Category Archives: American expatriates

Tax, culture and how the USA uses #citizenshiptaxation to impose US culture (and penalties) on other countries

Civilizations and countries define themselves in part by their tax policies

In 1993 Samuel Huntington wrote “The Clash Of Civilizations“. His basic thesis is captured in the following paragraph from Foreign Affairs Magazine.

World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be-the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Tax policy and the possible “clash of civilizations”

To what extent does the insistence of the USA on imposing the Internal Revenue Code (“citizenship-based taxation”) on the citizen/residents of other countries, foreshadow a “clash of civilizations”?

This post was motivated by the article by Virginia La Torre Jeker which is referenced in the above tweet. It is an excellent discussion of how the Internal Revenue Code might (or might not) accommodate the reality of Sharia law. The post raises many questions and alerts practitioners to the challenges of applying the Internal Revenue Code to the lives of people whose culture is largely outside the United States. The post raises many “technical issues”. I expect there will further discussion of this issue on Virginia’s blog.

Taxation does NOT exist in a cultural vacuum. A country’s tax system reflects the counry’s cultural values. As the tax historian Charles Adams has noted, the rise and fall of civilizations can be linked to its tax policies. To impose the Internal Revenue Code on people who live outside the United States is to export U.S. cultural values and impose those values on other nations. The United States claims the right to impose the Internal Revenue Code on U.S. citizens who live outside the United States. The reality is that there are millions of people with no connection to the United States (other than a place of birth). U.S. citizenship is acquired automatically if one has the fortune (or misfortune depending on your point of view) of having been (as Bruce would sing) “Born In The USA!

FATCA and the tax compliance industry are working hard to identify those who may be U.S. citizens and do NOT live in the United States. What the United States views as a good source of tax revenue should be seen more broadly. Leaving aside basic issues of fairness, to impose U.S. taxation (according to U.S. rules/cultural values) on the residents of other countries, is sure to create problems. As part of tax reform, the United States must stop imposing the Internal Revenue Code on people who are NOT residents of the United States!

The following “Storification” is an attempt to explain the problem from an “outside the USA” perspective …

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Part 2: The problem is NOT “worldwide taxation”. The problem is imposing “worldwide taxation” on people who don’t live in the South Africa or the USA and are “tax residents’ of other countries.

As goes taxation, so goes civilization.

This is Part 2 of my post discussing the South Africa tax situation. Part 1 is here.

This is a follow up to my post exploring whether South Africa is moving to a tax system that is based on “citizenship-based taxation” or (in the case of the United States of America) “taxation-based citizenship”. That post was the result of a “special request”. The response from that first post included:

I now understand the difference between the SA system and the US. I believe that the similarity that caused the consternation when this first came up was the issue of “tax residency”. CBT mandates that those declared US citizens by the US are simultaneously declared US tax residents. In a similar fashion SA has a concept of tax residency that *does* include some people who do not physically reside in SA but NOT just because they’re citizens. I get it. Thanks again for clarifying this!

That being said, I think the term “tax residency” is crazy. I wish that someone with the power to influence terminology in the general usage of language could come up with something that accurately describes the basis on which a person can be taxed by a country in which that person does not live. Taxes don’t reside; people do, and they can only live one place at a time. Any ideas? 🙂

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Dewees 3: Lessons about the “Oh My God Moment” and dealing with the problems of U.S. citizenship

As I write this post, my mind goes back to one of my very first posts about U.S. compliance issues. This post was called “What you should consider before contacting a lawyer“. Since that time I have written hundreds of post describing the problems faced by Americans abroad.

More recently …

In Dewees 1, I explained the importance of the Canada U.S. tax treaty and how it provides “some protection” to Canadian citizens from U.S. tax debts.

In Dewees 2, I explained some of the characteristics of the OVDP program and how Mr. Dewees got caught in it.

In Dewees 3 (this post), I am suggesting some possible lessons that can be learned from the story of Donald Dewees.

