How To Get US Credit Cards – Part 2 – ITIN

How To Get US Credit Cards – Part 2 – ITIN
This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series How To Get US Credit Cards

As we continue on our journey on How To Get US Credit Cards we come to our first of many roadblocks, how to establish credit history in the US and what that means for you going forward.  Before I get into it, I want you to read my standard disclaimer:

The content on this web site is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this web site are advised to seek specific legal advice by their own legal counsel regarding any specific legal issues. PointsNerd does not warrant or guarantee the quality, accuracy or completeness of any information on this web site. The articles published on this web site are current as of their original date of publication, but should not be relied upon as accurate, timely or fit for any particular purpose.

I take no responsibility for what you do with the information provided so if the IRS comes knocking … you don’t know me 🙂

Understanding Credit

As you probably know, in Canada, your credit history is associated with your Social Insurance Number (SIN), which is cross-referenced with your current address, previous addresses, and other identifying characteristics.  It probably won’t surprise you that in the US, it’s done exactly the same, except with a Social Security Number (SSN).  As a Canadian, you won’t have an SSN so there’s nothing that a credit issuer can use to pull up any existing credit history or a unique identifier to report on your creditworthiness.  So what can you do?

Can I Use My SIN as my SSN?

If you are up to speed on the SSN vs the SIN, you will know that both are 9 digit identifiers that are uniquely issued to individuals upon application.  And while the format of the SSN (XXX-XX-XXXX) is different from that of the SIN (XXX-XXX-XXX), the number of digits is the same.

So with the number of digits being the same, can you simply use your SIN as your SSN?

In a word, no.

Please God, don’t do this.

To me, this is a moral issue where if your SIN happens to meet the rules of an SSN’s algorithm (which doesn’t always happen), you are essentially committing identity theft.  If you do this, you are causing someone endless grief as you will be applying for credit products using their personal identification and untangling that web is no easy or cheap feat.  Stop and put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you should do this.

Stop and put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you should do this.

I would strongly discourage you from doing this.

Fine, I Won’t Use My SIN … What Else Can I Do?

Well, as a Canadian without an SSN, you need to have a unique identifier that credit issuers can report on to establish your credit history.  Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can issue something called an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).

What Is The Purpose Of An ITIN?

At some point, I intend on publishing a book and using Amazon to sell that book.  The problem is that as a Canadian citizen, Amazon will automatically take 30% of all revenues and hold them to ensure that taxes are paid on my earnings.  In order to not have that happen, I need to prove to Amazon that I will be making my tax contributions to the IRS but how do I do that?  Through an ITIN.

The purpose of the ITIN is to allow the IRS to collect taxes on revenues generated in the US by non-US citizens, and while that is its main purpose, you can use it as a quasi-SSN so that when you apply for a credit product, you can reference that number and credit issuers will be able to look up your US credit history.  This is an incredibly important step as without an ITIN you will not be able to get US credit cards.

How Do I Get An ITIN?

There are three things that you need in order to receive an ITIN from the IRS:

  1. A properly completed W-7 form
  2. Proof of your identity
  3. A signed letter from a withholding agent

Remember in Part 1 where I told you that attention to detail is important?  This is where it comes into play so pay attention as we look at each individual requirement.

W-7 Form

The W-7 form is an IRS form that is required by the US Government to prove that you require an ITIN.  The form itself is fairly easy to fill out but I’ll give you the step-by-step on how to complete it.

You can download the form from the IRS website using the link highlighted here.  If you are looking for the official instructions on how to fill out the form from the IRS, you can find that here.

Instructions
  • At the top of the form, where it asks the Reason you’re submitting Form W-7, check off Box “H” and in the text box to right, type in “Exception 1(d) – Royalty Income”
  • In the text box labeled “and treaty article number“, type in “TIAS 11087”

  • In the Name section, fill out your first, middle (if applicable) and last name.  If you had a different name at birth, list it in the boxes below.
  • In the Applicant’s Mailing Address section, fill in your mailing address in Canada.
  • In the Birth Information section, fill in your real birthdate.  This is important because it will likely be used as an identifier by credit issuers.  Don’t forget to check off your sex.
  • In the Other Information section, check off Passport and fill in 6a and 6d with your passport information.

  • The last section to complete is the Sign Here section.  Simply sign under Signature of applicant, provide the Date and your Phone Number.

Now that you have the W-7 form completed, save it, print it and sign it and put on your desk.  It’s going to be mailed after we get the other things required in order.

