Expat's Manual

Here's some of the common questions we get about renouncing citizenship.

Q: When I go to my expatriation appointment, should I bring an attorney with me?

A: There is no need to take your attorney with you to the renunciation appointment. Since the appointment mostly consists of the official signing forms and witnessing you signing forms, it's really not necessary to have a lawyer present. The officials aren't there to grill you with questions about why you're renouncing citizenship (And even if they were, you'd just calmly tell them your answer from the forms.) What the official will do is make sure you fully understand what you are doing. Beyond that, the whole thing is quite mechanical.

Q: I already have a non-U.S. passport. How do I find out if I can visit the U.S. without a visa?

A: Search online for the list of countries which participate in the “Visa Waiver Program.” The list is on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) site. The list is short when compared to all the countries not on the list, so the next question is geared more towards the assumption that you'll need a visa.

Q: My non-U.S. passport requires a visa to visit the U.S. Any tips on getting a B1/B2 visa?

A: Renouncing citizenship is a right, but applying for a visa is a request. Be courteous, forthright and non-confrontational. Explain up front that you’ve expatriated but would like to visit the U.S. for XYZ reason — for example, to visit family. You'll probably be asked why you expatriated. It's best to keep the answer soft-edged. And do not mention taxes.

Q: So once I renounce citizenship, how long can I stay in America when I visit without falling back into the global U.S. tax net?

A: The practical answer is about 4 months per year. It doesn't matter if the time is continual. In other words you could visit the U.S. for two weeks eight times per year, or winter in Florida for a single four month stretch. If you stay longer than that, you're at risk of falling back into the U.S. tax net, even though you're no longer a citizen. There's a specific test called the “substantial presence test” the IRS uses to determine whether you’re “deemed resident” and are therefore subject to the worldwide U.S. tax net. To read the details, check out page 4 of IRS Publication 519 here: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p519.pdf.

One thing to keep in mind is that their formula takes into account the number of days you spent in the U.S. during the previous two years. If you’ve spent all your time in the U.S. prior to renouncing citizenship, it will initially reduce the number of days you can spend visiting.

Q: Are there any hidden fees for expatriating?

A: In 2010 the U.S. government started imposing a processing fee on each person who expatriates, it's currently $2,350.

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Our Expat's Manual is updated regularly so comments about the article may have already been addressed.

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