— Citizenship Lawyer (@ExpatriationLaw) November 28, 2016
The Expatriation Process
So how do you actually renounce U.S. citizenship? What’s it really like?
There have been lots of changes over the last 100 years (see here for the history of expatriation law), but the current situation is clear.
To renounce U.S. citizenship, you must go in person to a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. and sign before a consular officer an oath or affirmation that you intend to renounce your citizenship.
That’s it. According to current law, that’s all you have to do.
Now for the details of how it works in practice. We’ve broken it into 5 steps (click to jump to that section):
The information below is based on our experiences in renouncing with our families and the experiences of several others who went through the process and were willing to share their insight for this web site. Our (collective) renunciations range from the mid-1990s until 2010 and took place in numerous countries on 5 different continents. We describe the process in detail below so you’ll be prepared, but we want to emphasize that it’s an incredibly simple process (especially compared to most other government bureaucracy tasks we’ve had to do) and every one of us found the consular workers to be very helpful and professional.
Note that the Department of State charges $450 for “documentation of formal renunciation of U.S. Citizenship”. In the past, there was no charge and the whole process was free, but the Department of State began imposing the $450 fee effective on all renunciations after July 13, 2010. (We discuss the background and legality of this fee in detail in our FAQ here.)
The law says that you have to renounce in person outside the United States before a diplomatic or consular officer. In practice, this almost always means that you have to personally go to a U.S. embassy or consulate.
The embassy or consulate or diplomatic mission (we’ll just refer to them collectively as “diplomatic posts” from now on) where you go will handle all paperwork. Although the actual renunciation will be examined and approved by the Department of State in Washington, D.C., the diplomatic post you pick will control all other aspects of the renunciation.
Which diplomatic post is best for you depends on you and your needs. Location is obviously important, particularly if you have to make more than one visit. But there are quite a few other differences between diplomatic posts which could also affect your decision.
There are hundreds of U.S. diplomatic posts in the world, and each handles renunciation according to its own policies. The legal procedure is – and has to be – the same, but the actual steps involved can vary quite a bit.
The bulk of renunciations happen in a small percentage of the diplomatic posts, so those places tend to have much more formalized rules about the process. Ones we know of falling in this category are London, Dublin, Bern, Amsterdam, Seoul, Hong Kong, and the busier missions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The advantage is that the consular officers in these posts are more familiar with the process; the disadvantage is that the whole procedure can be more bureaucratic and can take significantly longer.
On the other hand, most diplomatic posts have no formalized procedure for renunciations. This is the case for essentially all posts which are not in Western Europe, Canada or a few major cities in the Asia-Pacific region. The diplomatic post most likely has never actually handled a renunciation, or has done at most one or two over the last five years. The consular officers will rarely know what to do and will have to look up everything on-the-fly from their systems. We know personally of several situations where the individual renouncing had to explain the law and the procedure to the consular officer and guide him on the process. The advantage of renouncing in these diplomatic posts is this informality: you’ll face fewer of the bureaucratic obstacles which you’ll encounter in missions with more cases, so the whole process can feel more pleasant and it generally will end up taking much less time from start to finish. On the other hand, they most likely won’t be able to give you any information which you don’t already know.
The most important procedural steps we’ve found where diplomatic posts differ are:
- Residency requirement
Most diplomatic posts accept renunciations from any U.S. citizen. But we’ve found that several missions, particularly those in Western European countries which have many American expatriates, will only accept renunciations from individuals who have citizenship and/or permanent residency in that country. This is not correct: a diplomatic post has no legal grounds to refuse renunciations solely because the individual is not resident in that country. But it’s the policy they follow.If you still wish to renounce there, you could force the issue. As there is no law requiring residency as a prerequisite to renunciation in a given diplomatic post, we’d imagine that your challenge would eventually succeed, but it will undoubtedly take time to resolve.
The most popular and busy diplomatic posts and those which regularly handle renunciations require special appointments which can be months in the future (we know of cases of up to 3-6 months). In contrast, other diplomatic posts can give you an appointment within only a few days at most (the only reason it might even take a few days is that there aren’t many U.S. consular officers in most missions, and the local staff who handle your initial inquiry will have to find a time when one of the officers will be available). And in really small diplomatic posts, you can just walk in without an appointment and renounce your citizenship on the spot, although you might have to wait a while while they research what to do.
- Documentation required beforehand
We know of several diplomatic posts which require that you send copies of all your documents before coming in person. These missions are the ones which handle lots of cases, and they want to prepare their paperwork before you come. In contrast, diplomatic posts which do not handle many cases will simply complete their paperwork on the spot while you wait.
