The High-touch Legal Services® Blog…for Startups!

© 2009-2021 Dana H. Shultz

Foreign Company Alert: Obtaining an EIN may be your Biggest Challenge in the U.S.

Logo of the Internal Revenue Service, which issues EIN (Employer Identification Number)Although Dana Shultz has retired as a lawyer, he still obtains EINs for international clients because such activity does not constitute the practice of law.

When a foreign company wants to start up in the U.S., it usually creates a separate corporation here so U.S. obligations and liabilities will not flow back to the overseas parent. The U.S. corporation needs a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) – at the very least, to open a bank account, even if the corporation will have no employees in the U.S. In a recent post on its website (Responsible Parties and Nominees), the Internal Revenue Service recently made it more difficult for foreign companies to obtain an EIN.

To obtain an EIN, the corporation typically provides the social security number (SSN) of a “principal officer”. In the past, the IRS was rather vague as to what this term meant, stating that it referred to a “president, vice president, or other principal officer”. So, for example, if the corporation’s overseas president did not have an SSN because s/he never worked in the U.S., the corporation could temporarily appoint as vice president an individual who has an SSN, which the corporation then would use to apply for an EIN.

The IRS now states that it “does not authorize” this approach because it facilitates tax non-compliance. Instead, the principal officer must be someone who “controls, manages, or directs the applicant entity and the disposition of its funds and assets”.

EIN – Update as of July 13, 2023

People occasionally ask how well the IRS is doing relative to its ostensible one-week response time. I haven’t addressed this for a while, so here is the latest report (which is similar to the one I provided two years ago):

  • Not having received an EIN for ten days (after faxing the SS-4), I called the IRS.
  • Rather than wait on hold for 15-30 minutes, I requested a call-back, which I received precisely at the scheduled time.
  • After faxing the SS-4 to the agent and giving him my identifying information, he said that the EIN had been assigned, he gave it to me by telephone, and I emailed it to my client in the U.K.
  • A week later, the IRS also provided the EIN to me by fax.

EIN – Update as of June 22, 2021

Great news: The IRS is back to its standard EIN assignment turnaround time of four business days for faxed SS-4s!

Today I obtained an EIN for an international client for the first time since late last year. I faxed the SS-4 a week and a half ago. Not yet having received an EIN, I called the IRS. Rather than wait on hold, for 15-30 minutes, I requested a call-back. I was told that I would receive a call in 20 minutes, and that is what happened. After faxing the SS-4 to the agent and giving him my identifying information, he said that the EIN had been assigned, and he gave it to me by telephone. I was thrilled! I promptly emailed the EIN to my client in Australia. It’s the beginning of his work day, there, so he probably is as excited as I am!

EIN – Update as of November 6, 2020

Here is my latest real-world result obtaining an EIN for an international client:

  • SS-4 faxed August 25, 2020.
  • I called on October 29 (a bit later than the expected 45-business-day turnaround) and obtained the EIN by telephone. (Hints: Call late in the week and late in the day to avoid an overloaded IRS phone system, and use the callback option to avoid an extended period on hold.)
  • The IRS finally faxed the EIN (which I already had received by telephone) to me on November 6, i.e., more than 50 business days after I applied for it.

EIN – Update as of September 10, 2020

Bad news: Today an IRS agent told me that because of the COVID-19 backlog, expected turnaround time for an EIN now is 45 business days!

In other words, the May-through-July experience of my client described below now is the new normal.

EIN – Update as of May 27, 2020

COVID-19 has paralyzed obtaining EINs for foreign clients for an extended period of time – see details below.

I recently tried to fax a Form SS-4 for a foreign client. That is impossible, because the phone line constantly is “busy”.

So I decided to send the SS-4 to the IRS’s EIN Operation in Cincinnati, Ohio via FedEx. I called the telephone number there to obtain a street address. A voice message stated that the building is closed, which probably means that the fax machines have been turned off, thus the constant busy signal (there is no point accepting faxes that no one will see).

So, I sent the SS-4 via Postal Service certified mail, return receipt requested. Adding several days for delivery to the target one-week turnaround means that that soonest that I reasonably can hope to obtain an EIN is in about two weeks. I intend to update this post once I actually receive the EIN.

