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Self-Publishing From Outside USA: How To Reclaim US Tax on Indie Author Royalties

If you are a non-US author, your royalties from your US book sales will be subject W8-BEN Form reclaim form. Self-publishing authors reclaim your US Taxto a 30% withholding tax until you complete the necessary paperwork to claim exemption. And we know how you just love paperwork. Never fear, Karen Inglis makes it easy, with her step-by-step guide. 

Update April 2016: THE INFORMATION BELOW IS NO LONGER CURRENT. The Amazon tax form is now filled online and very user-friendly, requiring only an e-signature. EIN is gone as an option on the form. It’s ITIN (for US) or local tax number for non-US, personal tax number for sole traders or Corporation Tax Number for those authors who have a company. i.e. You only have to provide your local tax file number. The entire process now takes about five minutes compared to the frustrating process in the past, as outlined below.

The amount of tax exemption you can claim depends on
the treaty your country has with the US. If you’re based in the UK, the withholding rate is 0%, so you can claim full exemption. (In this case, you then declare the foreign income on your UK personal or company tax return and pay tax on it in the UK.)

You can check which countries have a tax treaty with the USA here. You may need to check with your own tax department to get the withholding rate for your country.

KEY STEPS TO CLAIM REDUCED OR NO US WITHHOLDING TAX

In short these are:

  • Obtain a tax identification number – called an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) for individuals or an EIN (Employer Identification Number) for businesses.
  • Complete and send a form W8-BEN, which includes your US tax ID, to each of your US distributors. They will then be able to pay your royalties in line with the exemption amount instead of automatically withholding 30% tax. (You can probably ask them to defer paying you any royalties until they have the form.)

Self-Publishing From Outside USA: How To Reclaim US Tax on Indie Author Royalties. By ALLi Member Karen InglisGetting an individual tax ITIN takes many weeks, so make a start as soon as you can. Oddly, it takes just half an hour to get an EIN if you’re a business. I’ve outlined both processes below. (Editor’s Note: Lots of our members have managed to get their EIN in 30 minutes or less by following Karen’s instructions — most of that time is spent on the overseas phone-call, waiting for a customer service rep to become available.)

HOW TO GET AN ITIN IF YOU’RE PUBLISHING AS AN INDIVIDUAL

This process requires you to take or send your passport to the US embassy. After the bullets I’ve added a link to a UK author who describes the process in detail. (I have an EIN so didn’t use this method.)

  • Request an original hand-signed letter from your US book distributor or publisher, addressed to the IRS, which states that you need an ITIN because you are going to receive royalties and wish to apply for a US withholding tax exemption or reduction. (Your distributor probably has a process for issuing these letters, and may make a small charge. But it can can take time: for example, Smashwords says that it can take them 3-6 weeks to snail-mail the letter to you.)
  • While waiting for your letter, download and compete form W-7 from the IRS website (PDF). (Here are instructions for completing form W-7.)
  • If you’re based in the UK, take (or send special delivery) your completed W-7 form,  your distributor’s hand-signed letter, and your passport to the American Embassy in London.  They need to your passport as evidence that you are British and they need the hand-signed letter to prove that you are being paid by an American company. Copies won’t be accepted.
  • It seems that since summer of 2012 they now send your passport along with the other documents to Texas for processing, rather than taking a copy of your passport as they did previously.
  • It can take up to six weeks and sometimes longer to process your application – after which your documents are returned and you are notified from the US of your ITIN.
  • Once you receive your ITIN, download and complete form W8-BEN (PDF) – making sure that you include you ITIN on it. (The form is dated 2006 but seems to be the most recent.
  • Now send your completed form W8-BEN to your US distributor/s in accordance with their instructions. Once they have this they can pay your royalties without applying the full 30% witholding tax.

 In the comments section of UK author Scarlett Parrish’s blog below, an author says that the US Embassy in London agreed to send her UK Photo ID Driving Licence away instead of her passport – having already been presented with the original passport and an original birth certificate.  Whether this is typical I am not sure – but read the full blog post and comments on Scarlett’s website below.

I’m afraid I don’t have the detailed process for other countries, but assume that it will be similar.

