Hungarian/US dual citizenship. Why not?
February 15, 2011 8:18 PM   Subscribe

My wife (a US citizen) is considering becoming a Hungarian citizen (this would make it easier for us to move to the EU if we choose to). This is possible because her mother's parents were born in Hungary. What are the downsides of this, excluding (a) security clearances (we don't care) and (b) social/reputational consequences (ditto). Does she have to then file Hungarian tax returns every year (even if we continue to live in the US)? Anything else we need to know?
posted by novalis_dt to Law & Government (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A Hungarian accountant would probably be most familiar with local tax laws.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:41 PM on February 15, 2011

US citizens have to file pay taxes earned on income worldwide.
posted by dfriedman at 8:50 PM on February 15, 2011

I should mention that the plan would be to retain US citizenship.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:57 PM on February 15, 2011

US citizens have to file pay taxes earned on income worldwide.

It's not that bad, though:

If you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien of the United States and you live abroad, you are taxed on your worldwide income. However, you may qualify to exclude from income up to an amount of your foreign earnings that is now adjusted for inflation ($91,400 for 2009, $91,500 for 2010, $92,900 for 2011). In addition, you can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts.

I don't think you have to file Hungarian taxes if you're working here in the US.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:58 PM on February 15, 2011

I think you'd still have to live in Hungary for at least a year under an immigration card (which takes around six to eight months in itself) before becoming a citizen; I don't think you can just "become" a citizen, even with Hungarian ancestry, any other way. (This is why many ethnic Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia could not become Hungarian citizens, despite fervently wishing to do so, in many cases.)

So the first question you should ask is, how can I live with my family in Hungary for 18 - 20 months without legally being allowed to work?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:07 PM on February 15, 2011

Here's the relevant info; I cut out the irrelevant stuff:

1) When can you apply for citizenship?

You can normally make an application for Hungarian citizenship once you have completed 8 years of continuous residence in Hungary. There are exceptions to this minimum limit in the following circumstances:

If you profess yourself to be Hungarian and can verify your ancestors were Hungarian citizens. In this case you can apply for Hungarian citizenship right after you received the Immigration Card.

2) Immigration Card

The Immigration Card can be obtained someone who:

has been residing continuously in Hungary for at least 3 years and;

has not been absent from Hungary for more than 90 days annually and is currently residing in Hungary.

The following people can apply for an immigration card already after one year:

People of Hungarian origin or those who have/had Hungarian relatives (e.g. their parents, grandparents were Hungarian citizens – even for a short period)

posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:10 PM on February 15, 2011

When we called the consulate, they indicated that it was possible without residency. Basically, any child of a Hungarian citizen (previously, two married citizens) is automatically a citizen, and need only file to claim their rights. But if it turns out to be impossible, we haven't really lost anything.
posted by novalis_dt at 9:19 PM on February 15, 2011

I could be wrong, but I thought that had changed as a condition of Hungary's joining the EU. Prior to that, not many people outside the region with Hungarian ancestry would have wanted to become a Hungarian citizens. Now, as a means of getting to the UK or Germany or France or wherever, many people do. The one thing about Hungarians I do know is that their bureaucracy is messed up, and getting the right answers is tough.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:33 PM on February 15, 2011

If she's not "becoming" a citizen, but applying for a passport (and the rights that accompany it) that's demonstrably hers by right, then the residency issues are likely moot.

The tax filing requirement for expats is pretty much idiosyncratic to the US. The main additional downside is that if you do end up in Hungary, and in trouble, the US mission isn't going to lift a finger for your wife. But that probably gets filed under "we don't care" too.
posted by holgate at 9:40 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You definitely need to check with Hungarian laws because I have a friend with dual citizenship in an EU member country who lived in the US. When she did eventually move to Germany, the tax authorities made life a living hell for two years as they tried to collect back-taxes on income made in the US while she held dual-citizenship.

My suggestion is to hire a good immigration attorney who is well versed in these issues to ensure that you don't end up in a similar situation.
posted by tgrundke at 4:58 AM on February 16, 2011

The newly elected FIDESZ government has just passed laws that speed up the process of acquiring Hungarian citizenship. Which should make it a lot easier than when I was in the process of acquiring it, although it is intended to increase voter rolls with Hungarians living in neighboring countries more than helping overseas Magyars. Inquire at a consulate (they have one in New York and San Francisco, I believe) for the requirements. If you meet the requirements, you are simply requesting a Hungarian passport which is your right as a Magyar if you fit all the categories.

Expect that you may need to provide documentation to prove your heritage. This is where a lot of requests fall apart. If your Mom was born in historical, post 1920 Hungary that's good, but not automatic (at least under the old system - it was automatic for children of fathers, not mothers born in Hungary.) These may include birth records going back to your grandparents, and marriage records for your parents which may need to be translated at a nice hefty fee by the consulate.

Once you have the passport (after paying a lot of fees and waiting for, oh... six months or so) you can now travel to the EU, flash your Hungarian passport at the airport, and no more waiting on the "Non-EU and Other Countries" line. Usually I leave and enter the US (and Canada) on my American passport, but travel around Europe on my Hungarian one.

With a Magyar Passport you can, if you wish, hop down to your local city council office and register as a resident, which gets you a "lako kartya" (official resident ID card which also serves as an internal EU ID card which you can use to cross the internal Schengen borders with.) It also means you are now registered in Hungary, and Hungarian voting rights are dependant on paying taxes, so after 180 days residence as a tax payer you could now vote. Similarly, after you are out of Hungary for 180 days you lose your voting rights. That may have changed with the new citizenship laws... I will have to check. Slip me an email if you need more info. Here's an English language PDF about the new simplified laws... I haven't even read them yet, but this is a request for citizenship based on nationality, not an automatic request for a passport (it asks whether you speak Hungarian, for example, not necessary if you meet the paperwork requirements for a passport) whereas marching into the consulate and demanding your passport forms is a slightly different approach.
posted by zaelic at 8:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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