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…
Victoria, I feel like the exception to this site: I don’t want to be a US Citizen, nor my little ones. It will be their choice, but I will strongly recommend against it. I feel as though we all have been “thrown under the bus” so to speak:: They pass laws in America that adversely affect our lives (each of us seem to have been affected in different ways), and I get this feeling that they just don’t care, or it is “our fault” for living overseas in the first place. Common! I didn’t ask to be born there!
As far as services go, I won’t hold my breath. I think this will never change until America becomes an immigration net-loser, which will probably never happen. Think about it too: the US doesn’t even have an “official” language.
Once again, “american expat” is an oxymoron; the words are becoming less and less compatible every day. I appreciate your contributions here, but these are just my views.
Well, you could ask for a receiver to pick up the Armed Forces Network (AFN). They broadcast American TV for service members worldwide. Surprisingly, a channel in Brazil broadcasts David Letterman Show that they obtain from the AFN, as documented in Wikipedia.
I just pay around $60 a month for local satellite TV. Most of the educational and kids programs come from Canada. I keep waiting for the day when I’ll see Petros on an infomercial complaining about the FATCA. 🙂
I don’t think you are an exception at all and I, for one, am delighted to hear your point of view and the views of others on this. I think what brings us together is our outrage at what is being done to us and a desire to get the message out. From there we all have different ways of expressing ourselves and we all have to decide how to move forward. For some this means renouncing – a decision I respect and would never criticize. For others (and I count myself in this group) we don’t want to do that until we have exhausted all other possibilities and are forced to admit defeat. Most of the people I talk to here (and I admit this is hardly a scientific poll) don’t want to renounce if it can be avoided. Fair enough and I think that decision deserves respect as well. The question for me is – is negotiation possible? Is anyone listening? Are those who are listening really paying attention or are they going to blow us off (as I was blown off this week by a friend in email who said he didn’t want to hear about our “First World Problems”). But I feel that I have to try and keep trying. As someone here said, perhaps we will reach the right person one day and that will make all the difference.
Petros’ genius is to bring us all together and give us a forum where we can talk about these things. Please keep talking about your desire to renounce – I’m listening and I think others are too. But are you OK that I come back with, “well, before I think about that route, here’s an idea that I had….”?
Victoria: I’m ok, you’re ok.
Those of us who relinquish are US citizenship do so in despair. It is a tactical retreat and an admission that the first part of the battle between United States government and her expatriates has been a rout, and we are in disarray; some are still fighting through compliance and others are fleeing through renunciation, but the majority of our forces are hiding up in the hills without engaging the battle at all, or they haven’t heard about the war. But this war affects all of us in one way or another, and we have to stick together, no matter what our differing roles are, to try to bring sanity to this situation.
I have retreated, licking my wounds. I would have preferred to remain a dual but I cannot do so with the onerous tax obligations of a dual and staying up all night worrying about the revenue services of two countries (the evil of the CRA suffices), and how to avoid two country’s taxes legally when presented with two contradictory systems. It can’t be done. I flip out now whenever I see a letter from CRA or IRS. It’s gonna give me a heart attack some day. I need inner peace. So I had to retreat. But obviously, I’m not at peace with my decision, because I still want to fight.
Believe me, I wouldn’t look good on TV. 🙂
haha, just don’t go postal Petros 🙂
I know what you mean though, about peace. That’s all I want too.
@Victoria – The thing I disovered about renouncing is like this: A Cuban naturalized American told me, “You are where you are born.”
This is why, no matter how threatening the State Department scripts are, I am 99,9% sure that an ex-American can get back citizenship very easily, and people don’t really need to be scared about it, if they actually want it back for whatever reason.
quote from website—-
How about if I Made a Renunciatory Declaration?
If you did give a renunciatory declaration in a foreign naturalization oath it might still be ok. The State Department is nowadays pretty relaxed about such declarations and it might be ok if you took it because you needed a foreign citizenship and taking the renunciatory oath was the only way to do that and you had rather not made that declaration.
