am i an illegal... emigrant?
September 18, 2016 10:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm a US citizen who's been living outside the US for nearly three years now, and I don't plan to ever return. Also, I recently got married. Please help me figure out what, if any, laws I am breaking currently!

As above, I moved to the UK three years ago with my boyfriend, who is now my husband, and will almost certainly move permanently to his home country (in the EU, in case it makes any difference he does not have US citizenship) within the next year. The only way I can foresee ever being resident in the US again would be if, god forbid, my husband died unexpectedly early (highly unlikely as we're both in good health and relatively young). However, especially now that I'm married, I'd like to make sure I'm not unknowingly getting us into some kind of legal mess back in the US.

My main concerns are these:
1.) We have significant savings in joint checking accounts in the US. Currently, the bank has our address as my parents' home in the US, they send us our statements, new bank cards, etc. by mail. I know I've got to file US taxes each year (and I do this, giving my current UK address on the form), but is there anything illegal about having "our US address" rather than our real current address on the bank statement? In fact, is there any restriction on us having a US checking account given that we're not resident anymore?
2.) When we lived in the US, my now-husband and I lived in the same state as my parents, but in a different city. Prior to leaving the US, I changed my address on my driving licence from my last US address to my parents' one. Is it illegal for me to keep using my current licence as identification, given that I'm not really a state resident anymore? Is it legal for me to drive using it? And will it be legal for me to renew it next year? My state's DMV website only has information about what to do if you're moving out of state, nothing about if you live abroad. (I do not drive in the UK).

I kept my own surname after getting married, so I don't need any information regarding name changes.

Would really appreciate any information on these questions, as well as anything else I may not have thought of.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer is, get a lawyer.
posted by FireFountain at 11:42 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation - please MeMail me!
posted by jrobin276 at 12:41 AM on September 19, 2016

Not sure about the rest of it, but regarding the driving license it's probably simpler to let it lapse and take the test to get one issued in the UK. (No easy exchanges from the US because state issued not a national system.) The licensing system is so jumbled state by state in the US, but often buried in the renewal legalese is something declaring that you are resident the state. This can result in things like: paying state income tax or getting put on the rolls for jury duty. In the worst case, but possible, failing to appear for jury duty can result in an arrest warrant issued for you.
posted by Gotanda at 2:47 AM on September 19, 2016

For #1 it's not illegal or wrong to keep the savings or use your parents address for convenience and to ease voter registration. And frankly there's a bit of an idiots loophole because you have to keep filing taxes every year but thats difficult without an american address. Speaking from experience on that one...

#2. It's worth investigating the residency legality of your own state, as mentioned this impacts pros and cons of various states (ie in some states you would owe taxes, or be able to pay in state tuition fees, or actually be exempt from state taxes like in fla so those states may have a higher bar to renewing) i maintained florida residence at my parents home for 8 years abroad but the license was surrendered almost immediately. The good news in many countries being a legal resident is all that's needed to get a DL and that's usually a much lower bar than citizenship.
posted by chasles at 4:17 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am an American in the UK. I don't think you are doing anything wrong.
If the expat group I belong to is any indication, most of them are doing the same as you.

1) I do this myself. I have bank accounts in the US that are tied to my parents address. Many expats have significant savings in the US. This situation isn't unusual.

2) I also do this myself. I keep my US drivers license using my parents address.
Oddly last time I renewed, I had problems doing it online so I chatted with a DMV person who helped me. I explained the situation (that I live abroad) and they said that for all intents and purposes, they consider me to be renewing out-of-state.
As others have said, the biggest consideration here is that you may be required to file state taxes. This varies by state.

The thing is that US infrastructure isn't really equipped to handle people who have *permanently* moved abroad. Take voting for example. My absentee voting address is the last place I lived in the US. I don't live there anymore. Other people live there. I don't know these people. Yet this is how the system works at the moment.

