How (not) to submit a W8-BEN: Canadian retailers dealing with US income

As a Canadian retailer selling books on Amazon’s Createspace, (an American company), I suffer a 30% tax by the US government. (Aside: this is not a good way to promote global trade in a country that is nearer to economic collapse than ever before). Canadian residents are supposed to have this entire tax waived. In order to have the tax waived, I need to supply a W8-BEN form to Createspace. This sounds quite trivial, but the steps involved are time consuming and error prone. If you’re trying to figure out how to do this, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get a Certified Copy of your Canadian passport. If you’re lucky enough to live near a city that has an official Passport Canada Office go there and have them certify it. Service Canada and Canada Post cannot perform this service. If, like many Canadians, you are not so lucky, you’ll have to mail it to this address:
    Passport Canada
    Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
    Gatineau, Canada K1A 0G3

    with a letter requesting the certified copy service. It will take up to four weeks for your passport to be returned, so don’t plan any international travel. You can also get the passport certified at a US embassy or by a US notary (the IRS won’t trust a Canadian Notary).

  2. Fill out a W-7 form. This is fairly straightforward. The IRS has instructions but they don’t make much sense. Mail the form to this address, with the certified copy of your passport:

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

  3. Wait for the IRS to get back to you. In my case they didn’t. They did get the form though, because I started getting official IRS e-mail spam. They just never gave me a TIN or responded in any physical fashion whatsoever. So I had to start the process over, continuing to lose 30% of my income every month, and going without my passport for another month.
  4. Fill out the W8-BEN form. The IRS has instructions for this too. You’ll have to include your TIN in this form.
  5. Send the form to whichever company is withholding taxes from you for the US government.

After the IRS lost or destroyed or rejected my application, without telling me, I had no way to contact them to find out what had happened. There is no e-mail address on their site, no web submit form, no phone number for international service. They don’t even seem to encourage using their mailing address.

Even worse, for me, Zazzle has now also started withholding this 30%, and they refuse to send my funds AT ALL until I submit the W8-BEN. A substantial portion of my income is now being held hostage or stolen by the US government, and they are cleverly refusing to give me the information I need to free it.

Taxes are a difficult matter, and we all complain about them. Dealing with the IRS has given me a huge appreciation for how intelligently the Canada Revenue Agency has streamlined their processes in recent years. Interacting with the IRS is like using smoke signals. Interacting with the CRA is like using a telegraph. Hopefully both countries will be able to handle the simplicity of the Internet someday soon.

2 Comments

  1. Ross says:

    Did you ever manage to get your TIN? Or get any feedback on your W-7?

    I haven’t submitted mine yet, but I will be soon.

    Thanks

    • dusty says:

      Hy Ross,

      My TIN finally did arrive in the mail around the time I had finished paying my account to submit a third application. The first attempt was lost completely, and the second must have been hand delivered by a three legged turtle, but it did work out eventually.