So I'm a US citizen who lives in the UK. The US is one of the few countries that forces citizens to file taxes, no matter where in the world they live. I've been doing this for the close to 10 years I've lived in the UK, without a hitch.
When I joined oDesk, I asked to fill out a W9 form (that all self-employed US taxpayers have to fill out when they start work with a new client). I was able to do this, no problem.
So now I need to change my surname on my W9. I contact support, and the support person who replies says they have to temporarily change my profile so it shows that I'm in the US, so that I can access my W9. As soon as I change my name myself, they'll change my location back to the UK. At the bottom of the reply, there's signature thingy about how wonderful it is to be a digital nomad.
Fine. I go in there and make the change to my name. I have to reenter my social security number and my tax status (sole proprieter), but that's OK.
The problem is, the form has a drop down box for state - and there are no states in the UK. It also gives me an error message when I try to enter my UK postal code; it only allows me to enter 5 digit US zip codes.
So I contact support again, and get another person who tells me I can contact the IRS so I can find out about my tax status, get a social security number, blah blah blah. I've had a US social security number since I was 14 and been filing taxes as a non-US resident since 2005. I don't need tax advice, and I didn't ask for it. The IRS (US tax department) has my foreign addresss on record - 6-digit postal code and all - and I've never had a problem. Never had a problem with W9s for any other client either.
This new support person says I can fill in the missing information. I think this means I can now complete the form without adding a US state (I had mentioned that the UK has counties; maybe I could add my county?) and without having to add a 5 digit zip code.
But no! The second support rep wiped out the whole form so that I had to reenter all the correct information, name, street address, social security number, etc. - but I stil have to enter a US state and zip code for the form to be accepted. The things that I needed to be fixed weren't fixed. (I just checked my profile. It shows that I am in UK City Name, United States - with UK local time; actually 15 minutes slow. So clients, if you're worried that your freelancer might be scamming you because their local time doesn't match their country - there you go.)
Honestly, oDesk is promoting itself as the way to work if you want to move outside of your native country - but it can't get a simple form to work for people who file taxes in a foreign country. And as a US based corporation, oDesk should be aware that the US taxes its citizens on a global basis.
Or maybe it's trying to promote itself as the way to work if you want to avoid paying taxes?
P.S. I keep my own records so file taxes correctly based on my earnings, regardless of what oDesk does or doesn't report to the IRS.
This is what I've been talking about wayyy back in the old forum. The digital nomad thing is a joke when each and every time I move, I have to change my location and have to get verified. For that to not be a problem, whenever I'm out of my main country where I'm based, I simply take an oDesk vacation. No digital nomad work being done there!
I also find it completely defeating the purpose of being a digital nomad when clients can specify they would not work with people from countries outside of the anglo zone but we freelancers have no way to confirm we are from anglo countries who happens to be in some other part of the world.
ODesk needs to educate clients on what digital nomads are and what freelancing is. We are not employees and clients are not employers and we are not tied down to just one client but I oftentimes see clients thinking they are employers and that freelancers must be online when they are online.
There are also clients who think of freelancers as bums who cannot get work where they are located so they are basically online beggars. As far as I know, being a freelancer and digital nomad means I'm sooo good in what I do that I can pick projects that I want and work professionally wherever I am in the world.
Is it really possible to be a full-pledged digital nomad via oDesk right now? I don't think so!
❄❄❄ Just A Forum Contributor --- This isn't against forum guidelines ❄❄❄
oDesk support should probably provide you with instructions as to how to submit the appropriate tax forms directly to oDesk via postal mail in order for them to file with the IRS. It is probably Elance-oDesk HR people that would handle the issue, and they can coordinate with others to ensure that oDesk electronic records are updated as well. But will they? Coordinating with others does not appear to be a strong point at oDesk. Also, contacting the IRS to learn more is still a good idea.
Real-life "digital nomads" via oDesk? NOT! That is, at least not for freelancers, for which the phrase "digital nomads" typically applies. Now, if "digital nomads" included those working for oDesk, then, it might be possible...suspecting few of them are in the US...few of them are US citizens for income tax purposes.
"Freelancers as bums"? Actually, I never cared much for the term "freelancers." However, that is what this particular segment of the marketplace calls it.
In the "corporate" world, I believe the preferred term is "independent contractor" or simply "contractor." In some circles, using the term "freelancer" is akin to using the term "vendor" instead of "supplier" whereby a vendor at times is described as a "panhandler." These distinctions came about in past years via various ISO quality standards.
Edited 01/09/2015 RT/lwm
Update - I was contacted by a third oDesk rep who told me to fill the W9 out using my old US address and my old US state, which I said I cannot do because that would be lying to the IRS, which is illegal. The IRS already know where I live - outside the US.
Plus, I pay substantially less tax to the US government because I'm not a US resident. If I had been living in the US for the past 9 years and lying about it (which I haven't been), I would have been illegally avoiding who knows how many thousands of dollars in federal, not to mention state, taxes.
Ron, I've followed your advice, and asked if I could just fill out the form on the IRS website and email it to oDesk. Why is oDesk the only US client I've ever had that gave me this problem? (That was a rhetorical question; no need to answer.)
Well, I received a reply on Jan 7 saying they are looking into it. Asked for an update on Jan 12 and haven't heard back. Meanwhile, I've told clients I can't do work for them because I'm not going to work if I can't be sure I'll receive my pay.
Obviously, someone at oDesk IT thought they would gain brownie points by adding a drop down box (for US states) to a form, and limiting the number of characters in another field in the form, despite the fact that the IRS form, which oDesk's form is supposed to be based on,allows you to enter whatever you want. Do you think maybe the IRS did it that way for a reason?
(I did suggest that I print out the pdf from IRS.gov, fill it out and scan it. Haven't heard back about that.)
oDesk, stop trying to fix things that ain't broke and fix the things that are.