Sunday, December 17, 2006

Expat Taxation

The International Herald Tribune reports on Americans renouncing their citizenship, because they can't afford to keep it:

She is a former U.S. Marine, a native Californian and, now, a former American who prefers to remain discreet about abandoning her citizenship. After 10 years of warily considering options, she turned in her U.S. passport last month without ceremony, becoming an alien in the view of her homeland.

"It's a really hard thing to do," said the woman, a 16-year resident of Geneva who had tired of the cost and time of filing yearly U.S. tax returns on top of her Swiss taxes. "I just kept putting this off. But it's my kids and the estate tax. I don't care if I die with only one Swiss franc to my name, but the U.S. shouldn't get money I earned here when I die."

....with new tax pressures facing American expatriates due to legislation enacted in Washington this year, some international tax lawyers say they detect rising demand from citizens to renounce ties with the United States — the only developed country that taxes it citizens while they are overseas. Americans abroad are also taxed in foreign countries where they reside.

"The administrative costs of being an American and living outside the U.S. have gone up dramatically," said Marnin Michaels, a tax lawyer with Baker & McKenzie in Zurich.

....Concern about taxes among expatriates has surged since President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that sharply increases tax rates for Americans abroad with income of more than $82,400 a year. The legislation also increases taxes on employer-provided benefits like housing allowances.

The changes, enacted in May and tweaked by the Treasury Department under guidelines issued in October, apply retroactively to last Jan. 1.

Matthew Ledvina, an international tax lawyer in Geneva, said demand for legal counsel on the citizenship issue was coming largely from American citizens who hold second passports and who have minimal ties to the United States.

He said some expatriates were weighing the value of their American passports and debating whether it was worth keeping them if the cost topped $50,000 a year.

....Ledvina said the waiting period for appointments at the U.S. Embassy in London had increased from a few days to more than three and a half months, with more than two applications processed each day.

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