Obama has to do paperwork
I'm German, get me out of here!
Or what it really is like to get rid of dual citizenship ...
Like so many others, I got my dual citizenship by chance - by birth. In the USA you automatically become a citizen when you see the light of day on US soil, and you can't vote that out either (I asked!). On the contrary, according to all that has been said, there are even many women who travel to the USA especially for the calculated due date so that their children can benefit from a US passport. So all my life I've had this pretty blue document in my drawer. It was rarely used. A couple of times to enter, but that was a long time ago. At the tender age of 19, the valuable document also helped me to work in the United States.
My German genes made me reapply for the document every time it expired. In 2007 - I was living with my family in Bratislava, Slovakia - I was informed for the first time at the US embassy that from now on it was mandatory to have a Social Security Number. This number is now assigned to every US citizen at birth, in the 1960s people were still a bit careless. Even when I was working in San Francisco, I had somehow slipped through the system. This time I had to fill out the form and send it in. Biggest hurdle: I should list all my places of residence since I left the USA and prove them with official documents (registration certificate, police clearance certificate, school certificates). There were three lines in the form for this purpose. Oh well. I asked the friendly official how I should get these documents from three countries and 5-7 places of residence. She advised me to first just state the place of residence and just send the form in. After about 6 weeks I received mail from the US Consulate General in Warsaw. I would like to please provide the required evidence (see above). Alternatively, I could do that at a later date. I had got my passport in the meantime. I put the letter in a drawer and promptly forgot about the SSN.
Only many years later, my passport had long expired and dust was gathering in some drawer, did I have to deal with the problem again. I wanted to open a custody account with my house bank. You are happy when you have so much money that a deposit is worth it at all. However, I had no idea what this simple official act would mean. When filling out the forms, of course, I had to state my place of birth. Oops! A US citizen! Suddenly the SSN was queried. Which of course I didn't have. I was instructed to apply for the same as soon as possible. I also received a multi-page letter stating that, as a US citizen, I was required to file a US tax return. And every year, regardless of where I live and whether I have to pay taxes in the USA at all. If I fail to meet this obligation, I will be liable to prosecution. To give the whole thing a little more emphasis, they threatened a fine of 10,000 US dollars.
I slept very, very badly for a couple of nights. You think you've never been guilty of anything wrong, and then you find out, by the way, that you've always had one leg in jail, by the way. I started doing research and got more and more confused. Of course, the easiest way would have been to simply give up your US citizenship. I thought. Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. Because it's a pretty complicated process. You have to do some paperwork, appear in person at the US consulate in Frankfurt and pay a fee of around 2350 US dollars on top of that. For giving something, mind you, not for getting anything. Capitalism at its best. You also have to prove that you have always declared your taxes well over the past five years. And for the tax returns you need - exactly - the Social Security Number. It's a bit like Asterix doing crazy things at home. Form A is required for the blue pass and the blue pass for form A. The next option I considered would have made sense: just never travel to the USA again. In fact, I had already considered giving up citizenship several times - whenever American foreign policy was completely wrong again. But then with Obama some sanity seemed to have returned to the White House and I forgot the idea again. But can no longer enter the country at all? I didn't want that. And according to the law, I am not allowed to enter the country with my German passport (although I did that in the past, but that was before 9/11, and by now it would definitely be noticed ...).
Since there was currently a program with which you could submit your tax returns retrospectively for three years with no penalty if you credibly assured you were not aware of any guilt (mimimimi), I decided on the more arduous way. Apply for an SSN, file tax returns, then take off citizenship. Phew The whole process took three years and cost me almost € 10,000. What beautiful things could I not have done with the money ...
Every single step was nerve-wracking. Registration certificates from five different municipalities in Germany. After all, at the town hall of my hometown I unexpectedly had a childhood friend on the phone who was able to send me the certificate promptly. No documents from the early 1970s could be found in the documents in the basement of another municipality. I had to go to Cologne in person to pick up the certificate. And in Bratislava they would probably have just laughed at such a request. Instead, I got proof that I had worked on the board of a charity organization there. But what I really asked myself now was something completely different: What the hell is it to the Americans anyway, where and how I've lived my life? THEY tell me that I have to have such a stupid number. Then why don't they just give me a number? Why do I have to do all the work?
I was still lucky! I had to apply for the SSN in Frankfurt, not around the corner, but at least in the same country and reasonably reachable. If my life had been different and I had lived in Egypt, for example (would have been possible with an Egyptian father!), I would have had to apply for the SSN in Tel Aviv. I shouldn't have been allowed to enter there with an Egyptian passport ... But the imagination of Americans is apparently insufficient for such complications.
So with my package of documents I went to Frankfurt, where I applied for the SSN. It took ten (!) Months until I finally received the SSN. Today I wonder what they in New York (the state in which the records were processed) did with all this stuff. Memorized and performed as a play ??
In the meantime I had found a tax firm that was willing to translate my German tax returns into US forms for a generous fee. To do this, I had to prove the existence of all my bank accounts for the last ten (!) Years. I had a lot of fun for a weekend, knee-deep in old bank statements and my head full of numbers. Always with the grinding of teeth - what is all this for ?? I declared my taxes retrospectively for three years, then for another two years. And no, the US tax return doesn't fit on a beer mat. My last of 2018 had 56 pages, of which I could understand a maximum of three.
Then finally, in autumn 2018 the time had come! I got my appointment in Frankfurt, when I was finally allowed to give up my US citizenship. I was looking forward to finally ending this tiresome affair. In the meantime, President Trump had made sure that I urgently wanted to get rid of my US citizenship for completely different reasons. I was looking forward to the appointment - it felt a bit like a divorce that can't be expected. Would the consul ask me for my reasons? I made up all sorts of answers in my head.
The event itself then left me with quite a void. I paid the fee, was instructed once more that this step was irreversible, and had to raise my right hand to take an oath. Really. Americans attach great importance to such rituals. Nobody asked my reasons.
But they might have been all too obvious at the time. In 2019 I had to file my last tax return in the USA and - of course - again disclose all my income. When I took the thick envelope to the post office, I was almost a little wistful.
Now I am really German. At least according to the passport.
Addendum in July 2020
As I keep getting calls on this subject, from people who are in the same situation as I was a few years ago: Unfortunately I cannot give you any tips or advice on how to proceed when you receive mail on this subject from your bank or otherwise encounter issues related to your US citizenship. The situation changes again and again and I haven't looked at it intensively since 2018. But there are organizations and Facebook groups that specialize in the topic of Accidental Americans. Among other things, you can find competent contacts here
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