After more than two weeks had passed, I tried calling the IRS, and finally, on June 19, I sat through a hold time that was not unbearably long. The IRS agent told me:

  • I had not received Postal Service confirmation that the SS-4 was delivered because most IRS mail facilities were not staffed during that period.
  • Earlier that week, the IRS had restarted its fax capability.

So, I faxed the SS-4, again, in effect restarting the process after three weeks of nothing happening. With a little luck, my client will have an EIN in another week or so.

And the saga continues:

  • June 30 – I received Postal Service confirmation that the mailed SS-4 ostensibly had been delivered on May 26!
  • July 1 – After 20 minutes on hold, I got through to an IRS agent. After another 40 minutes, we wrapped up our conversation, because she could not find the SS-4 on their system. She speculated that perhaps it is in a queue behind all of the other EIN requests that built up while the IRS was out of service. In any event, as a precautionary measure, I re-faxed as a “second request”.
  • July 17 – I just spoke with someone at the IRS. No EIN, yet, but I believe we now have a target timeframe. The IRS expects to be back to its standard (four-day) turnaround time for submissions received starting on August 1. The implication is that the backlog of submissions received during the COVID-19 shutdown should be gone (i.e., we should have an EIN) by July 31. That now is my target date.
  • July 31 – I received the EIN by calling the IRS – ten weeks after initially requesting it! My guess is that also will be faxed to me next week, so I saved a few days by calling.

EIN – Update as of March 26, 2019

The partial government shutdown earlier this year has taken its toll on obtaining EINs for foreign clients.

I faxed an SS-4 for a client on March 7, stamped as received by the IRS on March 8.

It appears that the IRS began processing it on March 14, within the one-week target turnaround time for EIN assignment. However, I did not receive faxed confirmation of the EIN until today, two-and-a-half weeks after submitting the request! (Fortunately, I called the IRS a week ago to obtain the EIN by telephone, albeit without written confirmation at that time.)

I have no way to predict how long such delays will continue. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about this problem being resolved anytime soon.

EIN – Update as of September 16, 2017

The IRS has new fax numbers:

  • Principal place of business in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia – +1 855-641-6935
  • No principal place of business in the 50 states or D.C. – +1 855-215-1627 from within the U.S.; +1 304-707-9471 from outside the U.S.

EIN – Update as of March 19, 2014:

To obtain an EIN quickly and easily online, the corporation’s principal officer must have a US social security number (SSN).

However, if the president is a foreign national, then s/he probably does not have an SSN (or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). In this situation, the following process should be followed:

Update: Effective January 6, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service implemented a new cost-saving procedure that, unfortunately, extends the time that I require to obtain an EIN for my international clients by several days (by fax after one week rather than by telephone in real time). The new procedure is reflected below.

  1. Retain a lawyer, or another qualified individual, to act as the third party designee for the corporation. See How Much Does It Cost to Obtain an EIN?
  2. The designee should prepare Form SS-4 (Application for Employer Identification Number) and Form 8821 (Tax Information Authorization) for the corporation’s president to sign and return.
  3. The designee faxes the signed Forms SS-4 and 8821 to the Internal Revenue Service at +1 859-669-5760 (859-669-5987 if the entity applying for the EIN has no principal place of business in the U.S.).
  4. Approximately one week later, the IRS faxes an EIN confirmation letter to the designee.
EIN – Update as of October 23, 2014:
    • The principal value (to me) of the 8821 referenced above was that the IRS (supposedly) would send a 147C letter confirming the EIN. However, the vast majority of the time the IRS did not comply with this request. Instead, it just wrote the EIN on the SS-4 and faxed it back to me. So I recently stopped sending the 8821.
  • Today, for the first time, when requesting an EIN for a limited liability company (LLC) I received fax stating that I needed to fax back to the IRS the original documents that I sent plus the LLC’s Articles of Organization, because the IRS wants to know the state of formation. While that is relevant information, and the SS-4 requests it for corporations, neither the form nor its instructions requests that information for LLCs!

The IRS never ceases to amaze….

EIN – Update as of December 16, 2014:

Last week, the IRS surprised me, again.

I received a fax back stating that “FOREIGNUS” on Line 7b (see discussion below) is not valid – despite the fact that I had submitted dozens of Forms SS-4 completed that way during the past several years!

I called the IRS to ask what the problem was. The gentleman who answered was friendly, but he was not able to help me. He pointed out that the IRS has thousands of employees, and some of them interpret rules differently. (Great….)

