'Why I gave up my US passport'
- 2 October 2013
- From the section Magazine
The Magazine feature on the number of expat Americans renouncing their US citizenship due to tax filing requirements prompted a huge response from readers.
Many wrote to say they were experiencing similar problems to those outlined in the article. Here is a selection of their stories.
1. David Green, Ontario, Canada: I was born and raised in the US. At the age of 30, I fell in love with a beautiful French girl whose profession was working in the French language. We moved to Canada (bilingual) where we have enjoyed life and we both could earn a living and contribute to life. I always paid my taxes to both the USA and Canada and seldom paid US taxes due to the higher taxes in Canada. But when you retire, hold on to your hats because the common deductions you enjoyed while working no longer apply. I ended up paying over $3,000 (£1,850) in taxes to the US when I retired. That is a significant amount of my retirement income. Since all my benefits come from Canada and the USA provides nothing but increased complications in tax laws and the ability to snoop into our personal lives (including my wife who is not a USA citizen), I renounced my USA citizenship in April of this year - for a fee ($450). I feel sad at the action I have taken but angry at the bureaucracy that caused this problem for so many to possibly catch so few.
2. Pamela Schmidt, Germany: I was an American citizen, and I have spent most of my time in Europe for the last 12 years. In 2006, I married a German citizen and applied for German citizenship in 2010. The German authorities do not allow dual citizenship; therefore, I had to take a decision of becoming German or remaining American. I thought about it for a while and chose to become German. As I have spent most of my adult life in Europe, I feel more European than American, and I would like to be able to play a more active role in politics in the country where I live, which are the main reasons for my decision. However, the bizarre financial rules in the US did make the decision easier. The American government with laws like Fatca [Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act] treats non-criminal citizens abroad like tax-dodgers and limits Americans' financial situation when living abroad, as many local banks don't want to deal with these regulations.
3. Lorenzo, UK: I renounced my US citizenship recently as I am also a British citizen. It is probably true that most individuals do so for tax reasons or, at least, to free themselves from the administrative burden of having to file yearly tax returns in the US. This requires professional help even in the simplest of cases. In my case my motivation was entirely different. I had found out a few months ago that my son, aged eight, could not receive a US passport as his mother is non-American. I was unable to provide sufficient proof of residence in the US for him to qualify. This came as a shock to me and triggered a fundamental re-assessment of my historical US citizenship. Fundamentally, what meaning could I give to the nationality I was born with if I wasn't able to transmit it to my own son? To keep a nationality that has no application to the circumstances of my direct family seemed to me empty of substance as it wouldn't survive me. It was nonetheless with a heavy heart that I took the decision as both my father and grandfather were US veterans of the two world wars. Tax considerations seemed frivolous in my circumstances.
4. Cynthia Bennett, Alzey, Germany: I gave up my US citizenship in 2011 and was listed in the Federal Register. Of course the main consideration was the realisation that I was never going back to live in the US, after decades here in Germany. But the trigger that got me into action was Fatca and the realization that US congressmen and senators will happily throw middle-class Americans living and working abroad under the bus if that can garner them a few soundbites under the pretence of "punishing rich tax evaders". Probably they don't even realise that their efforts are bad for expats because they never think about expats. Expats are totally out of their considerations because expats won't affect their election results. Even if the Fatca mess gets straightened out (ie repealed), there will likely be another "inadvertent" attack on "US persons" living outside the US in a few years.
5. David Skene-Melvin, Toronto, Canada: In 1962, my widowed mother was forced to renounce her USA citizenship. Born Rye, New York, 1900, married St Louis, Michigan, 1931, she had lived her married life in Canada. In 1962, having come out of graduate school and with a steady job, I offered to take her to England to visit her immediate younger sister, British by marriage. The USA refused her a passport because, although she was, most definitely, a US citizen, she had not lived in the USA for 18 years. Although British by marriage, she deliberately took the route to formally renouncing her US citizenship, applied for and received a Canadian passport, and I took her to the UK for a happy two months to reconnect with her sister and visit her husband's (my father's) family.
6. Michael Putman, London, Canada: I relinquished US citizenship at the Toronto consulate last week on the basis of my naturalisation as a Canadian citizen and employment with the Canadian government. Although at first I came to Canada in 2004 for education alone, due to the continuous acts of kindness and generosity shown me I gradually fell in love with the country and its people, including one in particular who became my wife. I view my relinquishment not as an escape from IRS filing (although I won't miss it), or as a renunciation or political repudiation of the US but rather as a desire on my part to fully assimilate into the civic and cultural life of my new country, and to repay the people of Canada the many benefits and kindnesses they have shown to me by offering my full and undivided allegiance and loyalty in return. The fact of the matter is that after living here nearly a decade, I found that my character, values and behaviour had changed subtly but surely into becoming Canadian, and where the heart and mind go, the allegiance must follow.