- Proof of non-U.S. citizenship required and recorded
According to current U.S. law, you may renounce U.S. citizenship without having another citizenship (see here for details on stateless-ness). We don’t recommend it, but legally you may do it. However, some diplomatic posts disagree with the law and require that you prove that you have another nationality, that you will not be rendered stateless after renunciation, and that you will be able to remain legally in the country where you renounce after your U.S. expatriation. Generally, the only proof these diplomatic posts will accept is a valid passport from another country together with a visa, if necessary, for the country in which you renounce. They photocopy these and add them to your file. In contrast, in other diplomatic posts, there is no requirement to prove another nationality and no record is made of any other passport(s) you have.If the diplomatic post requires upfront proof of non-U.S. citizenship and you don’t want to comply for whatever reason, you could force the issue. We know of one case where a renunciant prevailed on this issue. And we’d imagine that your challenge would eventually succeed as well as the law is extremely clear that you don’t need another citizenship before renunciation, but it will undoubtedly take time to resolve. If you can make the trip to another diplomatic post which doesn’t insist on this, it might save you significant time.
- Number of interviews & wait time between interviews
The consular officer must conduct a personal interview with you to determine if you are renouncing of your own free will and are not under duress (details about the interview itself below). Every diplomatic post will do this interview. However, each diplomatic post handles it differently. Many posts require an initial interview, then a waiting period where you’re supposed to reflect on what you’re doing, followed by a second, final interview. The required waiting period can be an hour or two at some diplomatic posts up to three months at other places. And some diplomatic posts don’t bother with a waiting period at all and only do one interview.
If you’re thinking about which diplomatic post is best for you, our suggestion is to call around. Pick a few that are geographically convenient and call them (ask for American Citizen Services). Find out how they handle each of the issues we list here. Every person considering renunciation has different requirements, so think about which issues in the list above are important to you and pick the place which best fits your needs.
One side note: we’ve noticed several “consulting services” which offer to “introduce” you to more favorable diplomatic posts. We hope it’s obvious, but you don’t need an introduction to a U.S. embassy or consulate. Just pick up the phone and call the missions yourself. Never pay money to anyone who offers to “introduce” or “guide” you to the ‘better” posts.
After you’ve chosen which diplomatic mission you’ll use, you’ll have to follow their procedures before the renunciation. Depending on which diplomatic post you choose, you might have to make an appointment, either on the phone or via an online scheduling system. And they might email you some forms which you’ll have to fill out and send back to them (there are links to all required forms in our Resources section).
Generally, it will be the local staff who will handle your initial inquiries, appointments, and all pre-visit documents.
On the day of your appointment – or your walk-in visit, if it’s allowed – go to the diplomatic post with your U.S. passport. An old one, expired or canceled, is fine if that’s all that you have. If you don’t have a U.S. passport, then you’ll need some form of identification (probably your current non-U.S. Passport). And if you don’t have a U.S. passport, it’d help to have some proof that you are a U.S. citizen – birth certificate, naturalization papers, military documents, etc – although it’s not a legal requirement.
At the embassy or consulate, you’ll have to show the guards identification to enter the building. If you have a U.S. passport, we suggest you use it to enter instead of your non-U.S. passport. It usually speeds things up in getting through security, especially if it’s a diplomatic post with lots of non-U.S. citizens applying for visas.
Generally there will be an x-ray machine similar to what’s in airports. In smaller diplomatic posts, you can take all your belongings with you after security. In larger missions, you’ll have to leave your phone, camera and often all your belongings at the desk. (Note: some diplomatic posts no longer allow you to leave your belongings at the guard post, so they recommend that you come with no phone, no camera and no bags).
You will go to the section of the diplomatic post called American Citizen Services (ACS).
The first worker you speak to in the ACS area will generally be one of the local staff (i.e., a national of the country where the diplomatic post is located). Depending on how much was arranged beforehand, you will either give them your renunciation documents or they might print out the documents there and ask you to fill them out.
Links to all the documents you need to fill out are in the resources section of this website. It’s the same forms whether you have to fill them out beforehand or during your visit at the diplomatic mission. The information requested is fairly basic: name, date of birth, previous U.S. address, last U.S. passport number/issue date, how you became a U.S. citizen (born in the U.S., born outside the U.S. to U.S. parent(s), naturalized), and when and where you have lived outside the U.S. You also have to sign either an oath or affirmation (you choose which) that you understand the consequences of renunciation.
One form presented some confusion for most of us, as well as many of the consular officers we dealt with. It’s the “Questionnaire”. The problem with this form is that it’s designed both for people who want to renounce citizenship, and for people who feel their citizenship was taken away unjustly and wish to reclaim it. Some consular officers, not realizing this dual-use, have tried to make people complete Part III, the section for people who committed a “potentially expatriating act” but did not voluntarily intend to renounce citizenship. One of these “potentially renouncing acts” is actually renouncing citizenship in a U.S. diplomatic post. So in one instance we know of, a person wanting to renounce U.S. citizenship was made by the consular officer to fill out Part III, and then the Dept. of State in Washington rejected the renunciation because they thought the person was either not voluntarily renouncing or that he had already renounced and was now trying to claim back his citizenship. The whole situation was a bit silly and apparently took months to sort out. (To be fair to the consular officer in question, the form itself is very poorly written.) So our advice is to skip Part III, despite what any consular officer says. You’ll be better off for it.