The fax that I received provided a hint, referring to non-resident aliens. So, I changed Line 7b to “NONE – NON-RESIDENT ALIEN”. A few days later, I received an EIN for my client. I since have discovered that “NONE – FOREIGN” also works.

EIN – Update as of September 4, 2015:

Phone numbers to call if the EIN does not arrive within one week:

  • If the entity has a principal place of business in the U.S. – 800-829-4933
  • If the entity has no principal place of business in the U.S. – 267-941-1099
EIN – Update as of September 10, 2015

Yesterday I learned (a year and a half later!) that the fax-the-SS-4-and-wait-a-week approach is required only for entities having a principal place of business in the U.S. (Unfortunately, the IRS agent who carefully explained the new procedure to me in early 2014 did not make this distinction!)

For entities having a principal place of business outside the U.S., the procedure that I had been using since 2009 (described in the archive below and expanded upon here) still is available:

    • Call 267-941-1099 (preferably not during prime business hours, when one either is kicked off the phone system due to lack of capacity or must wait a long time).
  • The agent will request some information; provide a number for faxing the SS-4; review the faxed SS-4 and ask further questions; and provide an EIN at that time by telephone.

Summary of EIN Procedure as of May 29, 2017
  1. Retain a lawyer, or another qualified individual, to act as the third party designee for the corporation. See How Much Does It Cost to Obtain an EIN?
  2. The designee should prepare Form SS-4 (Application for Employer Identification Number) for the corporation’s president to sign and return.
  3. If the entity has a principal place of business in the U.S., the designee faxes the signed Form SS-4 (with the entity’s formation document certified by the applicable Secretary of State) to the Internal Revenue Service at +1 859-669-5760. Approximately one week later, the IRS faxes an EIN confirmation letter to the designee.
  4. Alternatively, if the entity has no principal place of business in the U.S., the designee calls +1 267-941-1099 (preferably not during prime business hours, when one either is kicked off the phone system due to lack of capacity or must wait a long time). The agent will request some information; provide a number for faxing the SS-4; review the faxed SS-4 and ask further questions; and provide an EIN at that time by telephone.

The following information is out of date and continues to be included in this post solely for archival purposes:

The bottom line: A foreign company looking to start up in the U.S. will need to include, among its officers, at least one who (a) controls, manages, or directs the corporation and the disposition of its funds and assets and (b) has an SSN.

* * *

Update as of December 7, 2009

A tax practitioner in Florida provided the following information:

I work in the tax advisory service line and focus on mostly international tax services. This of course includes helping foreign entities establish US operations, which I see is one of your specialties. I took a minute to browse your blog and saw that you’ve run into the principal officer SSN problem on the EIN application. From my experience, the IRS does not reject the application if an SSN is not included.? We simply enter “FOREIGNUS” on line 7b of the SS-4. The only issue is that the EIN cannot be applied for online because the system rejects anything that is not in a ###-##-#### format.

Another couple of tips for the SS-4 for foreign applicants:

  • Enter a US c/o person on line 3
  • Use a US address for mailing address and the foreign address for street address
  • Call (267) 941-1099 [number updated October 2010] to obtain the EIN directly from an agent and they will give you a fax number so you can fax them the SS-4

The bottom line: Foreign companies whose officers do not have Social Security Numbers should use the telephone, rather than the IRS website, to obtain an EIN. But be prepared for a long wait – when I called to confirm the procedure, I hung up after being on hold for about ten minutes.

* * *

Update as of March 15, 2010

Dealing with the IRS has been much worse than I expected. Repeated problems include:

  • Calls that do not go through
  • Calls that, once they go through, have sound quality so poor that I must re-dial
  • Calls that, once they go through, are on music hold for an extended time
  • Fax machines that receive transmissions properly from dedicated fax machines (which I do not have) but not from computers or multifunction (all-in-one) devices (which, of course, I have)

I have wasted hours during the past two working days, yet I still do not have an EIN for one of my clients. Tomorrow I will traipse over to a storefront office-services company to see whether their fax machine can communicate successfully with the IRS.

Now I know, first-hand, why people speak so poorly about the Internal Revenue Service.

Postscript: The fax machine at nearby FedEx Office worked successfully with the IRS equipment.

