AJ wrote this in response to a post created yesterday by Swiss Pinoy. Swiss Pinoy’s post, “Stated in honor of FATCA: ‘You [Americans] disgust me’,” was sparked by a comment on the CNN news site, in which an American inside the US stated, “You people disgust me” referring to US citizens abroad. That person’s comment prompted AJ to write the following:
I decided to write this and get a few things off my chest. This is almost too long for a comment though. Is there any way to have it on the main page as a guest post? Feel free to share.
A letter to America from the son of an American
Several million US citizens live in other countries. Some are there as students, some are doing a stint abroad for an American company, and others have married a foreigner and decided to stay abroad with their spouse. Some Americans abroad, like London mayor Boris Johnson never even lived in the US, but were simply born there while their parents were temporarily working in the US. Others, like me, weren’t even born in America, but are American because one of our parents passed on their citizenship to us. Americans abroad are now in a moment of acute crisis, and I want to take a moment to talk about us and expats in general.
1. Expats are good for America
Just as it’s great for America to have talented immigrants move into the country, it’s just as great having talented Americans move out. My dad moved to Europe in the 70s working for a US company, selling US made products. Later on, he married my European mother and I was born a few years later. After a while, he got a new job and he opened up his own small business on the side importing and selling ‘made in USA’ hats in Europe. In his small way, he created jobs in America and lowered the trade deficit.
He became part of the local community, and acting as an unofficial ambassador to his country, and helped a few people go the US on vacation and spend their tourist money in US cities and national parks.
He died a few years ago, and though his death was very sad for us, at least he didn’t have to see his country turn against him and treat him as a potential tax cheat
2. Expats have to compete with other expats from other countries
Lets stick with my dad for this hypothetical example. Lets say a German expat lives in the same town as my dad, and is trying to sell ‘Made in Germany’ hats. His business (simplified) is:
import product (10$) => mark up for himself (5$) => Pay local taxes (4$). Total price 19$
My dad in the same situation:
import product (10$) => mark up for himself (5$) => Pay local taxes (4$) => pay US taxes (3$). Total price 22$
Both products cost the same to make, and both expats are making the same amount of money, but the American hat is more expensive. Maybe in the case selling hats this wont make a big difference, but what about on the larger marketplace? Multiply this small example for every American company and you see why America makes so few products these days. Americans need to compete, and we as Americans are doing everything in our power to hinder them on the global market. This is why when country A and country B enter into a free trade agreement, both countries benefit, but when the US enters a free trade agreement, only the other country benefits, and America suffers. The game is rigged to America’s disadvantage, and it’s a disadvantage we’ve foolishly imposed on ourselves.
3. Not every American expat chose to leave
I was born in Europe, and have never lived anywhere else. Thanks to my dad though, I’m also a US citizen. I didn’t choose to be American, but the birth lottery made me a citizen of a country I don’t live in. And that’s ok, and I’m not unique in that respect. The US is full of people just like me. For example, many in the US have Irish ancestry, and a few even have Irish passports as well as their US passport. Does Ireland treat these people with suspicion, and assume they are taking advantage of America’s lower tax rate to escape Irish taxes? Does Ireland force them to pay up, or renounce their passports?
Like I said in the beginning, having expats abroad is a good thing, even if these expats have almost no link to the ‘homeland’ any more and don’t plan on ever returning.
For Ireland, having all these ‘Irish’ people in America is great! Irish culture is celebrated and promoted, people travel to Ireland and spend their money there, and last but not least (wink), the Guinness brewery makes money selling their product to all the Irish bars in America. And this costs the Irish government nothing!
What about me, the European with American ancestry? When I was a kid, I thought it was great being half American. We used to visit my grandparents, and bring back things like root beer and peanut butter. My mother once made pumpkin pie for me to take to school, and this was something that none of the other kids had ever tasted. I told my friends about how great it was visiting my grandparents and what a great country America is.
Now, things have changed. The banks here have started treating me and my family like criminals and lepers. The accounts I inherited from my father were unceremoniously closed, and to open up a new account I must first sign a waiver giving up my constitutional privacy rights, so the bank can send all my information to the IRS various US government agencies. A small volunteer group I’m in was looking for a new treasurer, but I had to decline. Had I accepted, I would have to disclose the charities accounts to the IRS, and the bank would likely not want the regulatory nightmare of having a US person for such a small account balance. No employer here would be foolish enough to hire an American for a job that would give them authority over any bank account.
Every year I have to fill out IRS forms and a treasury form (FBAR) that threatens me with a minimum penalty of 10’000$ if I make a mistake. Being American or associated with one is now so bad, that most of my American friends are either renouncing, or moving back. Some people in my situation, but who never knew about having to file taxes to one of their parent’s home countries are being treated like criminals, and fear arrest if they ever visit America. A European friend even cancelled her wedding to an American once she discovered the tax consequences for her and her family. I, and many others, feel betrayed by America.
Some people talk to me about wanting to emigrate to America. Once they find out what it means to be a US taxpayer, most reconsider though. If they were to work in the US for a few years, then decide to move back home, they would still be US taxpayers until they renounce their Green Card, and this might include a prohibitively expensive Exit Tax.
