I thought I would take a few moments and talk about how all these issues impact U.S. spouses of foreign nationals living outside the U.S. I’ve seen this addressed in other places but from the comments I see it’s usually about how the foreign spouse will suffer because he/she married an American. Believe me, it isn’t fun for the Americans (very often women) either.
Roger Conklin has referred to the double taxation of Americans abroad as a “sin tax.” I think in the case of American spouses (in particular women) we are being punished for having the audacity to marry foreigners – a fine for the crime of exogamy. I’ve had conversations with Americans who think I should lose my U.S. citizenship since I married a foreign man (a Frenchman no less). There was even a time in U.S. history when American women who married foreigners lost their U.S. citizenship even if they stayed on U.S. soil (see the 1907 Expatriation Act). The rules have changed but the prejudice is still alive and well.
How does the tax system, FBAR and FATCA impact us? Well, here are a few things to think about based on my experience.
1. Exacerbates Inequality: Many of us live in countries where even the relationships between men and women who are citizens is not equal. Immigrants are in even worse shape. So a foreign women is, relative to her husband, in a very vulnerable situation. Becoming a dual can help things but won’t necessarily erase all the discrimination and even unequal treatment under the laws of that country. So when we have to prepare our U.S. tax returns or ask for account information from our foreign spouses, sometimes we literally have to beg them to help us. Please give me the information on our taxes here so I can prepare my tax return. Please let me list our joint accounts on my FBAR. And so on.
2. Impacts our Careers: Many of us have already experienced a phenomenon called “de-skilling.” This is what happens in a foreign country in the beginning when we don’t speak the language well or our credentials are not recognized by HR department in foreign companies. It’s a long hard road to rebuild. But because we are U.S. citizens some avenues are closed to us (or are just too hard and too complicated to contemplate): working as an independent contractor, starting a business or building a successful career and making too much money (putting us above the FEI cap). These things make it very hard to have a career and we usually end up in low-paying jobs where we make much less money relative to our husbands which leads us back to Point 1 above.
3. The Price of Returning to the U.S. is too high: Let’s say we wanted to return to the U.S. but our spouses are not willing to move. What is the outcome? Well, many of us have ALL our assets in the foreign country. If we leave, we will lose much of our money (in some countries we might lose everything) and we will be paupers in the U.S. If we have children, their country of residence is the foreign country and we do not have the right to bring them back to the U.S. without the foreign spouse’s permission. So going home means leaving our children behind which is almost unthinkable for most of us (though I do know one woman who did it).
I’ve heard people say, “well, you put yourself in this situation and you shouldn’t have married him in the first place and left the country.” That has to be the most asinine statement I’ve ever heard. You are asking us to regret, and to accept punishment for, exercising our right to marry the person we fell in love with and chose to raise a family with. That’s not the right of a U.S. citizen or a French citizen, it is a human right. If we had known that all this would cause so many problems, would we have made a different decision? No, but we would have planned better and taken steps to mitigate.
So here we are today with better information and we are fearful, having uncomfortable conversations with our spouses, and examining our options. But for the record, my decision was made 23 years ago to marry the man I fell in love with and I do not and will never regret one whit what I have today as a result of that decision: a good marriage and my two beautiful Frenchlings.
If you are blogging, then I should be asleep! Keep up the good work Victoria. I will read this carefully in the morning!
Victoria, actually, I think tax grabs are equal opportunity (its genderless). My wife has double the assets I have, and thank God, I kept her out of this entire mess. Haha, to think that I actually SUGGESTED that she get a US Tax ID to have a bank account there — I must have been out-of-my-mind. She rejected that idea and thank goodness she did.
It’s really to punish ALL of us, male and female alike. We are not wanted. When was the last time you actually heard a US politician say “We love the US expat community. They are a huge asset to our country.” – yaa.. NEVER.
The “de-skilling” happened to me too. None of my degrees are recognized here. But I still wiggled out of that problem and do other things.
Don’t ever let someone tell you that you shouldn’t have married someone and moved abroad. It’s the US that has turned its back on you. How do I know I’m right? The US is the ONLY country in the world that does this!!!
