Something interesting has crystalized so far in 2016: A clear desire to change citizenship. I start by applying for Norwegian citizenship, and hope they’ll let me keep my US one until I decide what to do about it. The background for this are FATCA and FBAR. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) cracks down on expats who haven’t been filing taxes, starting in 2010 (the IRS wasn’t too particular about chasing Americans around the world before then). FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) is a requirement made of US citizens to report all their savings in foreign finance institutions to crack down on hidden assets (like in the Panama papers).
The US is the only nation, besides Eritrea, that taxes based on citizenship, not based on whether you actually had any income in or from the US. For someone who happened to be born on US soil to foreign parents and hasn’t worked in the US ever, this must be at best baffling, at worst, a nightmare. It’s becoming a nightmare for us expats, too, because FBAR requires that foreign finance institutions report any assets held by customers with a US citizenship, a bureaucratic and invasive request most don’t want to (or can’t) honor. The result is that an expat may end up not having access to their own foreign bank account.
I have panicked a few times over this. I have no options if I suddenly cannot access my own checking and savings accounts. I have worked and paid taxes in Norway for 35 years, and this crack-down from the US feels unfair and even mean. I am not the only expat who feels this way. As of 2015, there is a record-high number of people renouncing their US citizenship, spurred by FATCA/FBAR. The US government has raised the fee of renunciation from $450 to over $2300, hoping to dissuade people.
So, I am applying for Norwegian citizenship (which has its own fee of NOK 2500 4200). Many Norwegians are suprised I don’t already have one. Honestly, I never needed one—until now.
And I was very much a typical American, proud of her country, and still identifying as American, never as Norwegian. But during 2016, that has changed.
Fear and anger have led me to the website for applying for Norwegian citizenship. I have spent the evening filling it out, including the part that wants to know where I’ve traveled the last 10 years. It’s a good thing I photograph the hell out of my vacations, because dates plus what I took a picture of helped me recreate all my vacations. The application now has a long list of one-day-in-Denmark-some-more-days-in-Germany/France/Austria/etc-then-another-day-in-Denmark plus some US trips.
They want to know I’m not a criminal, so I set aside the citizenship application and have fired off a request to the police for a background check. I’ll hear from them via the electronic mailbox I just signed up for to speed up correspondance with government agencies.
I have also started on my taxes. Oh. My. God. You have no idea what that’s like! How many questions, and that it’s not enough to report what was in your bank account at the end of the tax year; the US wants to know the maximum that was in your account during the year. Fortunately, I qualify for the streamlined tax return (still had to fill out about 12 pages just for 2015), and need to fill out tax returns back to and including 2012. All of this to bring me up to date and compatible with FATCA/FBAR—and to prepare for a possible renunciation.
So I am filling out forms, left and right, in English and Norwegian. Speaking of Norwegian, I need to document that I know the language. I don’t have any papers from when I graduated middle school here in Norway in 1976, which is the last time I was graded in Norwegian. I’m wondering if my employer could be bothered to type a letter that states I know the language. Or maybe I’ll do what my Polish co-worker did: She didn’t bother when any documents; she just told the case-worker, in Norwegian, that she’s been working for many years in a Norwegian company, talking to sales people on the phone in Norwegian about insurance.
I shouldn’t have any trouble. I sound like a native. I just can’t prove I am one.