Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Home, Home Sure is Strange . . .

I’ve done a little traveling in my day. I’ve been all over Central and South America. I’ve been to Europe, and I have an eye on the Pacific rim, Australia, and New Zealand.

As you know, one of the best things about traveling is being able to come home. As great as the places we visit are, there’s nothing like being back in a familiar setting, reflecting on your latest adventure.

But what if while you were away vacationing or working, things at home got so bad, you didn’t want to return?

Amid mounting frustration over taxation and banking problems, small but growing numbers of overseas Americans are taking the weighty step of renouncing their citizenship.

So for today, let’s talk about you and what you would do:

Of what country(ies) are you a citizen? Would you ever consider renouncing your citizenship? Or would you be more prone to try to resolve the problems at home? What issues would have to arise for you to renounce? Taxation? Banking problems? Libel issues? Cookie prohibition?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. Cookie prohibition?! Surely this madness could never come to pass. If there were a cookie prohibition, I would open a speakeasy bakery. Damn the Man! Save the cookie!
    To answer the question, I don’t know where my line would be or if I even have one. I’d probably stay and fight.

  2. I’m a US and a UK citizen. I’m intending to drop my UK citizenship when (if) Chuck becomes king.

    Personally I think you should be a citizen of the country where you live. If that country has problems you should do your part in helping to fix them.


  3. I’m a US citizen and don’t think I’d ever renounce my citizenship. I feel an obligation to stay here and try to fix it rather than bailing. Is any other country really any better, different maybe, but better? I have, however,considered resigning from the human race.

  4. I’m with Skept-artist, I’d be opening a bootleg cookie operation.

    I’m all for fixing from within. There are only a few things I can think of that would prompt me to renounce my citizenship and head to another country. Say if suddenly slavery was re-legalized, or the 1st amendment was repealed and christianity made the official religion. Those sorts of things however are way outside what’s probable.

  5. As a Jew, I am entitled to the law of return in Israel, where I did live in the late 80s. As I am way too old for military service, I wouldn’t mind having dual citizenship if only to be able to vote for anyone willing to work toward a Palestinian state there but I’m pretty happy with being a citizen here in the U.S.

    A cookie prohibition would get me thinking though…

  6. I’m a citizen of the Netherlands and of Australia. I would give up my Australian citizenship but never my Dutch citizenship, a European Passport is far too useful. But I love both countries, and wouldn’t want to renounce either citizenship.

  7. I’m a danish citizen (as my immediate eagerness to draw cartoons of the Prohet Mohammed in a previous comment thread may have suggested…). Like Faith above, I too am entitled to the law of return to Israel (unless, I suppose, the israeli authorities find out just how much I like bacon and hot dogs). I’ve never taken advantage of this, though, and don’t intend to.
    The rising popularity of the nationalist party here in recent years has made me so eager to renounce my citizenship I’d do it in a heartbeat if I could find a reasonably attractive job somewhere else. Brazil would be my preferred choice, but I’d consider Argentina, Chile, UK, Germany, Japan – even the US but only CA.

  8. I’m a US citizen and I can not imagine any potential situation that would lead me to leave the US or renounce my citizenship. I suppose a ‘what if’ could be if there was a tyranny of some kind that arose I might jump ship. Then again it might be more fun starting a subversive underground movement. My wife and both of our children have dual status US and UK citizenship and when my wife and I were first married we thought about living in the UK but nothing came of those thoughts. My wife has not given up her UK citizenship as dual status is allowed now which wasn’t when we were married. And renouncing your citizenship just because of taxes seems fairly trite unless you’re filthy rich and plan on living in Monaco.

  9. I’m a Canadian citizen. Honestly, I can’t think of a better country to be from. I know that sounds ridiculously patriotic and all, but we have health care, free speech, and all kinds of benefits to living here.

    I do find myself strangely loyal to Canada, but that doesn’t mean things couldn’t change. It wouldn’t be taxes or cookie prohibition, but more a question of the political and religious climate here. If things became uncomfortable for me in those two spheres (and possibly others I’m not thinking of) then I’d have no trouble finding a place more suited to being my homeland.

