The American Dream, Revisited
I have a cousin and two very personal friends who decided to leave America permanently to reside in France. They sold everything they owned and moved to France with just one suitcase.
Within two years, all three returned to America. Summing it up, they said, “You just don’t have any idea what it is like to live in another country until you actually do it. If you think politics are bad in the US, you should try living somewhere else. You just can’t believe the nonsense that goes on in France regarding jobs, politics, and social programs.”
I became a free man on Nov. 17, 2007 when I renounced my US citizenship at the Consulate in Panama at the ripe age of 65. I figured that after a lifetime of obeying the law and paying the tax, I could at least spend my remaining days as a free man – both politically and financially.
Since that day, I have seen absolutely nothing at all to make me regret my decision. In fact, the course of the US over the past 2 1/2 years leaves me with the smug feeling that not only did I do the “right” thing for me (and by extension, my wife, 5 children and 11 grandchildren), I also struck a tiny blow by denying the failing American experience my financial support. Ayn Rand had the right idea – if you stay, you prop up the system. If you withdraw, you have hastened the day when the final collapse will come, and a serious effort can be made to return the nation to its roots.
Your article on Expatriation is right on… I have recently taken my family and moved to Bolivia. Yes… Bolivia… The second poorest country in the world next to Haiti.
Why move to such a poor country? In the States we were rats in a maze; the dead ends were getting more common and the cheese was getting far more scarce. Here we live like royalty… Do you need a better reason? Actually, we moved here just over three years ago when I foresaw the inevitable crash that was coming. We sold our home just before the bottom fell out and used that money to re-establish ourselves comfortably here. We were fortunate.
In 2008, my husband started looking at Costa Rica. I got rather excited and started researching whether I could take my pistol there! (I can, but a few hoops must be jumped through…which is, unfortunately, pretty much the same here in the good ol’ USA.)
I don’t think the already-retired hubby’s really serious about getting out of dodge, but as I am more than a decade his junior, I very well may consider it down the road (if it’s not too late!). I am still working and wish to work for a bit longer. Truthfully, the jury’s still out.
I must say, though, I am extremely concerned about the future of this country. I have three kids and one granddaughter whose occupational and financial futures are very uncertain. Not only that, the rotting social fabric of America scares me. These “kids” growing up today have no respect for property, individual liberty, or personal responsibility. They don’t even respect themselves! I’m only 50 years old and hardly a prude, but as a college professor I occasionally see firsthand the absolute failure of the family and the public school system. I do not want these people responsible for running the country when I’m in my declining years.
I DO still believe in American Exceptionalism because there is still no greater economic and social foundation than the one dreamed of by our Founders. The foundation has termites (or worse), yes indeed, but I truly wish to continue believing that there are true patriots who will bring us back to some semblance of past greatness.
Long time reader, first time mailer
I had to write you in response to the top ten reasons to expatriate. I just repatriated back to the US from three years in Bermuda – a legendary low tax jurisdiction. While your list of 10 are true about the hassles of living in the US, you neglect the hassles of living outside the US. I’m a CPA so I think I know my taxes well, and I paid more in taxes while in Bermuda than I did in the US. I should mention I am unfortunately not one of your millionaire readers, so I was able to shelter most of my foreign income from US taxes through the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. That plus the Foreign Housing Exclusion meant that I paid ZERO US taxes over the three years I was in Bermuda, again probably because I wasn’t a millionaire.
However, the point you miss is that foreign countries like Bermuda also tax their citizens. They might not call it an income tax, but I paid over 5% of my income in a “payroll tax”, plus 30%+ in duties on anything I purchased. Net-net the tax situation was a wash for a low six figure income between the US and (supposedly) tax-friendly Bermuda. This aside leaves you with the hassle of being a foreigner with limited rights in a populace that isn’t always welcoming. Want to buy property in Bermuda – nope…not if you’re a foreigner. Want to vote for those who spend your taxes – nope…not if you’re a foreigner. Want to speak your mind freely – nope…not if your a foreigner and need a work visa. Want to protect your property/life with a handgun – nope.
How could something so insignificant have pushed me over the edge? After 20 agonizing years of owning and operating a mid-sized construction company in Los Angeles, my wife and I moved (along with our two small kids) to a 15-acre farm in southwestern Argentina, intent on discovering the joys of the ‘simple life.’ Five long years with no phone and no electricity sent us back to the States ‘permanently.’
