Leaving for a Better Life


Electing to Leave: A Guide to Expatriating

The quality of American life is an insult to the possibilities of human growth...
the pollution of American space, with gadgetry and cars and TV and box architecture,
brutalizes the senses, making gray neurotics of most of us,
and perverse spiritual athletes and strident self-transcenders of the best of us.

- Susan Sontag

by Bryant Urstad

So the wrong candidate has won, and you want to leave the country.  Let us consider your options.

Renouncing Your Citizenship

Given how much the United States as a nation professes to value freedom, your freedom to opt out of the nation itself is surprisingly limited.  The State Department does not record the annual number of Americans renouncing their citizenship - "renunciants," as they are officially termed - but the Internal Revenue Service publishes their names on a quarterly basis in the Federal Register.  The IRS’s interest in the subject is, of course, purely financial; since 1996, the agency has tracked ex-Americans in the hopes of recouping tax revenue, which in some cases may be owed for up to 10 years after a person leaves the country.  In any event, the number of renunciants is small.  In 2002, for example, the Register recorded only 403 departures, of which many (if not most) were merely longtime resident aliens returning home.

The most serious barrier to renouncing your citizenship is that the State Department, which oversees expatriation, is reluctant to allow citizens to go "stateless."  Before allowing expatriation, the department will want you to have obtained citizenship or legal asylum in another country - usually a complicated and expensive process, if it can be done at all.  Would-be renunciants must also prove that they do not intend to live in the United States afterward.  Furthermore, you cannot renounce inside US borders; the declaration must be made at a consul’s office abroad.

Those who imagine that exile will be easily won would do well to consider the travails of Kenneth Nichols O’Keefe.  An ex-Marine who was discharged, according to his website, under "other than honourable conditions," O’Keefe has tried officially to renounce his citizenship twice without success, first in Vancouver and then in the Netherlands.  His initial bid was rejected after the State Department concluded that he would return to the United States - a credible inference, as O’Keefe in fact had returned immediately.  After his second attempt, O’Keefe waited 7 months with no response before he tried a more sensational approach.  He went back to the consulate at The Hague, retrieved his passport, walked outside, and lit it on fire.  Seventeen days later, he received a letter from the State Department informing him that he was still an American, because he had not obtained the right to reside elsewhere.  He had succeeded only in breaking the law, since mutilating a passport is illegal.  It says so right on the passport.

Heading to Canada or Mexico

In your search for alternate citizenship, you might naturally think first of Canada and Mexico.  But despite the generous terms of NAFTA, our neighbours to the north and south are, like us, far more interested in the flow of money than of persons.  Canada, in particular, is no longer a paradise awaiting American dissidents: whereas in 1970 roughly 20,000 Americans became permanent residents of Canada, that number has dropped over the last decade to an average of just about 5,000.  Today it takes an average of 25 months to be accepted as a permanent resident, and this is only the first step in what is likely to be a 5-year process of becoming a citizen.  At that point the gesture of expatriation may already be moot, particularly if a sympathetic political party has since resumed power.

Mexico’s citizenship program is equally complicated.  Seniors should know that the country does offer a lenient program for retirees, who may essentially stay as long as they want.  But you will not be able to work or to vote, and, more important, you must remain an American for at least 5 years.


Should one candidate win, those who opposed the Iraq war might hope to find refuge in France, where a very select few are allowed to "assimilate" each year.  Assimilation is reserved for persons of non-French descent who are able to prove that they are more French than American, having mastered the language as well as the philosophy of the French way of life.  Each case is determined on its own merit, and decisions are made by the Ministère de l’Emploi, du Travail, et de la Cohésion Social.  When your name is published in the Journal Officiel de la République Français, you are officially a citizen, and may thereafter heckle the United States with authentic Gallic zeal.

The coalition of the willing

Should the other candidate win, war supporters might naturally look to join the coalition of the willing.  But you may find a willing and developing nation as difficult to join as an unwilling and developed one.  It takes at least 5 years to become a citizen of Pakistan, for instance, unless one marries into a family, and each applicant for residency in Pakistan is judged on a case-by-case basis.  Uzbekistan imposes a 5-year wait as well, with an additional twist: the nation does not recognize dual citizenship, and so you will be required to renounce your US citizenship first.  Given Uzbekistan’s standard of living (low), unemployment (high), and human-rights record (poor), this would be something of a leap of faith.

The Caribbean

A more pleasant solution might be found in the Caribbean.  Take, for example, the twin-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis, which Frommer’s guide praises for its "average year-round temperature of 79°F (26°C), low humidity, white-sand beaches, and unspoiled natural beauty."  Citizenship in this paradise can be purchased outright.  Prices start at around $125,000, which includes a $25,000 application fee and a minimum purchase of $100,000 in bonds.  Processing time, which includes checks for criminal records and HIV, can take up to 3 months, but with luck you could be renouncing by Inauguration Day.  The island of Dominica likewise offers a program of "economic citizenship," though it should be noted that Frommer’s describes the beaches as "not worth the effort to get there."