I hear you guys!! Luckily my family are quite understanding but could imagine that many others would have these prejudices. They are amazed at the complexities I’m facing though.
What sort of regressive anti-intellectual tells some one, ” “well, you put yourself in this situation and you shouldn’t have married him in the first place and left the country.” I forget where I read it now, but someone was saying that we Americans abroad are considered intellectual snobs. But for heaven’s sake, that sort of attitude harkens back to my White dad marrying my Korean-American mother and my grandparents refusing to attend the wedding (it was the 1950s). I thought that the Civil Rights Movement and the 1970-1990’s changed all that. Has the majority of people in the United States regressed to the attitudes of the earlier era? Are we just dealing with a bunch of rednecks? Heaven help us all.
Furthermore, the Ninth Amendment protects our right to marry a foreign spouse, move to a foreign country, and to conduct our lives and our businesses in accordance with the laws of a foreign land, and I personally don’t think that we have to explain why we did it.
And here’s another thing: I married my foreign spouse. She was willing. None of the girls I dated in the US were much interested in me. So that’s why I never married an American: REJECTION! So if anyone asks why I married my FOREIGN wife, it is because she was the first girl I fancied that would have me.
What sort of regressive anti-intellectual tells some one, ” “well, you put yourself in this situation and you shouldn’t have married him in the first place and left the country.”
Petros, probably the same people that view Mitt Romney with suspicion for having some very basic French knowledge and Jon Huntsman for speaking Mandarin. The other candidates are actually attacking those two because of this! Never mind that the largest minority in the US is Latino and a good majority speak Spanish as well as English. /end rant
With that said, I wonder what my family will say once I try to open a dialogue with them to tell them about the predicament I’m in with FATCA now. A lot of people (mostly the elders) would say to me before I left my hometown things like: “You’ll be back. There’s nothing better than this country.” (The elders are all immigrants themselves.)
In my situation I don’t think the US will recognize my common law partnership here in Canada, but if we decide to ever adopt or have a child or children of our own, this situation will definitely affect them. I certainly wouldn’t want to put them through that.
zucchero81 is absolutely right. Oh, the stuff I have heard over the years which I can resume in one sentence, “you are sleeping with the enemy.” 🙂 Pull my U.S. citizenship because I married a Frenchman? Whoa, folks, since when was the U.S. at war with France? It’s a testy relationship, sure, but it’s not THAT bad.
Not everyone has this attitude but enough do that I’ve learned to be very wary about sharing facts about my marriage and where I live with Americans I don’t know lest I hear things that raise my pressure to dangerous levels.
I am relieved to hear that, geeeez. Makes me feel a lot less lonely. That de-skilling thing is a real problem. Like you, I got over it but then finally when things got rolling and I’d started to do better the tax situation just got worse. And then I discovered that I couldn’t do something I’d always wanted to do: work as an independent or start a business.
Craziness. When I returned to America, after having lived in Europe for 4 years, I remember feeling like I was speaking a foreign language with the typical American girls, who – at the most – had taken a tourist trip to France or Italy for a couple of weeks. And that was the minority!
Yes, I think the majority of Americans are xenaphobic, especially to us. And they resent us a little bit “for leaving the greatest country on the the planet.” They think we are rich living in paradise, or adventuring in some strange locale. They are clueles.
Oh yes, geeeez, that is the OTHER side of it – folks who think that we having much more fun than they are and they want us to pay for it (that “sin tax” Conklin talks about).
I love France with all my heart but this isn’t Disneyland and the French are not Mickey Mouse and his pals…
@Victoria, when I look at the scientific achievments of America, I’m very proud. Some people I went to high school have made some great achievments (one of them even works for NASA). But does renouncing change the place I was born? Nope…
I see renunciation as a minor technicality that I have to do to make it possible to live a productive life overseas. I wish I didn’t have to, but I want to live my life freely without some snooping government trying to mooch off of me when they give me absolutely nothing, and I have already paid a ton of money in local taxes. And of course, restricting my investment decisions when I don’t even live there.
