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dual citizenship, should I?
January 5, 2010 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Eligible for a dual citizenship, should I?

I am Canadian with a greed card. I am married to an American citizen and we have one child born in the USA.

I have been contemplating applying for my American citizenship and am struggling to find a real reason to do so.

I am wondering what those that have gone through it, know people who have, or just have an opinion think. What are the pros and cons?

Should I, is it worth it, does it gain me anything other than potential tax problems should we decide to move away from the US?

I have spent hours reading up on this and I am still not sure, any experiences or opinions are appreciated.
posted by birdlips to Law & Government (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have dual citizenship USA & Ireland. For me it was never a question of should I get my US citizenship. I felt that if I was going to live in the USA then I wanted to be able to fully take part and vote. I don't see any downside, but I have no intention of ever moving away.
posted by Long Way To Go at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2010


The USA requires citizens to pay federal taxes when you live outside its borders. Bear that in mind.
posted by meadowlark lime at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2010


One downside is that having a dual citizenship makes you ineligible to hold most security clearances, which will bar you from many government or government-related jobs. This might not be a downside for you, though.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2010


If I had a choice between traveling overseas with an American passport or a Canadian passport, I would use the Canadian passport.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2010


The USA requires citizens to pay federal taxes when you live outside its borders. Bear that in mind.

Well, yes and no. Income generated in countries with which the US has a tax treaty, such as Canada, is exempted up to some level from taxation due in the US.

Consult with a qualified (American) CPA or (American) tax lawyer before making a decision about whether to take on American citizenship.
posted by dfriedman at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2010


Adding a US citizenship create a lifelong tax filing burden. It may not mean you actually have to pay more taxes (though it might) but you'll have to file for sure. You're also suddenly under the purview of a lot of IRS regulations which to my limited knowledge, go a lot further than what the CRA covers. Things like inheritance taxes, etc. You should certainly speak to a financial planner about the matter who know both US and Canadian tax law well (there are a handful in the SF Bay Area).

Note that as a green card holder you're already in a weird position with the IRS. For example, if you're convicted of a crime and deported as a green card holder the IRS consider you to have liquidated all you US assets on the date and will tax you accordingly. i.e. they tax you on the market value of your home, car, etc. oddly, this does not apply if you're merely a visa holder. Being a citizen escapes this potential tax issue and replaces it with different and equally complicated ones.

My knowledge of this area comes from various informational seminars for Canadians in the US which are half useful and half scare tactics to encourage one to secure the services of a cross-border financial advisor. And by scare tactics, they simply describe actual cases where people inadvertently end up owing half their net worth to the IRS because they did some sort of cross-border transaction in a sub-optimal way.

On the plus side, you can vote and will merely be jailed instead of deported if you break a law.

IMO it comes down to how long you intend to reside in the US. If your family is settling in the US forever then you may as well be a citizen. If you intend to travel for a long period or to work abroad for a few years and then return to the US, it will be easier to be a citizen than to re-apply for a green card. if you think your family will move to Canada and stay there in a few years then I wouldn't bother. IMO, IANAL, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


dual citizenship makes you ineligible to hold most security clearances, which will bar you from many government or government-related jobs

From personal experience, I can say that this is decidedly untrue, at least for the Canadian Federal service. I do not know anything about the US public service, however.
posted by bonehead at 1:56 PM on January 5, 2010


ncome generated in countries with which the US has a tax treaty, such as Canada, is exempted up to some level from taxation due in the US.

Yes, but you must file and anything beyond simple job income is probably handled differently in the two countries so you may end up owing tax on something in one country but not another (say if you sold CCPC shares in canada to a Canadian which are capital gains exempt in Canada but certainly not in the US, for an obscure example).
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on January 5, 2010


Joe - She could still use the CAN passport for most international travel.

Deadmessenger - That would be relevant in a discussion about whether to renounce her Canadian citizenship, not so much to whether she should take on the US.

I'm UK/US, and I did it. I did it because I wanted out from the jurisdiction of the USCIS, and the low-level feeling of anxiety that gave me. I didn't want to have to update my address with them anymore on threat of whatever penalty. I got sick of having to follow immigration related news as thing got worse and worse under Bush, and worry about how it would affect me. I couldn't shake the feeling that the life I built for myself was contingent, and could be withdrawn on a whim. I worried that I would somehow fuck up and accidentally do something that would get me deported. I wasn't and am not doing anything criminal, but the "random shit happens" feeling wouldn't leave.