Speed is of the essence, however, because your choice of tropical paradises is fast dwindling: similar passport-vending programs in Belize and Grenada have been shut down since 2001 under pressure from the State Department, which does not approve.  In any case, it should be noted that under the aforementioned IRS rules, you might well be forced to continue subsidising needless invasions - or, to be evenhanded, needless afterschool programs.

Indian reservations

Our Native American reservations, which enjoy freedom from state taxation and law enforcement, might seem an ideal home for the political exile.  But becoming a citizen of a reservation is difficult - one must prove that one is a descendant of a member of the original tribal base roll - and moreover would be, as a gesture of political disaffection, largely symbolic.  Reservations remain subject to federal law; furthermore, citizens of a reservation hold dual citizenships, and as such are expected to vote in US elections and to live with the results.

The high seas

You might consider moving yourself offshore.  At a price of $1.3 million you can purchase an apartment on The World, a residential cruise ship that moves continuously, stopping at ports from Venice to Zanzibar to Palm Beach.  Again, however, your expatriation would be only partial: The World flies the flag of the Bahamas, but its homeowners, who hail from all over Europe, Asia, and the United States, retain citizenship in their home nations.

To obtain a similar result more cheaply, you can simply register your own boat under a flag of convenience and float it outside the United States’ 230-mile zone of economic control.  There, on your Liberian tanker, you will essentially be an extension of that African nation, subject only to its laws, and may imagine yourself free of oppressive government.


The boldest approach is to start a nation of your own.  Sadly, these days it is essentially impossible to buy an uninhabited island and declare it a sovereign nation: virtually every rock above the waterline is now under the jurisdiction of one principality or another.  But efforts have been made to build nations on man-made structures or on reefs lying just below the waterline.  Among the more successful of these is the famous Principality of Sealand, which was founded in 1967 on an abandoned military platform off the coast of Britain.  The following year a British judge ruled that the principality lay outside the nation’s territorial waters.  New citizenships in Sealand, however, are not being granted or sold at present.  (See article below.)

A less fortunate attempt was made in 1972, when Michael Oliver, a Nevada businessman, built an island on a reef 260 miles southwest of Tonga.  Hiring a dredger, he piled up sand and mud until he had enough landmass to declare independence for his "Republic of Minerva."  Unfortunately, the Republic of Minerva was soon invaded by a Tongan force, whose number is said to have included a work detail of prisoners, a brass band, and Tonga’s 350-pound king himself.  The reef was later officially annexed by the kingdom.

More recently, John J Prisco III, of the Philippines, has declared himself the prince of the Principality of New Pacific, and announced that he has discovered a suitable atoll in the international waters of the Central Pacific.  As of publication, the principality has yet to begin the first phase of construction, but it is already accepting applications for citizenship.

Imaginary nations

Perhaps the most elegant solution is to join a country that exists only in one’s own - or someone else’s - imagination.  Many such virtual nations can be found on the Internet, and citizenships in them are easy to acquire.  This, in fact, was the route most recently attempted by Kenneth Nichols O’Keefe, the unfortunate ex-Marine.  In February 2003, O’Keefe went to Baghdad to serve as a human shield, travelling with a passport issued to him by the "World Service Authority," an outfit based in Washington, DC, that has dubbed more than 1.2 million people "world citizens."  While laying over in Turkey, however, he was detained; Turkey, as it turns out, does not recognise the World Service Authority.  O’Keefe was forced to apply for a replacement US passport from the State Department, which rather graciously complied.

Upon his arrival in Baghdad, O’Keefe promptly set the replacement passport on fire.  But he remains, to his dismay, an American.

Bryant Urstadt’s last article for Harper’s Magazine, "A Four-Year Plague," appeared in the May issue

Source: harpers.org  Harper's Magazine October 2004

Renouncing Citizenship And Taxation

I ran across this last week when looking for passport stuff.  It's from the Department of State website: Possible Loss of US Citizenship and Dual Nationality.

Loss of Nationality and Taxation

P.L. 104-191 contains changes in the taxation of US citizens who renounce or otherwise lose US citizenship.  In general, any person who lost US citizenship within 10 years immediately preceding the close of the taxable year, whose principle purpose in losing citizenship was to avoid taxation, will be subject to continued taxation.

If I understand this correctly, if a US citizen renounces his citizenship, he may be subject to US taxes for an additional 10 years.  And jusy how do they determine if you renounced your citizenship in order to avoid taxation?

For the purposes of this statute, persons are presumed to have a principle purpose of avoiding taxation if

  1. their average annual net income tax for a five year period before the date of loss of citizenship is greater than $100,000 or
  2. their net worth on the date of the loss of US nationality is $500,000 or more (subject to cost of living adjustments.

This makes no sense to me.  If you give up your citizenship, you no longer have the benefits associated with it.  Why do you still have to pay for those benefits?  And how would the US government be able to collect taxes from a non-citizen?  Maybe somebody can explain it to me.

Source: j-walkblog.com

The US can strong-arm many other countries into enforcing this rule for them.  In addition, if you don't pay, don't expect to enter the US again - even for a visit.

