June 16, 2011, 4:15 pm
By CATHERINE RAMPELL
6:18 p.m., June 17 | Updated to clarify how “expatriate” is defined for the published list, and that the figures refer primarily to wealthier expatriates.
The number of (wealthier) Americans who are renouncing their citizenship has been climbing in recent quarters.
Take a look at the chart below, courtesy of Andrew Mitchel, an international tax attorney who has been manually tallying the lists of expatriates (defined for this purpose as people renouncing their American citizenship or terminating their long-term United States residency) published in the Federal Register. The chart is taken from his blog:
The figures appear to refer primarily to those Americans wealthy enough to warrant notifying the Internal Revenue Service of their change of status, rather than all expatriates. A total of 499 Americans fell into this expatriate category during the first quarter of this year. The number during the first quarter in each of the previous seven years averaged 115.
Now I’m sure a few readers are going to blame “ObamaCare” for this burst of expatriation. Mr. Mitchel, however, suggests that two technical tax-related changes inspired more people to give up their citizenship.
He writes in an e-mail:
First, in 2008 the expatriation rules were changed. There is no longer the 10 year U.S. tax return filing requirement. Although there is now a mark-to-market regime triggering gains upon expatriation, up to $636,000 of gain can generally be excluded for individuals expatriating in 2011 (the amount is annually adjusted for inflation). Further, non-U.S. citizen, nonresidents can now annually visit the U.S. for 120 or more days without becoming taxed as U.S. residents (under the pre-2008 rules, visits to the U.S. for more than 30 days during any of the 10 years following expatriation caused the individual to be treated as a U.S. resident for that year).
With the $636,000 exclusion from the mark-to-market gain, many individuals can expatriate without paying any U.S. tax. It is important to note, however, that some individuals, especially those with assets in foreign pension plans, may unexpectedly pay more tax than they realize. The circumstances of each individual considering expatriation must be closely analyzed to determine the amount of U.S. tax that will be due upon expatriation.
The second reason for the increase in expatriations, I believe, is the recent publicity regarding the penalties and voluntary disclosures for failing to report offshore bank and other financial accounts. The U.S. tax rules for U.S. citizens living overseas can be quite complex. The increase in awareness of the penalties has caused many individuals with dual citizenship to conclude that their U.S. citizenship is not worth the stress and hassle of the U.S. tax filing rules. The U.S. is almost the only country in the world that requires its citizens that live permanently in another country to continue to file tax returns in the country of citizenship. Combine the U.S. tax return filing complexities with the potentially bankrupting penalties for failing to report certain items, and many individuals conclude that their lives would improve by shedding their U.S. citizenship.