New legislation in the US has made it impossible for any law-abiding publisher in the States to pay anyone who isn't registered with the IRS. Since the vast majority of publishers (including Amazon) are based in the States this means you have two choices if you sell a book or choose to self publish.
Option A. You can register with the IRS.
Option B. You can donate any income from your books to a US-based charity.
Since I plan on making a career - and a living - as a writer, I know which option I'm going to choose. [Sorry Greenpeace].
In order to receive payments from a US-based publisher you need to get an ITIN number (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). This is a relatively simple process:
- Your publisher will give you a letter confirming you will be receiving payments from them.
- Download the W7 form from the IRS website.
- Complete the form, noting the following:
- Note 1: South Africans select option 'a' at the top of the list - you are a non-US resident claiming a tax treaty benefit.
- Note 2: You also need to select option 'h - Other' and write 'Exception 1(d) - Royalty Income' in the available space.
- Note 3: Don't forget to include South Africa as your Treaty Country. The Treaty Article Number had me stymied, but the article pertaining to royalty income in the Convention of 1997 between SA and the USA appears to be Article 12.
- Make a copy of your ID or passport, or some other legal proof of identity.
- Get your ID copy notarised. Ideally, this should be by a public notary rather than at your local branch of the SAPS.
- Get an Apostille. This is the tricky bit of the process (the bit I didn't do first time around!) because you can't just get any regular South African notary to do this for you. An Apostille is a document signed by the Registrar of the High Court verifying the South African notary public’s signature. Some attorneys are able to assist, but the only quote I've received so far is a tad pricey (at over R6,000!) but you can apply for an Apostille free of charge through the Department of International Relations. Their offices are in Rietondale, Pretoria, or alternately you can send your documents via snail mail (details on their website).
- Snail mail your completed W-7 Form, publisher's letter, ID and Apostille to: Internal Revenue Service, Austin Service Center, ITIN Operation, P.O. Box 149342, Austin, TX 78714-9342.
- Wait a couple of months for the IRS to process your application and snail mail you back with an ITIN. While you're waiting, your publisher can defer any payments to you, meaning they hold onto them until they can legally pay it over.
- Complete the W8-Ben form and send it to your publisher. Done.
The good news is by doing this your publisher will deduct only 10% tax from your earnings, rather than the 30% withholding tax that is usually deducted.
And since your publisher will provide you with proof that you're already paying taxes on this income in the US, you should also be safe from having to give SARS yet another slice of the pie.
South African author Judy Croome (who is conveniently married to a tax expert) has also done a very helpful blog post with links on this issue.
I know this is a schlep, but I highly recommend you do it as soon as you sign your first contract with your publisher. After all, rather do it now at the start of your career than later when you're hitting the bestseller lists and wondering why the hell you signed away all your earnings to Greenpeace.
Update: Please note that these instructions apply only to residents of South Africa. Residents of other countries may have different ITIN application requirements or processes.
And another update - March 2012: I found a very helpful attorney in Fourways, Johannesburg, who arranged the apostille for only R285. It took about 3 working days. If you'd like her contact details, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update July 2012: Whatever you do, do not send your application via the SA Post Office. They managed to lose my apostilled documents, so I'm back at square one and need to re-apply!
Update 2013: The US government no longer accepts apostilled copies from the South African high court (this is the real effect of widespread corruption!), so now you will need to visit your nearest US embassy or consulate in person to have your passport stamped and notarised. The cost is approximately R500.