Should I ever decide to move back there permanently (i doubt it though), I will ask to have citizenship reinstated. The overwhelming idea that I get is that they want to make anyone who is remotely eligible for citizenship, a citizen. Their own policies on citizenship say that loud and clear. Even in the future, when I renounce, any future children could get citizenship through my parents. I don’t exactly want that.. but I’m just stating the facts.
Superb analysis Victoria! I remember when my cousin (Lutheran) married her husband (Catholic!) in 1963. Some of his family wouldn’t come to the wedding because it was in a Lutheran church and he converted to Lutheran. They said “It will never last and he’ll come crawling back to the Catholics” (who of course wouldn’t recognize the marriage because it was performed in a Lutheran church). They will soon celebrate their 50th anniversary and recently renewed their vows–in the same Lutheran church.
When I moved to Canada in 1969 and then married a Canadian in 1971, (long since divorced), I remember being told “Canadians are all a bunch of Communists” because we had “socialized medicine” (Gasp!). Many thought I too was a Communist (I think my stepbrother still believes it!) for giving up my US citizenship in 1973 (only now IRS wants to say I didn’t!)
Those attitudes prevail today among many (not all!) Americans. As we’ve discussed here, look at the attack on Mitt Romney for daring to say “Bonjour Je m’appelle Mitt Romney” at the Olympics. Or the attacks on John Kerry for speaking French, being too intellectual and marrying a woman who was born in Mozambique. Or Obama for daring the have a Kenyan father and spending a few years as a child in Indonesia. You probably didn’t see it in France, but George Bush gave a withering look to Steven Harper when our Prime Minister responded to questions in French from Canadian reporters at the White House.
Perhaps most ridiculous was renaming french fries Freedom Fries in the Congressional cafeteria after France refused to participate in Iraq. (Honest!). With attitudes like that, how can we ever make inroads with American politicians?!?.
Today, those who leave the U.S seem to be ranked close to terrorists, rather than Communists. Even missionaries and Americans working for organizations like World Vision and Red Cross overseas are caught in the IRS snare. How bad is that?!? Horror of Horrors if they they should fall in love and marry a foreigner from a ‘third world” country.
Here’s a link to an interesting article from today’s Globe and Mail which references a New York Times article. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/barrie-mckenna/in-canada-unlike-the-us-the-american-dream-lives-on/article2303230/
This says Unlike the US, the American Dream lives on in Canada. Very intriguing–but this IRS issue means that dream is being stripped away for Americans, their children and spouses in Canada and other countries. Barry McKenna, the author of this Globe article has written several pieces about the IRS issue.
I have read some reports of spouses asking for divorces from Americans abroad because of IRS issue,but I don’t know how true that is. I’m sure it’s placing a huge strain–both financial and emotional.
I wish there was a way we could help you with this. I hope it helps a bit you can feel you are among friends here.
However widespread may be the idea that “you made your bed, now lie in it” (and I have gotten it from my spouse, who asked “why didn’t you file your tax returns all this time?” – yes, “uncomfortable conversations with our spouses” is my reality,) it is nevertheless the precarious future caused by dual taxation that has shattered the promise of our varied situations. Ironically many of us thought that having dual citizenship was a GOOD thing! Those who are renouncing now face the painful choice of giving up what they thought was a good deal for their kids. Dual citizenship SHOULD be something we can bestow as a gift to our children, namely the advantage of more life choices.
In my case I have no children, but I held on to my US citizenship in the hope that some day, perhaps, we could move to the US in retirement and have access to better health care, better nursing homes, and better climate. I thought of it as an advantage I brought into the marriage. But over the decades I have watched with mounting distress and horror as the US slowly closed the doors to that dream, first through the skyrocketing cost of medical insurance which is principally accessed through employment, then the rising barriers to immigration and even snowbirding after 9/11. And now this: the fact that my dual status is an overt liability to our painfully-accumulated retirement resources. This is a cruel betrayal of citizenship and a massive game-changer for everyone. None of us can ever again look on US citizenship as a blessing.
