tax/work permit question for working in USA -

Sent: Wednesday, February 07, 2007 7:12 PM
To: taxman at
Subject: tax/work permit question
I am a freelance translator/interpreter and have always worked
within Canada working to and from French Canadian. I recently get
a contract with an American agency to do interpretation at a
sales conference in  New York for a large corporate customer of
theirs. I was interpreting into French for the Quebec contingent.
This was a three day deal, five with traveling time with the
agency booking the flight and hotel.
When I crossed the border I told the US customs people that I was
simply going to get some sun but was not completely comfortable
about "lying" about the reason for my trip. This contract is
something which will likely be repeated twice a year under
similar conditions.
My question is: if I am crossing the border to work in the
States, even if for only such a short time, do I need some kind
of visa or work permit? Also, I assume that since I send my
invoice once I get home and receive their payment by mail that it
is handled the same, tax  wise, as my other American customers
whom I send translations to by e-mail. Am I right or do I have to
pay income taxes to the American government?
Thanks for any help.
PS: I asked this question on a forum on, a site for
translators and interpreters, and got your address and a glowing
recommendation on the forum.
david ingram replies:
I am not a member of the AILA and not a lawyer although  I  did
graduate from the UBC Immigration Practitioners program for
immigration to Canada and have been doing this for some 43 years
now.  My knowledge is mostly gleamed from talking to thousands of
people and hearing what happened to them.  I also think I wrote
the first book on cross border visas under the FTA (now NAFTA)
back in 1989.
To my knowledge there is no visa available which will serve your
purpose in any acceptable time frame or cost factor if you are
being paid by a US entity.
An Interpreter can enter the US to practice their trade for a
Canadian business.  If a Canadian company wanted you to go to
Louisiana to interpret for a Cajun client of the Canadian
business and you were paid from Canada by a Canadian company, you
could go to Louisiana under the Terms of a B1 Business visitor
However, that would NOT qualify you to work at a US conference
for a US corporation.
It likely WOULD qualify you to go to the US "with" the Quebec
contingent if you were paid by the Quebec contingent.
To work for a US corp or entity, you would need an H1 visa which
will take you about 18 months to get at the moment and the US
corp has to sponsor you.
With regard to the "getting some sun" comment, you were lucky
although hundreds of people say the same thing and get away with
it.  However, if they had looked at your diary or found a letter
from the organization in your golf bag, etc., you would have been
turned back and banned from the US for five or ten years at an
If it happened at a land border, you would likely have found
yourself in jail for three or four days and had to post a $5,000
US bond to get out.  Then it would have been a court appearance
and been banned for 5 or 10 years.  (I had a gent who was banned
for ten years at the Toronto Airport in my office today,)   Oh
yes, if you were driving a $1,000 car or a $100,000 car, it would
have been seized.
As for tax, you should be filing a US Tax return.  There is no
tax to pay because you can exempt up to $10,000 as an employee
(Art XV) and all of it if you were self employed and have no
fixed base in the US under Article XIV of the US/Canada Tax
Convention (Treaty).  When you claim an exemption under the
treaty, you have to file US form 8833.  I will agree that most do
not file the return but if caught, the minimum penalty for
failure to file a treaty based exemption (8833) is $1,000 to
$10,000 US.
David Ingram's US / Canada Services
US / Canada / Mexico tax, Immigration and working Visa
US / Canada Real Estate Specialists
My Home office is at:
4466 Prospect Road
North Vancouver,  BC, CANADA, V7N 3L7
Cell (604) 657-8451 -
(604) 980-0321 Fax (604) 980-0325
Calls welcomed from 10 AM to 9 PM 7 days a week  Vancouver (LA)
time -  (please do not fax or phone outside of those hours as
this is a home office)
email to taxman at
Disclaimer:  This question has been answered without detailed
information or consultation and is to be regarded only as general
comment.   Nothing in this message is or should be construed as
advice in any particular circumstances. No contract exists
between the reader and the author and any and all non-contractual
duties are expressly denied. All readers should obtain formal
advice from a competent and appropriately qualified legal
practitioner or tax specialist for expert help, assistance,
preparation, or consultation  in connection with personal or
business affairs such as at If you forward this
message, this disclaimer must be included."
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