from Very Bossy Lady at the US tax office!

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