7. Tim, Port Perry, Ontario: I renounced my US citizenship earlier this year. I was born in Texas to Canadian parents. I grew up in Canada and lived here most of my life, but when I wanted to join the military, I decided to serve in the US Air Force. When I left the air force, I came back to Canada and found out that I had to continue to file US taxes, even though I was not going back to the US and didn't live there. Every year, I had to fill out a form disclosing every bank account and asset that I had, including those of the company that I founded. I always thought that this was an invasion of privacy, especially when some of those accounts were joint with my wife, who is Canadian. When I heard about the new laws, I had had enough and made the appointment. I wasn't in any hurry to give up my citizenship, but I don't feel like I was left with much choice.
8. Michael Hayes, Freigericht, Germany: With its draconian penalties and inscrutable or non-existent filing guidelines, reporting into the US tax system has become a major financial risk for Americans living abroad. I decided to eliminate this risk to my family and well-being and simplify my life. Thus I became a German citizen and renounced my US citizenship.
9. Tom, Switzerland: I dumped mine in 2009. Would have done it sooner, but couldn't be bothered to take a day off work to go up to Bern and back (been Swiss since 1997). Doing so was still free of charge back then, my US passport was expired, and I didn't want to get another one just for the occasional (once or twice in 10 years) trip to the US. This was before I'd ever heard of Fatca. My children have been adversely affected by Fatca and will probably be relinquishing soon (keeping their Canadian and Swiss citizenships). For us, it's not about taxes, but rather the paperwork (and time) to show that we owe nothing.
10. Mike Connally, Reading, England: Gave it up nearly 20 years ago for exactly the reasons outlined in the article. I never owed any taxes, as my foreign-earned income exemption was high enough to cover my meagre income. But I was fed up with having to file extremely burdensome and voluminous forms every year to report chapter and verse of my financial life to the US. Morally, it's none of their business, and I'd had enough. I'm quite happy being "just" British.
11. Michael, London: I renounced my US nationality after having lived in the UK for almost 20 years. I was born and raised in America and am still an "American". Having or not having a US passport makes no difference. The reason I renounced my US nationality was that compliance was a nightmare. I usually paid little or no US tax, but the time and money involved in filing tax returns and bank account disclosures became onerous. Retirement planning was almost impossible without spending a lot of money on expert advice. The rules are foolish and probably end up costing more to enforce than is collected in tax. I have never regretted renouncing my US nationality. The only tiny downside is that I sometimes have to wait in a longer immigration queue to enter the US when I visit.
12. George Rivera, Zaandam, Netherlands: I have lived in Holland for the past 35 years. I renounced my US citizenship about 25 years ago. Living in Holland, after 10 years I was able to put in perspective how unfair the US government is with its own citizens (poverty, healthcare, education etc). Being a member of a minority group (Puerto Rican) living in New York, I never realised that life can be better. I was given a golden opportunity in Holland and I profited. I seriously doubt if I would be so content if I had remained in the US.
13. Sue Hughes, Monmouth, Gwent: I had been in the UK for four years and married to a Brit for two when in 1968 I wanted to vote in the US presidential election. I was astonished to learn that, as I was "married to a foreigner and living abroad", I no longer had a vote. I rang the Home Office to see if I could become a British citizen and was told that this was possible, so I changed my citizenship and was issued with a "certificate of loss" from the US. Dual citizenship was not an option. Since then I have voted in every single UK election, from parish council to general elections. But being told you no longer have a vote in the country of your birth and origin was pretty damning.
14. Donna-Lane Nelson, Switzerland: I gave up my citizenship in 2011 mainly because I couldn't have a normal banking relationship. Swiss banks are closing accounts of Americans, not allowing investments or giving loans. I was paying double taxes on my pensions, AVS and SS [social security] and on a limited income. However, it wasn't taxes, but the bank problem that made me give up my citizenship. It was so upsetting, I vomited afterwards. Like the day I was divorced, this was one of the saddest of my life. I don't regret the choice.
15. Norman Heinrichs-Gale, Mittersill, Austria: I gave up my American citizenship for Austrian in 2009. My wife gave up Canadian. We originally came to Austria to work at an international conference centre for just one year. Over the years and three children later, Austria felt more and more like home. Increasingly, the US seemed to become a very foreign place, culturally and politically. Tax issues were not a factor in our decision, but rather the availability of affordable university education and health insurance.
