12 Year Old (and Older) U.S. Citizens Residing Outside the U.S. Must Have An “In-Person” Interview in a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for SSN Application in 1 of Just 17 Posts Worldwide

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As previous posts have mentioned, U.S. citizens (USCs) residing overseas can only comply with U.S. tax law and FATCA certifications if they have a social security number (SSN).  See, U.S. Citizens Overseas who Wish to Renounce without a Social Security Number will Necessarily be a “Covered Expatriate”Kim Cattrel Actress Sex and City

See key excerpts of the paper titled URGENT NEED FOR U.S. CITIZENS RESIDING OUTSIDE THE U.S. TO BE ABLE TO OBTAIN A TAXPAYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (“TIN”) OTHER THAN A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER  that explains this dilemma:

This dilemma affects numerous USCs throughout the world, which is now compounded by the certification and reporting requirements of USCs and third parties, such as FFIs and NFFEs[2] under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”).

* * *

The regulations provide the specific rule that all USCs must have a SSN[1] as their TIN. There are no general exceptions in the regulations to the requirement that a USC must have a SSN as their TIN.

This regulatory requirement specifically directs the USC to the forms that must be completed and filed with the SSA, in order to obtain a SSN, as follows:[2] 

(1) Social security number.   Any individual required to furnish a social security number pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section shall apply for one, if he has not done so previously, on Form SS-5, which may be obtained from any Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service office. He shall make such application far enough in advance of the first required use of such number to permit issuance of the number in time for compliance with such requirement. The form, together with any supplementary statement, shall be prepared and filed in accordance with the form, instructions, and regulations applicable thereto, and shall set forth fully and clearly the data therein called for. Individuals who are ineligible for or do not wish to participate in the benefits of the social security program shall nevertheless obtain a social security number if they are required to furnish such a number pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section. [emphasis added]

These Title 26 regulations discuss individuals requesting forms from “any Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service office” which clearly implies that the SSA and the IRS have offices overseas.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, as the IRS recently announced it is closing its full-time walk-in offices in London, Frankfurt and Paris, as the office in Beijing, China was closed in 2014.[3] Similarly, the SSA has no overseas offices, but does have limited field office operations in Canada, the British Virgin Islands and Samoa.[4] 

Therefore, it is clear that the above regulations are speaking to individuals who reside and live in the U.S., and not USCs residing overseas when it requires USCs to “ . . . make such application far enough in advance of the first required use of such number to permit issuance of the number in time for compliance with such requirement. [5]

These Title 26 regulations require the application be made well in advance of any tax filing requirements are not realistic for USCs residing overseas as is explained herein. This author has seen the issuance of SSNs take more than 6 months, even when the USC could have an interview in their country of residence.

More importantly, there are very few countries (only 17) where in-person interviews can even be held. See, discussion below.

USCs who have lived most, if not all of their lives outside the U.S., commonly do not have a SSN. The procedural requirements imposed by the SSA to obtain a SSN in these cases are complicated and unrealistic for USCs living overseas.[6] This author has seen cases where USCs residing overseas have even spent the money and resources and time to travel to the U.S. to apply for a SSN, yet were turned away by the SSA, due to various procedural requirements which were not satisfied.  

Often times obtaining a SSN overseas is nearly impossible, depending upon which country and where within that country the USC resides.    

A.            Obtaining a SSN Outside the US by a USC – Much More than Just Filing SSA Form SS-5

The SSA does not have offices outside the U.S. although they have a so-called “Office of International Operations.”[7] The focus of OIO is the administration of social security benefits, not obtaining SSNs for USCs residing overseas. Since the SSA is assisted by the U.S. Department of State (who are not SSN experts), USCs have to rely upon various U.S. embassies and consulate offices around the world, as they try to obtain a SSN.

B.            Tax Return Filing Requirements – Minimum Gross Income

Any USC individual is obligated under the U.S. federal tax law to file a federal income tax return IRS Form 1040 if they meet minimum thresholds of income. For the tax year 2015, the thresholds are low, and are reached once the gross income is at least the sum of (i) the “exemption” amount (currently $4,000) and (ii) the “standard deduction” amount (currently $6,300 for single and married filing jointly and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly).[8]

This is true, even if all of the income is earned income and eligible for the foreign earned income exclusion, which is $100,800 for the tax year 2015. [9]

Additionally, USCs living overseas necessarily have a U.S. tax return filing requirement, when they meet these low thresholds of gross income. In these cases, tax returns that are not filed by the 15th of June are not considered timely filed.[10]

II.           The Social Security Administration Rules Make it Nearly Impossible for Many USCs Overseas to Reasonably Obtain a SSN

The policy and procedures of the SSA regarding issuing SSNs have changed significantly over the years.[11] The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a detailed chronology of the major changes in policy and procedures regarding filing for and obtaining a SSN.[12]   One of the most significant revisions in the last decade came from The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458), which imposes various standards for the verification of documents or records submitted by an individual.