    I’d have real trouble living in the US given their politics (no offence to all you American types) and most of the countries I think it’d be fun to live in would not be stable enough or economically strong enough to support a guy like me. It’s kind of a catch-22.

    For a long time, though, I toyed with the idea of moving to Belize. I was at the end of my rope with much of the unsaid things that kept me here (family, friends, job, life) and the idea of starting over somewhere warm and politically stable was entirely endearing. But I chose to stay and weather the storm.

  10. I’m a US citizen but I would change my citizenship if I were moving somewhere permanently. I feel like I would want to be able to vote wherever I was living.

    And I’d be out as soon as there was word of a cookie prohibition movement.

  11. @Displaced Northerner: Most countries allow dual status so you don’t have to give up anything.

    @biguglyjim: I could never live in Canada. What with all the Tim Horton’s and the hockey, nope couldn’t do it ;-) . Living just south of BC I have to say the provincial politics makes our state government look calm, rational and reasonable.

  12. I don’t think anything could make me consider renouncing my US citizenship even if I were to move abroad, because there’s always the possibility that things could go south wherever I happen to be at–best to keep my options open. Plus, as @NoAstronomer says, it’s sometimes best to try and work towards solving your country’s problems from within rather than without.

    That said, I just might lose faith completely if the FDA lifts the ban on Vegemite. ;) (Sorry, Aussies…couldn’t help myself!)

  13. @James Fox: Agreed, BC politics is like a trip down insanity lane. My ex-wife and kids live in the interior of BC, and between being a thriving hotbed of alt-med woo due to the aging and hippie populations and the ridiculous cost of living there (with no work to justify it) I’d never live there.

    I live in Alberta, which despite it’s deeply Conservative (Canada’s version of Republicans) leanings, we manage to have a fairly stable environment. Not to say we couldn’t make a hell of a lot of improvements, but we’re not a bad place to be at all, unless you live in Edmonton. Then your heart beats cold with the bitterness of living in a yucky place.

  14. Ah, fuck cookies. Pie beats cookies and makes them pie’s bitch.

    My sister lives in Australia and can’t stop raving about it. My parents have begun the imigration process and are hoping to be living there in two years or less.

    The more I hear about Autstralia the more I think I would like to live there.

    Since my sister and her husband are in the 50% tax bracket in Autralia and as best I can tell the US has the lowest rate of taxation of first world countries I am confused as to why overseas Americans would be renouncing their US citizenship to save on taxes.

    Renounce my citizenship. I guess if America were to become a christian nation or corporations were given the right to vote and hold political office. I have survived Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush. I think I will keep it.

  15. I am an American citizen, solely. I can picture taking other citizenship if I moved somewhere else, but I can’t picture giving up my American citizenship outside of Nazi fantasy situations.

  16. I’m a Canadian citizen, and things would have to get pretty damn bad before I ever considered renouncing my citizenship. As I was reading this, I was listening to a documentary on the radio about the Vietnamese boat people who fled Vietnam when the communists took over in the 70’s. I think a situation like that – where I’m forced to flee a dictatorial regime for fear of death or imprisonment – would be the only reason I would seriously consider renouncing my Canadian citizenship. Ditto with leaving BC. I have a deep connection with my province, and I don’t think I could handle living anywhere else.

    I’ve lived abroad in Denmark, and I could definitely handle living in Scotland, but probably not permanently.

    @James Fox: our provincial politics are bad?! I toss my cookies every time an election rolls around down there and all of the US channels are flooded with petty, name-calling attack ads from all fronts. I always thought our politicians were pretty benign.

  17. This reminds me how I hate discussions where people say “If you don’t like it move to [insert name of other country here]!” It annoys because you can’t just declare that you’re moving to another country and just go. You have to get permission. They don’t just let you in because you don’t like the way the government is dealing with carbon tax in your own country.

    So to answer the question, I’m a citizen of New Zealand and I would not give up my citizenship because I got no place else to go! Well, except Australia. But which would you prefer?