Proof of Identity

As part of your W-7 submission, you have to prove to the IRS that you are who you say you are and that’s why you’re required to provide your proof of identity.

You can do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Send in your passport as part of your application – I don’t like doing this with anything because I’m always nervous about it being lost or delayed in having it returned.  With my job, there are occasions where I have last minute travel so I need my passport.  If you don’t need your passport and aren’t as paranoid as I am, then go ahead and send it in … but there’s a better way.
  2. Send in a Certified True Copy of your passport – a Certified True Copy of your passport is simply a photocopy of your passport that is stamped and sealed by the Government of Canada, certifying that the photocopy is a true copy of your passport.  This is an official document and is accepted as if it is your passport.
Getting a Certified True Copy of Your Passport

In order to get a Certified True Copy of your Passport, you will need to complete the Government of Canada’s form, pptc516.  You can find a link to the form here (please note that I had to use Internet Explorer to get the form to download – Chrome did not work).  If you need a copy, I have one stored locally on my server here, (again Internet Explorer is required) but your first choice should always be to get it from the Government of Canada website.

Fill out Sections A, B, and C.

There is a $45 fee to get the Certified True Copy but you can use it for future Visa applications as well.  The $45 fee can get you up to 3 copies, so request 3.

You will need to take the completed form, your passport and the $45 to a Passport Canada Service Location to get it processed and it will take 10 business days.

Signed Letter From A Withholding Agent

In order to get the ITIN from the IRS, they need to know that there is a possibility of revenues being generated by a non-US citizen so they can collect taxes.  There are many self-publishing options based out of the US including Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords that will provide letters supporting your application for an ITIN.

I used Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing when I got my ITIN but for the life of me, I cannot find the link to request the letter but I do recall that it was fairly well hidden and took some cajoling to get the letter sent out to me.  I have read that Smashwords makes it much easier to get the letter through their Contact Form.  I would request the letter similarly as I have noted in the picture below.

The letter from the Withholding Agent can take up to 4-8 weeks to arrive but when it does, assuming you have your Certified True Copy of your Passport, you will have everything you need in order to send away for your ITIN.

This is what the letter will look like:

Packaging It All Together

Once you have everything ready, place your completed and signed W7 form along with your Certified True Copy of your Passport and the letter from Amazon/Smashwords in an envelope.

Send the envelope to the following address if you are sending by regular mail:

Internal Revenue Service
ITIN Operation
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342

If you are sending via courier (FedEx, UPS, etc), use the following address:

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

I scanned all my documents before sending it out to the IRS because it’s much easier printing the letter from Amazon or Smashwords than it would be to re-request it if the letter somehow got lost.

I sent my documentation via courier to make sure that everything got to the IRS and depending on your financial situation or risk appetite, you may want to consider doing the same.

Expected Timelines

Here’s what you can expect in terms of timing:

  • It will take 10 business days to get your Certified True Copy of your Passport
  • It will take 4-8 weeks to get your Signed Letter from a Withholding Agent (at least that’s what it was with Amazon … not sure about Smashwords)
  • It will take 6-8 weeks for the IRS to process your request and return you a letter with your new ITIN.

I was successful after my first attempt but I was meticulous in my attention to detail.  If you hope to be successful, you should double and triple check your work.

It’s a long process and the most painful part of getting US credit cards but ultimately it’s the price you pay for what amounts to access to a treasure trove of points and miles.

Up Next

Now that you have your ITIN in order, you will need to get your first US credit card but first, let’s make sure you have everything you need to ensure you get approved.  In the next part of the series, we’ll look at getting a mail forwarder and a US Bank Account set up.

 

Series Navigation<< How To Get US Credit Cards – Part 1 – IntroductionHow To Get US Credit Cards – Part 3 – Mail Forwarding >>

Also published on Medium.

57 Comments
    1. You can, and I wish you good luck! I’ve tried twice now on trips to the US. Still no ITIN. Long lines, some centres need an appointment (hard to get for the few days you’ll be in town, in my case). Some say they don’t but do. And they tend to close for various reasons for various lengths of time.

