Receiving my first publication contract was one of the most exciting days of my life, except of course the days I discovered I was pregnant with each of my sons. What followed after receiving that contract took about as long as a confinement. Not that I’m complaining. By publishing standards, I had a normal ‘pregnancy’, because nine months later, my debut novella was birthed. Publication can often feel like carrying an elephant to term with books only releasing two years after a signed contract.
My baby elephant came though, in the form of obtaining an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number) from the IRS in America. Without this number, I could not be paid royalties when the time came. With a release date months away, I wasn’t worried. I’d get that number long before any royalties came due.
First stop on this journey was a trip to the US Embassy. I needed a certified copy of my passport. This document was part of the requirements by the IRS and could only be done either at the issuing authority (South African Home Affairs) or the US Embassy. Naturally, with the Embassy carrying a $50 fee, my first choice was Home Affairs. Bad choice. I wasted half a morning at the South African Department of Home Affairs to have the copy certified only to be told when I finally got to the counter, “We don’t do certifications.” And yes, I did check as we walked in...twice.
So, at the end of 2013, I sent off my application and this precious document that had cost me so much. Add to that the equivalent of around $13 to send the envelope via Registered Mail.
Two or three months later, I received an envelope back from the IRS. Whoopie, that was painless.
The first words that hit me: Application Rejected. I was to see this at least another three times over the coming months, and each time I agonized over what the IRS actually required from me.
My precious certified copied that had cost me so much, flew back and forth between South Africa and the US as the rejections and resubmissions came and went, each at around $13 postage. I made three phone calls to the IRS, most lasting between 60-90 minutes, most of that time spent holding to speak to an agent.
The last call I made was to find out if anything was happening on my application. Despite having no reference number to quote except the string I’d amassed with the previous rejections, I called. Our country had been plunged into a postal strike that dragged on for months. When I saw this photograph of the Johannesburg International Mail Centre doing its rounds on Facebook, I knew I was doomed if the IRS had once again rejected and returned my precious certified copy. I’d have to start the entire process from scratch. There was no way that copy would ever make it back to me. Not with this ongoing mess.
The IRS consultant helping me finally traced my application via the previous numbers, but it took some time.
“It seems to have been rejected, last week,” she said, proceeding to explain that it had something to do with the enclosures. Enclosures? There was only one, the Publisher’s letter, and that was correct.
I despaired over what the problem could possibly be. The consultant suggested I chat to a tax expert. Been there, done that, and he, too, could not see any problem with my application. But, what choice did I have, so I held on again for what seemed forever to be put through to the tax consultant. Perhaps I’d get lucky and get the same man I’d spoken to before. He was nice. Like it mattered. Like he’d remember me.
Mr. Right (name withheld to protect his identity from other desperate international authors) was even better than Tax Expert No. 1. He, too, couldn’t see a reason for my application being rejected.
“I’ll email the IRS in Houston and request them to issue your number,” he said and I couldn’t help wondering whether if his email would begin with, “Houston, we have a problem.” Promising that either he or Houston would get back to me within ten working days, we cut the call. Would this ninety minutes on the phone between South Africa and America bring some dividends?
A week later, I was scanning all my application attempts to send to Dianne, another South African Pelican Book Group author who was also trying to obtain her ITIN. She, too, was on her third or fourth attempt. Perhaps together we could figure out what they wanted from us. I also needed to check whether I’d perhaps made an error and sent the 2013 Publisher’s letter instead of the 2014 one. Maybe that’s why they’d rejected my application for a fourth time. Maybe I was at fault.
Another week passed. I’d all but forgotten about Mr. Right’s promise to get back to me. On this particular November Friday afternoon, almost a year after I’d started the ITIN application process, I got an email from Dianne telling me she’d spent two hours on the phone to the USA a few days before and had spoken to a very helpful tax expert who had told Dianne to do ‘this and that, tick that block and this one.’ I’d already done ‘this and that, ticked both required blocks’ second time around, and been rejected for it.
What were Dianne and I to do?
I walked out of work and said, "Lord, I give up. Unless you get me this number, I'm not going to get it." Not a half hour later my cellphone rang. Caller ID indicated someone in Philadelphia, USA. I didn’t know anyone there.
"Mrs. Ueckermann, it’s Mr. Right. I have your ITIN number." When he went on to tell me that even he was surprised to have received the number, that this was a first, I knew this was a God-thing and nothing short of a miracle. Even before I’d cried, God had intervened.
I immediately sent the number to my Publisher, along with my W8-BEN application, the next part of the process. Bracing myself for this to possibly take equally long, I was totally thrown when the Editor-in-Chief advised me that the W8-BEN application was fast, painless and immediate.
I still received another two rejection letters in the mail from the IRS, both dated before my conversation with my new Tax Expert hero. Thanks to the nationwide postal strike that had endured for months in South Africa, I received these three and six months after the date stamps on the envelopes.
Four months after Mr. Right gave me the news that set me off doing the happy dance, and nearly sixteen months since I first started the application process, I received another envelope with the familiar IRS postmark. But this letter looks different. I open it. This one is different. Folded inside I found my official ITIN document.
Finally, it is real.
My Editor-in-Chief asked me way back if I would document how I got my ITIN once I received it. I really don’t know what to write. What steps would I put except: Step 1—Pray for a miracle. Perhaps I’ll just give her the link to this blog post.
MARION UECKERMANN's passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven, and her debut novella, Helsinki Sunrise (White Rose Publishing, a Pelican Book Group imprint, Passport to Romance series). Her second Passport to Romance novella, Oslo Overtures, releases August 14, 2015. Marion blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers, Beauty for Ashes and Inspy Romance. She lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.