Thursday, May 19, 2011

US Embassy & RNA party

So, yesterday was quite eventful. In search of that elusive ITIN number, I gathered all my pertinent bits of info and set off for the American Embassy in London with Fenella Miller, neither of us entirely sure what to expect. There are men with large guns all around the Embassy, and about a billion checkpoints and staff to tell you where to go and what to do. This is just as well since it's quite complicated. Pay attention, 007.

I started by asking the armed copper outside, as politely as I could, where I might need to go for the IRS department. He cheerfully directed me towards a woman who checked my ID, told me I'd need to surrender my phone and Kindle, and pointed me towards the US Citizen Services entrance. Inside this small, and noticeably separate building, just in front of the Embassy, was airport-style security. We were told we could leave our bags there if we wanted, not just our phones, with a numbered ticket to collect them later. The only impediment to getting through security was my amazing tendency to set off metal detectors. Off came my watch, my rings, my bracelet and necklace...and still I made the scanner bleep. I told them it was my magnetic personality. They didn't seem to find this quite as amusing as I did. Eventually one chap figured out it was the diadem-style spray of leaves in my hair that was causing the problem. Since I also had a dozen little butterfly clips holding it in place, this took quite a while to remove, and I was glad Fenella was there to help me!

So, tip no.1 if you're going to the Embassy: don't wear complex metal stuff in your hair. In fact, keep the metal about your person to a minimum. I was beginning to worry they were going to ask me to remove the underwiring from my bra.

Most of the Embassy staff were quite cheerful and friendly, not at all intimidating. Remember this is just a job to most of them. Be friendly and they'll be friendly back. My only surprise was that not all of the staff were American, as I'd expected--quite a few had English accents. We were directed around the side of the building, where yet more staff pointed us down some stairs to the IRS office. I'd been expecting a large place, possibly with quite a queue, but there was one desk with two chaps behind it. A nice man called Patrick looked over our forms for us.

The forms were filled out fine, he said, and he could certify copies of our passports. The only problem lay with the 'signed document from the witholding agent' ie the publisher. We'd both taken contracts, but Patrick showed us the correct wording, which went on to say, '...evidencing that an ITIN is required.' The contract fulfilled the first two criteria, but not the third. Nonetheless, with both forms and passport copies approved, he told us to get a letter pretty much stating verbatim what it said in the guidelines, and that an email or printout would be fine. We could then send this letter, the copy of the passport, and the completed W7 form back to the Embassy and they'd forward it on to the IRS. Just those three sheets of paper, he repeated. We didn't need to go back to the Embassy in person again.

So, tip no.2: A contract from the publisher isn't enough. You need something that explicitly states you need the ITIN:  "A signed letter or document from the withholding agent, on official letterhead, showing your name and evidencing that an ITIN is required to make distributions to you during the current tax year that are subject to IRS information reporting or federal tax withholding."

We didn't have to queue at any point (this could however have just been luck) and most of the time we spent in the Embassy was due to my repeatedly asking very simple questions over and over just to get the answers embedded in my skull. We left the IRS office, made a quick stop at the Ladies' where I fixed my hair, and retrieved our belongings from the security station. Job done. Well, nearly at any rate.

About five minutes' walk from Grosvenor Square is Oxford Street, and between the two are plenty of places to eat. I had a lovely risotto at Bella Italia, then it was back on the Tube (down Oxford Street, turn right and Bond Street Station is a few minutes away) towards the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the RNA Summer Party.

One final tip no. 3: Marble Arch is the closest and easiest Tube stop. Pause a moment before you exit the station and you'll see a sign which not only tells you which exit to take for the US Embassy, but also how to get there once you're out in the open. In case it's not there, take the Park Lane (East) exit and walk straight ahead. Take the fourth turning on the left onto Upper Brook Street. You'll see the Embassy, guarded by men with guns and festooned with flags, on your right. Just in case you don't, it's the third turning on the right. Most of the men with guns are quite nice really, and will probably tell you where you need to go.

After this it was fabulous to get to the IMechE for the RNA Summer Party, where as usual there was great company and wine in abundance. I, as usual, wore some ludicrous shoes, this time gold goddess sandals with a 5in stiletto heel. Ouch. I lost track of the friends I chatted with (and also, possibly, of the wine I drank). But here's some photographic evidence of at least some of the people I met, courtesy of Phillipa Ashley.

EDIT: there will be some photographic evidence, just as soon as Blogger stops playing silly buggers and lets me upload a couple of pictures! Watch this space.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and dunk my feet in cold water. What do you reckon are the odds of lying around all day with my feet up while handsome young men bring me peeled grapes, hmm?

1 comment:

  1. There's just no getting away from those men with big guns for you, is there? Top tips for the dreaded tax form though!