Naturally enough, we blamed our failure on geography. We would continue the pursuit of our dream of a small, self-sufficient farm back home in the good ol’ USA. Chelsea, Vermont to be exact…good and far from the maddening crowds of California, but not so far that I had to buy hardware in metric units.
Chelsea is small…a population of about 500. And very rural…small farms everywhere. Live and let live attitude. Perfect spot, it seemed.
We bought 40 acres at the end of a dirt road well out of town and began planning our little homestead. A small clearing in the woods pretty much in the center of the property seemed a likely site for our little house-to-be. But, rather than rush right into building, we figured it would be smart to put up a temporary roof and test the spot for weather exposure (sun, wind, snow, etc). A 9’ by 12’ canvas tent was purchased for the purpose. I then built a wood deck to keep it up off the ground, assembled the tent, and stuck a couple of beds in it so we could spend the night occasionally.
Well, about a month later I get a visit from the county tax assessor’s office…they’d come to inquire about my recent property improvements. Naturally I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about. But the fellow was kind enough to explain that it had been reported to his office that I had completed a new structure on the property and that it was his job to assess it for the tax rolls. I told him I had nothing on the property but a tent, but that he was welcome to walk the place and see for himself.
So we started off through the woods and after about 10 minutes came to the clearing where the tent stood. After studying it for a moment he gets out his tape measure and begins to calculate the square footage! I asked what he was doing and he tells me that any structure with a permanent floor (in my case the wood deck) is considered a real property improvement and that I’d be getting a supplemental tax bill…not only that…I’d have to go to the planning office in town and get a permit and pay fines for having built without having permits in place before beginning work.
Within 6 months of the assessor’s visit we sold the property, packed all of our worldly goods into a 40 ft. container and moved back to Argentina. That was 8 years ago. But this time we have electricity (a small hydroelectric turbine beside the stream), phone and Internet (satellite), and The Daily Reckoning every evening!
Two of the best moves of my life were made on 11 January. On that date in 1975 I married Janet. Exactly thirty years later, we renounced US citizenship at the consulate in Auckland. I have been delighted by both moves. We have been in New Zealand for eleven years. Our only child lives around the corner from us with her kiwi husband and two sons.
In the early ’90s, we began to be uneasy about the political direction of the US. The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have strongly confirmed that unease. I feel that living in the US today would probably be like living in Germany in the early ’30s. As the fiat currencies continue to degenerate, stresses will be induced in American society that I expect will make it more and more like post-Weimar Germany. It will not be pretty.
In my youth, I was a nationalistic little turkey that volunteered to be an artillery lieutenant in Vietnam. I have since gradually awakened.
One of the beauties of living in a nation of only four million people is that we cannot succumb to the delusion that we can rule the world, or that our paradigm must be inflicted on everyone on the planet. Our taxes are too high, and we are too socialized, but the rule of law is strong and I feel free here. NZ has recently been assessed as the most peaceful and least corrupt country on earth. It has been rated as the third most business friendly.
My great-great-grandfather was killed at Gettysburg trying to get rid of Washington. I have accomplished his objective and had a good time doing it.
I live in Rochester, MI, which is a suburb of Metro Detroit. Things here are bad and getting worse. I’ve lived in this area for 25 years and I’ve never seen so many empty storefronts, especially in downtown Rochester. Malls in neighboring Rochester Hills that have lost big stores are unable to fill the buildings. And at least 13% of the people in Metro Detroit don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
On the other hand, people are trying to help each other out. Churches and community organizations are opening food banks, individuals are making donations of money and time and stuff (including handmade stuff), and my local library (which is terrific) has been offering services and classes for people in financial trouble.
Since the 1980s, Detroit has been ground zero for the new economy, so if you want to see America’s “Christmas Future,” this is the place to watch. I’m not attached to this area (I grew up around Chicago), but I am attached to the US. America took my parents in when they were running from the Nazis, and my father always considered it a privilege to pay his taxes.
I think we’re moving towards a new kind of economic life, whether we want to or not. Any government that refuses to take care of its own ends up paying a very steep price, and Americans are already starting to step back from our government and start doing more for ourselves. The steps are small and mainly unnoticeable, but I have always had great faith in the ability of (most) people to behave well under adversity.
And our adverse times are just beginning.
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