What is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number?

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W-9 form, a type of tax form filed for freelance and contract employees.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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An individual taxpayer identification number (ITN) is an identifying number issued by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). While citizens of the US will use their social security number for identification when they file tax returns, people who are not eligible for a social security card may still have tax obligations inside the US. This may be true if they are resident or non-resident aliens in the US but still need to file tax return.

The following people should file for an individual taxpayer identification number if they do not already have one and need to file a tax return: resident aliens, nonresident aliens, and spouses and dependents of both resident and nonresident aliens. Of course it should be understood that the individual taxpayer identification number doesn’t count as regular identification for most other things. Its use is truly restricted to filing returns and paying needed taxes or potentially collecting refunds.

There are a variety of documents you can use to file for the individual taxpayer identification number, though the best and most accepted one is a passport. You’ll also need to fill out a Form W-7, called the Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which you can download (both instructions and form) from the IRS website. Since application is normally through the mail, you’ll need to get copies of identification that are certified or notarized.


If you don’t have a passport, you can use two forms of identification to prove identity. Examples of appropriate ID include state identification cards or drivers’ licenses, a driver’s license from your country of origin, and birth certificates. For the full list, check the IRS website and remember than you must submit two forms of identification if you don’t have a current passport.

You may note when you receive your individual taxpayer identification number that it will be similar to the ITNs of other people. All ITNs start with a 9 for instance, and all new ones are nine digits in length. It’s also important to understand that the individual taxpayer identification number is not a work permit, and it has no affect whatsoever on immigration status or permission to work in the US. It is solely used by the IRS for tax purposes, and you shouldn’t attempt to use the number as a social security number. Since ITNs start with a 9, and are furthermore identified with a 7 or 8 in the forth digit, it is fairly easy to see that they are not the same as social security numbers.


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