  18. @here_fishy: I’m mostly pleased with Washington State Politics in general, fairly effective and mostly civil. And you have to admit you’ve had a run of corruption cases and entertaining political shenanigans in BC over the past fifteen years.

  19. I’m American. Whatever this culture does to the average American’s head as far as jingoistic tendencies and indoctrinating blind devotion, it’s done to mine.
    That said, I’m also a progressive, liberal atheist and a lesbian. I’d like basic civil rights and universal healthcare. I’m uncomfortable here.
    I looked seriously into emigrating to Canada a little while back, but have put it on the back-burner for now.
    Keeping that passport handy, though. Especially with all this talk of banning cookies. Don’t y’all even think about taking away my oatmeal raisin…

  20. I am a Puerto Rican, and an US citizen. There is a sort of Puerto Rican citizenship, but it’s basically worthless and I am absolutely unfamiliar with the details of it. Since my mother is Cuban, I believe I can claim Cuban citizenship, but once again, the hassle isn’t worth it and I don’t know all the details. Nowadays, I have difficulty with national loyalties, but I find my US citizenship to be particularly useful. I don’t feel particularly inclined to return to the shitfest that is my warm little homeland (that may or may not be a country depending on how you see things). I prefer going there for vacations, but don’t think I want to live there, at least for now. The symbolism of renouncing citizenship seems to be, just that, a symbol, and it seems that it’s mostly (practical) downsides.

  21. I am a Venezuelan and South Korean citizen. Basically, my parents are Korean, but I was born in Venezuela. These days, I live in the US, so if anything would happen to those countries, it is not like it would affect me much. Now, it would really worry me, though, if, let’s take a worst case scenario, another Korean war happened. All my other relatives are there, including my beloved grandma.

    Honestly, I don’t know what issues would have to arise for me to give up the citizenship. Perhaps I would give it up after the cookie prohibition. Or even worse, the chocolate prohibition. But then, I would be in denial, since I would refuse to accept that anyone could hate cookies and chocolate that much. Pfftt… What a silly concept. Someone not liking cookies and chocolate.

  22. I’m a New Zealand citizen, and soon to return there after a year and a half in Australia. (Yay! Rain! Temperatures which never exceed 33 degrees!)

    It would take something like facism, theocracy, slavery to get me to renounce citizenship.

    I tend to react to silly rules by quiet non-conformity, so rather than the cookie speakeasy, I’d be inconspicuously leaving cookies labelled ‘eat me’ in public places. Except as a New Zealander, they’d be called biscuits instead.

    Actually, I react to many things by quiet non-conformity.

  23. I’m pretty fed up with living in Austin, but I was thinking something less extreme than another country… though there is something appealing about moving to a small island country where the political debate centers around who is best equipped to keep the chickens out of the only busy intersection on the island.

    I imagine there’s a hypothetical point where if enough of the constitution was suspended, I would want to renounce my citizenship. However, my first instinct is to stay and fight for the rights of all Americans to choose oatmeal raisin or double chocolate chip.

  24. I’m currently a citizen of the Netherlands. I was, however, born and raised in the USA. I have already renounced my US citizenship.

    There were several reasons for it. Namely I really love my new home, and thoughts of being forced back to the US, or somehow becoming trapped there; those thoughts give me nightmares.

  25. I’m a natural born American citizen, and though I cherish my home country’s heritage as the whole groundbreaking secular liberal democracy based on human liberties, the country as it stands doesn’t hold a candle to its founders’ ideals and it never will embrace a shadow of them again in any meaningful way. There is no point in staying or fighting for what I believe in. So I’m leaving for whatever Western European democracy that will take me as long as I’m young enough to pay into their social welfare system.

  26. I am a US citizen living in the US, and New Zealand citizen by descent, though I’ve only been there once when I was about 5. My mother moved from New Zealand to New York a long time ago and was a US citizen by the time I was born (which, weirdly enough, was in Paris to two US expats). I’ve lived in the US since I was two years old, and I’m twenty-two now. I only got my NZ passport about two years ago.