Congress decreed in 2010 that every bank in the world must report to the IRS, or face consequences (FATCA). Imagine if France decreed that every American bank must report to the French tax service, or be shut out of the European market. America would take that as an act of war!
4. What does America expect of its expats?
I sometimes wonder. Americans abroad are for the most part proud of their heritage, and for the most part promote American interests in one way or another. No we’re being told to either come home, or stop complaining and renounce. Fine. It looks like that is exactly what is happening anyway. But who is going to sell American stuff abroad? And when people start badmouthing America, do you think the ex-US citizen is going to stand up for her?
Do we want Americans to be like Soviet citizens who had to renounce their citizenship when leaving the country?
What do you expect of me? I never lived in the US, and I’m not about to uproot my life and live there. I thought my US passport was token of my heritage, and symbolises where a part of me came from. It gave me the right to freely travel to my father’s home country, and say ‘I am an American’. It meant that when I found a small (and overpriced) can of root beer in a speciality shop in Europe, I spent that little bit extra to be reminded of those trips to my grandparents when I was young.
What should I do? Leave my friends and family and go live in the US? Quietly surrender and file taxes to two countries for the rest of my life, with my bank sending all my private account data to a foreign country? Or accept that America was a part of my father’s life, but not of mine, and renounce my US citizenship.
With the exception of backward dictatorships, no other country forces this kind of decision on their citizens. America needs to wake up and take steps to save what is left of her diaspora before it’s too late.
Thanks for this. I identify with much of this and on behalf of my adult children too. But the complication alone makes it all so hard to explain to people where I live (it sounds boring and improbable). . . and back in the US even friends who are intelligent and politically attentive just don’t get it. Thank God for people like you and others who comment here and can relate to the torment of these tangled and costly issues.
A truly excellent description – thank you
The ‘you disgust me’ comment is from another ill informed Homelander who probably has never seen the ocean leave alone ever left their state or the US for that matter.
Over here we pay VAT, high gasoline tax, high income taxes, on average we lose at least 40% of our paychecks in Europe plus paying higher indirect taxation and then Uncle Sam wants a cut?
The $95000 exemption is non-sense given the dollar continues to be devalued. The value meal at McDonalds costs about $11-12 so our cost of living is higher.
You owe the ex-pats an apology.
We Americans have the unique talent of electing politicians with the IQ of a turnip. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Mel Brooks made titled ”Blazing Saddles”. Clevon Little put a gun to his own head and said”Back Up Or I’ll kill this Ni__er.” We do ever actually say the N word but they regularly call each other the N word as a sign of affection.
If enough countries back away from this madness, the U.S. will maybe wake up.
In the end it comes down to making a choice and that choice reflects what is truly important to you.
I can’t think of anything good about citizenship based taxation, only bad. I’d like those in charge of tax reform give me ANY reason that justifies the continued persecution US persons abroad. It’s broke – fix it.
Usually those “you disgust me” type of comments are from people living in the U.S. who feel cheated and hate, hate paying their taxes. They don’t get it that Canadians don’t feel the same way they do about contributing to our society or anywhere else in the world where generally the citizenry understands the importance of a “we’re all in this together” attitude.
This person hates paying U.S. taxes and think we are getting away with something. They don’t know what that something is but, since there is such a deep seeded suspicion of expats to begin with it makes it very easy to demonize us. After all the U.S. government has been demonizing us so why would they think otherwise or even know who we are?
This post pointing out who expats are is a good one but, the U.S. doesn’t know nor care what they are losing with this latest attack the expat whack a mole game they are playing. By the time they figure it out, it’ll be too late …..for THEM. I wouldn’t take my citizenship back now if it came with a presidential apology and was offered up on a silver platter. I also will never again defend anything to do with the U.S. when I hear Canadians complaining about that country I will a.) join in if I agree with them or b.) not bother to say anything at all. Multiply that by many thousands and there will be no one soon to ever present the U.S. in a positive light abroad.
Excellent comment – I recently renounced my US citizenship having lived in Canada for the last 23 years. The whole situation is just weird – no other word describes it for me. And yes I do feel that I had to make this decision because the United States that I grew up in no longer exists. Special thanks to all the Brockers posts and comments that guided me through the process. I have closed the US door with no regret and am a proud Canadian.
A lot of Americans are waking up from the American dream to realize it’s unsustainable. Others still hold on.
I love George Carlin’s line: There’s a reason why they call it the “American dream” – because you have to be asleep to believe it.
We have many long-timers , perhaps wrong-timers, in Congress that have only a couple of things on their minds… RE=ELECTION & RE-ELECTION followed closely by pay day then perks that they vote for themselves. Election is around the corner…let’s clean out the slackers wholesale then maybe we can get re-take our country and again act like Americans.
Thank you, AJ — yours is the story of many, a story that needs to be heard.
