Can I sell in the US without a SSN?


I wanted to start a US business - despite being based in the UK - because the US is where most of my target market is (besides suppliers). I've read on PayPal's site ( that an SSN is required for all payment processers in the US.

Does this effectively rule out my plan? Can a non-US person not sell in the US because of this?



asked Dec 17 '11 at 19:15
35 points

2 Answers


Your mixing up two different things here and getting in a mess.

a) Payment processing

b) Selling to other countries.

For a) Just about any payment processor can accept payments worldwide (though many add an extra 'cross border' fee) - so for example there is nothing stopping you setting up a paypal account in the UK but taking payments from the US. If you setup a UK based paypal account they won't want your SSN (they may ask for your UK equivalent).

For b) Selling to other countries can be a bit of a minefield - but if you're selling digital goods and if you are selling as an organisation (e.g. you've setup a Ltd. company) rather than as an individual then you're all set, there is no need to setup a US company or apply for SSN/EIN. For the specific UK to US case :-

Many US company's will ask you (mistakenly) for a W9 form - which is all about either proving your a US company or taxing you at source if you're a US employee. Instead you need to send them a W8-BEN that effectively says "I am not a foreign organisation, give me the cash wihtout taking a withholding tax off the top".

EDIT - I am fed up of trying to steer US purchasing departments through the impenetrable IRS documentation on this subject so have just gone and got a damn EIN so now the form 'looks filled in' and passed through admin. Didn't have to but its just easier...

answered Dec 17 '11 at 22:02
1,365 points


Does this effectively rule out my plan? Can a non-US person not sell in the US because of this?

No, this won't rule out your plan. There's a lot involved in starting a company in the U.S. (the form of the company, what State you operate in, etc.). But I'll restrict this answer to the new tax filing requirements of PayPal. You can either use an SSN or an EIN number. An EIN number is much easier to get.

Here are the appropriate links:

Edit I'm being voted down because I mentioned making a company in the United States. Obviously you don't need to set up a company to get an EIN (nor did I suggest that). However, there are legal and tax benefits to setting up a U.S. company (see a lawyer/accountant).

But this answer is right about needing an EIN, SSN (or the unmentioned equivalent of an SSN the TIN). That is, there's a new law for payment processors that are based in the United States and they require this tax ID whether you're from the U.S. or not. It just came into effect in the last several months.

In fact, PayPal says as much :

Are non-US PayPal accounts affected by this new law? Internal Revenue Code Section 6050W requires PayPal’s non-US subsidiaries to comply with the new law. As a result, non-US account holders may need to certify their non-US status and their address. US sellers using a non-US PayPal account may be required to provide a tax ID number (Social Security Number (SSN), Employer Identification Number (EIN), or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)) for those accounts. We will provide additional guidance on these requirements when available.

But, I suppose the commentors on this answer were right about the "forming a U.S. company" bit of my original answer. You don't need to form a company.

You do, however, need a U.S. tax id (SSN, EIN, or ITIN) if you're going to use a U.S. based payment processor.

answered Dec 17 '11 at 19:30
Wyatt O'day
964 points
  • Thanks for the reply! – Jason.Ppdev 12 years ago
  • Misleading - you do not have to setup a company in the US or get SSN/EIN to sell there. UK companies sell to the US all the time. US companies sell to the UK all the time. – Ryan 12 years ago
  • It's actually changing. We sold to the US for years from the UK with no admin. Recently, the bigger companies have started asking for W8-BEN forms from us, due to the IRS making it a higher priority audit item. We didn't used to need a EIN, but the larger firms again are now requiring an EIN on the W8-BENs. I'd bet you will find this trickling down to a lot more US firms over the next few years. On the positive, it's really easy for a UK firm to get an EIN, see Took me 20 minutes – David Benson 12 years ago
  • But yes, the answer is, unfortunately, misleading, Ryan's answer should be the accepted one. – David Benson 12 years ago
  • The advice I got from the IRS helpline is that if I am a UK company without a nexus in the US (e.g. no site nor employees working on a companies site) then a W8-BEN doesn't need to have an EIN number. But you know I've seen 6 different opinions on this with 12 different answers and in the end it all comes down to what the purchasing agent *think* they need. – Ryan 12 years ago
  • I've still got to disagree with the edited version of your answer - read the paypal thing you referenced again. Its only talking about **US sellers using a non-US paypal subsidiary** need a SSN/EIN/ITIN/PITA. Non-US sellers only need to confirm non-us status and address. – Ryan 12 years ago

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