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Expat Tax Essentials
If you want to renounce your US citizenship, this is a drastic decision and should never be made lightly. Once you’ve taken that leap, you can’t change your mind.
To help you make an informed decision, here are some crucial facts to know when deciding to renounce US citizenship.
The tax implications of renouncing your US citizenship can be a complicated and time-consuming process. To reach the finish line, you will need to:
Depending on your financial details, you may also need to pay the US exit tax. We’ll talk more about that below, but for now, let’s take a closer look at the steps of renouncing your US citizenship.
You can’t renounce US citizenship without a passport issued by a foreign country. Without a foreign passport, the State Department will deny your request. This is to ensure that you are not rendered “stateless,” which would make it virtually impossible for you to:
As you can see, not having a new country to call home would make life very difficult.
Once you have a foreign passport, it’s time to fill out the forms you will need for your renunciation appointment. The primary forms are:
You should fill out these forms before your renunciation appointment, but don’t sign them yet. The official who conducts your interview must witness you signing each form.
Next, you’ll have to schedule your renunciation appointment. This appointment must take place at a US embassy or consulate in a foreign country, and you must attend in person. Most expats choose an embassy or consulate in the country they intend to live in, but you can schedule your appointment in any country you’ve entered legally.
Bring all of the forms you already filled out (but haven’t signed yet) to your appointment. In addition to those, you will need several other documents, such as a foreign passport and US birth certificate (if applicable).
When scheduling your appointment, double-check which documents you will need.
When you arrive for your renunciation appointment, an official will review your documents. They will also interview you to ensure you are acting voluntarily and understand the consequences of renouncing your citizenship.
If everything goes as planned, you will pay the renunciation fee and sign the various documents you’ve prepared. You will also sign an “oath of renunciation,” which finalizes your decision to renounce your US citizenship.
Even after signing an oath of renunciation, you will still be considered a US person for tax purposes until you file a final tax return using IRS Form 8854.
The State Department charges a flat fee for renouncing US citizenship, which is currently $2,350. Depending on your tax status, you may also have to pay additional taxes when renouncing your citizenship.
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Once you renounce your US citizenship, you will no longer be subject to US taxation. However, you will have to resolve any outstanding income tax debts first, and you may also have to pay the exit tax. Let’s look at some of the most common tax implications of renouncing US citizenship.
In order to renounce your citizenship, you must be tax compliant for at least five years. This means that one must have the following:
If you haven’t filed a US tax return because you weren’t aware that this was required for Americans living abroad, don’t worry. The IRS provides an amnesty program that expats can use to come into tax compliance without facing any penalties. It’s called the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.
To use this program, all you have to do is:
This will bring you into compliance with the IRS as a US citizen. However, to renounce your citizenship, you must show that you’ve filed tax returns for the past five years. This means you will need to file additional returns if you still haven’t met that standard after filing the three required by the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.
The exit tax is a tax that certain expats are required to pay when renouncing their citizenship. This tax is not a penalty. Instead, it’s a final bill for assets that haven’t been taxed yet, such as capital gains from homeownership or funds in a retirement account.
Calculating the exit tax can be complex. For most assets, the tax is calculated by treating your assets as if you had sold them at current fair market value, then taxing the unrealized capital gains accordingly. However, not all assets get this treatment, and the rules can be confusing.
We recommend always consulting an expat tax professional when calculating your exit tax liability. The penalties for getting the math wrong can be harsh.
The good news is that only expats deemed “covered expatriates” by the IRS are subject to the exit tax. (More below.)
Being a covered expat can lead to more tax complications than the exit tax. It could impact your ability to give gifts to US citizens years after you’ve renounced your US citizenship.
Under US tax law, if a US person receives a gift from a covered expat exceeding the $15,000 annual exclusion, the gift is taxed at the highest gift tax rate (40% in 2022). This tax is imposed on the US person who receives the gift rather than the covered expat who gave it.
For example, let’s say Robert was a covered expat when he renounced his US citizenship and moved to Costa Rica. His daughter, Heather, lives in the US as a citizen. When Heather gets married, Robert wants to give her and her new spouse a gift of $50,000.
Because Robert is a covered expat, and because his gift exceeds the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion, Heather will have to pay a 40% tax on her father’s gift to her.
Knowing whether you qualify as a covered expat is essential in deciding whether renouncing your US citizenship makes sense. So what’s the difference between a covered expat and a non-covered expat?
In simple terms, the IRS will consider you a covered expatriate if any of the following standards apply:
If you meet these standards, you will be subject to the exit tax and the IRC 2801 expat gift tax.
No. Once you’ve renounced your citizenship, it’s impossible to regain it. The only exception to this is if you renounced your citizenship before the age of 18. In that case, you can regain your citizenship, but only if you contact the State Department within six months of your 18th birthday.
Still have questions? We have answers! We can even assist you in meeting your US tax obligations, regardless of whether you renounce your US citizenship.
At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we’ve spent years helping expats file their US taxes accurately and on time. Just contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you in any way we can. No matter what you need, we’re your one-stop shop for expat tax assistance, including if you want to renounce your US citizenship.