Ten thoughts on U.S. taxation, non-compliance, Americans Abroad and the U.S. taxation of Americans abroad

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The biggest cost of being a “dual Canada/U.S. tax filer” is the “lost opportunity” available to pure Canadians

The reality of being a “DUAL” Canada U.S. tax filer is that you are a “DUEL” tax filer

“It’s not the taxes they take from you. It’s that the U.S. tax system leaves you with few opportunities for financial planning”.

I was recently asked “what exactly are the issues facing “Canada U.S. dual tax filers?” This is my attempt to condense this topic into a short answer. There are a number of “obvious issues facing U.S. citizens living in Canada.” There are a number of issues that are less obvious. Here goes …

There are (at least) five obvious issues facing “dual Canada U.S. tax filers in Canada”.

At the very least the issues include:
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Wisdom of “Three Monkeys” explains why: Although there is little support for “citizenship-based taxation” repeal is difficult

The uniquely American practice of “imposing direct taxation on the citizen/residents of other nations” (“citizenship-based taxation”) has NO identifiable group of supporters (with the exception of a few academics who have never experienced it and do not understand it).

The Uniquely American practice of imposing direct taxation on the citizen/residents of other nations has large numbers of opponents (every person and/or entity affected by it). In addition to the submissions of Jackie Bugnion, “American Citizens Abroad“, “Democrats Abroad“, Bernard Schneider there is significant opposition found in the submissions of a large number of individuals. It is highly probable that the submissions come from those who are attempting compliance with the U.S. tax system.

The “imposition of direct taxation” on the “citizen/residents of other nations” evolved from “citizenship-based taxation”. “Citizenship-based taxation” was originally conceived as a “punishment” for those who attempted to leave the United States and avoid the Civil War. I repeat, it’s origins are rooted in PUNISHMENT and PENALTY and not as sound tax policy.

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Why is the United States imposing full U.S. taxation on the Canadian incomes of Canadian citizens living in Canada?

This is post is “based on” (not identical to)  one of two submissions that I submitted in response to Senator Hatch’s request for submissions regarding tax reform.

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Why is the United States imposing full U.S. taxation on the Canadian incomes of Canadian citizens living in Canada?

The Internal Revenue Code mandates that ALL “individuals” , EXCEPT “non-resident aliens”, are subject to full taxation, on their WORLDWIDE income, under the Internal Revenue Code. The word “individuals” includes U.S. citizens regardless of where they live and regardless of whether they are citizens and residents of other countries where they also pay tax. This means that, by its plain terms, the United States imposes full taxation on the citizens and residents of other nations, because they are also (according to U.S. definitions) U.S. citizens. The United States is the only country in the world that has a definition of “tax residency that mandates full taxation based ONLY on citizenship.

How “U.S. citizenship” and U.S. “taxation” interact

Principle 1: The United States is one of the few countries in the world that confers citizenship based SOLELY on birth on its soil.

Principle 2: The United States is the ONLY country in the world that imposes full taxation ON THE WORLD INCOME of its citizens, REGARDLESS OF WHERE THE U.S. CITIZEN LIVES IN THE WORLD.

Bottom line: The United States is the ONLY country in the world that imposes full taxation, on WORLDWIDE income, based ONLY on the “place of birth”!

A practical example: A person whose only connection to the United States is that he was born in the United States, who lives in Canada (and may have never lived in the United States and whose only income is earned in Canada), is required to pay U.S. tax on that income. This resident of Canada is treated AS THOUGH HE WAS A U.S. RESIDENT. NOTE ALSO THAT THIS INDIVIDUAL IS REQUIRED TO PAY TAX TO CANADA! He is subject to “double taxation”. (This “double taxation” is only partially mitigated through “foreign tax credits”, tax treaties and the “foreign earned income exclusion”.)