No tax forms are required by the Department of State during renunciation. Legislation from 1996 attempted to require consular officers to obtain tax documents from renunciants, but the proposal was unworkable and probably illegal (no challenge was ever presented, most likely because the rule was never enforced and didn’t affect anyone).
The Department of State cannot require submission of any tax forms as a condition for renunciation. As the U.S. law currently stands, you have the right to renounce U.S. citizenship regardless of any tax obligations you have, although the expatriation does not clear you of your past obligations.
Note that the Department of State also does not require or record your Social Security number during the renunciation process. (Under current U.S. law, you need to submit an expatriation form to the IRS after your renunciation, on which you need to write your Social Security number).
Several individuals with whom we’ve spoken tried to submit tax documents during their renunciation, but the consular officer specifically stated that he/she would not accept any tax forms on behalf of the IRS.
In contrast, in two expatriations out of the numerous of which we’re aware, the individual was required by the consular officer to certify that he had met his tax obligations for the previous 5 years. This is unusual and not in accordance with U.S. law, but it does happen. A Congressional report in 2003 noted that although consular officers are not required to collect tax information or social security numbers, many do.
In the event that a consular officer requests you make a similar certification and/or states that you must submit IRS documents (typically Form 8854), we suggest that you explain the law. The Department of State’s own Guide for embassy staff regarding renunciation is particularly useful if this becomes an issue; you can point out paragraph c) on page 2. Even if the consular officer still incorrectly believes he needs tax forms from you, he is nonetheless obligated to take your renunciation and forward it to Washington. And your renunciation will still be approved: not submitting tax documents will not in any way affect the Department of State’s acceptance of your renunciation.
It’s also important to note that many consular officers are not aware that the law has changed regarding the tax liability of renunciants. Prior to June 18, 2008, renunciants’ tax obligation continued until Form 8854 was filed. But the HEART act of 2008 changed that. Under current law, the tax liability of all individuals who renounce after June 18, 2008 ends on the day of their expatriation. Because many consular officers are not aware of this change, we’ve observed that they often still ask for Form 8854 during the renunciation process, even helpfully suggesting that submitting it is the only way to stop the renunciant’s tax liabilities immediately. Again, if you want to submit Form 8854 to them during the process, you may (and it saves you from having to send it to the IRS the next year if the diplomatic post does this for you), but you aren’t obgligated to give it to them if you don’t want to.
If the local staff have not already finished the paperwork before you arrive (using any information you’d already sent them), they will ask you to wait while they complete everything. They enter into the computer the information you give on the forms, then print out multiple copies of the same forms you already filled out.
A consular officer will interview you once all the papers are ready. He or she is a U.S. citizen who became a Foreign Service Officer and has been posted by the Department of State to the consular section of the diplomatic post where you are.
In our experiences, the majority of consular officers who conduct the interview have very little experience with expatriation cases and throughout the process often need to consult their manual to confirm the next step. Consular officers in the handful of diplomatic posts which frequently handle renunciation cases are the exception.
The interview itself is very brief and professional. The officer asks why you want to renounce your U.S. citizenship. Their task is to ensure that your renunciation is voluntary and intentional.
You can explain your reason(s) for renunciation in the interview in any way you wish as long as you show voluntary intention and understanding of the consequences of renunciation. There are very few reasons which will be rejected.
It’s obvious, but some things you could say which would cause your renunciation to be rejected are: you desire to live permanently in the U.S. as an illegal alien after renunciation, you are being forced against your will to renounce, you only want to renounce your U.S. citizenship temporarily, you hope to buy weapons or transport hazardous materials in the U.S. after renunciation, or you desire to attack or harm the U.S.
Note that many sources on the internet claim that you can’t – or shouldn’t – cite taxes as a reason for expatriation. It’s debatable to what extent it used to matter, but it is clearly not correct now. Since June, 2008, it makes no legal difference whatsoever if taxes are a reason, or even the sole reason, for your expatriation. There are no differences in the renunciation process, your tax situation, or your ability to visit the U.S. later.
The officer will then explain to you the consequences and ramifications of renunciation, and ask if you understand and have any questions. The list of consequences will be similar to the document Statement of Understanding Concerning the Consequences and Ramifications of Relinquishment or Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship (see the resources section for links to all the documents). In fact, in several of our experiences, the consular officer simply read the full text of this document aloud.