  1. Does getting an ITIN have any impact on tax reporting in the US?

    1. Hi Ranjan,

      The only thing I know is that when you have an ITIN, you must report taxable income within 5 years of receiving it. If you do not, the IRS can revoke the ITIN, which defeats the purpose of having it as a unique identifier for your credit history. Any further questions regarding tax implications should be directed to a tax expert. I’m afraid I am not one of those. Cheers

      Jayce

  2. Is it still possible to get an ITIN if you have no income from the USA at all?

    1. Yes it is. You need to file within 5 years or risk losing it though.

      Jayce

    1. Nice! That’s a great data point. Thanks for sharing Jay!

      Cheers
      Jayce

  3. Hi Jayce,

    I worked in America as an intern before (for 4 months) and was issued an SSN number. This was about 4-5 years ago. I still have the SSN in my tax documents. Does this mean I can still use my number? Is there anyway I can verify that it is still active?

    1. Hi Nick,

      I believe you can still use your SSN but you can check it with one of the free credit monitoring sites out there like CreditKarma. If you plug in your details, you can see if the credit bureaus still show it as an active SSN or not.

      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Jayce

  4. I’m an Indian citizen and Canadian Permanent Resident, What would I send in place of Passport ?

    PR card may be ?

    1. Hi Tom,

      I am not certain but you should make a call to the IRS to find out if you can apply using your PR card. I wish I had a more exact answer for you but I simply do not know. Cheers

      Jayce

      1. Thanks Jayce for reply !

        Can someone send me link to send smashwords or amazon ? or do i need to create account first with Smashwords ?

        Also, If I go in person to the IRS centre do they issue the number or they still have to send it to texas ?

  5. Got the supporting letter from Smashwords in 10 days including weekend. now next steps to get the true copies begin.

    1. Great news Tom! Good luck with your next few steps … it’s definitely worth it! Cheers

      Jayce

  6. I might go to IRS center to apply for it as I wont have to send my passport and DL. I will keep everyone posted here.

  7. Was wondering if you could describe what the “Certified true copy” of the passport looks like. I have one from my embassy (I live overseas) that looks like the below stamp + a photocopied picture page of my passport.

    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8050/8426143299_16e6b48ccc.jpg

    Also, with regard to reporting taxable income in the US, how did you go about doing this?

    1. Hi Joe,

      The certified true copy from the the Government of Canada is similar except that the stamp at the bottom of the document is embossed. What you have there looks to be what is required, but I’m not 100% familiar with what documents from the Government of Thailand look like.

      Regarding the taxable income part, it’s best to contact a US tax specialist as my situation is likely very different from yours. If you don’t have any taxable income, you don’t need to file with the IRS. Cheers

      Jayce

      1. Thanks, I appreciate your reply. I actually don’t have one from Thailand – it was just a google example that looked the most similar. I have the emboss on mine as well.

        Thanks for the help, really helps.

  8. After 5 years if you have no income, is there anything you could do to prevent losing ITIN?

    1. Hi Gary,

      You can file a zero dollar tax filing with the IRS. This will allow you to continue to possess the ITIN. Hope that helps.

      Cheers
      Jayce

  9. Thanks for this post, it’s been very informative. I want to ask, when you registered for Kindle, which bank account did you use? Can you use any bank account and then just change it when you get the new Canadian and US account. And which one should you register, the Canadian or the US account?
    I’m confused with this part. Please advise.
    Thank you.

    Harry

    1. Hi Harry,

      The bank account you register does not matter. This is the account that Amazon would deposit your earning into but does not affect whether you would receive your letter from Amazon nor affect whether or not the IRS issues you an ITIN. Hope that helps. Cheers

      Jayce

      1. Thanks for the clarification Jayce. This really helps.

  10. Hi Jayce, I’m trying to fill up the Tax info interview to register for Kindle Direct Publishing. Should I be completing this without an ITIN?
    Or should I put in my SIN, not sure if this is called a foreign TIN? I already entered the bank information though. Please advise.
    Thank you.

    Harry

  11. Jayce quick question when filling put the W-7 Form.

    In the “Reason” section, subsection H). Do you need to fill in the “Enter Treaty Country” part?

    Or just the Treaty article number?

    1. Hi Steve,

      Good catch. Enter Canada into the Treaty Country field. Cheers

      Jayce

      1. Also, section 6e. re: previously had an ITIN or IRSN:

        Just leave that section blank?

  12. I submitted mine second week of December and still no response. Also did it detailed. What do you recommend I do? Anyone to call to get status?

    1. Hi Dave,

      I would suggest waiting a while longer. I imagine that Christmas has slowed things down so it might take a little longer than usual. As far as I know that there’s no way to get an update on the status of the ITIN so you might just need to wait it out. Cheers

      Jayce

  13. Do you need to check off box ‘A’ and enter the actual treaty article number? My application was rejected following the exact instructions here – just wondering if there was anything else missed?