Additionally, I work in a political field, and I got tired of coworkers asking what I was voting and then remembering and withdrawing the question. I got tired of working for candidates who I ultimately didn't get to vote for, and who weren't elected to represent me. I just felt left out!

And there are a very few laws that are differenct for citizens and green card holders, gun laws in my state (CA) for example, are ambiguous and tricky for a green card holder.

So while most of this is based on feelings and not concrete benefits, for me, no longer feeling permanently temporary and somehow separate was enough to make it worthwhile.

On the tax thing - Yes, if you live abroad you have to file, but you only have to pay if you make over a certain amount (about $70,000 I think). So it's non-trivial, and a pain in the ass to deal with filing dates, and depending on exchange rates you could reach that limit easily, but it's not exactly double taxation either.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2010


Do you think you're going to live outside of the US and earn more than 85k a year (at the same time)? This has been, for most people I know, the deciding factor. If the answer is yes, then you should not go for citizenship, or at least you should speak to a competent CA or CPA (ideally someone who has knowledge of the tax laws in both countries, not just the US -- this shouldn't be hard in big cities in either country or border states) before deciding one way or the other.

The people I know who have decided not to get citizenship, but have a spouse and child with US citizenship and who live in the US, have had no problems living without citizenship. There are the risks people mention above, about criminal activity, but I hear that jails in Canada are nicer anyhow.
posted by jeather at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can lose your green card if you're out of the U.S. for an extended period of time (I believe it's six months or greater). You can't lose your citizenship that way.
posted by fatbird at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What are the pros and cons?

Well, as a citizen, you don't have to notify the federal government every time you move. You're not obliged to carry the permanent residence card with you at all times. You can't ever be deported. You'll not put your right to reside at risk with an extended absence. And then there's the voting stuff. But when it's a case of holding two passports instead of exchanging one for another, then it becomes a more pragmatic decision, based upon an assessment (perhaps requiring professional assistance) of your intentions, assets and resources alongside the gut desire to belong (or not belong) to the country where you live.

I'm in a similar position as you, and I'm not inclined to file the paperwork just yet; one of the better things about US immigration law is that permanent residence can be just that -- as long as you jump through the bureaucratic hoops -- and there's never usually a point at which you have a stark choice between citizenship and leaving.
posted by holgate at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


In no way am I all rah-rah USA but I do think you should ponder getting your US citizenship for this reason:

we have one child born in the USA.

I can, in my head, make up a convoluted set of circumstances where at some point in the future while on a visit back to the US, your wife and child are in an accident or whatever and you are denied re-entry to the US at a time when you urgently need to be there.

It's easy to say "that would never happen" but USCIS are assholes of the highest order. Never, ever under estimate what they can do to fuck up your life.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


greed card

Best. Freudian. Slip. Ever.

Anyway, I would sum it up as this: If you intend to live in the US, it is better to be a US citizen. For tax, reporting and other reasons. If you intend to live outside of the US and never return to work or live, you should not become a US citizen. Again for tax and reporting reasons. Being a Canadian is just as good (maybe even better) for the purpose of travel.
posted by randomstriker at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm coming at it from a different angle; US Citizen, living in London for the past thirteen plus years, do I file for British Citizenship?

I posted on AskMe (like yourself), and I've decided to do so.

But my reasons were based mostly on increasing my flexibility. Having a both British and US passports markedly increases personal freedom across multiple dimensions, for example being able to live and work in both the EU (few caveats there) and the USA. US / Canadian citizenship would similarly increase your flexibility and personal freedom.

I'm eligible for a Dutch passport (by virtue of marriage to the wonderfully virtuous Mrs Mutant) this September and will be grabbing that as well. As long as the options aren't exclusive in any way, I'd say got for it. I certainly am.

That being said, knoweldge is power; advise upthread about taxes especially so inheritance taxes should be well heeded. And there are structures (e.g., trusts, APTs, etc) that can help one mitigate or eliminate confiscatory taxes.
posted by Mutant at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


A perhaps relevant perspective from a fellow Canadian who became a US citizen (and a damn fine read, too) is David Rakoff's essay Love it or Leave It.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:20 PM on January 5, 2010


Getting to vote was my #1 reason for becoming a US citizen. No regrets.
posted by onepot at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The tax thing would be the sticking point for me (THANKS BUSH!)
posted by xammerboy at 4:21 PM on January 5, 2010


This is unambiguous and simple: you should apply for US citizenship.

