May 4, 2012 - Phil Hodgen

John McAfee and the downside of expatriate life

We do a lot of expatriations — people giving up U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status.  There are a thousand little tax problems to solve, and a few big ones.

But leave aside the tax stuff for the moment.  If you are thinking about canceling your U.S. passport in order to live abroad, there are nontax problems to think about.  

Today’s HackerNews brought me the story of John McAfee, the founder of the company that created McAfee Antivirus.  He is wealthy (!) and living in Belize.  I have no reason to believe he terminated his U.S. citizenship.  He probably thought he had found a great place to retire.

According to news reports from Belize, the local Gang Suppression Unit has been called out on Mr. McAfee.  From the article:

McAfee lives in Belize and he says that he has become a target of the Gang Suppression Unit. He says the GSU came busting into his research facility in Orange Walk, killed his dog, took his passport, handcuffed him and arrested him on a bogus weapons charge. McAfee says he’s a victim because he didn’t donate money to a known U.D.P. Orange Walk politician.

Yes, I guess it is theoretically possible that Mr. McAfee is a criminal.  Unlikely, though.  Occam’s Razor suggests that his version of the story is vastly more plausible.

My point? Do not rely on getting citizenship in another country just because it is easy.  If you must get a questionable passport, use it as a stepping stone towards a second (third?) citizenship in a stable (economically and politically) country. Do not assume that you and your money can necessarily live anywhere you want.  You are a guest in someone else’s house.  You might be asked to leave at any time, in a polite or not-so-polite way.

Plan ahead.