In summary, if you are doing anything wrong, then over half the expats I know, including myself, are also in the same boat. At the moment it sounds like you are doing the major thing the US really needs you to do: File taxes and declare any *foreign* accounts.
posted by vacapinta at 4:21 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

declare any *foreign* accounts.

Look up the FBAR for this. There's a threshold above which you have to report. It's all electronic.

When I moved to Canada I was able to get a local driver's license using my U.S. one. Though it may be different in the UK/ Europe.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:15 AM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I definitely recommend that you don't let your DL lapse... most European countries have very elaborate and expensive processes for getting a new license, and having a valid US one will usually mean skipping that horror entirely. Obviously it varies from country to country, but I'd definitely keep it valid until you have a new European one. (Also, if you let your US license lapse too long, and don't get a European one quickly enough, you cannot just renew the license in the US down the line. You would have to get a Learner's Permit, take a road test, and generally start the process from the beginning, which in my personal experience has been a surprisingly huge hassle.)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:43 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

most European countries have very elaborate and expensive processes for getting a new license, and having a valid US one will usually mean skipping that horror entirely.

If it matters for timing, the UK in particular doesn't grant any special permission to US driver's license-holders. The US is not a "designated country," so you can drive on your US license for 12 months as a resident of Great Britain, but then you have to go through the full UK driving licencing procedure, including getting a provisional licence and passing theory and practical tests.

(It's my understanding that the UK driving test is significantly more challenging than the US driving test, which is why they don't grant US license holders carte blanche to convert their license. Also, there's no reciprocity on the US side in general for UK license holders.)
posted by andrewesque at 7:15 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can only answer a tiny sliver of your question from my experience:

When I lived abroad, I used my parents' California address as my mailing address for some of my investment accounts. Consequently, those accounts reported capital gains to the California tax authority, which started sending me scary letters because I didn't file a California tax return.

It took many letters and phone calls to straighten it out. Even when I was assured over the phone that I no longer owed them, I'd still get a letter and have to call them again. Dealing with CA's version of the IRS sucked.

(Note that before I moved abroad, I lived in Washington state. I've heard tell that you're considered a resident of the state you last lived in before you moved abroad, and may need to file income tax returns with them, as well as with the US government. So if I had actually been a California resident, I might have needed to file a CA tax return--I'm not sure, and it's worth investigating if you lived in an income-tax-collecting state.)

If I could do it again, I'd have all my mail go to my overseas address. I certainly did that for my US checking and credit card accounts, and it was fine.
posted by homodachi at 9:12 AM on September 19, 2016

You need to learn about FATCA. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

The IRS gets updated on any income Americans hold abroad in any accounts. As a citizen you must submit a US Tax return for every year as well.

To learn more about FATCA, visit the website for your local bank in the UK. There are certain investments that US citizens shouldn't get while living abroad.
posted by Coffeetyme at 9:14 AM on September 19, 2016

I have a friend who married a Dutch woman and got Dutch citizenship. At the interview, they asked if he had a particularly compelling reason to maintain dual citizenship with the U.S., and he couldn't think of one, because he never, ever planned to come back to the U.S. So he gave up his citizenship. And then they divorced, and he met an American and moved back to the U.S., and had to apply for a green card. Stating on the application that he was born in Pennsylvania freaked out everyone at USCIS.

As a dual citizen, I suggest you keep both for as long as possible, once you get EU citizenship. Your instincts to check on the U.S. laws are good, and my initial impression is that you're not out of compliance at all, unless you've got masses of money in various places. But remember that the laws change, and court interpretations of what the statutes say change, so you'll need to stay on top of these issues. They're pretty complicated, so it's worth it to have a brief annual checkup with a U.S. tax lawyer. Your DL almost certainly won't be an issue, and it's a good document to keep current.
posted by Capri at 2:17 PM on September 19, 2016

The Wall Street Journal has had an ongoing set of articles about financial concerns for expats. The WSJ is not free, but it would be worth doing a short online subscription so you can search and save the archived articles.
posted by ITravelMontana at 6:33 PM on September 19, 2016

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