Post-postscript: I ended up buying a traditional fax machine so I wouldn’t have to leave my office to work with the IRS.

* * *

Update as of December 3, 2013

During the past year or so, in connection with a geographic relocation of responsibility for issuing EINs, the IRS has dramatically improved its level of service.

  • Personnel are more friendly and more gracious.
  • Wait times appear to have been reduced significantly.
  • A new, more-reliable fax capability has been implemented.

Related Posts:

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

International, Startup, Tax
  1. 12/3/2009 | 11:46 am Permalink

    Interesting article Dana. I read this to mean the government places a value on its taxpayers. It kind of makes me happier to be a US taxpayer, when I read they are closing the foreign entity loopholes.

  2. 3/19/2010 | 5:04 am Permalink

    HI, I have also faxed in my application for EIN ( I do not have SSN). its been 4 days, I havent get the number back by fax. on the IRS website, it says you will get FAX back with your EIN within 4 business days.

    if IRS deny your application for EIN, will they fax or notify you?

    thanks for the great info, if this works, it would save me a lot of time

  3. 3/19/2010 | 8:10 am Permalink

    The approach I used was to place a telephone call (to the 215 number) first. Then, after providing some information by telephone and while still on the line, I faxed the SS-4. The IRS confirmed the information, asked a couple of questions, and then told me the EIN by phone (rather than fax-back).

    I have never tried the fax-only approach that you described. You might be better off using the approach that I did. Good luck!

  4. 6/9/2010 | 7:47 am Permalink

    I called the 215 number. Whole process took less than 10 minutes, EIN provided on the phone, no SSN or ITIN required.

  5. 9/10/2010 | 6:53 am Permalink

    I obtained a US EIN on behalf of a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of a foreign corporation. Neither the foreign parent nor its officers had a pre-existing EIN/SSN. I completed the Form SS-4 and had the foreign parent’s officer sign. I then called the 215 number to obtain the EIN over the phone and learned something critical — you cannot put the third-party designee’s address (e.g., attorney or accountant) on lines 4a and 4b unless you can provide the IRS with a power of attorney (Form 2848 or 8821) specifying that you, as the third-party, are allowed to apply for and obtain a copy of the EIN confirmation letter. So while I was on the phone I told the IRS to use the foreign parent’s street address in the foreign country for both lines 4aand b and 5a and b. They were fine with this. They also did not take issue with the fact that no U.S. EIN/SSN was provided on lines 7a and b, on which I simply put “FOREIGNUS”. Obtained the EIN over the phone in less than 15 minutes. Foreign parent will receive official EIN confirmation letter in the mail in 4-6 weeks but it will not go to me as I did not provide a power of attorney. No big deal as I will simply instruct the client to mail me a copy when received.

  6. 9/10/2010 | 6:55 am Permalink


    PS — This cite is the best source of information I found about the process — very helpful and kudos to the organizer!

  7. 10/10/2010 | 10:45 am Permalink

    Can a new formed C-Corporation with only ONE shareholder, director, officer… NOT living in the United States with EIN have employees or subcontractors for the US company but based in the local country?

  8. 10/10/2010 | 2:10 pm Permalink

    @Engel Sanchez
    From the U.S. perspective, yes. I am not in a position to comment, however, on whether the laws of the local country limit the ability of an individual there to work as an employee or independent contractor of a U.S. company.

  9. 10/13/2010 | 8:11 am Permalink

    Thanks Dana. Really appreciate your answer. But one things I am thinking… Imagine that there is no problem with the local country… as the US business would not be operating locally, only contracting people. What benefits apply to the local worker or contractor…
    Do the local worker have to pay social security etc. do they need ITIN each one. Is it OK for the IRS that a company have NONE employees, so not pay wages, SS, etc. and only use subcontractors from the local country?
    In my ideal world what I would like to do is create a subsidiary in US and then use my local company as subcontractor using of course fair and market prices for legal matters. The advantage I see is that in that way I could market the company (same name perhaps) as a US based one for the USA market, but keep my local company running as usual doing the actual job. Pay taxes in USA, pay dividend taxes in USA… then apply for tax credit in my country so that I dont have a triple taxation as most business will come from USA. Is that acceptable for the IRS?

