What the Passport Pitchmen Don’t Tell You…

What the Passport Pitchmen Don’t Tell You…

By Mark Nestmann • July 23, 2013

Acquiring a passport in another country and then expatriating—giving up your U.S. citizenship and passport—is a very serious decision. If you change your mind and want to return "home" to the United States, you might not be able to.

It's the dark side of expatriation that the passport pitchmen don't talk about.

For that reason, I make a point of reviewing the potential consequences with private clients before they take the plunge. I've written about it many times as well—to the point where I probably sound like a broken record. It was in the comments section of one of these articles that the following story was posted by a former U.S. citizen who is paying the consequences of expatriation. And, rather than let it be lost at the bottom of the page, I wanted to share it directly with you.

While admittedly not typical, it's also not that uncommon.

I'm one of those unlucky people now paying the price for renouncing my U.S. citizenship years ago. I was young and stupid and forgot that I still had a family in the United States and that they would get older, or die, or that I would inherit property, etc. I thought that as long as I could go visit my family and friends (on a visa waiver, which is good for a three-month visit) using my adopted country passport that I would be fine.

That was when I was in my thirties and my folks were in their fifties. Now I'm in my fifties and my mother is in her seventies, and my father has passed away. She has health issues and I'm needed at home—but I can no longer come "home."

Once I acquired citizenship in my adopted country (Norway), I wanted to keep my U.S. passport as well. However, Norway doesn't recognize dual citizenship. I had to choose one or the other nationality. I chose Norway because it is small, clean, politically neutral, has perhaps the highest quality of life in the world, almost no crime, five weeks paid vacation each year, socialized medicine (the kind that DOES work) and a good future retirement. Also, I was in a relationship with someone who was NOT American and wanted to be together. For me, giving up U.S. citizenship had nothing to do with trying to escape paying taxes or anything like that. I fell in love in another country—that was my only "crime!"

Anyway, a few years ago, my father had heart problems. I'm his only child, his only living relative, and his sole heir. So I thought that if I could come back to the United States, we could spend time together while we still had the chance and I could be close to my future inheritance. 

We put in all the paperwork required by U.S. Immigration, paid all the fees, etc. You would think that "immediate family" members of U.S. citizens would get a residency permit easily right? NOT!!! Because I'm the "over 21 year-old, unmarried child" of a U.S. citizen, I fall in the second group of what the United States calls "immediate relatives." What does AGE of the child have to do with anything? We are still father and daughter—that is about as "immediate" as a blood relative gets!

Long story short, two years later the paperwork was STILL in process. I kept going home to visit every year using the "visa waiver" status of my Norwegian passport. Then, in April this year, I got that call that all of us dread, announcing the death of my father. Because my father was my petitioner on my residence application, and since he died, all that paperwork was thrown out, and all that money paid wasted. U.S. immigration told me that I could start over, using my mother as the petitioner. Of course, they would not let me transfer the money that I had already paid on my father's petition over to hers!

I used the three months that I could stay in the United States to bury my father, settle his affairs, close his accounts, and wait for the lawyer to do the succession process. I inherited my dad's home, mortgage-free, the land it's on, a nice sum of money from his accounts, and his stocks. You would think that since I was born and raised in the United States, served in the military, all my family are U.S. citizens, and I now own property in the United States, that they would let me get my residency right back. NO WAY!!! Not even with the inheritance would they let me back in.

Next, I was told that I could not have the stocks put in my name because I'm no longer a U.S. citizen. It is premium stock, which pays a divided check every year for the rest of my life. Dad wanted me to have that as a supplement to my future retirement. But since the stock is in an S corp. company, you can't get it if you're not American. 

How stupid is that'? I AM STILL MY FATHER'S CHILD AND HEIR!!! So, I have to sign over the stocks into my mother's name so that she can pay me the dividend check each year, since she has a social security number and I don't. But of course, she must pay taxes on that income, so I must pay her back for any taxes. Thank goodness, she's retired.

Back to the immigration matter... my mother and I intended to submit my petition for U.S. residence to immigration just as my dad and I had done. We were informed that it would probably take 8 to 10 years to be approved!!! 

My mother is 74. So, I won't be able to spend the quality time with her or to live in the house I inherited, or have my father's stocks placed in my name—all of this because I changed my citizenship. All I can do is go home every year, and I can stay up to three months, but I can't work and I can't live there permanently while I'm of working age. I must wait to retire before I can stay in America, because then I'm getting my retirement payments from another country, which make it easier to qualify for U.S. residency.

So folks, think twice, and think hard before you give up your U.S. citizenship. You can keep your U.S. citizenship if you just live in another country as a permanent resident. If I had it to do over again, that's the way I'd have done it. You can also keep your U.S. citizenship if your adopted country recognizes dual citizenship. 

At least the Norwegians do not make it hard for "IMMEDIATE RELATIVES" to be together. If you are family, you come in under "family reunification." They don't keep blood relatives from being together!! No, they make it hard on the people you SHOULD make it hard for to enter the country: criminals, terrorists, fake marriages, etc.

Shame on the U.S. immigration system for having such screwed up priorities when it comes to who gets in, especially when the person was a citizen before and has family that are all still U.S. citizens.

Good luck expats! Maybe it'll change someday, but that day will be too late for my family and me.

Renee in Norway

Again, this isn't a typical story. And, the outcome probably could have been different had Renee and her mom obtained competent legal advice prior to filing her application for permanent residence or settling her dad's estate.

However, Renee's plight does illustrate that expatriation is a serious and life-changing decision. That doesn't mean it's not a good idea. You just need to go into it with the all the right facts.

With the right facts, you can make the right decisions. And, perhaps more importantly, avoid making the wrong ones.

Protecting your assets (and yourself) against any threat - from the government, the IRS or a frivolous lawsuit - is something The Nestmann Group has helped more than 15,000 Americans do over the last 30 years.

Feel free to get in touch at service@nestmann.com or call +1 (602) 688-7552 to learn how we can help you.

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About The Author

Since 1990, Mark Nestmann has helped thousands of clients seeking wealth preservation and international tax planning solutions. He is the author of highly acclaimed Lifeboat Strategy and other books & reports dealing with these subjects.

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