SHARE
COPY LINK

AMERICANS IN EUROPE

How Americans in Europe are struggling to renounce US citizenship

Americans living in Europe have their reasons for wanting to give up US citizenship but due to the pandemic many are effectively blocked from doing so and it's impacting their lives, writes Elizabeth Anne Brown.

How Americans in Europe are struggling to renounce US citizenship
Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

In March 2020, the US State Department ordered embassies across the world to limit the services they offer to citizens abroad.

Embassies have gradually reopened in step with their host countries, but one service remains off the menu at the major embassies in Europe — the process of renouncing American citizenship. 

For nearly two years, Americans have been unable to begin the process of renouncing their US citizenship. But why, when the US allows dual citizenship with many countries, would anyone want to hand in their passport in the first place? 

Reasons for renouncing 

Some, like Joshua Grant, are disenchanted with American politics and want the right to participate in the political process of their new home country. Originally from Selma, Alabama, Grant has lived in Germany for over a decade and has been attempting to renounce his citizenship since he and his partner married in 2020. (While the US allows dual citizenship with Germany, Germany generally requires naturalized non-EU citizens to cut ties with their country of origin. Although the laws are set to change.) 

Others — like United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson  are so-called “accidental Americans”, US citizens who have spent little to no time in the United States and only got their American passport through an accident of birth. (Johnson was born in New York while his father was studying at Columbia University). 

The reason Johnson eventually renounced his citizenship, and far and away the most common reason for it is tax-related, since all US citizens – even if they have never earned money in the US and have barely spent any time there – are expected to file an annual tax declaration with the IRS.  

And recent legislation has made things even more complicated for US citizens abroad. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) of 2010 has made it mandatory for foreign banks to report accounts held by US citizens to the IRS – or face penalties themselves. 

Are you an American living in Europe trying to renounce your US citizenship? We’d like to hear from you and to hear how it’s affected your life. Please email us at [email protected]

European banks were expected to comply with FATCA by 2020. As financial institutions have become stricter about reporting accounts to the IRS in the leadup to the 2020 deadline, some American citizens abroad have faced a higher tax burden.

Other US citizens have found European banks reluctant to allow US citizens to open accounts, or even bar them altogether. Coupled with new taxes introduced under ex President Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden, it’s made the prospect of returning their US passport attractive to many. 

How many Americans renounce citizenship yearly? 

The pent-up demand for appointments to renounce citizenship is difficult to calculate, experts say, considering we don’t even have firm numbers on how many Americans undertake the process each year. 

The IRS publishes a quarterly list of names of people who have successfully expatriated, but they’ve acknowledged the list is problematic – it often includes people who returned their green cards rather than renounced citizenship, and some names aren’t published until months or years after the event. Some lawyers interpret the statue to mean only expats over a certain income threshold need to be included in the list, while others argue it should include every case. The IRS hasn’t made clear what criteria they consider for inclusion. 

The FBI also tracks expatriations in the National Instant Criminal Background Check Index, and the FBI and IRS’s tallies vary wildly. For example, in 2020, the IRS reported 6,705 expatriations while the FBI only added 3,764 names to their list. 

Several outlets—including the Guardian and Axios—have cited an estimate by a in international tax lawyer based in Poland that as many as 30,000 expatriation applications would have been filed since March 2020 if embassies had been open for business as usual. Given that successful expatriations have ranged between 1,000 and 6,000 a year since the early 2000s, this would represent an unprecedented increase. 

District Court lawsuit 

Joshua Grant says that his delayed expatriation has been more a frustration than a practical issue — he’s lived in Germany for more than a decade and has already established permanent residency.

“It’s not so much that I’m impaired, it’s more psychological,” Grant says. “I just want to move on with my life”

“More than a year into this process, I really thought I was going to be able to vote in the last German election.” 

But for some, the shutdown of applications has had serious financial consequences. 

Some “accidental” US citizens living in Europe have had bank accounts closed and mortgages denied as banks come into compliance with FATCA, the Washington Post reported in mid-2020. If they could only renounce their unwanted US citizenship, they say, things could return to normal. 

In late 2020, group called the Association of Accidental Americans filed a lawsuit against the State Department in a US District Court in Washington, DC, alleging mishandling of the expatriation process. According to leader Fabien Lehagre, the suspension of services for renouncing citizenship even as embassies resume non-immigrant visa services to foreign nationals is unconstitutional. 

“Giving up nationality, or voluntary expatriation, is a natural right which all men have,” Lehagre writes on the AAA website. “The US administration is not above the laws and Constitution of the United States. It cannot deprive us of the fundamental right of renunciation.” 

Lawyer for the AAA Marc Zell told The Local: “The lawsuit has made an impact.

“This comports with information we have received from other sources. We are open to resolving this dispute consensually.  What is important is that US citizens, accidental Americans and others, are able to exercise their fundamental right to expatriate as soon as possible. Our lawsuit is one way to make this happen.”

When will renunciation appointments be available? 

A spokesperson for the State Department didn’t directly respond to questions from The Local as to why appointments to renounce citizenship remain off-menu when other services that require in person appointments have been reintroduced.

“The health and safety of both our workforce and customers remains paramount,” the spokesperson said. “US embassies and consulates are working to resume routine services on a location-by-location basis depending on a wide variety of factors, including public health data, host country and local mandates, and local conditions.”

Asked why none of the major US embassies offer expatriation appointments even as the risk of Covid has subsided in several European countries, the spokesperson said that the Department wouldn’t comment since “this is the subject of ongoing litigation,” seemingly referring to the Association of Accidental Americans lawsuit. 

Are you an American living in Europe trying to renounce your US citizenship? We’d like to hear from you and to hear how it’s affected your life. Please email us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. Renounce your US citizenship? You’d have to be bonkers.

    I’ve almost landed US citizenship twice in my life. Both times I was close – but no cigar as they say.
    A Swedish passport is good too, as it opens up the EU. But there is nothing like a US passport.

  2. Anyone who gives up their US citizenship is bonkers. Nutso.
    It’s a huge advantage to have US citizenship. It opens up work and living opportunities unlike any other. All you have to do is file your tax papers every year. If you’ve been paying taxes in Europe, which are higher, you don’t owe US anything. It’s just the small matter of filing. And that is pretty easy.

    Keep it. Don’t give it up and be sorry later.

    Jack.

  3. That’s twice the local has deleted a comment about the silliness of denouncing US citizenship.
    It is a great passport. One of the best.
    Don’t denounce.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

SHOW COMMENTS