    I start a job after graduation that requires a military security clearance, so I have to drop the NZ citizenship right around Independence Day. I don’t know what that entails besides my NZ passport and a shredder. Apparently this has happened with others at the company, so they’ll know what to do. I plan on humming “God Defend New Zealand” and feigning emotion.

    I cannot say I’m really going to miss it. The only perk of it is a shorter line customs entering NZ—which I have no plans to do until I’ve got a whole lot of cash to throw around—free emergency medical care in the UK owing to my fealty to Elizabeth II dei gratiā regina et fidei defensor, and the ability to get a working holiday visa in many countries. Having never taken advantage of any of those perks, I have no justification to feel that miffed about losing NZ. Still, I’d rather have it than not, and I’m proud of my pākehātanga. Plus, I can’t run there as easily if they bring back the draft or some such.

    My older brother is currently on a working holiday visa in the UK, so NZ citizenship is definitely a huge plus for him.

  27. U.S. citizen here, but I’ve been harboring fantasies of defecting for the better part of a decade now. Only thing is, I don’t believe I have any qualifications to allow me to immigrate to some of the places I’d like to, let alone acquire citizenship. Seems like a few of the Nordic countries may have things figured out pretty well, but the language barrier would be an issue (not that I wouldn’t be willing to learn…) Canada has been pretty appealing for a while, both due to their politics and climate (I’m generally not satisfied with the weather unless I can see my breath), and that it seems that no one really hates them (except dumb Americans, but then there is that bit about the enemy of an enemy being a non-enemy or something…)

    meh, pretty much anywhere that has fairly liberal social values, and I could have a small homestead, and would take me…

  28. I doubt I’d ever renounce my New Zealand citizenship, but unlike US citizenship it doesn’t come with an automatic tax burden, so there wouldn’t be much point.

  29. I am a citizen of New Zealand. And yeah, I’d move in a heart-beat. What makes NZ so “great” for other people is less… interesting, for me. I want to move to Europe. So honestly? Not much incentive needed for me to bail & drop citizenship. Big stuff would be things like banniation of internet. Also, zoning of dvds and tv DRIVE. ME. CRAZY. But that’s a current problem, and even the States suffer from this (WHY. CAN’T. I. WATCH. DOCTOR. WHO. NOW???).

    Heh @ what a previous commenter said about quiet non-conformity. So true. What the fuck is that about? I’m going to quietly non-conform! *mumble mumble swallow vowels*. :D

  30. My passport says “Austrian”, but to be honest I have not lived in that country since I was 6 years old and I based on recent experiences when traveling there I have no urgency to ever go back – it just does not feel like home.
    I have not paid much attention to my nationality so far (except for when it comes to travel requirements and visa applications) but lately I have pondered changing my nationality just so I can get actually involved in the political process in my current country of residence (UK). The fact that I never have had the chance to participate in national elections of the country I lived in (Germany in the past, UK now) starts to annoy me.
    What I am trying to say is changing my nationality would not be a gesture to break with one country but a commitment to living and to participating in the public live in the country I expect to live in for the long run.

  31. I have Mexican and Italian passports, but was born and raised in Mexico. I don’t think I would give up either since I love both countries and find both passports useful. I now live in Spain, so the Italian passport is extremely useful. Before that I lived in the US, Italy and Brazil and I’ve decided which to use depending on which would get me in easier.

    Ok, so the Mexican passport is not the most useful one out there, but I wouldn’t give it up unless something pretty bad happened (like Taco Bell tacos being declared the national food).
    Also, I have to admit I get a kick out of the looks on people’s faces when they see a very blonde Mexican.

  32. @Gabrielbrawley: Why would US citizens overseas renounce to get a tax break? Because over a set amount, the US taxes your foreign earnings, even the ones you’ve already paid local taxes on. So you can be in a 50% bracket in Australia, and if you earn enough, you can still end up owing in the US on top of that.

    (I don’t know if there’s a dual tax treaty in place between the US and Australia, but if there isn’t, the above scenario might be real and not merely hypothetical.)

