This post is a bit of everything you never wanted to know about international marriages and banking and Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). Aliens who marry a US citizen…aliens of the “different country” variety not the “outerspace” variety… will need to acquire an ITIN, or sort of alternative social security number, with the IRS. Stuart and I are learning about this now.
It came to my attention when I began to research what would need to happen with my 2013 taxes as a consequence of marrying this year. What I discovered is that with a non-resident alien spouse, I had an option of filing “married separately” or “married jointly”. The ins and outs of that can be found elsewhere, so I won’t go into it here.
But in terms of this ITIN thing, if we elected to file jointly, then we would need to also apply for Stuart to have an ITIN. This application would then be attached to our income tax return when we filed before the April 2014 deadline. For various reasons, I’m pretty sure I’m going to file separately…keep Stuart out of the US tax maze for now…so I was relieved that I no longer had to worry about the ITIN.
You know how married people sometimes want to co-mingle bank accounts…and how, in fact, that is often a necessity in terms of proving a serious marriage to the powers that be…and how if anything ever happened to either of us, by sharing an account, the other would have easy access? The conversation with my bank went something like this:
“I’ve recently married a non-resident alien, and I’d like to add him to my accounts. What documentation do you require?”
“Please have your spouse call our contact center or visit any local branch office with your account number to open an account.”
To which I replied, “Yes, well, he’s in France. He is a non-resident alien, not a resident or citizen…and that process can take 12 months. What are our options for adding him to my existing accounts?”
“To open an account, he will have to have a social security number (ssn) or a taxpayer identification number (ITIN). We will also need his notarized signature on the paperwork to open a new account or add him to your existing account.”
This was starting to sound like a lot of fun.
I did some more research then about getting him an ITIN and found out it wasn’t that easy. In fact, the IRS is making it more difficult than ever. I would need a letter in order to apply without filing taxes. I also heard some forum rumors that others were successful in adding their spouses to bank accounts with a passport number. So my conversation with the bank continued:
“I have heard from sources that passport numbers are sufficient for nonresident spouses as ITINs are not generally available to people who do not currently file taxes in the US. Is that a possibility? As the account is also in my name as the primary holder, I will be the one responsible for associated taxes. If not, then I understand that I would need a letter from the bank to the IRS stating that an ITIN is required to be added to an interest bearing account to mail with his application. This, of course, will delay our ability to comingle funds which is a helpful for immigration purposes.”
“We do require either a SSN or ITIN, so we are mailing you a letter stating that fact for you to include with the application for the ITIN application. Once he has received his ITIN, you can both visit a branch to have him added, or you can send us another message, and we will mail out the required forms. Please note that signatures by mail need to be notarized, so visiting a branch is generally easier but we wanted you to know all your options.”
So, I have to wait for a letter from the bank to prove to the IRS that without it, I can’t add my spouse to my bank accounts which would prove that we really are seriously married which is a requirement in order to apply for a CR1, and it will take 4-6 weeks to get the ITIN, at which time we can finally do all the paperwork at the bank, making sure, of course, that everything gets notarized over in France so Stuart can send everything back to me to bring to the bank so I can add him to my account. Got it!
To top it off, in order to get an ITIN, Stuart must provide either original or certified copies of two of very specific documents such as his passport, birth certificate, or driver’s license. He can’t surrender his passport or driver’s license for 4-6 weeks as he needs both. Certified copies must be authenticated by the issuing authority. Now, if he lived in the UK, where all his documents originated, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But he lives in France. And I’m thinking…great! He has to drive 5 hours and take a 10 hour ferry to the UK? Thankfully not. It means to get certified copies, he has to go to an embassy or consulate. At first, we thought that meant Paris, a five hour drive. But there is a consulate in Bordeaux (can I get an Amen!) which is only an hour drive. It took several hours for me to figure all of this out.
It’s a heck of a lot of rigamarole just to get my spouse added to my bank account. It was much easier for Stuart to add me to his bank, although I have to say, they did ask a lot of rather strange questions: Does Madame have any unusual birthmarks? Just kidding.
Just as we were resolving ourselves to the complexities of our situation, I discovered that a person can apply for an ITIN in person at a Tax Payer Assistance Center. Woot! There just happens to be one two hours away from me. And, as Stuart is planning a visit for the holidays, we can make the drive, get his documents certified in person and immediately returned, then drive back and visit the bank…in person…to get him set up! So either we proceed with Stuart getting things certified now in France and maybe have his ITIN by the time he visits. Or we wait a couple of months, do the application here in person, and then wait the additional 4-6 weeks for the number to be granted. Either way, if all goes as planned, we should have that little number thingie by mid-February at the very latest!
Isn’t this fun? But really, I just keep counting my blessings. I can’t believe how fortunate we are to be able to research this stuff and find the answers we need. Some people barely speak English and have to get through this nutty international maze. Some people don’t have the option of applying for an ITIN in person. They have to do it from some wacky country, dealing with translators, lawyers, and fees. Some people aren’t aware of their options!
One thing is clear. As an international spouse, I am becoming a family member of not just my new husband, but of a large population of courageous souls treading the rapid rivers of dizzying bureaucracy.