Some Americans in the home country have expressed a commitment to forcing American expatriates to file and pay taxes not only in their host countries but taxes at home as well. Without going too deeply into the basic fairness issue which others here have talked about so eloquently, I would like to talk about services.
Americans who live in the home country do not pay taxes for fun or because they have some idea that they are supposed to do it because “it’s the right thing to do” in some sort of abstract patriotic sense. No, my friends, American pay because they get benefits and services for a multitude of things: retirement, schools, roads, libraries and so on.
Since overseas Americans by definition don’t live in the U.S. it is clear that we don’t have access to any of those things. About the only concrete service any of us get when we visit American Citizen Services is a renewed U.S. passport for which we pay a fee. As for consular protection they can try to help (and I assure you the US Embassy personnel are very nice folks: efficient and friendly) but there isn’t much they can do – local law wins almost every time. And, realistically, do you really believe that the US gov is going to tangle with an EU country on our behalf?
May I suggest that if you want us to file and pay taxes perhaps you need to think a little harder about the services side? There are many MANY things that you might help us with and they are all, in my humble opinion, things that are in America’s interest to provide.
I’ll be giving you a few suggestions over the next few days – these things are based on my experience as a nearly 20 year American Expat and mother to two American citizens raised abroad who has done her very best to convey her country’s history, language and values to her children. Just call this the Canticle of a Red, White and Blue Mom…
The top issue for me has always been education: English-language instruction, civics and U.S. history.
Many of us can not afford the tuition at American or international schools. (I know I couldn’t when my children were small.) Instead we send our children to the local schools and make do with tutoring at home. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t – it’s hard to keep a language alive when all their friends and the local school speak the local language. I have met American children abroad (usually duals) whose spoken English is barely adequate, who read English with difficulty and who cannot write in that language. As for civics and U.S. history what many of these children learn in the local schools is taught through the prism of the host countries own values. I am not arguing that this is a bad thing or that the host countries should change their educational systems to accommodate American children. My children are duals and I find the French curriculum to be an excellent one – their goal is to create French citizens and they do a very good job. What I am asking is that America stand up for its side of the citizen equation. Here are a few modest suggestions for how this could be accomplished:
English-language education: How about some help for us expatriates trying to create literate English-speaking Americans? Shouldn’t every American child abroad have the same opportunity to learn to read, write and speak English as a child in the home country? Some of our host countries even have arrangements with foreign governments to allow them to sponsor home language classes in the schools. Have a quick look at how the Portuguese government is helping their diaspora keep their language alive in France (Portugal Embassy in France).
Civics and U.S. History education: Our dual citizen children will be voting in U.S. elections. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for them to have some notion of U.S. History, Civics and modern political issues that is not viewed through the prism of the local school or media before they send in that absentee ballot? How about the Embassy sponsoring some kind of basic overview of the American political process when our children turn 18? How about classes offered through the embassy through childhood and adolescence that not only teach them about the mechanics of the American political process and some history from the U.S. point of view but something that makes them feel part of the American nation, part of the American community? This would also have the advantage of forcing Americans to consider what it means to be an American.
I ask all Americans in the home country to think hard about this – before you is a young American citizen who only knows about America from the perspective of his or her American parent and vacations in the home country. The realities of globalization mean that more and more American children are in exactly this situation. Tell me what you would tell that child about why he or she should be proud to be an American.
And if you could do that for me, give me some concrete help here, I tell you that I would feel a whole lot better about filling out my 1040…