Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
Similar in format to a US Social Security Number (SSN), an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) differs in that it usually starts with a 9 and is specifically meant for an individual who is not eligible for a SSN. ITINs are used mostly to file a US tax return or to open a US bank account. They do not allow for any Social Security type financial benefits from the US government, they will not change your immigration status and they do not grant you the right to work in the US.
Certain requirements must be met in order to apply for an ITIN. IRS Form W7 is filled out and documents are required. You can apply for an ITIN any time during the year, however you should apply for an ITIN as soon as you’re ready to file your federal income tax return, because you need to attach the tax return to your application.
Option 1 In Person with the IRS:
If you are physically in the US, you can apply in-person at designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs). You would make an appointment in advance and meet with an IRS agent. You are required to provide proof of foreign status and identity, most commonly by providing your original passport. The IRS would verify that the documents are valid and return them to you during the meeting. The IRS agent will take your ITIN application and supporting documents and submit them for processing. Overall, this is a fairly simple and cost-efficient option as long as you are planning on spending a few days in the US.
Option 2 with a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA):
A CAA is someone that has been certified by the IRS to act as an agent for ITIN applications. The CAA is also required to review your physical original passport or birth certificate and they will immediately return those documents to you at the end of the interview. A CAA is able to interview you either in person or via a video chat. CAA’s are located throughout the world which can also provide much needed flexibility. CAAs do typically charge a fee for this service so it is likely the most expensive option, but well worth the extra cost for the time savings and ease of use.
Option 3 via mailing Certified Copies:
You can include Certified Copies of your Passport and mail your ITIN application directly to the IRS. The Certified Copies must be provided by either your Passport issuing authority or by the US Embassy or Consulate located in your home country. The IRS will not accept notarized copies, so be sure that the right agency is providing the Certified Copy. If this is the option that you choose, then I always recommend that you request 2 or more Copies, just in case the first application is not processed correctly. Depending on your home country and the ease of dealing with the Passport issuing authority, this can be a great mid-cost alternative.
Non Resident Aliens
Certain nonresident aliens must obtain an ITIN to claim a tax treaty benefit even if they do not have to file a U.S. tax return. Other reasons to obtain an ITIN:
A Dependent of a U.S. citizen/resident alien. You can be claimed as a dependent on a U.S. tax return but are not eligible to obtain an SSN.
A nonresident alien husband or wife, who is not filing a U.S. tax return (including a joint return) and who is not eligible to obtain an SSN but who, as a spouse, is claimed as an exemption.
Nonresident alien student, professor, or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exception.This individual has not abandoned his or her residence in a foreign country. Must be a bona fide student, professor, or researcher coming temporarily to the United States solely to attend classes at a recognized institution of education, to teach, or to perform research.
Your ITINs can expire
If you have not used your ITIN number in one of the three most recent years on a US tax return or if it has certain middle digits, then it may expire. If your ITIN has expired, then you can renew it by following the same instructions as applying for a new ITIN.
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