Therefore: What academics and government officials refer to as “citizenship-based taxation” (they really don’t understand its practical effects) is PRIMARILY  “place of birth taxation” and therefore a convenient way to impose U.S. taxation on the citizens and residents of other countries. As a blog devoted to “citizenship taxation” (noting the difference between the theory and reality) points out:

“A supporter of citizenship taxation is someone who THINKS about “citizenship taxation”. An opponent of citizenship taxation is anybody who has tried to LIVE under citizenship taxation.”

How did this happen? It certainly didn’t start this way!

The evolution of “U.S. citizenship”

The result of legislative change and various U.S. Supreme Court decisions (primarily Afroyim ) has meant that “U.S. citizenship” is far easier to obtain and far harder to lose. 

Furthermore, as people become more and more mobile, it is not unusual for somebody to have been “Born In The USA” but live outside the USA. Global mobility is now the rule, rather than the exception.

The evolution of U.S. taxation and the Internal Revenue Code

The Internal Revenue Code has become more and more complex and impacts more and more activities of daily life. Because “U.S. citizens” (even though they are citizen/residents of other countries) are subject to U.S. taxation, they have been tremendously impacted by the “creeping complexity” of the Internal Revenue Code (which applies equally to ALL Americans wherever they may live).

This “creeping complexity” has evolved slowly through the years. The problems have been exacerbated because Congress does NOT consider that when amending the Internal Revenue Code they are impacting the lives of tax paying residents of other nations (who happen to be U.S. citizens). Congress is “indifferent” to the plight of Americans abroad (indifference being one of the worst forms of abuse).

Through the years, slowly and consistently …

The evolution of the Internal Revenue Code combined with ease of retaining U.S. citizenship has built a “fiscal prison” (legislative brick by legislative brick), in which  to keep the tax paying residents of “OTHER NATIONS”, who just happen to have been born in the United States.

Tax Reform 2017

The United States is “making noises” about “tax reform”. Senator Orrin Hatch requested submissions from “steak stake holders” on what should be included in tax reform. He has clearly received (as did the Ways and Means Committee in 2013 and the Senate Finance Committee in 2015) many suggestions advocating the repeal of “citizenship-based taxation”.

As noted at a site compiling the submissions of those affected by U.S. extra-territorial taxation:
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Morales-Santana: U.S. Supreme Court makes it harder for people “born abroad” to U.S. citizen parent(s) to become citizens

Prologue:U.S. citizenship is not as attractive as it was

One benefit of U.S. citizenship: If one is a U.S. citizen then one cannot be deported from the USA

Some Green Card holders become U.S. citizens. Some do NOT become U.S. citizens. Many of those Green Card holders become U.S. citizens in order to avoid the possibility of deportation. Deportation results in expatriation and can (among other things) subject the unfortunate Green Card holder to the S. 877A Expatriation Tax, which can result in significant confiscation of assets. In fact, the S. 877A Expatriation Tax discourages people from seeking Green Cards in the first place.  That said, it is only Green Card Holders who are “long term residents” who are subject to the Exit Tax.

The plight of Mr. Morales-Santana: No U.S. citizenship = the possibility of deportation

The facts as described by the court:

In 2000, the Government sought to remove Morales-Santana based on several criminal convictions, ranking him as alien because, at his time of birth, his father did not satisfy the requirement of five years’ physical presence after age 14. An immigration judge rejected Morales-Santana’s citizenship claim and ordered his removal. Morales­ Santana later moved to reopen the proceedings, asserting that the Government’s refusal to recognize that he derived citizenship from his U. S.-citizen father violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

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Mr. Pomerantz meets Mr. #FBAR in the Homeland: The “willful” FBAR penalty requires proof of “willfulness”

Looking for Mr. FBAR

This is one more in a series of posts discussing the FBAR rules. The FBAR rules were born in 1970, laid virtually dormant until the 2000s and then were then unleashed in their full “ferocity” on U.S. persons. A good review of the history of Mr. FBAR is here. A discussion of how the discovery of Mr. FBAR can lead to larger problems is here. Finally, a discussion of of why people must exercise caution in “fixing problems with FBAR” is here.