  10. 10/13/2010 | 10:09 am Permalink

    @Engel Sanchez
    I’m not a tax expert, so I am not qualified to answer many of your questions.
    I have clients that set up a U.S. entity and, as you described, subcontract to an existing foreign entity. There is nothing objectionable about this. You should retain a tax advisor who is familiar with international related-entity transactions (and “transfer pricing”), because it is important to characterize transactions properly to minimize taxes.

  11. 11/21/2010 | 9:37 am Permalink

    Hello Dana

    I?m peruvian (without SSN) running a company in Lima and want to open a business in us (doesnt have to be a subsidiary. Can be a separate company). I will export some items from my company in Peru to US. I will make sales online in Peru and will need to hire a person in us for distribution purposes.

    I have researched that a LLC would be fine since I would be the only owner. I understand that I require an EIN in order to start up the company. For me is clear that I have to submit the SS-4 form. I will do over the phone. Will I need to submit the W-7 form too? For me is not clear the ITIN figure.

    Please, advise the rest of the process. Thanks , I appreciate your guidance.

  12. 11/21/2010 | 5:23 pm Permalink

    @Jorge Soto
    You do not need an ITIN, so there is no need to submit Form W-7 (which is good, because obtaining an ITIN takes a long time – thus my post about how to obtain an EIN).

  13. 1/26/2011 | 8:15 pm Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    I think there is a contradiction in these blogs? In the article dated Nov 30, 2009 it clearly states that a SSN is required and that the person be an active participant in the business.

    However when you reply to Jorge Soto you say a ITIN is not required?

    Which is it?

  14. 1/26/2011 | 8:31 pm Permalink

    There is no contradiction, because an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN – issued by the Internal Revenue Service) is not a social security number (SSN – issued by the Social Security Administration). The IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. Perhaps you were confused because ITINs and SSNs have the same number of digits and the same format.

  15. 2/13/2011 | 2:58 pm Permalink

    Hi Dana,
    please help me.I would like to export used and new surf-related items from the Us (California) to peru via the odd container load.I am German,but spend a lot of time in Peru,where my family lives. I would like to be able to buy wholesale.Is this possible without being a resident in the US?And if not,how do I get around this problem?I am so confused,please fill me in.

  16. 2/13/2011 | 6:48 pm Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I know little about export laws, so I probably am not the right person to advise you on this issue.

  17. 5/12/2011 | 5:51 pm Permalink

    Do i begin the process to obtain an EIN after the company has been incorporated?

  18. 5/12/2011 | 6:06 pm Permalink

    @John Davis

  19. 5/13/2011 | 12:14 pm Permalink

    Hello Dana, in your post, you mentioned a tax practicioner in Florida,
    he advice that foreign applicants for an EIN
    shoud enter a US c/o person on line 3 of the SS-4 form.

    What does this mean? and how this affect this US person?


  20. 5/13/2011 | 6:05 pm Permalink

    Here, in relevant part, is what the instructions for Form SS-4 say about line 3:

    “If the entity applying has a designated person to receive tax information, enter that person?s name as the ??care of?? person.”

    This information is optional – if no one is identified, tax information will go to the company, generally, rather than to the attention of an identified individual.

  21. 6/14/2011 | 2:19 pm Permalink

    Hello Dana

    I am a British Citizen and I run a reasonably successful graphic design business in London and am looking to branch out and make our 2nd office based in NY.

    Do these rules apply to me also? Any help or advice would me much appreciated


  22. 6/14/2011 | 4:17 pm Permalink

    I recommend that you go to this blog’s Foreign Countries page and follow the steps suggested there. By the time you follow all of the relevant links, most of your questions should be answered.

  23. 7/1/2011 | 8:10 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    Your blog is the most helpful!

    I understand that a person on an H visa can incorporate an LLC (or C-Corp). Can that person also file for the EIN, if they have a social security number (while they are on an H visa)? And as a follow up, can they also file the entity’s taxes (LLC electing to file taxes as a corporation) at year end?

    Thanks very much!

  24. 7/1/2011 | 8:16 am Permalink

    Anyone with an SSN can, as a principal officer of an entity, obtain an EIN for that entity. I’m not a tax expert, so I am not in a position to comment on who can or should file tax returns for an entity.

  25. 3/28/2012 | 4:17 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,
    I registered an LLC to start a company with my friend controlling 70% and me – 30%. My friend never had an SSN, lives at and citizen of foreign country, while am student (on F1 status) in USA working on Curricular Practical Training at a different company. while I have no itentions to work the new company, we wanted to apply for it’s EIN sing my SSN. Does this pose any problem for my F1 immigration status or would that conflict with my CPT , in view of the IRS’s updates to the process of getting an EIN ?

    Would appreciate your valuable feedback/advise,


    • 3/28/2012 | 7:50 am Permalink

      As stated in this post, the LLC can use your SSN to obtain the EIN only if you are a “principal officer”.

      However, as stated in Visa Basics for Foreign Entrepreneurs, Part 2: What Constitutes Work?, being an officer requires a work visa, which you do not have, so I have trouble seeing how your SSN can be used to obtain the LLC’s EIN in a way that complies with both IRS and visa requirements.

  26. 4/27/2012 | 12:20 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    I own a clothing business in Africa and i am trying to branch out to buying wholesale clothing, but the wholesalers keep asking me for “Seller?s Permit/Wholesale Tax ID”. i am not a united states citizen nor have i ever lived there. what am i to do? i also don’t plan on opening a branch in the US, i just want to buy, and i don’t have a online business.

    Thank you.

    • 4/28/2012 | 5:43 pm Permalink

      I believe that the wholesalers will sell to you only if you are a retailer. If you are a retailer, you need a state-issued seller’s permit. When, based on that seller’s permit, you furnish a resale certificate, the wholesaler sells to you without charging sales tax.

      Each state has its own procedures – see, e.g., California’s FAQs for seller’s permits and resale certificates.

      Your problem, of course, is that you are not doing business in any state, so you won’t qualify for a seller’s permit. I’m sorry, but I have no solution for that problem.

  27. 5/3/2012 | 10:18 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,
    My friend started an IT company in Canada in a partnership. He is a Canadian resident. I am a resident of USA and would like to open a branch in US. Is it possible? We have two more partners who are Indian residents. Thank you so much in advance.

    • 5/7/2012 | 4:53 pm Permalink

      The basic answer is “yes”, though there are many issues you will need to address (e.g., work visas), depending on what you want the company to do and who will do it.

  28. 6/8/2012 | 10:22 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    I opened an LLC and apply EIN using the web. I used my friend’s SSN and address in US to apply the EIN and he is supposed to be the Third Party or Registered Agent. However, the IRS sent the EIN to him only and treat him as as ‘the principal offficer’. May I know what is the implication such as tax and the ownership of the LLC and is there a way to rectify this.
    Thank you very much.

  29. 6/13/2012 | 6:07 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    Please help me out.
    I am an US green card holder currently living and operating my business in the US but my limited liability company is set up in Hong Kong since most of my clients are in Asia. It is a single member firm. I know I am obliged to pay US federal and state taxes, so i would need a file a ss4 to obtain an EIN? On the ss4 form, it doesn’t allow me to put a foreign office address, and it seems like i have to set up a US LLC in my state in order to pay tax? thanks.

  30. 7/4/2012 | 7:24 am Permalink

    Hi Dana,

    I run a European business and am providing consulting services to a US based company. Do I need an EIN (or something else) if I am not planning to open a branch in the US and keep doing my work from Europe?

    Their accountant said I did, but I figured I would not since I will not start a US LLC or any other company.

  31. 7/16/2012 | 6:11 am Permalink

    Foreign Company Alert: Obtaining an EIN may be your Biggest Challenge in the U.S.
    How right! I am desperate for help.
    I have called (267)-941-1099 twice now, to file in Form SS-4, both without success.
    My aim is to obtain an EIN for my Limited company registered in the UK, eventually to claim 0% withholding tax under treaty benefits using Form W-8BEN.
    We have NO involvement in the US, neither want one, except to sell software to US.
    As soon as I mention our company’s name XYZ Limited the operators ask “Who is the owner?” and then try to register us as an LLC. I have intervened to say that I do not want to register an LLC but a Foreign Corporation and one of the operators said “Are you teaching me my job?”. Is it not possible to tick NO for the LLC box (8a) and then check the Corporation box in 9a? Your help will be much appreciated.

    • 7/16/2012 | 11:26 am Permalink

      I routinely check 8a and 9a as you have described.

      I suspect that your problem has to do with the tax return form that must be specified when 9a is checked. (I usually specify 1120.) However, I am not a tax expert or tax advisor, so I am not qualified to help you with this problem.

  32. 7/16/2012 | 12:17 pm Permalink

    Hi Dana,
    Thanks so much for getting back.
    One operator advised that I can enter:
    “9b Corporation (enter form number to be filed): W-8BEN”
    In 10, I tick:
    “Compliance with IRS withholding regulations”, and
    “Other (specify): To obtain a reduction of withholding imposed by section 1441 pursuant to an income tax treaty.”
    So, in order to the avoid the operator effect I will file Form SS-4 by fax and hope that it goes through.
    I appreciate that you cannot advise, but sharing your experience with me was most useful.

  33. 8/17/2012 | 7:06 pm Permalink

    @Mat Ayhan

    Hi, did faxing it in and avoiding an operator work?

  34. 9/11/2012 | 4:50 pm Permalink


    Im living and based in Turkey and just want to do online business in California, USA.We will provide our customers with the best deals on our website, backed with professional support & benefits in a mutual win-win business model between the customer and our company.Our products will be consumer electronics,garden,home.We will do niche marketing model for our market oriented future.My questions how to get Reseller Permit for the California State for foreigners, we do not know about the regulations and business startups like a foreigner , i need full support with clause-by-clause if possible. Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,

    Kerem K?ksal

    • 9/11/2012 | 5:31 pm Permalink

      Sorry – without an individual having a physical presence in CA (there are other requirements, too), you cannot obtain a reseller permit.

  35. 10/10/2012 | 8:43 pm Permalink


    Great post. I was trying to get an EIN for a European client online and it wouldn’t let me because the client doesn’t have a SSN or ITIN. I then starting going through the W-7 form, and after instantly getting a headache, I found this post via Quora.

    Great to know that I can get an EIN without an ITIN by merely faxing or mailing the SS-4 in. Thanks for this!

  36. 11/1/2012 | 2:28 pm Permalink

    Thank you for a very helpful link! I also, like Alan, was on my way into the mess with applying for an ITIN when I found this. I filled in the SS-4 with the hints found here and then called the IRS on toll-free number 800-829-4933. There was really no need to fill in the form as the expedient did it over the phone. After less than 10 minutes I had my EIN!

  37. 12/4/2012 | 9:57 am Permalink

    I have been looking at mycorporation, they said that they can obtain EIN for non us citizens wanting to do business in the US that’s a good start the other piece to the puzzle is obtaining a reseller id# :S

    • 12/4/2012 | 1:13 pm Permalink

      To obtain a California (if that is the state in question) reseller permit, one must be doing business in California.

  38. 1/10/2013 | 3:34 pm Permalink

    I just want to be clear. Can a US Citizen form an LLC and have an EIN issued without providing a SSN?

  39. 3/20/2013 | 11:47 am Permalink

    I know this question has been asked many times everywhere,
    Can a person with H1B (who has SSN)
    1) Obtain EIN? (Employer ID). That is to open a company and work as non-executive CEO?
    2) That start up doesn’t want to have a CITIZEN Owner/CEO yet. (may be after it starts making enough profits)
    3) The H1B person doesnt want to leave his original employer

  40. 6/6/2013 | 3:31 pm Permalink

    Dear Mr. Shultz:
    SS-4 was recently rejected for “Use a US address for mailing address and the foreign address for street address” where the US address in question was that of 3rd Party Designee. Should the US address belongs to someone other than 3rd Party Designee, would IRS have accepted?

    Thank you.

    • 6/6/2013 | 4:26 pm Permalink

      That is correct – the US address must be different from the address of the third-party designee.

  41. 10/24/2013 | 1:51 pm Permalink

    My company is an LLC whose members are all foreign nationals. We were able to obtain an EIN without the responsible party (a foreign national) needing an ITIN or SS. However, now we are hiring US based employees and need to register the company in the State of OR, get an OR business number for payroll and file a C-Corp Election for the LLC with the IRS. We’ve been told that this process requires a responsible party with a tax id. Is this true? If so what is the reason we should provide for submitting form W-7, given that the responsible party is not a US resident nor have they or will they earn income in the US.

    • 10/24/2013 | 3:51 pm Permalink

      I’m sorry, but I know nothing about the process you are describing – perhaps because I am not familiar with OR law, or perhaps because you have not stated who told you about this requirement and where in the process the requirement arises.