16. Robert Alexander, Cambridge, England: I recently obtained Irish citizenship through my grandparents being Irish. Up to then, I was a USA citizen born and bred. The reason why I chose to have Irish citizenship is because I met my wife through Facebook four years ago. It became apparent early on, that it would not be an easy process to be together, with the immigration rules being as tight as they are. We were looking at having to spend a large amount of money to apply to the Home Office for us to marry and me to be allowed to live and work in the UK. There were no guarantees I would even get the visa, despite having my wife and our daughter. It was just a huge stress and to know I could become Irish through descent seemed the most easiest way to go. I am now a legal alien, running my own business and supporting my family. For us, this was just the best way.
17. Alec, London: I left the US at the beginning of 1993. Next April I will have lived in the UK for 20 years. I left America both because I've loved Europe since living in Germany for a year when I was a teenager, and because the increasingly reactionary drift of American politics and political thought since the '70s made me feel more and more out of step with American values. The developments I've seen since I've left have only confirmed me in the wisdom of my decision. I held both British and American citizenship for several years, but when the IRS contacted me and told me that due to the Alternative Minimum Tax, I had incorrectly filed my taxes after a monetary windfall one year, and owed them over $2,000, I decided the time had come to give up my American passport. My only regret is not having done it much sooner - though visiting it for holidays and family is often pleasant (the shopping is great!), I'm always happy when I get on the plane to come home.
18. Walt Hopkins, Kinross, Scotland: I renounced my US citizenship in 2007. I have been a British citizen since 2002. After 2014, I plan to renounce my British citizenship and become a Scottish citizen. In addition to objecting to the expensive hassle of US taxes for expats, I renounced my US citizenship because of the way the US spent my taxes on illegal wars. I feel the same way about how my British taxes are spent, so I look forward to an independent Scotland that will use my taxes to care for people rather than to kill people.
19. Mary, Ottawa, Canada: I was born in Europe to expat parents. I only lived in the US for two-three years as a teenager, and I left again as soon as I graduated from high school. Filing my taxes for the US has always been stressful. The forms are very complicated, but getting them done professionally can cost upwards of $500 per year, and the price seems to keep rising. I've never had a high enough income for that not to hurt. So I muddle through, trying to file US taxes by myself, but there's always the stress of getting something wrong and being faced with a large fine. Then, after I had a child, I found out that the US wasn't going to recognise the tax-sheltered status of RESPs (Canada's educational savings plan). So even though it was for my child, because my name is on the account, any interest it earns or the government grants it receives are eligible for taxation by the US. I officially renounced my US citizenship last April and am waiting for "approval" from the State Department to officially be a non-US person. It was well worth the cost and I'm already sleeping easier.
20. Gray, California, US: During the Vietnam war, like many others I protested in Washington DC. Aged 18, I was falsely arrested by the FBI - a record that still follows me today (age 61). I left the US in 1976 and lived in and eventually became a British citizen in 1982. I'm committed to my decision. I have to say growing up I never felt "American" and although some might see me as American I never "wave the flag" or feel moved by hearing the national anthem. A few years ago I was hired by a company here in California. My stay here is only temporary and I miss being home in Britain. I'm looking forward to returning home. When I told my father, in 1982, that I had renounced my citizenship he was absolutely livid, offended and downright purple with rage. He didn't talk to me for over a year. It was only the birth of my daughter that loosened his tongue.
Plus one who would never change...
My husband and I pay our taxes, with no reservations. We'd never consider giving up our American citizenship. Why give up such a precious heritage, that so many people around the world would be envious to have? And I haven't met another American in Dubai who would consider giving it either. Dubai is a great place to live, and I'm glad we have the privilege to live as expats here, but it ain't America. Cheryl Keown, Dubai, UAE
...and one who changed and then regretted it...
In the 50s I renounced my American citizenship to become an Israeli citizen. I felt gung-ho as an 18-year-old. Little did I realise the shabby treatment until after I got out of the military there. I came back home, became a naturalised American, became American again after the legal time limit. I would NEVER, EVER give up my US citizenship again. No-one in the world should renounce the citizenship of his birthright, except for despotic countries. Jack Gilead, Prachin Buri, Thailand
...and one who became a proud American
I became an American citizen in 2002, 21 years after I married my American husband and settled in the US. As long as both my parents were alive in Norway, I felt I should keep my citizenship. When my father passed away I felt released from that obligation and applied to become a citizen of the US. However, I kept my Norwegian citizenship as long as I could, meaning that when my Norwegian passport expired 5-6 years ago I was not eligible to renew it again, since in the meantime I had sworn allegiance to a different nation. If Norway had allowed dual citizenship (they do in some cases because our daughter is a dual US and Norwegian citizen), I would have kept my passport simply because it makes travel a little easier. My heart is loyal to the US and if I ever had to make a hard choice, I would choose to side with the US even had I been able to keep my Norwegian passport. That is what happens when you live long enough in a great nation, I think. Berit Landeg, Mentor, Ohio, US