Mr. FBAR has not visited Canada, but he has visited Canadian citizens

Mr. Pomerantz returns …

Readers of this blog (particularly those in Canada) may recall that I have previously written about the adventures of Mr. Jeffrey P. Pomerantz (currently of Vancouver, Canada) with Mr. FBAR. At that point (March 2017) it was clear that the U.S. Department of Justice planned to sue Mr. Pomerantz to collect the FBAR penalties to which it felt entitled. It is worth noting that FBAR penalties are assessed under the Bank Secrecy Act (Title 31 of U.S. laws) which is different from the Internal Revenue Code (Title 26 of U.S. laws.) In order to collect FBAR penalties the U.S. Government must sue, and sue it did. The purpose of this post is to tell the story of what happened when the U.S. Government sued Mr. Pomerantz in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

But, before we begin our story, this post is more about “Civil Procedure” than it is about “Mr. FBAR” …

Bottom line: Although the U.S. Government suffered a temporary (probably) defeat, the defeat was because the Government failed to follow the rules of “Civil Procedure”. In other words, whether Mr. Pomerantz actually violated the FBAR statute was NOT the issue in this case. The issue was whether the Government followed the rules that they were required to follow in order to win their case. The Government did NOT follow the rules. Therefore, the Government lost. With that disclosure, we are no ready to begin yet another example of an adventure with Mr. FBAR.

Once upon a time in District Court in Seattle …

It appears that the hearing took place in early June of 2017. In any event, the court’s judgement was dated June 8, 2017.

Interesting fact: Mr. Jeffrey P. Pomerantz appeared “pro se” – he represented himself at the hearing. He may have had “legal advice” prior to the hearing. On the other hand, he may have had the assistance of the judge who recognized that he did NOT appear with a lawyer.

The judgement references the fact that Mr. Pomerantz sought to transfer the venue from Washington State to Washington, DC. Apparently his “lawyer of choice” was in Washington, DC. The court (for various procedural reasons) denied his request for this “change in venue”. In other words, the hearing took place in Seattle.
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Form 8621 and Form 5471 are required even if the tax return is NOT!

The Internal Revenue Code of the United States requires two things:

1. The calculation of taxes; and

2. The reporting of information.

The Internal Revenue Code of the United States is based on three basic principles:

1. A dislike of all things “foreign”. (If you see the word “foreign” a penalty is sure to follow.)

2. A hatred of all forms of non-U.S. “tax deferral”

3. An attempt to stop the “leakage” of “U.S. taxable assets” from the U.S. tax base. (Examples include the U.S. tax treatment of the “alien spouse” and the U.S. S. 877A “Exit Tax” that may be payable when one makes the decision to renounce U.S. citizenship).

“Forms” AKA “information returns” are for the purpose of forcing disclosure of information relevant to  “foreignness”, “deferral” and “leakage”.

The above tweet references an earlier post describing many of the “forms” required of Americans abroad. The post also describes the significant penalties which can be potentially imposed for the failure to file those forms.

For Americans abroad the information reporting requirements are extensive, burdensome and penalty laden. Normally (but not in all cases) the “forms” are filed as part of the tax return (1040 or 1040NR).

NEVER FORGET MR. FBAR – THE NEW SYMBOL OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP – AND THE POTENTIAL FBAR PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO FILE THE FBAR! THOSE WHO HAVE FAILED TO FILE MR. FBAR SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT HOW THEY “FIX THE FBAR PROBLEM“.

(Interestingly, Mr. FBAR has been used as a model for Russia which now has (for lack of a better term) the Russian FBAR.)

Many people do NOT understand that they may be required to file “information returns”, even though they may NOT meet the income thresholds to file a tax return!
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Tweet #Citizide: The new response of US citizens to #FATCA #FBAR #PFIC