A.            Only a Few Countries Around the World have Personnel at U.S. Embassies or Consulate Offices that Can Process SSN Applications – SSA Form SS-5-FS

Applying for SSNs overseas is severely restricted compared to an application in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”), only certain “Claims-Taking Posts” in specific countries “may” include “processing applications for Social Security Numbers.” [13]

These 17 countries (and a city in the case of Jerusalem) with Claims-Taking Posts include:

Austria, Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Noticeably absent are many Western European countries, virtually all of Latin America, virtually all of Asia, virtually all of Eastern Europe, all of the Middle East (except Jerusalem), all of the African continent, all of the Australian continent and surrounding island countries and Russia, among many other significant countries, including OECD member countries.[14]

Nothing in the FAM requires any of these “Claims-Taking Posts” to actually process applications for a SSN. Plus, there are of course hundreds of other countries throughout the world, not listed above, which do not have such a U.S. Department of State Post. For these reasons, USCs in countries such as China must travel to a U.S. Department of State Post (e.g., the Philippines) which is able to process applications for SSNs.

B.            In Person Interview Required for Individuals Older than 11 Years Old

Individuals who are older than 11 years old must personally go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with a Claims-Taking Post.  See 7 FAM 530, pages 7, 12, 13 and 7 FAM EXHIBIT 530(D)   Mandatory In-Person Interview Worksheet SSN Applicant Age 12 or Older – Original SSN * * *

All of these rules makes you wonder whether foreign born individuals, such as actress Kim Cattrall from Sex & the City  fame would have ever obtained a social security number overseas while she lived in Canada or the UK.

[1] See, Treas. Reg. § 301.6109-1(a)(1)(ii)(A).

[2] See, Treas. Reg. § 301.6109-1(d)(1).

[3] See, Bloomberg article, 14 January 2015 by Kocieniewski, IRS Will Shut Last Overseas Taxpayer-Assistance Centers: “After budget reductions over the last four consecutive years, the IRS is forced to make tough choices during this period of fiscal austerity and these closures have relatively little impact on taxpayers and treaty partners,” said Julianne Breitbeil, an IRS spokeswoman. Also, see IRS website that still reflects the London and Paris offices as open http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-My-Local-Office-Internationally.

[4] See, SSA website, Service Around the World, http://www.ssa.gov/foreign/

[5] See, Treas. Reg. § 301.6109-1(d)(1).

[6] See discussion below, regarding requirements to obtain a SSN. I.II, I.I,The Social Security Administration Rules Make it Nearly Impossible for Many USCs Overseas to Reasonably Obtain a SSN

[7] See SSA website, “Office of International Operations” – http://www.ssa.gov/foreign/Service Around the World – Welcome to SSA’s Office of International Operations (OIO) home page. The purpose of this site is to assist Social Security customers who are outside the U.S. or planning to leave the U.S. OIO is responsible for administering the Social Security program outside the U.S. and for the implementation of the benefit provisions of international agreements. Since SSA has no offices outside the U.S., OIO is assisted by the Department of State’s embassies and consulates throughout the world.

[8] See, IR-2014-104, Oct. 30, 2014 and IRS Publication 501.

[9] See, IRC § 911 and IRS Publication 54.

[10] See, Treas. Reg. § 1.6081-5.

[11] See, SSA website, The Story of the Social Security Number, by Carolyn Puckett, Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69 NO. 2, 2009 (http://ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v69n2/v69n2p55.html.

[12] See, SSA website, Significant Milestones in Social Security Number Policy. A detailed chronology of the major changes in policy and procedures. http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/ssnchron.html.

[13] See 7 FAM 530, page 2 of 64.

[14] In contrast to these 17 countries (and one city – Jerusalem) where a USC residing overseas must travel to apply for a SSN, the Treasury Department has announced it has around 100 countries that have signed, or “have reached agreements in substance” a FATCA IGA. USCs throughout the world are required by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FACTA”) to provide their U.S. TIN to financial institutions throughout the world (on IRS Form W-9, or its equivalent), which under current law necessarily must be a SSN. Of course, if they have no SSN, they cannot sign IRS Form W-9 which provides in Part II: “Under penalties of perjury, I certify that: 1. The number shown on this form is my correct taxpayer identification number . . .

[15] See, 7 FAM 534.3 e.

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One thought on “12 Year Old (and Older) U.S. Citizens Residing Outside the U.S. Must Have An “In-Person” Interview in a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for SSN Application in 1 of Just 17 Posts Worldwide

    […] several blog posts about the difficulties faced by U.S. citizen teenagers and adults attempting to obtain Social Security numbers from outside of the United States. I highly recommend the paper & posts to all readers […]

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