  • Now send your completed form W8-BEN to your US distributor/s in accordance with their instructions. Once they have this they can pay your royalties without applying the full 30% witholding tax.

Note: Reading around, it seems that some self-publishers decide the application process is more hassle than it’s worth until they get a measure of their US sales. For example, if you’re an individual based in the UK and pay 20% tax, by not doing anything you will lose out on 10% of your royalties, by declaring the income as ‘taxed at source’ on your tax return.

HOW TO GET AN EIN IF YOU’RE PUBLISHING AS A COMPANY OR EMPLOYER

Bizarrely, it’s a lot simpler for non-US businesses than it is for individuals to get a US tax ID – in fact, it just took me half an hour! Don’t be put off by the reference to ‘employer’ – if you are a director of your own company you still need an EIN.

  • Read the notes on page 2 of the form – these confirm which questions you can miss off since you are only applying to get this EIN for tax withholding purposes.
  • Complete the form – you can fill the fields in online and then save and print the form. (See the ‘Tips’ section below for answering question 9a.)
  • Next call the IRS’s dedicated line for businesses that are located outside of the US: 1-267-941-1099 (not toll free). You need to have your completed form SS-4 beside you as they will ask you about your entries. (See the ‘Tips’ section below for how to avoid being asked to fax the form.)
  • They then give you the number over the phone and say to expect it and relevant paperwork in the post in the next 2-3 weeks. And it does…
  • Send form W8-BEN to your distributors in line with their instructions.

NB: Non-US publishing companies cannot apply for an EIN online, so ignore any instructions you see on this as they are directed at US corporations.

TIPS FOR WHEN COMPLETING FORM SS-4 AND CALLING THE IRS

  • On form SS-4, at question 9a tick ‘Other’ and enter ‘Limited Company (UK)’. The only other possible option at 9a would be to tick ‘corporation’ – which seems to refer to US incorporated companies. The woman at the IRS I spoke to agreed that my approach seemed the best answer.
  • When you call, make it clear that you are the owner/director of the business. I say this because when I first called, the woman told me I would need to fax the form while I was on the phone to her (impossible as I only have one phone line…).  At that point I had to come off the phone and had planned to call back on my mobile to enable me to fax whoever took the call (it’s a call centre type set-up), but then found it would cost me 72p per minute to do this! So I called from my landline again and the next woman I spoke to said she could do it over the phone without faxing her the form SS-4 because I was the owner of the business.
  • Have the date of incorporation of your company to hand. Even though their page 2 instructions said I didn’t need to fill in that information, they still asked me for it.

You can find general instructions for completing form SS-4 here.

GETTING HELP: US TAX OFFICES BASED IN EUROPE AND CHINA

You can find contact details for IRS offices in the UK, France, Germany or China here. I’ve not yet tried this out, but, according to the IRS website, “The IRS offices listed can answer your federal income tax questions, help with account and refund problems, and assist with the preparation of current and prior year tax returns.”

You can read more about withholding tax on the IRS website.

 

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14 Responses to Self-Publishing From Outside USA: How To Reclaim US Tax on Indie Author Royalties

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  7. Philippa Rees May 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    The number you give for the way for someone outside the US to obtain an EIN is ‘not recognised’ Have you an alternative? The Embassy in London does not offer any means of asking this simple contact question.

    The IRS webside does not seem to either? Would be grateful for help from any source.

  8. Geoff Harrison December 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Thanks for this. Most informative.

    I’m not keen on having to send my passport off to London nor is it really practical for me to go and visit the US embassy… So that presents me with two questions.

    Firstly, if I were to visit the embassy do they still send off the passport to the US?

    Secondly, if I were to use the other option… the EIN… what is required in seeing that up? I don’t have my own company for a start.

  9. Tax Services California November 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    This all depends on how one will react to the situation….

  10. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen June 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Thank you for this interesting post. I called the IRS office in Frankfurt in May. The woman there told me I had to call or fax the IRS in the USA. All the same she went through form SS-4 with me and was very helpful.
    Martina Sevecke-Pohlen, kontakt@sevecke-pohlen.de

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