  33. I am a Canadian citizen. At least until Quebec secedes… then I guess I’ll be a Quebec citizen?? Right now I am living in Thailand, where it is actually impossible to become a citizen. You can ONLY be born Thai. And speaking of crazy political situations…. yikes!
    I would never give up my Canadian citizenship. If it got that bad, then I would need to fight, not flee.

  34. I’m an American citizen, and I am wholeheartedly in the “stay and make it better” camp.

    I was so proud of Constance MacMillan during the whole prom thing, when people kept telling her she had to get out of Mississippi, and she just kept quietly insisting that she was going to stay. If you live in a place with bad policies and a generally ignorant and/or bigoted population, you don’t do any young people who are different who come up after you any favors by leaving your hometown to the bigots.

    Besides, there’s no way I could live comfortably in a town or climate slightly different than the one I live in now, nor could I afford to move abroad. If, hypothetically, I did live in another country, I would still have a pretty hard time giving up my US citizenship. If that were the case, I’d look into dual citizenship first.

  35. Aside from the fish flavored cookies mentioned above, this has been my favorite thread of the week. Always nice to be reminded of the diverse backgrounds of people I’m interacting with online. (And I will be dropping in on all of you when I travel.)

    And apparently every Kiwi with a computer is a Skepchick reader, which is awesome.

  36. @Baroncognito: Laws preventing the breeding or sale of pigs were enacted in the 50’s and 60’s, however, Arab Christians in the north are permitted and apparently there is one Kibbutz that has gotten some kind of permission for raising pigs for scientific research. Despite this, many restaurants serve “white meat” which is code for pork.

  37. I don’t LIKE the fish flavoured cookies, they just are. They make me glad that I can never actually be Thai. Cuz Thai people eat weird cookies.

  38. I’ve never lived anywhere else but the Good Ol’ US of A (as a full-blooded citizen), and I would not give up the freedoms that our constitution gives me and every other citizen of this country. I mean, where else could we have John Stewart and Glen Beck, and neither one’s in jail?

    That being said, they can take my chocolate chip cookies when they pry them from my cold, dead hands.

    @faith: I was imagining a whole black market network of *bacon peddlers* in back alleys of Tel Aviv. “Hey, Moshe, com’ere. I got the good stuff. Just a thousand sheckels for a whole rasher.”

  39. I am a Canadian citizen, by birth and, therefore, a Canadian. I recently I took US citizenship after living here for 23 years but, I will NEVER be an American – you have to be born here for that. So what made me sign up after all that time? A few things. First, I was completely fed up (read, pissed off to the point of insanity) with the Bush (League) administration and feeling guilty about not being able to vote; was hoping to vote against dumb fuck’s party in ’06 but missed out by a couple of months. Second, and this is a bit selfish but, I cannot see going back to Canada anytime soon and estate taxes in the US are a killer if you’re an “alien”. Third, I am frankly in no rush to go back to a country where the British influence is so strong (the fucking head of state is not even in-country and, as someone above worried, could one day be that in-bred lunatic Chucky Boy) and the British old-boy mentality is strong as ever. No, I have dual citizenship and I will make the most of it and piss on whomever wants to complain about it, from either side of the border!!

  40. I tried to renounce my U.S. citizenship, but no other first world country would have me. Yeah, for all those people who complain that illegal immigrants should just apply for citizenship first, they have no idea how long, how hard and how expensive it is to get into those countries one would most like to.

  41. USA citizen.
    I too love traveling. If George W Bush pulled an FDR and somehow won a third term I would have been outta here. Where? I don’t care. Never before had I had absolutely ZERO in common with the president of my country.

    Here is a related story: we were in Sienna, a lovely medeval town in central Italy, whereupon several teenage boys inquired with big smiles, ” Americaaa?” I nodded yes. They smiled, “Bush?” I pointed down with my thumb and said, “No Bush.” Then they REALLY grinned and exclaimed, with thumbs up,” Clinton!!!”

    Even though the famous blow job occured before they were born, a blow job President is always superior to a president that just plain blows … especially to teenage boys in Italy.

