This entry is part of the series International Students 101

How to get an ITIN number: woman holding an American flag

Whether you’re a resident of the United States or simply work here, it might be a good idea for you to learn how to get an ITIN number, or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an ITIN offers a way for those who work in the U.S. to pay taxes. It also offers some tax and financial benefits.

If you’re a new resident of the United States, it’s important to plan for your finances. Learn how an ITIN works, why you need it, and how to get an ITIN number.

What is an ITIN?

Woman wearing yellow safety muffs

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is a tax processing number issued by the IRS. The purpose of an ITIN is to ensure those who work in the U.S. have a method of paying taxes, even if they don’t qualify for a Social Security number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration

Like Social Security numbers, the ITIN is also nine digits long. If you’re a qualifying non-resident or a resident alien (green card holder), you, your spouse, and your dependents can receive an ITIN.

Why do I need an ITIN?

If you’re wondering how to get an ITIN number, it’s likely that you need it for financial or legal reasons. There are so many reasons new U.S. residents might need to apply for an ITIN, such as:

  • Complying with the law: Learning how to get an ITIN number can help you comply with U.S. tax laws. Anyone who earns income from the U.S. is required to get a tax identification number since they’re obligated to pay taxes on what they earn.
  • Applying for a driver’s license: People living in the U.S. who want to get a driver’s license or state-issued ID may also need an ITIN. Every state has its own requirements for immigrant driver’s licenses, so you’ll need to check your eligibility before applying.
  • Accessing certain financial products: Depending on the financial institution, you can open an interest-bearing account as long as you know how to get an ITIN number. Not all banks require an ITIN, but having one may give you more options.

Even if you don’t have an ITIN, Remitly’s Passbook app offers a more streamlined application process that doesn’t require an ITIN or a Social Security number.

Passbook is an everyday spending account designed for multinationals. In addition to note requiring an ITIN or SSN, Passbook offers other useful features like:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Cashback on international transfers through Remitly
  • A Visa debit card

Remitly is not a bank; banking services are provided by Sunrise Banks N.A. The Passbook Visa® debit card is issued by Sunrise Banks N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. The card can be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

Who can get an ITIN?

Person wearing eyeglasses

Anyone can get an ITIN regardless of their U.S. immigration status. That means both resident and non-resident aliens can learn how to get an ITIN number if they’re not eligible for an SSN.

You can apply for an ITIN if you’re:

  • The dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen, resident alien, or non-resident alien visa holder
  • A non-resident who needs to file a federal income tax return
  • A resident alien who needs to file a tax return because of the time you’ve lived in the U.S.
  • Living outside of the U.S. but you need to file taxes  

If you’re unsure whether you need to get an ITIN, check with the IRS to confirm your obligation for tax purposes.

IRS.gov has a wealth of useful information about the process for non-residents. They even have special resources for international students, military members, and more.

What’s the difference between an ITIN and an SSN?

The IRS issues ITINs, while the issuing agency for the SSN is the Social Security Administration.

An ITIN is a tool that helps you file tax returns and serves no other purpose aside from federal tax reporting. This means that anyone who is required to file taxes in the U.S. will be eligible for an ITIN, no matter their immigration status.

A Social Security number is only issued for citizens and qualifying resident aliens, such as green card holders. This number keeps track of the years you’ve worked in the U.S. and your lifetime earnings. 

Lawful residents who can legally work in the U.S. with SSNs can qualify for additional benefits such as:

  • Unemployment income
  • Social Security disability
  • Access to federal loans and subsidies
  • Medicare enrollment (health benefits for seniors)

In other words, an ITIN doesn’t automatically allow you to work in the U.S. It also doesn’t qualify you for other benefits such as Social Security or being able to claim a dependent for the Earned Income Tax Credit

How to get an ITIN number

How to get an ITIN number: colleagues talking to each other

There are three ways you can apply for an ITIN:

  1. Go through an IRS-authorized Certifying Acceptance Agent: These services are available both inside and outside of the U.S. In most cases, you must make an appointment. Bring original documents to prove your eligibility
  2. Apply at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center: The IRS requires you to make an appointment and provide original documents proving your eligibility.
  3. Mail an application: The IRS allows you to apply for an ITIN at the same time you file your taxes. To do so, you submit a W-7 form and complete a tax return. You’ll also need to provide original or certified copies of documents proving your identity and foreign status

Once you receive your ITIN, you’ll be able to use it to file taxes in the future.

Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number: What you need

Once you know how to get an ITIN number, there are several documents you’ll need to provide to the IRS. No matter how you choose to apply for an ITIN, the IRS will ask you to provide at least two types of documents:

  1. Proof of your identity
  2. Proof of your foreign nationality or U.S. residency status

The IRS accepts several identification documents, including:

  • Passport (this can prove both your identity and residency status)
  • A U.S. Department of State-issued visa
  • U.S. driver’s license
  • Photo ID issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • U.S. military identification card
  • Foreign driver’s license
  • Foreign military identification card
  • U.S. state identification card
  • Foreign civil birth certificate
  • Foreign medical records (for dependents under six years old)
  • National ID card with your name, address, date of birth, photo, and expiration date
  • Foreign voter’s registration card
  • Foreign school records (for dependents who are students and under 18 years old)

Once you receive your ITIN, the IRS requires you to revalidate it every five years. If you don’t use your ITIN for three consecutive years, it will expire.

If you need to renew your ITIN, you’ll follow the same process as applying for a new ITIN. However, if you mail in your renewal application, you can simply send along a form W-7 with supporting documents—no need to attach a tax return

How long do I have to wait to get my ITIN from the IRS?

How to get an ITIN number: worker handling a machine

Once you apply for an ITIN, you can expect to hear from the IRS about the status of your application within seven weeks. 

To prevent delays, make sure you’ve provided the correct information and sent all of the required supporting documentation. Incomplete or incorrect applications may take longer to process.

If you submit the IRS form W-7 with your tax return after April 15, you might get a penalty for being late. It’s best to file as soon as you can so you don’t experience any delays or penalties.

If seven weeks go by and you don’t receive a response, you can call the IRS to check on the status of your ITIN application

  • If you’re in the United States, you can call toll-free at (800) 829-1040. 
  • If you’re currently outside of the United States, you can call (267) 941-1000.

Work without worry with an ITIN number

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is necessary for people who work in the United States and need to file taxes. You might need an ITIN to comply with tax laws, apply for a driver’s license, or open a bank account. While an ITIN doesn’t give you the benefits of a Social Security number, it’s a good idea to apply for one so you can make the most of your life in the United States.

If you’re sending money back home to friends and family who live outside of the U.S., try Remitly. We make international money transfers faster, easier, and more affordable. Download the Remitly app to get started.

Further reading

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover all aspects of the topics discussed herein. This publication is not a substitute for seeking advice from an applicable specialist or professional. The content in this publication does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice from Remitly or any of its affiliates and should not be relied upon as such. While we strive to keep our posts up to date and accurate, we cannot represent, warrant or otherwise guarantee that the content is accurate, complete or up to date.