The American dream has long been one of opportunity: anyone can start a business and have a prosperous future. But what about international entrepreneurs? Many business owners outside the U.S. dream of starting an American business too…but how can you get a business EIN (Employer Identification Number) if you are not a U.S. citizen?
The truth is, entrepreneurs who are not U.S. citizens still have the ability to start a business in America and get that all-important federal tax ID known as the business EIN. Having an EIN makes your business a legal entity in the eyes of the government regulatory authorities, which means you can legally operate and pay taxes to the IRS. There’s just a slightly different process for non-U.S. citizens to apply for and receive a business EIN.
Here is what you need to know about the process for non-U.S. citizens or foreign resident business owners to get a business EIN in the U.S.:
Getting a Business EIN: You Don’t Need a Social Security Number
Many people think that you must have a Social Security Number (SSN) to get a business EIN, but this is a misconception. Non-U.S. citizens who own businesses can still get a business EIN even if they do not have SSNs. Social Security Numbers are for individual persons, while business EINs are for business entities; these two different types of tax IDs are handled differently by the IRS.
You May Need an Individual Taxpayer ID Number
While you don’t need to have an SSN to register a business EIN, it does make the process simpler. This is because the getting an EIN online requires users to have a valid Taxpayer ID Number. Non-U.S. citizens or “foreign persons” typically cannot get a U.S. Social Security Number, but there is another option of taxpayer identification called the “Individual Taxpayer Identification Number” (ITIN).
If you are not eligible to get an SSN, you can apply for an ITIN using IRS Form W7. Getting an ITIN can be helpful in the overall process of obtaining a business EIN, since with an ITIN or SSN you can use the online IRS form to fill out the application for your business EIN.
However, the ITIN only allows you to apply for your EIN online if your business is going to be incorporated in the U.S. According to the IRS, “If you were incorporated outside of the United States or the U.S. territories, you cannot apply for an EIN online.” In this case, instead of applying for a business EIN online, you need to call the IRS directly at 1-267-941-1099 (not a toll-free number).
So, if your company is already incorporated outside of U.S. territory, you likely do not need to bother with getting an ITIN. Instead, you will need to use a different process for applying for a business EIN, which is outlined below.
Foreign Persons Applying for a U.S. Business EIN
If you have no SSN, no ITIN and your business is located (or going to be located) in the U.S., you can still apply for a business EIN. However, the process is more complicated because you are not allowed to apply for the EIN online. To get your business EIN as a foreign person, you need to fill out IRS Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number (EIN).
There are a few options for how to file the EIN application form as a foreign person. First, you cannot file this form online (unless you have an ITIN as discussed above). This means you’ll need to choose whether you want to file the SS-4 form by phone, fax, or mail. According to the IRS Form SS-4 instructions, you have to choose only one application method, and you cannot file the form by multiple methods. Since each method is slightly different, you have to decide whether to apply by phone, fax or mail based on what will work for your situation.
- Phone: Only international EIN applicants can receive a business EIN by phone. According to the IRS instructions for form SS-4: “If you have NO legal residence, principal place of business, or principal office or agency in the U.S. or U.S. possessions, you may call 267-941-1099 (not a toll-free number), 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Eastern time), Monday through Friday, to obtain an EIN.”
- Fax: There is a special fax number to use if you want to apply for your business EIN by fax. Send the relevant IRS form to this fax number: (859) 669-5987. Note: If you apply by fax, you will generally receive your business EIN within four business days.
- Mail: If you prefer to file the IRS Form SS-4 by mail, use this address for international applicants (who do not have any legal residence, principal office or principal agency in any state or international U.S. territory):
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN International Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
Note: If you apply by mail, it might take several weeks for your business EIN to arrive.
Third Party Designee
Working with the IRS can be complicated, especially if you are based outside the U.S. This is why the IRS lets you have the option to work with a Third Party Designee on your behalf. If you want a Third Party Designee (like an attorney) to be allowed to talk to the IRS on your behalf, you can designate this on the IRS SS-4 form. Your Third Party Designee will be allowed to receive your new business EIN on your behalf, which can be helpful in working through the IRS application process to avoid any errors or delays.
If you are ready to get a business EIN for your international or U.S.-based business, reach out to Incfile today to learn more about how we can help you work through the process of getting your business the proper tax identification.