    1. Did the IRS provide any sort of feedback as to why you were denied?

      1. Unfortunately not!

        It just says “the supporting documents that you have sent do not support the exception to filing a U.S. tax return that you claimed”

        1. From RFD:

          IRS debriefed with someone who was also defected based on your situation. IRS said the following:

          1. Box A and H should have both been checked off.

          2. The treaty article number should have been “XII” or “12”, for Canadians filing for Exception 1(d) – Royalties. As per this document. The CSR did not understand what “TIAS 11087” was. I did some quick googling. TIAS 11087 appears to be the Treaty number between Canada and US, but not exactly the “article number”

          3. Possibility that the Smashword letter did not include the actual word “royalty”. (However, I doubt this, since many other people have been successful with Smashword)

          1. Hey Steve,

            Just following up on your message here, so do we have to add article number 12 to the treaty number?
            Such as “TIAS 11087- 12”? just about to file my application and wanted to double check.

            Thanks in Advance,

    2. George, did you check off box “A”? Or just H?

      Also, do you have any idea what the IRS meant by your supporting documents do not support the exception?

    3. Also, did you enter the actually Treaty article number? Or you left that blank?

  14. Thanks for your detailed instructions on this. I followed your steps, using Smashwords, and just received my number yesterday. I have had the US RBC visa for three months now, very easy process as I already had a Canadian RBC account, and I’m pumped to see what happens when I add my ITIN to this card. For those waiting for the ITIN, i mailed (regular mail) my application on March 17, to give you an idea of time frames. The certified passport came back from Passport Canada, in about a week, through regular mail.

  15. Thanks so much for this very detailed information!

    One glitch I’ve run into: I emailed Smashwords with the exact recommended request for a letter to support my ITIN application, and the response I received today stated that I no longer need an ITIN to receive payments from Smashwords. Instead, I can register my Smashwords account and enter the tax identifying number issued in Canada (i.e. SIN number). So, it looks like something has changed at Smashwords.

    Any other suggested places to request a letter to support an ITIN application?

    1. I would suggest going through Amazon Direct Publishing. They will provide an ITIN via mail which can then be used for your AMEX Global Transfer.

      1. How can they provide you with an ITIN. in My casethey have just forwarded me the do a self made declaration from Amazon which the IRS does not accept.

  16. Thanks! I did just that and received a response with a letter within 48 hours. Very pleased!

    1. I’m about to submit my application for the ITIN – quick question – did everyone put in Canadian SIN for section 6B?

      And what is the consensus for Treaty Article Number – are you guys putting in 12 or TIAS 11087? i’m thinking of including one with the other in brackets.

  17. I’m about to submit my application for the ITIN – quick question – did everyone put in Canadian SIN for section 6B?

    And what is the consensus for Treaty Article Number – are you guys putting in 12 or TIAS 11087? i’m thinking of including one with the other in brackets.

  18. So is the consensus to tick both box A and H and leave treaty blank?

    1. Has anyone received a ITIN using the amazon self declaration form?

  19. for the TREATY Number, should we put “TIAS 11087- Article 12” instead of TIAS 11087? As per the RFD message that Steve sent out in the earlier comments.

    Thanks for the help in advance.

  20. My ITIN application came back rejected after 40 days of submission, here is the reason

    “because the supporting documents you sent dont support the exception to filing a US tax return you claimed”

    I followed this procedure for the W-7 form given on this page and used self generated Amazon letter

    Thoughts?

    1. The IRS is weird sometimes. I’ve heard of stories where people reapply with the same info and get it on the second try. I can’t be sure why but if you followed the instructions you should be good to go. I would simply double check and reapply

  21. Hi!

    Smashwords will no longer give out Itin support letters.

    Instead, they have instructed me to go about it this way:

    “Thanks for writing in. We’re no longer providing letters in support of ITIN applications because you no longer need an ITIN to receive royalties from us.

    Instead, when completing the form at Account > Payment Settings (https://www.smashwords.com/account/payee), you can skip line 5 and use your Canadian Social Insurance Number (or SIN) in line 6.”

    Yours,
    Alain

      1. Hey Lee
        Just to clarify. You filled out the form and sent it to them by email so they can print and mail it to you?

      2. Hey Lee,
        Can you detail the steps you did and the links you used to obtain the letter from Amazon?

        Thanks,
        Sam

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *