In the previous post we discussed what an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is and what it is used for. In this post we’ll discuss the process of applying for an ITIN.

To obtain an ITIN you must file Form W-7: Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. If you are applying for a new ITIN, you must complete and attach Form W-7 to your tax return when you file the return for which the ITIN is needed. This return must be paper filed; it cannot be e-filed. If you need to file multiple years, you must paper file the first year for which an ITIN is needed, and then you can e-file the remaining years once your ITIN is assigned.

In addition to completing Form W-7 you also need to submit documentation with it to establish your identity and your foreign status. Such documentation must support the information on Form W-7 and must be either original documents or certified copies of these documents from the issuing agency. The certified copies of the documents are those provided by the original issuing agency that are certified as an exact copy of the original document. They also must contain an official stamped seal from the agency.

There are 13 acceptable documents that qualify to be included with Form W-7. Examples of these documents are passports, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services photo identifications, visas issued by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. and foreign driver’s licenses, U.S. and foreign military identification cards, and civil birth certificates. Once these documents are submitted and reviewed by the IRS, they are mailed back to the applicant within 60 days.

Most individuals understandably do not prefer to send in their original documents and therefore seek to obtain certified copies. While this may seem like a less demanding procedure than mailing in original documents, obtaining the certification can be just as complicated. The copies need to be certified by the issuing agency or by officers at the U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas who can provide certification and authentication services. This poses an additional obstacle for foreign taxpayers who are residing in the United States, as they would need to travel back to their foreign countries in order to have the copies certified.

Thankfully, the IRS has provided a third alternative: you can also submit your Form W-7 with original documents or certified copies in person. You may use the services of an IRS -authorized Acceptance Agent or visit select IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) in lieu of mailing your information to the IRS in Austin. These IRS TACs can verify original documentation and certified copies of the documentation for primary and secondary applicants and their dependents. There is a list of these TACs that offer these services on the IRS website, but service at these locations is by appointment only.

The process for preparing the documents and filing the Form W-7 can be quite cumbersome. More information can be found on the IRS website. It is also advised that if you need to obtain an ITIN and file Form W-7, you enlist a tax professional who can advise the best and easiest way to do so.