Thank you for this blog post – One of the main reasons that I am renouncing ASAP is to be able to (hopefully!) marry my girlfriend in a couple of years and not have to live with separate accounts and expose her to aggresive tax laws in a country that she has never even been to.
I really did feel like an “Accidental American” reading your post and the comments here because nobody I know would ever react in this way if I were to marry someone from outside of my home country or even outside of the EU. I know several people who work for the EU here in Brussels who have married other Europeans or even Tunisians, Chinese, Brazilians, you name it. Nobody here (aside from the really hard right of course!) could care less I think. Absolutely baffled that you received this sort of reaction.
May I ask how your husband’s French relatives reacted towards him marrying someone from outside of France?
It helps enormously, Blaze. I am so happy to be here with all of you and I am honored to be able to contribute to the discussions. Big sloppy French kisses to Petros (on the cheeks, people, strictly on the cheeks 🙂
Don, The comments exclusively came either when I was in the U.S. visiting (and mostly outside of the big cities) or in airports talking to tourists. Other expats I’ve met in Paris and Tokyo have never reacted that way because we are all in the same boat, I think.
The French relatives? Good question. Well my French mother-in-law was so happy I’m Catholic (she thought all Americans were Protestant Christians) that she welcomed me with open arms. But the best reactions came from my father-in-law who is now deceased. He sent out a note to his clubs and friends (he was a retired French military officer) announcing that his eldest son was marrying a “belle Américaine.” He also intervened personally when I had a very bad experience with some bureaucrats at the mayor’s office. He had someone from the Army go down and explain a few things to them. They called us later and apologized. Not sure what was said but, boy, it worked. 🙂
I miss him a lot – he was a great man and he taught me a lot about other people’s patriotism. He was absolutely unconditionally ready to die for his country and he came pretty close in places like Cambodia and Algeria.
Great that you also picked up today’s McKenna article. I have alerted people to it with a separate post:
Those of you who are so inclined might add a comment or two. Any Canadian article that compares Canada to the U.S. draws lots of attention.
Thank you for sharing your story. Your Husband’s family remind a bit actually of my father’s parents – Basically after my grandmother learned and was surprised that my mom was also Catholic (extremely important for Italians of her generation…), she could do no wrong in her eyes lol!
But going back to the rude comments that you’ve received, I can’t believe that someone who you had just met would actually have the gall to speak like that to you – I thought you meant maybe opinionated longtime acquaintances…It is also a bit ironic to think about, seeing as these people are, of course, descendants of immigrants themselves. Yet here you have, only a couple generations down from the original immigrants probably, their descendants passing judgement on others for marrying someone not “from the Homeland”. Strange worldview.
It’s a cultural thing, Don. In France (and perhaps where you are) you don’t start merrily chatting with just anyone you meet in an airport or at a store or any other public place. Americans do and normally it’s something I really enjoy. My Frenchlings often remark on it – how strange it is that their mother is actually having a conversation with a stranger at the checkout stand of the supermarket in Seattle. In their defense I will say that the worst was around the ramp-up to the Irak war (I got it in both countries) and people were very sensitive and so was I. I had to listen to a lot of remarks about “cheese eaters’ and “liberty fries” and so on. Today I think there is less open hostility but there is still some bitterness. Learning that the nice lady chatting with them is actually married to one of these “ungrateful” people may have set them off. I may not have helped matters by arguing with them. And clearly I have not forgotten but I should do more to forgive. Life is too short and too uncertain to carry resentments for events long past.
This thread is over a year old but I got to the end and had to laugh. I, too, am an American living in France and I have had the same experience in US supermarkets. The first time my French husband and I went to the supermarket with my mother, he was flabbergasted. “Does your mother know that cashier?” he asked. By this point I’d been in France for several years but I still had to twist my mind a bit to understand why he would even think that. It’s so natural to just start chatting over there with just anyone, and to fall back into it when you go home.
It’s actually the only thing I really miss about the US besides my actual friends and family. The human warmth and friendliness – available for free 24/24. Well, almost.
Flavia, You know I had completely forgotten about this post. Thank you so much for commenting and reminding me. 🙂