December 10, 2014 - Phil Hodgen

Avoid Bern

A report from the front:

Dear Phil:

I have been living in Switzerland for the last 20 years; and after much self-deliberation, I finally decided to return my US passport.  It is now impossible to have the necessary bank accounts for daily living here as a result of the FATCA legislation.

I tried to obtain an appointment at the US Embassy in Bern; which by the way, has a consistently horrible reputation for a total lack of service, a total lack of caring and a total lack of “humane touch”.  Posted on their website is their advice to leave all personal belongings at the nearby railway station.  Additionally one waits outdoors no matter the weather, until one is called inside.  This holds true for Americans and non-Americans as well.

In order to obtain an appointment to renounce, one cannot call the Bern Embassy; nor can they use the website’s online agenda functionality.  Instead, one must write an email to a stated email address.  I did that twice and never received an answer.

As a result and to be honest, to avoid the absolute dread of having to deal with the Embassy in Bern, I decided to renounce my citizenship in Vienna.  I received an appointment within one week and had a very good informative conversation that lasted more than a half hour. Follow-up emails were answered rather quickly; and I had a total positive experience.  There was no need to leave my personal belongings anywhere as I was told I could take into the office anything I could take on an aircraft!

With an appointment in hand, I forwarded one of my emails to the Bern embassy email address and stated:  “Please disregard the below request.  I now have an appointment to renounce my citizenship with the Vienna Embassy which I found to be very efficient and much more “service-friendly”.  Within 5 minutes, I received a reply that simply stated:  “we are sorry you think we are not efficient.  Of course you are very welcome to renounce your citizenship in Vienna”.   No salutation, no signature.. just that short line.  If I had any doubts whatsoever about returning my passport, that treatment surely made them immediately disappear.

Kind regards,

Name Redacted

PS  You have my complete permission to post this if you wish.

Too bad. I accompanied a client to the Bern Embassy in 2008, just a couple of weeks after the latest incarnation of the exit tax rules became effective. “You can’t come in” I was told. There were stern-looking guys with guns standing there, acting as human punctuation on that sentence, so I cooled my jets at a nearby cafe while she renounced her citizenship. It took my client a couple of hours to renounce, and it was a beautiful summer day.

Back then it was one appointment and you’re done. No filing fee, either. I’m fairly confident that the laws haven’t changed for how you renounce citizenship 🙂 because the same horribly designed form (DS-4079) exists, so I have no explanation for the current state of affairs in Bern except Parkinson’s Law. Or true overwork due to FATCA.

When we handle expatriation cases we spend considerable time calling around to find places for easy renunciation. Hint: try some of the smaller Outposts of U.S. Diplomacy. Avoid the Embassies, which by definition are in the capitals of the foreign countries. Vienna is an obvious exception, as demonstrated by this email. In our experience, Riyadh is another friendly and efficient Embassy. There is a certain European capital’s U.S. Embassy that would make Kafka proud. No, not the Czech Republic. 🙂