Episode 1 - The IRS and Chocolate
Like most people who live outside the United States I have watched movies that show the occasional scene where someone struggles to deal with the IRS - the great unwieldy Internal Revenue Service or tax department. All I can say is that it really is just like that.
I have had to apply for a United States tax file number so that I can receive earnings from sales of my books over there. It took me an entire day of research, including reading the original Australia-United States tax agreement legislation to work out how to fill out the form.
Then they wanted me to send them originals of my identification, or a copy certified by the issuing agency. I was really reluctant to send my passport through the mail, and the Department of Foreign Affairs said they did not issue certified copies of passports, so I got the local government to stamp and verify a colour copy and thought that ought to do.
On Monday 20th of June I got a letter saying that only the original passport would do (or a long list of other original docs that I couldn't easily get) and they wanted it by Monday 27th June or they would deny my claim and I would have to start all over again. A week? To send something international post? So (still very reluctant to send my original passport overseas to get passed around some tax office in Texas) I went to the post office and at the great expense of nearly $40 I got registered, tracked international express that said it delivered in 4 days.
By Monday 27th I hadn't got the message to say it had arrived, so I was now worried they would close my case and I would have to start again with my passport maybe lost in their office or lost in transit or just plain lost . . .
So, as the only contact details they provided other than a postal address was a phone number I decided to ring them and let them know it was coming. The toll-free international number didn't work, so I ended up connecting to their internal line (help - no idea what this was costing me???). The usual canned music, messages about how much my call meant to them and a 15 minute wait. Finally it was answered by a very formal, rather tired sounding 'Mrs Smith 1' (no first name, just Mrs What-her-surname-was, a long ID number, and 'How may I help you?') I explained that my passport was on the way, so could they please hold my case open until it got there.
Long pause while she computered away . . .
Finally she said that the ITIN system was different to the usual one and didn't have any way to leave a note . . .
Another long pause . . .
Nor did it have any way to apply for an extension, but she could give me their number so I could ring them direct. (Eek - another expensive phone call, I thought) And the number was . . . the number I had just rung to get her. Hmm. She offered to give me a fax number?
I took that and thanked her for being as helpful as she could.
A moment's pause, because we both knew she had been no help at all, then she said 'You're welcome.'
So now I think the most likely outcome is probably that my passport arrives too late, gets lost in their office, they close my case and I have to start all over again, including get a new passport. (The only benefit I can see here is that my passport photo is particularly dreadful, even for a passport photo, so getting rid of that would be an expensive plus).
I would like to be able to say I told you all this to make some wonderfully inspirational point about life the universe and everything to show you how wise and thoughtful I am.
But no. I just rolled my eyes at bureaucracy and ate chocolate.