Almost five months after my renunciation day, I received my Certificate of Loss of Nationality today. It seems ironic that it arrived on Tax Day.
People keep asking me how that feels, but I have trouble formulating an answer.
Certificate of Loss of Nationality = divorce papers
The best analogy I’ve been able to find is that renouncing citizenship is like a divorce. I’m talking about the kind of divorce where you still love the person, but you know that he/she is just not good for you. Regretfully, you file for divorce.
In this case, the decision to divorce isn’t mutual. My ex doesn’t want me to leave and tries everything to force me to stay, i.e. making me become tax compliant, costing me both a lot of money in accountancy fees and a lot of stress, then charging me $2350 to file the divorce papers.
I’ve never been through an actual divorce, but this is what I imagine it feels like. The makers of the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory rate divorce as second only to the death of a spouse in terms of the stress it causes.
In a way, I’m in mourning for that marriage. It was a good marriage for a long time. I lived in the US for the first 35 years of my life, except for two years when I was in the Peace Corps. Every so often, as I’m going about my normal day, my thoughts flit back to my renunciation and I have to fight back tears.
I feel relieved that I’ve received my Certificate.
Although I still have to file my 2015 tax returns and the FBAR form once more, I’m relieved that this will be the last time. I’m relieved that my “request” to renounce was approved.
To be honest, though, I don’t feel “freed” in the way I was hoping I would. Perhaps it’s because all the tax-related paperwork isn’t finished. Or maybe it’s because, while I feel less of the fear of persecution from the IRS that I felt before, I still carry the burden of a tremendous anger.
I feel angry that it came to this.
As I’ve described before, I did not renounce citizenship easily or willingly. I can’t really claim I was forced to, though. I could have continued filing US tax forms and FBARs for the rest of my life.
I’ve discussed my reasons for renouncing before as well:
- FATCA forces me to hand over my private financial information, as well as my non-American husband’s, to an extent that homeland Americans don’t have to unless they’re suspected of a crime.
- FATCA strong-arms our local banks into handing over our private financial information as well.
- It treats my local accounts as being equivalent to hiding money overseas.
- I could vote in the US, but no one represents the needs of US citizens abroad because our votes are dispersed over all 50 states.
- I pay almost $1000 per year to an accountant to fill out the forms—more and lengthier than they’d be if I lived in the US—only to prove I owe nothing, since I pay taxes here in the Netherlands.
- Without an address in the US, I can’t open an investment account there; with US nationality, it is becoming more and more difficult to do any investment or borrowing outside of the US.
I am grieving the loss of my home.
One of the consequences of my renunciation cuts deeply: I will never again be able to live in the US. I can visit, but only for up to 90 days, like any other Dutch person. If you live in the US, think about how it would feel to be exiled from your home. That’s what renunciation does to me.
I never realized how much I carried America in my heart—as my home, whatever that means—until I took the steps that led me to renounce.
I am disappointed in America.
I get asked all the time where I’m from; just a few words is enough to betray my accent when I speak Dutch. To avoid having to explain, I often answer just “I’m American,” and leave it at that. Sometimes, instead, I say “I’m Dutch but I grew up in America.”
The problem with saying that is the feeling in my gut that comes along with it. I feel like I’m betraying my country.
Growing up in the US in the late 60’s and in the 1970’s, in the middle of the Cold War, I was taught to love my country. In elementary school, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, followed by singing the national anthem. Being American was something to be proud of: the side of right, facing off against the “bad guys,” meaning the Soviet Union. Since we were the good guys, we would prevail.
Nevertheless, I learned quite early that the American system wasn’t perfect. If it was, why would my parents take my sisters and me to so many protests?
At the time, being so young, I didn’t know what these protests were about. My childish memories include marching down a street with lots of people in the dark, carrying a candle and singing “We Shall Overcome.” I realized much later that those were civil rights marches. Sometimes the memories show a daytime march, carrying signs, after which we’d settle down on the grass with thousands of other people, eating a picnic lunch while my parents listened to voices coming from a loudspeaker very far away. I assume now that those were Vietnam War marches.
We never questioned the system, though. I was taught that American democracy was good and strong, and if only more other countries were like the US, the world would be a better place. The marches were, in this view, a demonstration of the power of American democracy.
I absorbed American exceptionalism as I grew up. It was an unconscious acceptance, a taking-for-granted.
Later, in college, I developed a more nuanced view of the United States. I participated in marches protesting US involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua and worked on political campaigns for various candidates. Nevertheless, I still believed in the underlying value of American democracy.
Now I’m not so sure. I’ve written before about “No taxation without representation,” and about how that’s what’s happening to overseas Americans.
I realize that I still believe in the basic strength of the US democratic system: it will survive whoever wins the presidential election, for example. I just feel like that system has pushed me away, and is pushing away millions of people like me who could be contributing to keeping it strong.
So it’s over. I’ll continue to call myself an American, for ease’s sake. I’ll continue to represent America to students in my American Studies classes.
But I have repudiated America, and America has repudiated me. This Certificate of Loss of Nationality confirms that our divorce is final.
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