  42. @narcogen: Good point. I should have thought of that. I just went to the IRS website. A U.S. citizen living abroad can exclude the first $91,400 of earned income, per person, from the U.S. Federal tax return. Or they can choose betwen the Foreign tax deduction or the foreign tax credit. If the person is living abroad and lives in a country that has a higher tax rate than the US it is unlikely that they will owe any tax to the US. I guess it is possible that living and working abroad could cause a situation where you owed taxes to the country you are living and working in and to the US but it would be an odd situation.

  43. @Garrison22: I’m not so sure that free expression is highest in the US. True, we have a law that is almost impossible to change that protects it, but I don’t know that we’re the culture that is most committed to it. We could be, but the claim needs evidence.

  44. I’m an American currently living outside the US, likely permanently (for family, not political, reasons). I do miss home, but the wonderful Intertubes are making it so easy to stay in touch that it’s doable.

    Although I’ve become less and less enchanted with the US over the last few years, I can’t see any reason to give up US citizenship. The country I live in now is incredibly hard to naturalize in, and their politics are far more rigged and pointless to participate in.

    I have little hope of making 91K as a teacher, so that’s not such a problem.And the added travel hassle when visiting friends and family would make it a bad deal in any case.

    My daughter will have to choose when she comes of age, though…that’s going to be interesting!

    I have little patience for those who say they would emigrate if a particular president gets in…you’re cowards (that goes for both the Bu$h=Hitler and the Obama=Stalin people). If you really are so upset about the outcome of an election, you should stay and fight. Nothing short of a permanent alteration of the structure of the govt would make me totally close off the possibility that I might return.

    I actually know a guy who claims to have left the US because Bush won a second term….but he still seems to be here.

  45. I’m a Canadian citizen, living in the US, married to a dual Australian/New Zealand citizen, and we have a daughter born here who has all four citizenships.

    I’m also the daughter of a Scot so I could, if I wanted, get UK citizenship.

    I want to become a dual US-Canadian citizen so I can vote, but so far I haven’t found a way to take the citizenship oath as a non-religious pacifist. There are ways around the swearing to do violence if you’re part of a recognized religion of pacifists, like being a Quaker, but if you came to pacifism out of personal rationality, then from what I can tell, you’re hosed.

    Also, my husband says there are negative tax implications in the future if we become citizens but then move back to one of our home countries, and I don’t know enough about that.

    We only hit the point where we can naturalize a couple of years ago, and it’s been on the back burner with other life stuff up front.

    I would totally move back to Canada in a flash if there was work for my husband there. I’d also consider a move to NZ or Oz if he had gainful employment there. For now, the US needs his highly educated math brain enough to pay him well enough to keep us here. But we always have our escape plans in the back of our minds, should there be a cookie prohibition, or worse, President Palin.

  46. I’m a US citizen. I want to move to Canada. When I was on the great job search, I applied for a few jobs there, but no luck. I need to learn French–seems that would increase my chances of immigration. Well, I’ll need a job to go to first….

    The last time I was in Canada I bought _Canadian History for Dummies_. :)

  47. @Pete Schult: Good to know, thanks. When I looked into it as our date for being able to apply approached, all the activisty and/or lawyerly types I knew in Nevada, where we lived at the time, couldn’t give me any answers. I haven’t had a chance to look for someone cluefull in Austin yet, but this gives me hope. :)

  48. US citizen and that will never change. 10s of 1000s of pages in the tax code to always make sure you feel like you’re getting away with paying less (and feel like your neighbor is paying his fair share (more than you)) is already completely fucked, but no one seems to have mentioned cheating on taxes. I have no objection to retaining US citizenship and cheating on taxes. Keeping things under the table would help with banking issues, so I guess that’s taken care of. Libel issues? I don’t think that’s likely, here, but if it should happen, I’ll make it as expensive as I can and go bankrupt (with most of my money hidden). Cookie prohibition? I’d have to start a bakery and bring in the dough like Al Capone and Manuel Noriega.

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