The location of the interview will vary based on the diplomatic post. A few people who renounced in diplomatic posts with large numbers of visa applicants told us their interviews were conducted in a small, private room which is used for visa interviews (there may be fingerprint machines in the room, but no fingerprints or photographs are taken in a renunciation). In other cases, the interviews are simply conducted while you stand at the counter of the ACS area.
One question that many people have asked us regards the attitude of the consular officer. In our experiences, the officers have been very professional and very courteous. Individuals we know who have also expatriated confirm that in no instance has the consular officer ever made any personal comments, any veiled insults, or attempted to talk the person out of renouncing. They are workers just doing their job professionally. The only criticism that anyone we know has made is that the officers often do not know the renunciation procedures and almost never know the law. Nonetheless, they look up the information they don’t know in their systems and try their best to assist you in the process.
In most renunciations of which we’re aware, you will be required to wait for some period of time after the first interview to think about the seriousness of renunciation.The time could be anywhere from an hour to several months, depending on the policy of the particular diplomatic post and the whims of the officer involved.
As there is no general policy set by the Department of State, the consular officer and the diplomatic post where you renounce have very large discretion on this point based on how they perceive your situation.
In the second interview, the consular officer will confirm that you have thought about the gravity of expatriation and are still certain you want to renounce. He or she will verify again that you are renouncing voluntarily and of your own free will. If the consular officer is different than in your first interview, or if some time has passed since the first interview, the officer may ask you to explain again why you want to renounce. Almost any reason is acceptable; the goal is only to verify that you still intend to renounce and understand what you are doing.
Note that you may use a different diplomatic post for your second visit than you used for your first. All information from your first visit is recorded in a computer system which is accessible at any diplomatic post worldwide. Just confirm beforehand with the second diplomatic post, confirm they can access your file, and arrange an appointment. In some cases, the second diplomatic post may have to contact the first.
You will begin the formal renunciation after completing the second interview. You will sign numerous copies of every one of the documents which the diplomatic post prepared. [All documents are in our resources section here. As explained above, the forms and the information is exactly what you give them, but they enter it into their systems and print out the forms themselves]. The number of copies has generally been 5, as proscribed by the Dept. of State foreign services manual, but a few people have reported to us that they were asked to sign 8 and even 10 copies of everything.
In the actual “ceremony” of renunciation, the consular officer will ask you to raise your right hand and take the Oath of Renunciation. The foreign services manual suggests that this “ceremony” take place in front of a U.S. flag in order to emphasize the gravity of the occasion.
There is a divergence of experiences regarding what the consular officer should do with your U.S. passport if it is valid. In some situations, the officer has taken the passport and canceled it on the spot. This technically is not correct, as you do not actually lose citizenship until the Department of State approves the renunciation a month or two later. In one situation, the officer took the passport and agreed to cancel it upon notification from the Department of State that the renunciation was approved. And in several cases, the officer did not take the passport; the expatriate had to return a few months after the renunciation was approved in order to have the passport canceled to complete the process.
The diplomatic post which conducted your renunciation ceremony will forward all documents to Washington, D.C., where the Department of State will decide whether to accept your expatriation. Approval generally takes 1-2 months.
If your forms were filled out correctly and you showed voluntary intent to renounce, your expatriation will be approved. It is your right.
However, we do know of situations where the renunciation was initially denied by the Department of State because of errors in paperwork or misinterpretation of the applicant’s reasons for renunciation. In one case, an individual had to redo his renunciation 3 times because he insisted that he would go after his expatriation to the U.S. to live and work. This is legal, but it took some time to explain that he intended to go as a foreigner with a green card, and not as an illegal alien. (Beyond the issue of whether renunciation is the most advisable path if this is your plan, we would recommend that in a similar circumstance you explain your intentions clearly so your expatriation can be approved more smoothly.)
It’s important to note that you are still a U.S. citizen until the Department of State approves the renunciation.
After the Department of State approves your renunciation, you will be issued a document called Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States. You may also receive back your canceled passport, if you choose. The diplomatic post will give you both items. Some posts require that you come in person to pick them up, but in our experience, most posts are willing to send them to you by mail, if you wish. One person reported to us that the diplomatic post where she renounced made her pay for the postage; this was the only such case we’re aware of.
If the way you’ll get back your document is an issue for you, we recommend discussing this with the consular officer before the renunciation.
After your renunciation, your name will be flagged in the Department of State’s consular lookout computer system so that passport officers will know not to issue you a passport in the future.
After issuing the Certificate of Loss of Nationality, the Department of State will forward your name to the IRS. By law, the IRS must publish quarterly in the Federal Register a list of all renunciants. It uses the information it receives from the Department of State to create this list. (Please note that the published lists are riddled with errors: numerous names are omitted, some names are double- or triple-published, etc. See here for details of the lists and the errors they contain).