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August 24, 2015 - Phil Hodgen

The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American, Episode 2

Note from Phil:  this blog post was written by A, who is renouncing her U.S. citizenship.  She kindly agreed to period updates of her progress through the system as she deals with the various bits and pieces of work that will be needed to renounce her U.S. citizenship.

It is part of a continuing series:


A Personal Journey of a 17 Year Old Irish Teenager to Renounce US Citizenship

The Person behind the process

When did I actually start this journey? I was born in America 17 years ago to an Irish dad and German mum. My dad was working by invitation for 6 years in various places in the States, while my mum was merrily redistributing his earnings among various shops, a very enjoyable task in which she was later joined by myself and also three years later by my now 14 year old brother. When I was 4 we moved to the UK, where my parents had met at work. Life settled into a routine and as we kids also held Irish passports with which to travel within Europe. We almost forgot about the American citizenship, especially as my own US passport expired in 2003, still showing me as a baby with my dad’s hands holding me up. Into a draw the passport went, and there it stayed. Lots and lots of trips to Ireland and the rest of Europe, but no trips to the US and no new American passport. Almost forgotten, but not quite. And then the BIG question.

About a year ago I started thinking about my future outside my home, away from my mum and brother (my parents have now been separated for over 5 years and are currently going through the final stages of their divorce), on my own. Where to study? Which country? Where is my physical, and emotional, home? Would I want to return to the States to study, to live, to work? At this stage, my decision process was only one of emotion, trying to find my place of where I culturally belong. No ideas about possible forthcoming trips to embassies, expenses, filing tax returns, getting various governmental numbers. Purely my very own feeling of “where is my home”? And that turned out to be the easiest decision of all. Whenever I looked at the situation coldly with my head, my heart told me Ireland and I just knew. 

Why Renounce?

Obviously, realistically, I could keep my American nationality as well, but as I have no emotional connection, no family, no ties with the country I decided at this stage to renounce and we tentatively started to look at the implications and processes. What a can of worms! Apparently I have a right to renounce, but exercising this right is not exactly easy, nor cheap (it costs at least $2350.00), nor fast. Reading through various articles on the internet I was made to feel like a criminal trying to dodge paying taxes. 5 to 10 years of tax returns? I wonder what the IRS is expecting 12 year old me (or even 7 year old me) to have earned back then? We are not a rich family, my mum has to take in lodgers to help pay the bills, my monthly pocket money is £10 (about $15), and even that does not always get paid. As I have the smallest room in the house, I have to sleep on the mattress on the floor as it is not big enough for the bed frame as well (the lodger gets the biggest room with the en-suite). We have a lovely home and I love my cosy room, but the rooms and houses in England are generally a lot smaller than in America and also Germany.

Where on the tax return forms do I put this? Where on the forms does my actual life get taken into consideration? I am not a criminal, I am not a tax dodger, I am not a big global corporation. I am a 17 year old teenager trying to establish herself in life, with a zero income over the last 17 years. Actually, does this make me a “Zero”? In the eyes of any tax agency worldwide, probably. Nice thought.Anyway, after having made my decision and coming across various accounts and sometimes conflicting and/or unhelpful advice, none of which actually covered minors in any detail, if at all, I was extremely lucky to come across the website of www.hodgen.com. Finally some straight forward details and recommendations to work with. The American Embassy in London sent the relevant forms, but no help with regards to tax returns or advice on which course of action to take. On top of that, the IRS branch in London is now closed and anybody wanting any help is referred to a number in the States. 

Which Course of Action?

With the guidelines given by Mr Phil Hodgen I decided to renounce my citizenship first, wait for the Certified Loss of Nationality form and then catch up with the tax paperwork. The reason I decided on this course of action was the mild form of discrimination against holders of US passports I experienced. As I am still officially an American national I might have to pay higher (about 2.5 times) student fees compared to UK and EU students, even though I live in England. Even the universities are not 100% clear about this, but I do not want to be presented with a much higher bill as it will be already (like thousands of other students I will have to repay tens of thousands of pounds of student and maintenance loans after I graduate). Getting a student loan as an international/US citizen is much more complicated, especially as I have no US address. In addition I would also not qualify for any type of bursary. Bureaucracy is starting to get confused. I am sure there is a straight forward answer with respect to university fees, but we are only just starting on that particular journey. On top of this I have already been refused a student account with two banks as they do not want to deal with the relevant and expected paperwork having to report a US national to the IRS, a legal requirement a lot of banks do not want to get involved with.

The Official Start

So, this weekend we printed out all the forms the Embassy had sent us (after buying more toner for the printer that is), laid everything out neatly, read and re-read, started to fill in the forms, first as a draft, then for real. In between these two processes a few choice words from my mum, who was “wondering” which planet the person who thought of asking certain questions came from. But a few cups of coffee, not to mention several bars of Cadbury later, nerves firmly back in place, we continued. The explanations before the first form are actually pretty straight forward, but then there is Form 4079, some of the questions are, let’s say, a bit quirky. I felt that some of the required answers appear trying to trip you up. As for form 8554, well I will leave that to my next blog. I will need to clarify the meaning of a few questions first before I answer them and also when this needs to be filed.

On a positive note, not all is gloom and doom. About 5 days ago I sent an e-mail to the US Embassy in London to request my national insurance number. Friday afternoon I received a phone call from a very polite lady, and apparently, unbeknownst to me, a number does indeed exist. All I needed to do was sent my current Irish passport, together with the completed social security application form and hopefully I shall receive my number soon. 

When did I start my journey, my quest? I started on Saturday, August 22nd, 2015!

Expatriation Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American