  42. 12/2/2013 | 12:24 pm Permalink

    If a foreign individual applies for an EIN and incorporates a C-Corp using the above method without an SSN or ITIN, is this C-Corp treated differently than a normal C-Corp from a SSN holder? I heard that without SSN or ITIN, IRS will see this as a “foreign company”. Is it true? Can this C-Corp hire employ in the US? Any different in taxes? Thanks.

    • 12/2/2013 | 12:48 pm Permalink

      I am not qualified to address taxation, which is outside my areas of expertise. I will note, however, that a foreign-owned corporation needs to retain, in the US, a tax advisor who is familiar with both domestic and international taxation.

      As concerns other matters, I know of no differences that arise because of how the EIN was obtained.

      • 12/2/2013 | 1:14 pm Permalink

        “a foreign-owned corporation needs to retain, in the US, a tax advisor” Is this required by law, or needed to be concluded in some documents filed during the incorporation process? Thank you.

        • 12/2/2013 | 2:33 pm Permalink

          Just a matter of business reality – not a legal requirement.

  43. 12/30/2013 | 12:25 pm Permalink

    Hi Dana. I used to work in the US for a US based company, so I have an SSN. I no longer live and work in the US. Would I be able to use that SSN to get an EIN? (Note: when I left the US, I was working under an H1B Visa, if that helps.) Thanks!

    • 12/30/2013 | 12:55 pm Permalink

      Yes. The SSN is yours for life; where you now live is irrelevant.

      • 12/30/2013 | 12:58 pm Permalink

        Awesome. Thanks so much for your quick response, Dana. Much appreciated!

  44. 1/27/2014 | 5:50 pm Permalink

    Dana, if the officer later obtains an ITIN/SSN, does he need to revise the EIN to add that ITIN/SSN onto the record? How can he do that? Thanks.

    • 1/27/2014 | 6:02 pm Permalink

      There is no need to update the record. Associating an EIN with the principal officer’s SSN happens, if at all, only when the EIN is issued.

  45. 2/5/2014 | 2:58 pm Permalink

    Hello everybody, I want share my experience about setting up a new company (LLC) as a foreign (alien, U.S. not citizen). After arguing with Legalzoom because they told me they can get my EIN only if I provide them my ITIN number, I’m trying to get the EIN number by myself. I faxed the SS-4 form by fax and after 4 days they faxed me back (I bought an US fax number at, you don’t need to buy a fax machine!) saying line 7b is missing. So I just faxed them back again writing “N/A – Foreign” on line 7b also because on the SS-4 instruction is written: “You must enter an SSN, ITIN, or EIN on line 7b unless the only reason you are applying for an EIN is to make an entity classification election (see Regulations sections 301.7701-1 through 301.7701-3) and you are a nonresident alien or other foreign entity with no effectively connected income from sources within the United States.” I’ll keep you posted to see what they will fax me back.

    Anyway this story about IEN/ITIN is pretty obscure and If I’m right and I’ll get my EIN without ITIN, I’ll complain about Legalzoom service.

  46. Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  47. The High-touch Legal Services? Blog ? For Startup/Early-stage Companies » Foreign Parent + U.S. Sub = Legal Firewall

    […] Foreign Company Alert: Obtaining an EIN may be your Biggest Challenge in the U.S. […]

  48. The High-touch Legal Services? Blog ? For Startup/Early-stage Companies » Am I in Trouble if My Accountant Used His SSN to Get My Corporation’s EIN?

    […] last year (see Foreign Company Alert: Obtaining an EIN may be your Biggest Challenge in the U.S.), I wrote about the procedure by which a U.S. entity may obtain an Employer Identification Number […]

  49. The High-touch Legal Services? Blog ? For Startup Companies » Three Important Issues for Foreign Companies Coming to the U.S.

    […] Obtaining an Employer Identification Number if no principal officer has s U.S. social security number – This process is described in Foreign Company Alert: Obtaining an EIN may be your Biggest Challenge in the U.S. […]

  50. Quora

    Does a non-US citizen need an ITIN to obtain EIN for the company?…

    No, you do not need an ITIN – which is a good thing, because because it takes way too long to get one as far as any entrepreneur is concerned. I have obtained EINs for dozens of foreign clients without SSN / ITIN. In my 2009 blog post “Foreign Company…