The cost, in comparison to re-filing for a new green card every 10 years, is minor.

Unless you have a very complicated financial life and/or make rather a lot of money, the taxation issues are not likely to get in your way.

You should apply for US citizenship because it would allow you to vote in US elections.

You should apply for US citizenship because it will allow you to hold citizen-only jobs (though as I understand it there are some *very* high clearances where the question isn't "Are you a US citizen?" but rather "Are you a foreign national?", but unless you're a spook you're unlikely to care).

You should apply for US citizenship so that your residence in the US is a matter of right and not privilege. As a green card holder, you can be expelled for any number of quite minor crimes. As a naturalized citizen, you can still be deported, but only relating to your immigration and citizenship applications.

Most importantly, you should apply for US citizenship so you can live in Canada. Wait, what? If you are no longer resident in the US, you lose your green card after a while. So if you move to Canada with your wife, after a while no more green card and visiting the US can become a major pain in the ass because they know you used to have one and you're still married to an American so you've got some convincing to do at the border. As a US citizen, you can live wherever they'll take you and come back anytime you desire.

This also applies if there's some chance you might live elsewhere for a while; leaving residence in the US means abandoning your green card and starting completely over if you want to move to the US.

Following DarlingBri, the circumstances aren't convoluted at all. You've moved away from the US and lost your green card, they went back to visit folks and got hit by a bus or whatever. Now you really want to get into the US, but also need to convince the border agent that you're not intending to stay in the US... like you did that time you became a permanent resident.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:25 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unless you have a very complicated financial life and/or make rather a lot of money, the taxation issues are not likely to get in your way.

"A lot of money" is anything over $100,000. "Complicated" means having a 401k, a RRSP, owing stocks, having an education savings plan like a RESP or a 529 plan or wanting to pass assets to your children when you die. All of these things are very common.

Doing an extra set of taxes is not the end of the world but if you do not plan on making the US your permanent residence you get a large cost (the effort of doing taxes + potential tax liability) with no benefits.

If you are no longer resident in the US, you lose your green card after a while.

If you plan to stop residing in the US you're supposed to surrender it when you leave the country I have been told. You aren't supposed to just "let it expire". It ceases to be valid when you take up residence in another country, even if you've only been gone a day.

The other points are fine though.

IANAL, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 4:39 PM on January 5, 2010


I think the big concern is that if you ever divorce or are widowed, then you can stay in your house, with your own life, regardless. Also, what happens if your spouse dies suddenly but you want to stay in the US with your American child? What a hassle it could be to deal with this.

You can't get US citizenship through your child, but you can through your spouse.

Does your child have Canadian citizenship (I mean as in with a passport)? Because at the very least it'd seem to make sense for you both to have at least one common nationality.

In any case, it seems the best way to protect your child is for you to become an American.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2010


It ceases to be valid when you take up residence in another country, even if you've only been gone a day.

True, but that's honoured as much in the breach as the observance if you have the means (and presumably the legal counsel) to satisfy the conditions of permanent residence.

You can't get US citizenship through your child, but you can through your spouse.

That's not quite the situation here. OP is a lawful permanent resident (green-card holder) through marriage, and has presumably reached the point where applying for citizenship is an option, which in turn usually means: a) a sufficient period of permanent residence (and physical presence in the US) has passed; b) any conditions on permanent residence have been lifted. While the period for a) is reduced if you have a citizen spouse, the consequences of your worst-case scenario shouldn't apply here. (You might be thinking of the widowed spouses with citizen children who have faced deportation when they've been on non-immigrant visas or have conditional permanent residency.)

Clearly, taking US citizenship removes any risk of getting the sharp end of the USCIS stick, however remote. But the issues here are neither unambiguous nor simple.
posted by holgate at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2010


This topic interests me.


If you move abroad and are a dual citizen US/Europe and a double tax treaty exits do avoid "double taxation". What happens if you make more then 100.000k abroad?
Let's say the US limit is 80k. Then you don't have to pay taxes in the US for the first 80k but only abroad.
What happens to the next 20k? You pay taxes abroad but you also have to tax it in the US? Or are the taxes you pay abroad for the 20k deductible from your US tax liability?

The 80k limit makes sense to me if you move to a low tax country (Dubai, Hongkong etc.) but it does not make sense to me if you move to a country with a higher tax burden than the US.

