Many US companies now deem that an EIN is required on W8-BEN forms even for non-US companies with no presence in the US. However, it is possible to get an EIN over the phone for such companies, it took me about 30 minutes. We are UK based and have no presence/employees/tax liability in the US.
Firstly, here are the instructions. At the bottom of the first page of the actual instructions is the "How to apply" section. The line to note:
International applicants must call 1-267-941-1099
When you can they will expect you to have filled out a SS-4 form and read out your answers to it. That form is here.
Note in the second section "Do I need an EIN?":
- Is a foreign person needing an EIN to comply with IRS withholding
- Needs an EIN to complete a Form W-8 (other than Form
W-8ECI), avoid withholding on portfolio assets, or claim tax treaty
This line notes which lines of the form you need to complete. Of course, when I rang up the lady asked me for the entry for every line, so be prepared to give an answer to every line.
She gave me the EIN over the phone and that was it. I did have to wait about 20 minutes for the call to be answered, but compared to creating a US company I would try this route first.
EDIT: Having obtained an EIN the IRS is now asking us, a UK company with no presence or employees in the US, to file annual tax returns with them. So be very, very careful about obtaining a US EIN, clearly either their rules or employees are idiotic.