Life would be so much easier if the US did it the British way: you take on citizenship in another country, but get in back when you return, if you return. But that’s too sensible for the US 🙁
I renounced US citizenship three months ago. I did it in the tradition of our ancestors who had the courage and determination to declare themselves free from the British Empire in 1776.
I will always be American. It is in my blood. But I am through being a subject of the US empire.
My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier.
I thank you for your eloquent contribution, Victoria. Those of us who choose to remain duals may occasionally endure slings and arrows from some of the renunciants (see the replies to my post http://isaacbrocksociety.com/2012/01/05/why-i-will-not-renounce/) but as US citizens we retain credibility with friends, relatives and other contacts within the United States who may be in a better position to influence the future course of events.
I do not excoriate those who make the decision to renounce, even when that decision was made bitterly and noisily, because it is natural, when one has had to take an action which is emotionally costly, to want to validate that decision by encouraging others to join them and to feel frustration with those who choose another course. I also think that by their numbers alone, if nothing else, the renunciants send a message to Americans that their government has gone beyond the endurance of too many of its citizens who are now exercising their American right to vote- with their feet and their actions – for the last time.
It is Petros who best exemplifies the approach we’d all do well to emulate, namely he expresses his views passionately but with an open heart and mind toward other points of view. After all, we are as one in our opposition to this assault on our lives and property. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We may not all be friends, but we are allies, and for now, that is much more important.
Boiled Frog, I Iike that. You are still and always an American but you refuse to be a subject of the US empire. Well said, well thought.
I am a dual citizen and I refuse to give up my US citizenship because my connection to this land, this continent, goes back many generations. But in truth my fealty is not to a country, which is an artificial human construct, but to the idea of individual rights and equality before the law. You can’t stop that at the border and you don’t need a passport to claim it for yourself.
Hi Victoria: Thanks for another great post.
In response, I would be happy with just being able to go on welfare and food stamps. I’d go down to some tropical country where such funds would give me a pretty good life and retire.
geeeez, that’s a pretty good suggestion but a few months ago I actually found something on the Net that appealed mightily to my Frenchlings:
The Daily Show.
Yes, America, in 2012 there will be one 18-year old American voting from overseas whose sole knowledge of American politics is the French school system and John Stewart. 🙂
The best investment in America is being poor. I saw that in a video the other day. Long live America!
Bad idea, Victoria. It could never happen and to be fair it shouldn’t ever happen. When we leave America to live elsewhere we leave behind all of the benefits and the obligations. The U.S. Constitution and its jurisdictional powers to not extend beyond its geographical boundaries and that is as it should be.
The U.S. just has to recognize this and cease with the fictions upon which it has based citizenship taxation. End of story.
@foxyladyhawk – you made a very good point about the renunciants. Nothing gets the attention of people back home quite like hearing that people are willing to renounce rather than live under a system that they consider to be unfair. I am so sorry, geeez, that you had to go through this and I understand completely your logic and your despair. I’m getting mail these days that makes me wonder if I should just shut my mouth and quietly solve this problem for me and my family in whatever way I feel best.
@recalcintrantexpat – well, I thought I would throw it out there. I’ve been studying with great interest the behaviour of other diasporas (Gabriel Sheffer’s Diaspora Politics is a great read on this by the way). Has worked out well for the Portuguese in France and other groups scattered around the world – Chinese are another great example. And I had to feel a bit of pity for the American students here in France who risked getting deported because of a new French rule on international students. Not much attention was paid to them and I doubt they got any help at all – even from their compatriots in France.
Which does bring me to another thought on this inspired by your comment. Yes, we leave the U.S. but then we place ourselves under the jurisdiction of another state and they may have their own ideas on all this. We cannot simply move where we wish and present ourselves at the border demanding residency permits on the basis of our American passport (I assure you that the French immigration authorities would throw such a person out immediately – after they stopped laughing, of course). I have been in many parts of the world where people are very ambivalent about Americans. In addition dual citizenship is under attack by the Far Right here in France and there is a minister here who is committed to reducing the number of immigrants in France. What impact will the efforts of the US gov to assert sovereignty over us affect how we are treated in our host countries? Even duals might not be entirely safe because pressure could be put on them to renounce. What do you folks think?
