Thinking about renouncing your citizenship? After reading this blog, you may want to think twice.
Over the last two years, the number of U.S. expatriations has risen dramatically. While it might not be Ellis Island in reverse, it’s damn near close. What has caused people to resort to an option as drastic as renouncing their U.S. citizenship? None other than global tax reporting and FATCA.
For 2013, there was a 221% increase, with record numbers of Americans renouncing. This statistic is based on a quarterly list published by the Treasury Department. As high as that might sound, it might fall woefully short of the actual number. Why? According to those in the “know,” these numbers are grossly understated.
Those interested in renouncing should be aware of the exit tax. So far, the impact that the exit tax has on a U.S. person’s decision to leave the United States is relatively insignificant. However, that could soon change. After Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin departed for Singapore, Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey introduced a bill to double the exit tax to 30% for anyone leaving the U.S. for tax reasons. Fortunately, it has not happened yet. But in the event that it were to come to fruition, it may well impact a person’s decision to renounce, since taxes are a big reason why people renounce.
What must you do if you want to expatriate? First, you must prove 5 years of U.S. tax compliance. To the extent that your net worth is greater than $2 million or you have an average annual net income tax for the last five years of $157,000 or more for 2014 (that’s tax, not income), you’ll pay an exit tax.
The exit tax is nothing more than a capital gain tax, no different than if you sold your property when you left. Thankfully, there’s an exemption, albeit a not very generous one if you own assets that are in the seven figures. For 2014, the exemption is $680,000.
Long-term residents giving up a Green Card are not exempt. They can be required to pay the tax too.
If what you’ve read so far has caused you some apprehension on whether this is right for you, what you are about to hear might just stop you dead in your tracks. Recently, the State Department raised the fee for renunciation of U.S. citizenship from $450 to $2,350. Critics note that it’s more than twenty times the average level in other high-income countries.
The State Department justifies this fee increase on the grounds that the high demand has put a strain on their already scarce resources, resulting in existing employees having to take on additional responsibilities in order to process people who are on their way out.
The notice says:
1. Consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien.
2. Consular officers must verify that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen and they must conduct a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant. Consular officers must even review at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation.
3. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C. After that, the case is returned to the Consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant.
4. These steps add to the time and labor involved in the process. Accordingly, the Department is increasing the fee for processing such requests from $450 to $2,350.
According to recent information publicized on the IRS website, U.S. citizens with dual-Canadian citizenship who are trying to shed their U.S. citizenship have created a backlog at the U.S. consulate in Toronto on a scale that has never been seen before. It stretches into the third week of January 2015.
Finally, some practical and sound advice regarding expatriation is in order. A decision to expatriate should never be taken lightly. No matter how onerous the U.S. tax burden might be, it can be a big step. And around the world, more people are talking about taking it.