W-8BEN UPDATE 8th August 2018
It’s been a few years since I needed to fill in one of these, but I believe things have changed since I first published my experience of doing this (see below), and in particular, it looks like an EIN is no longer required to complete a W8-BEN form. All you need instead for section 6 is your UK Tax Reference number (many people use their NI number instead, but I have no idea if this is OK, only anecdotal evidence).
You can find the W-8BEN form here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw8ben.pdf
Help guidelines for the W-8BEN are here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw8ben.pdf
And finally, full details on the whole process can be found here: https://www.irs.gov/instructions/iw8ben
This should give you all the information you need. Below is the original post I did, which I’m leaving intact as it still contains some useful pointers including the US Inland Revenue Service help line number (though I haven’t checked if this is still working).
Filling in a W-8BEN Form for UK Companies including EIN, your SS4 and the Affidavit
UK companies and businesses who sell goods and services in the US will need to complete a W-8BEN form for the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) in the States in order to obtain an EIN number.
This number is necessary to allow the company who is selling your goods to pay you free of US federal taxes. Without it you won’t get paid.
The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is issued manually after you submit your application form, and the reason for this article is that filling in that form is not the easiest thing in the world to do!
The W8BEN form enables those who do not wish to start a business in the US or even open a satellite office and want to be able to pay their tax via the UK tax system.
In fact, you will need to fill in the W-8BEN form regardless of whether you want to open a US business or not! It is just a lot easier if you don’t.
Before you can start you need to obtain a form called an SS-4 from the IRS (the US revenue service). Here’s the link to the downloadable PDF (they also include a helper form there):
As we are only dealing with UK entities paying tax in the UK for their US sales, we will only cover the bits relevant to them. SS-4 is actually really simple to fill in. BUT you don’t need to do it at all!
Instead telephone the IRS on this US number: 001 267 941 1099 and press option 2. This is a very popular service so you may have to wait 10 minutes or so. When you get an answer you will be asked a series of questions.
After giving your name and address explain that you only want to get an EIN in order to to comply with ‘IRS Withholding Regulations’ and that you are NOT starting an entity in the US. This will speed up your application massively.
You will be asked when you would like the EIN to be active, say ‘this month’ if you are not sure when you will start trading and it will be made live more or less immediately.
Hint: be extremely polite and patient and you will be finished inside of 10 minutes tops.
At the end, you will be given your EIN number over the phone. Paperwork will follow in a few weeks, but it is the magic EIN number that you will need now to complete the W-8BEN form.
The W-8BEN form is in four parts. Let’s look at each part in turn:
Part 1 Identification of Beneficial Owner
Fill in the details as required. If you are a limited company, tick ‘corporation’ in section 3 – all the other options for entity are self-explanatory
For section 6 tick the EIN box and fill in your EIN number given you from your SS4 stuff above.
For section 7 enter your UK Tax Number
Enter a reference in section 8 if you want to.
Part 2 Claim of Tax Treaty Benefits
Tick 9a, 9b and 9c. Ignore section 10 if you know of no special rates or conditions (e.g. you are simply selling your goods through, say, Amazon.com). Consult a Tax specialist if you are in any way unsure of course.
Part 3 Notional Principle Contracts
Ignore assuming the same condition and example applies as in section 10 of part 2
Part 4 Certification
Sign, date and add your capacity to fill in the form (eg. Director). NOTE: the date is in US format (MM-DD-YYYY). Also sign and date the affidavit at the foot of the form if you are asked to and agree with it. (I have no idea what happens if you don’t do this!).
Many US companies (including Amazon) have a form you can fill in directly on their site, so check that out to save some time.