No person can demand the right to reside somewhere if he wasn’t born there. This is true of America too. What we do have a right to though is freedom of movement both within one’s country and outside of it. By using citizen based taxation the U.S. is effectively denying this right to its citizens. If a person is going to leave his/her country of birth it is incumbent upon that person to check out the country before hand and determine if things are suitable.
Living in America is no picnic either. When you have 1 out of 2 people living below the poverty level and a real unemployment rate of over 10% then you have serious problems. In America 1 in 45 persons is homeless. So let’s not pretend that being an American is some kind of magical elixir that shields you from the problems of the world. I remember reading some years ago that if the poor in America were a nation that they would constitute the third largest Third World country. So much for American exceptionalism.
France right now is facing a problem with its large Muslim population and a large population of Gypsies plus some other groups from Eastern Europe. It is much like the problems with illegal Mexican immigrants that America is dealing with now.
When I was in the U.S. last summer I stopped by the neighborhood library and there was a sign that said that they were forced to close some days during the summer for budget reasons. I thought to myself, wow, things must be pretty bad here.
One important distinction to be made to your analogy – those gypsies are EU citizens and so are all the Easter Europeans and the majority of the North Africans which frames the debate much differently. These people have papers for the most part. Interestingly enough there is grumbling as well against other groups. The issue is the free health care. There are a lot of British retirees here and there are complaints that Brits (and even Americans) are coming to France to mooch off the healthcare system. I’ve been subject to remarks to that effect in clinics I’ve been to here.
I understand about the problem with the non-French citizens who are making use of the French health care system. Believe it or not but there is the same problem here with Americans who use fake Ontario health care cards so that they can get free Canadian health care. The Americans don’t like to talk about their “health care ” refugees. Many Americans retire to Mexico or other Latin American countries because they can’t afford to pay for health care in the States.
The basic problem with the EU is that while everyone one in the EU has been given mobility rights between member countries it doesn’t mean that their tax revenues follow with them. The better off countries of the EU are getting hit hard from the services end while receiving nothing in offsetting revenues from the other member countries whose citizens are using their services.
There is also the cultural problem. There are many in France, Britain and Holland who see that their culture is under siege from peoples who values are opposed to that of the native population.
@recalcitrantexpat – very very true about the US. If I had stayed there, I would most likely be unemployed and collecting Welfare Cheques. (Yes, no more American spelling for me, ever!). I actually did them a service by leaving.
@Victoria – what’s the problem with expat students in France. Please post some links. Petros said it’s the rule. Hahah 🙂
I wouldn’t doubt it about Americans mooching off the French healthcare system. I liked the Michael Moore documentary, Sicko, because they talked about that. What do you think of that by the way in regards to the American *reactions* when asked about the French healthcare system? Do you think their reactions were honest, or framed and edited for the documentary?
“Petros said it’s the rule. Hahah”
Actually, the only rule that I’ve enforced is asking everyone to use a consistent alias when commenting. I’ve asked for links in the past because, you know, I want to know based on evidence, not simply rumor. So far this site has been run with little moderation (comments are not screened–so far so good).
If you want to see a list of rules, check out this (one of the reasons we had to create this site).
geeeez – glad you asked 🙂 It’s a little thing called the Circulaire Gueant and it basically calls for the deportation of international students after they have finished their studies (or if the authorities think they aren’t progressing as they should with their studies). They nabbed a Canadian PhD student the other day – 30 days to pack up and get out. It looks like it will be rescinded. I’m keeping folks posted at the Flophouse. You can read more here
(and if you type “circulaire” into the search box you’ll find the others)
As for the French healthcare system (of which I am a great admirer and believe me I have never EVER complained about high French taxes because I get value for my money here) I wrote this post “French Healthcare – the User Experience”:
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