How does it work?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:35 PM on January 5, 2010



If you move abroad and are a dual citizen US/Europe and a double tax treaty exits do avoid "double taxation". What happens if you make more then 100.000k abroad?
Let's say the US limit is 80k. Then you don't have to pay taxes in the US for the first 80k but only abroad.
What happens to the next 20k? You pay taxes abroad but you also have to tax it in the US? Or are the taxes you pay abroad for the 20k deductible from your US tax liability?


Back in 2005, I was considering a relo to Brussels for an internal transfer. The way it was explained to me by a CPA was that US citizens only had to pay taxes on the amount over 70kUSD, with a dollar-for-dollar deduction after that for foreign taxes paid abroad. Since I was moving to Belgium (a notoriously high-tax country), it was VERY unlikely that I would have ever paid a dime to the US, as long as I spent less than a certain number of days per year (90, IIRC) in the US. That was, of course, the advice that applied to my particular situation, and I never actually moved so I never put it into practice.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:26 PM on January 5, 2010


Being a long-time green card holder, I've tossed this question around in my mind just about every year since I've been old enough to care.
I was educated here, raised here, I'm registered for the draft here. Hell, I even worked for the INS for a while.
For all appearances, I'm American.

As far as benefits, there is, of course, the biggie, which is voting.
Being a politically inclined, civic-minded person, it does grate when elections come around and all that hard won information is for naught.
It's especially galling now that my native country has disenfranchised me for living outside the borders too long.

Other fringe benefits include, as others have mentioned, U.S. citizen only employment, less hassle when traveling back to the U.S., eligibility for certain grants if you are in school.
It's certainly cheaper not having to pay the 10-year renewal fee (it seems to go up every time, the lifetime ones were much more convenient). And yes, there's the notification thing when you move and the gotta carry the card thing, but honestly, does anyone do that[1]?

Negatives include the tax thing (particularly usurious) but if you don't plan on working outside the U.S. or making decent money while doing it, then it's not a big deal.
Some countries (though I doubt Canada is one) don't look particularly fondly on those who hold dual-citizenship.
Officially the U.S. has no position (or officially doesn't care, depending on how you look at it) on dual-citizenship, but that could change, and then where would you find yourself?
You won't be able to claim sanctuary in the Canadian Embassy if you ever think that eventuality will occur.
Also, be mindful of what treaties you would be subject to as a U.S. citizen abroad that you wouldn't be as a Canadian.
Travel to Cuba(and some other countries) is right out.

For me though, the decision always comes down to one thing:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

Because I don't. And I don't think I ever could.

[1] Note to any USCIS agents reading this, yes, I always do.
posted by madajb at 1:31 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My dad has been a US permanent resident for over 30 years. He just never had a compelling reason to get his US citizenship and, despite living and working in the US and raising a family, he just never "felt" American. He has no interest in politics. He is and has always been a Mexican citizen and he feels a strong loyalty to Mexico.

Now, he and my mom (who is an American citizen) have a house in Mexico, spend half the year there and are thinking about just moving there full-time. So, it looks like he will never get his citizenship.
posted by vacapinta at 1:50 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Travel to Cuba(and some other countries) is right out.

To be fair, it's right out for anyone as soon as they become a permanent resident.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2010


It's less out to a (dual) citizen than to a permanent resident, as they have a "spare" passport, and won't have the US govt looking at their non-US passport all the time. When I became a citizen the USCIS agent looked all through my UK passport. Never again!

And yes, there's the notification thing when you move and the gotta carry the card thing, but honestly, does anyone do that[1]?

I did. I envy anyone who can not be scared like I was. But then, I moved to the US in 2003 and spent most of the last 7 years in the DC area.

For me though, the decision always comes down to one thing:... Because I don't. And I don't think I ever could.

Yeah, as far as I'm concerned both the British queen and the US govt can fuck themselves, so this wasn't a real issue for me either way. The french girl next to me in the oath ceremony didn't say the pledge or even stand up!

For most people I think it ultimately comes down to a personal feeling, and that's ok if you understand how it affects you both ways. The money issues are potentially real (although not for the vast majority of immigrants), but if I ever need to live in the UK or anywhere else, I'm willing to deal with it then.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:45 AM on January 6, 2010


Don't you have to file taxes as a resident?

If the no tax under 70k and no tax under what you have paid to another country thing is true, it seems almost like a non-issue. If that's the difference, then it's not worth it.

I guess if it is your plan to live in a new country and build a life in that new country, you probably ought to become a citizen of that country. With the dual citizenship thing available, I'd think it would be win-win.
posted by gjc at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2010


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