Starting a small business is no small task, but trying to do so as a foreign national in the U.S. can make things feel complicated–especially when it comes to figuring out taxes.
Getting an EIN is an important step in your journey as a new small business owner. Your business’ EIN is what connects your tax documents to other important business processes.
But you may have noticed that the IRS website requires a social security number (SSN) for EIN applications. But what can you do if you don’t qualify for one?
Keep reading to learn how you can apply for an EIN without an SSN.
What is an Employer Identification Number?
A Federal Employer Identification Number, often called an EIN, is a tax identification number assigned to business entities by the Internal Revenue Service. This is the number your business references on tax forms that links all related tax activity to your business.
U.S. businesses can apply for an EIN through the IRS website for free, but only if they meet the requirements. To apply for an EIN online yourself for your business, you need to have a social security number or an ITIN, and a U.S. address.
Partnerships, corporations, many Limited Liability Companies (LLC) and sole-proprietorships with employees need to file for an EIN. You need an EIN to do basic business functions like file taxes, open a business bank account, hire employees and independent contractors, and apply for licenses and permits.
How to Apply for an EIN Number Without an SSN? (step-by-step)
Getting an EIN is a pretty straightforward process, even if you’re a foreign national without an SSN. You just need to find the method that matches your situation.
Only certain foreign nationals qualify for a social security number, based primarily on their immigration status. If you’re not one of them, you have two main avenues to apply for an EIN.
Option 1: Apply for an EIN with an ITIN
ITIN is short for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. It is a federal tax ID number that can be obtained by certain internationals who are physically present in the U.S.
- Check if you’re eligible. Even if you pass a physical presence test in the United States, you may not be eligible for an ITIN. ITINs are reserved for foreign nationals who don’t qualify for an SSN and fall into one of six categories as outlined by the IRS.
- Apply for an ITIN. If you’ve already filed a U.S. tax return in a previous tax year, you might already have an ITIN. But if you don’t, you can complete IRS Form W-7 to get an ITIN assigned to you.
- Complete the online application process for an EIN. Now that you have your ITIN, you are eligible to apply for an EIN! Head over to the IRS website to complete the free online application. You’ll need to enter your ITIN and other personal information.
- Save your EIN. You should get your EIN within a few minutes of submitting your application. Take a screenshot of the final page to save your EIN, and save it in a safe place.
The IRS recommends using the online application for the quickest service, but it is possible to apply for an EIN by fax or mail by using IRS Form SS-4.
Option 2: Apply for an EIN with a third-party designee
Without an SSN or ITIN, you’ll need to turn to outside help to get your EIN. This is an option for foreign nationals in the U.S. who don’t qualify for an ITIN, or who live outside of the U.S. If that’s you, you’ll need to find a third-party designee.
Third-party designees are appointed by you, the business owner, to represent your business to the IRS. As your designee, this person will apply for an EIN on your behalf, with a U.S. address, and is authorized to speak to the IRS about your business. As such, they must be US residents and professionally qualified to speak on your behalf.
Here’s what to do if you don’t qualify for an SSN or ITIN:
- Find a third-party designee. This is usually a business lawyer or tax professional. Make sure you do your research to find someone you trust, and who is familiar with the process.
- Wait for your third-party designee to file your application. Make sure you stay in touch with them to provide all the personal information they need. You should also ensure you understand the expected timeline–each attorney may operate a little differently.
- Save your EIN. The EIN itself will be issued to your third-party designee. Once they send it to you, save it in a safe place.
How Long Does it Take to Get an EIN (without an SSN)?
The time it takes to get an EIN for those without a social security number depends on your situation.
For an EIN using your ITIN, your application process looks the same as for those with an SSN. You can simply fill out the free online application, and receive your EIN within just a few minutes in most cases.
If you use a third-party designee, your process will take a bit longer because of the prep work you’ll need to do. If you don’t already have a U.S. based business lawyer that you work with, you should spend some time making sure you find the right fit before selecting someone as a third-party designee.
Related: How long does it take to get an EIN?
Your third-party designee is then responsible to complete Form SS-4 on your behalf, either online or by paper. In most cases, they would do it online to save time, but remember that you’re not their only client: you’ll want to confirm a turnaround time with your attorney, but it’s not uncommon for the process to take up to two business weeks once they have all of your information.