Some of these “accidental Americans” born outside the US to a US parent also have a ‘mental incapacity’. No amount of $$$ paid for compliance can give them or their Parents, Guardians, Trustees the ability to get rid of that SUPPOSED US citizenship because of their birth to a US parent in another country, even with a court order. They are entrapped into this immoral absurdity for what would never be taxes actually owed to the US.
Why, oh why, is there no choice in the matter of “automatic, unasked for” US citizenship for all the US collateral damage it brings? The USA does NOT know what is best for my son or others like him — that should be up to their Parent, their Guardian, their Trustee!
Thanks AJ. That’s very emotional and excellent description of how I feel and it almost makes me cry. 🙂 Renouncing US citizenship doesn’t mean that America is no longer becomes a part of one’s life. Rather, it means that America is provided with the challenge of rediscovering its hidden heritage treasures that it had previously chased away.
Thank you AJ and all you other Brockers.Your excellent comments should be widely posted so that the many ill-informed homelanders and the government and IRS etc.to see it,read it,wake up to seeing,and understanding that we are not”traitors,and criminals”.Can you have your comment published in newspapers?Or are there other ways to get the message out loud and clear?
I hate to say it (well, not really) but a great swath of Americans believe that America went into the toilet when Obama was elected, solely because of a quality no other president has had before. America will never ever be the same to them.
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Great read, and what I really want to know is that in all seriousness when does this become an issue for the International Human Rights Tribunal? Sure, we are not being tortured and killed but we US expats are clearly victims in all of this. Everyone should have the right to end a citizenship with any country without penalty or attack for doing so. Where is our free will when a country you have nothing to do with and try to break ties has the right to determine whether you are ‘allowed’ to? Then to charge you money to give up citizenship, tax you and fine you. Maybe this is being looked at in the wrong way and the fight should not be taken to corrupt politicians but to the International human rights organizations. Get the international bodies to pressure the US, to force them to stop this insane victimization and immoral attack on their own people. We deserve the basic human right to be free and not live in fear over such a government regime as the US. End rant..
Thank you AJ for your very thoughtful letter. It’ll stay with me for a long time . I hope it receives wide distribution.
Thank you, AJ. Great article!
I think your approach will have a real chance of connecting with the US homelanders, because you seem to get your readers to know you and the issues involved BEFORE they encounter a need for defensiveness.
(In presenting our case, a huge hurdle is often the emotional firestorm that decent people face when asked to realize that “their own team” is causing something really evil. To escape this cognitive dissonance, they may rush for the exits of denial and scapegoating. At which point communication ceases!)
Thus I think our biggest challenge in reaching US voters is to keep our audience from taking the emotional escape routes, and it seems to me you may have achieved this. Thank you, and well done!
Once there was a choice in the matter of “automatic, unasked for” US citizenship.
I was born in the 1930s in an American hospital to Canadian parents who had never lived a day of their lives in the USA. My father, being a lawyer, would have been keenly aware of the impact this might have on my citizenship. I’m sure he investigated this because, when I was in my teens, my mother said one day: “You were born in the USA. When you are twenty-one, you’ll have the option of becoming an American if you want.” I had no intention of becoming an American and I never exercised that option. Today, the US points a metaphorical gun at your head and says: “You are an American, whether you like it or not. Send us your money.” This is the US going back on its word. This is the USA committing armed robbery.
@pukekonz, I did experiment with that a bit on human rights issue, making some phone calls and tweeting. So far, I’ve gotten zero feedback with one lone exception, as follows:
So far, human rights groups want to feed us to the dogs.
Such a great letter filled with truth. I share your opinions you wrote. I came to Canada with my husband 44 years ago, pregnant with my first child. We were welcomed by the Canadian government and Canadians.
We worked hard and paid our Canadian taxes, which are much higher than the usa taxes.
Like many Canadian parents we watched our offspring go off to other countries to live and prosper. The Canadian government does not demand our children who are abroad pay taxes to Canada while they live in other countries. Our children are welcomed back into Canada with open arms and no reprisals if and when they return.
I had many times opportunities to return to live in the usa but chose not to. I became a proud Canadian after much serious thought many years ago. In my retirement years I have gone for winter months to south usa, I rented near the sea. I enjoyed it but now since FATCA I will never return. I can not feel the same any more, toward a country that demands double taxation. A country that takes but has nothing to give to me in return. A country that considers me a traitor for becoming only a Canadian. A country where some lawmakers would want to bar me from visiting. I had once thought the usa had advanced so much when electing their present president. I was so very shocked when I found out FATCA is his idea. My opinion of him is no longer the same as before.
You may have missed how citizenship based taxation is analogous to an electric dog fence. I’d say FATCA is ‘level 5’. I only hope we don’t look as ridiculous as this guy does trying to escape:
citizenship based taxation is analogous to an electric dog fence=idiotic,nonsense,infantile,stupid.Excellent analogy.And the guy in the video is taking it so seriously just waiting for an applause at how great he is.i looked and was stunned at how idiotic can this guy be.
The dog is the homelander thinking “why are you even trying?”
Thanks so much…I needed that laugh for today…..You hit the nail on the head with the analogy
Some people are idiots for sure. At least he made us laugh.