Americans Flock to Canada's Immigration Website

by David Ljunggren

Ottawa - The number of US citizens visiting Canada's main immigration website has shot up 6-fold as Americans flirt with the idea of abandoning their homeland after President George W Bush's election win this week.  "When we looked at the first day after the election, November 3, our website hit a new high, almost double the previous record high," immigration ministry spokeswoman Maria Iadinardi said on Friday.  On an average day some 20,000 people in the United States log onto the Web site, www.cic.gc.ca - a figure which rocketed to 115,016 on Wednesday.  The number of US visits settled down to 65,803 on Thursday, still well above the norm.

Bush's victory sparked speculation that disconsolate Democrats and others might decide to start a new life in Canada, a land that tilts more to the left than the United States.  Would-be immigrants to Canada can apply to become permanent resident, a process that often takes a year.  The other main way to move north on a long-term basis is to find a job, which requires a work permit.  Canada is one of the few major nations with an large-scale immigration policy.  Ottawa is seeking to attract between 220,000 and 240,000 newcomers next year.

"Let's face it, we have a population of a little over 32 million and we definitely need permanent residents to come to Canada," said Iadinardi.  "If we could meet (the 2005) target and go above it, the more the merrier."  But right now it is too early to say whether the increased interest will result in more applications.  "There is no unusual activity occurring at our visa missions (in the United States).  Having someone who intends to come to Canada is not the same as someone actually putting in an application," said Iadinardi.  "We'll only find out whether there has been an increase in applications in six months."

The waiting time to become a citizen is shorter for people married to Canadians, which prompted the birth of a satirical website called www.marryanamerican.ca.  The idea of increased immigration by unhappy Americans is triggering some amusement in Canada.  Commentator Thane Burnett of the Ottawa Sun newspaper wrote a tongue-in-cheek guide to would-be new citizens on Friday.  "As Canadians, you'll have to learn to embrace and use all the products and culture of Americans, while bad-mouthing their way of life," he said.

Source: reuters.co.uk  Friday 5 November 2004

Lead me, Master

Sealand in Ruins after Blaze

by Craig Robinson

A former wartime fortress which is now a self-proclaimed independent state has been left devastated after a fierce blaze tore through the structure.  The so-called Principality of Sealand, 7 miles off the coast of Felixstowe and Harwich, was evacuated at lunchtime yesterday after a generator caught fire.  Thames Coastguard, Harwich RNLI lifeboat, Felixstowe Coastguard rescue teams, firefighting tug Brightwell, the RAF rescue helicopter from Wattisham and 15 Suffolk based firefighters from the National Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) were all called into action to tackle the blaze.

One man, believed to be a security guard, was airlifted from the scene and taken to Ipswich Hospital with smoke inhalation but no one else was on the Second World War gun emplacement.  Emergency services were first alerted to the drama just after midday when eyewitnesses noticed huge clouds of black smoke billowing out of the concrete structure, which is owned by self-styled King Roy Bates.  Brian Ironman, who was fishing just off Sealand along with his dog Rosie, said he noticed something was wrong around 11.30am.  "I'd been fishing nearby since 7am for smoothhound and tope and just before lunchtime I noticed there was a lot of smoke coming from the back end of the tower," he said.  "I immediately thought something was wrong and called the coastguard straight away.  They were here fairly quickly and there were about 5 or 6 extinguishers trying to put the fire out.  The helicopter also arrived and I think it picked up one person who was on the platform."

Andrew Beal, a council worker from Trimley who watched events unfold from his beach hut at Brackenbury, said: "There was thick black smoke billowing out of the gun emplacement.  Air sea rescue was heading out at high speed and hovered over the platform and appeared to be taking someone off.  There were several other vessels heading out, including a lifeboat, and there was a boat out there hosing it down.  The smoke was hundreds of feet high in the air."

Rod Markham, who runs angling trips out of Felixstowe Ferry in his boat Tracy Jane, was able to see the excitement from his house.  "At first I just thought they were stoking up the generators because there is always a bit of smoke - I never realised it was on fire," he said.  "But when I looked back after I'd messed about a bit in the garden I saw there was a big deluge of black and that's when I saw the lifeboat and tug were there."

Firefighting tug Brightwell from the port of Felixstowe was despatched to the scene and doused the flames with vast amounts of water.  A team of 15 off-shore firefighters from the National Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) were also assembled but after a reconnaissance of the area from the air it was decided it was too dangerous to land.

Keith Churchman, of Harwich Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said: "The damage is very extensive.  The fire started in a generator and spread quickly to the accommodation.  "There have been a number of explosions on board as the fire has engulfed gas bottles and batteries.  Only one person was on Sealand at the time, whom we understand to be a watchman whose job was to maintain the generators and equipment.  A team of firefighters was flown to the scene but because of the damage to the structure they decided not to go on board.  A firefighting tug sprayed the whole structure with water in the hope this would eventually cool the fire and starve it of oxygen."

A spokesperson for Suffolk Fire Service confirmed the fire was left to burn itself out and was under control by 3.10pm.

Source: eadt.co.uk  24 June 2006

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