The American economy isn’t what it once was, and while some Americans are looking to move abroad to better their financial situation, Americans living abroad face specific financial challenges due to the fact that they are American citizens (which I discuss in depth in my new book, The Expatriate’s Guide to Handling Money and Taxes). While holding an American passport once was considered a great advantage, today it has broad ramifications for your finances. Any well-intentioned American parents or grandparents who are thinking of getting American citizenship for their Israeli-born children or grandchildren might want to think again when it comes to taking up this inherited privilege.
Below are six good reasons why financially, life has become more difficult for American citizens living overseas, regardless of how long they’ve been abroad, whether they’ve ever worked or lived in the States, or even whether they speak English:
(1) FBAR and FATCA. These terms refer to tax reporting requirements that U.S. citizens abroad must file if their assets reach certain minimum levels. Non-compliance can result in steep fines. These requirements have had a very serious effect on how foreign banks and investments view U.S. account holders, since FATCA requires foreign banks to report American accounts and assets to the American government.
The problems that follow are a direct consequence of FBAR and FATCA:
(2) Limits on buying mutual funds through an American brokerage account. You may think it’s O.K. if FATCA makes it difficult to open a foreign investment account, since after all, you can use your American brokerage account and continue with your familiar investments. But, beware: many American mutual funds are rejecting orders to buy if the address on the account is not a U.S. address. And I’ve been approached by clients of other brokerage houses whose mutual fund trades have retroactively been cancelled because of the foreign address issue. Not every brokerage firm in America is comfortable dealing with accounts of Americans living overseas.
There are also challenges in buying mutual funds through an overseas brokerage account. If your foreign investment house sells you a foreign mutual fund, not only will it report your assets to America (or else it risks facing steep taxes), but you may need to report the foreign mutual fund as a PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company).
(3) The current situation has made it very hard to transfer assets, as countries don’t automatically recognize notaries from other countries. This means if you live overseas and inherit an American brokerage account, you may need to fly into America to physically have your signature witnessed by an American company that can offer a “medallion guarantee.”
(4) It’s very difficult to get life insurance from a U.S. insurance company because they won’t recognize an address outside the United States.
(5) Say goodbye to your U.S. credit and debit cards. Some of them don’t work away from the United States, while many companies will refuse to mail your statements overseas. And if you have an existing account, now that your address has moved abroad, you won’t receive a new card when it becomes necessary.
(6) Don’t think you can solve your problems by opening a bank account in the United States. Without a U.S. address, forget about it. And if you receive a dollar check, it’s not a simple matter of depositing it in your bank account abroad, as the banks charge a fortune for conversions into local currency, and it’s not unusual to take up to three weeks for foreign checks (yes, outside the U.S. dollar checks are considered ‘foreign’) to clear.
So what are the solutions to these thorny problems?
You’ll find them in my new e-book, The Expatriate’s Guide to Handling Money and Taxes, which I wrote in order to help the many bewildered expats that I meet in my capacity as a financial adviser. As a reader of The Jewish Press, use the coupon code JPRESS to get the book at half price.