Dateline: Dublin, Ireland
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Andrew has since renounced his US citizenship; you can read about it here.]
Since starting the Nomad Capitalist blog in December 2012, I’ve posted more than 2,000 articles, videos, and podcasts that have been consumed by more than 11 million people.
In that time, I’ve shared everything from my journey to getting my first economic citizenship to buying farmland in Georgia, to reducing my global tax rate to 1%, to being rejected for an EU residency. While there are some elements of my personal offshore Plan that I don’t share for security or other personal reasons, my mission has always been the same: be the most open and transparent voice in a largely opaque offshore community.
When most people were using pen names and stock photos, I believed people deserved a real face and a real person to learn from. The offshore industry has grown since then, and now more people than ever reason that they, too, can “go where they’re treated best”.
However, there have been a few issues that I have not discussed so personally, largely relegating those discussions to my private social media channels and among friends. For one issue, that changes today.
In particular, there is one issue that we’ve discussed a lot, but I still get a lot of questions on: “Andrew, are you still a US citizen, and if so, why?”
From the early days of Nomad Capitalist, we’ve discussed the idea of citizenship renunciation as a way for US citizens to escape what I and many others believe are the draconian policies directed at those of us who choose not to live in the United States. From FATCA to OFAC to citizenship-based taxation, the United States treats its expats worse than any other country not called “the North Korea of Africa”.
I used to be a lot angrier about that. Perhaps some readers from our early days here think I still should be. There were situations in my personal life that led me to believe that the US government was not on my side as its citizen years before I decided to leave the country for good, and I continued to harbor that frustration for some time.
Now, I still believe that the US government’s tax policies are ridiculous and completely unfair. But I’ve learned to accept that unfairness is a part of life and that my personal happiness is more important than seeking some self-styled brand of justice.
What’s more, I’ve learned the hard way that being angry means lacking focus on yourself and your own needs. In the early years of my flag-planting days in the 2000s, my anger and cheapness cost me a lot of opportunities that would have made my journey to becoming a global citizen far more easy.
Perhaps the question should be: “Andrew, why would you consider renouncing your citizenship considering you legally paid $0 to the IRS the last two years?”
As we’ve discussed many times, employees are investors are the hardest hit US citizens when it comes to tax compliance, because they have no real way to escape paying the IRS. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, may have disadvantages when it comes to structuring their businesses, making certain investments, and reporting all of their activity to the IRS, but at least substantial tax reduction is possible in a legal way.
Many former US citizens have told me they simply feel less stressed now that they are free from the constant demands and fear of noncompliance. And that’s where I find myself today: frustrated not by what I am paying in taxes, but by the opportunity costs of US citizenship.
I almost pulled the trigger a couple of years ago, but decided to wait for several reasons. I wanted to share an actual post from my personal Facebook page – shared until now with only personal friends and family – that explains my thoughts.
Let’s be real: renouncing your citizenship is a serious decision that should not be done because you’re angry or because it seems like a cool thing to do. Nor should it be done without reason.
For many of us, the idea of potentially not being able to return to the United States, at least full-time, is of concern even if we have no desire to live there now. That was one of my concerns, but a recent layover in Dubai reset my mind on this. Here is what I wrote in the moment:
I’ve been thinking about giving up my US citizenship lately.
I mention this while at Dubai’s airport for a reason.
For several years, I’ve debated no longer being a US citizen. Two years ago, I almost pulled the trigger, but decided I wasn’t quite emotionally ready, or perhaps quite diversified enough.
Then, something happened that made my US passport an ASSET rather than a LIABILITY.
So I kept it, told myself I’d go back to the US to “soul search”, and re-evaluate in a year or two.
Earlier this month, I returned to the US for the first time in three years.
The funny thing is, all of the positive emotions I thought I might be missing from the US are actually here in Dubai.
And I’m reminded that Dubai and places like it – not the US – are the future.
You see, I left the western world this afternoon, with all of the trappings that are expected from it: grouchy airport staff, purposely inefficient security guys, endless stress and delays.
From the moment I stepped on board my Emirates flight, I felt comfortable. The staff cared. Things worked. It was great.
The same goes for Dubai airport.
I wanted a better seat, so I got in a 30-second line, talked to an awesome guy from Kenya, and within three minutes had a better seat. I left shaking the guy’s hand, not shaking my fist in anger… as you’d do in the west.
I wanted to buy something, so I went and easily found what I needed and was on my way.
I wanted a massage, so I went and got a great one… at the airport.
I wanted a Starbucks, so I went and quickly got what I needed, with none of the “we’re out of stock of everything” you get many places in the west.
Then I went to the lounge, where I had a great 5-minute chat with the girls at the front desk about how to say “hello” in Georgian, and explained all of the reasons they should come and visit Georgia, eat the food, and taste the wine.
Not only is the experience seamless, but the people are great. Dubai is everything an airport should be.
For years, I accumulated anger towards the United States. For their military policy. For their tax policy. For their careless attitude toward their expats.
I focused on how bad it was to be an American and feel disposable to your own country.
Then, when it came time to pull the trigger on renunciation… I froze.
I wondered, “what if I want to live in Miami in 2032?”
I pondered, “What if I miss it later?”
A serious case of FFOMO (future fear of missing out) came over me. Then I realized that by renouncing, I’d lose visa-free access to four of the six English-speaking, developed countries: the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Sure, I have spent all of 11 days in those four countries COMBINED in the last three years, but what if I want to go in the future, I thought?
After all, those countries have the best service. They speak my language. Waiters get my dry sense of humor.
What would I do without the freedom to go there?
Being in Dubai reminds me of what I’ve known all along: the west is yesterday’s news.
That’s not to imply anger. I’ve largely let the anger go.
But the reality is that no one working at the United Club in Newark cares to learn how to say “gamarjoba”, or even where Georgia is on the map.
Forget about them knowing where Montenegro or Comoros or even Malaysia are.
Sure, the waitresses at Denny’s are nice, but the front desk staff at the Phoenician were no better than anywhere else in the world.
The reality is that not only can we choose to be happy anywhere, but the places that make me most happy ARE NOT in the west.
Places like Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore are open to ALL, whether from the “wealthy” USA, or Georgia, or St. Lucia, or even Comoros.
It’s an amazing feeling to talk to people from Kenya, the Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius, and Malaysia in the course of thirty minutes in an airport terminal.
The amazing thing is, I feel totally at peace and understood here and with those people, despite the fact that none of them match the criteria my FFOMO demands on paper.
Forget paper. Forget FFOMO or even just plain old FOMO.
The funny thing is that places like Mauritius have good beaches, too, and probably better service than Miami. I/we just allow ourselves to think that somehow Miami is “better”, even though it may not be as enjoyable.
Indeed, even I have occasionally allowed myself to buy into this notion that the only “good service” is in English speaking countries…
…or that eventually I’ll want to return to an English speaking country.
In reality, there is a whole, big, amazing world out there full of nice people whom I may not have expected to feel at home with, but do.
The world does not revolve around the west, or around countries that speak English.
Sure, there are a few places in which I may not feel welcome, but the world overall is a very open and welcoming place, and only becoming more open with each passing year.
My past is in the United States. I have good memories from there, and bad memories as well.
But it is not my future, and I am excited to gain more and more clarity as I work every day to become a confident global citizen.
Forget FFOMO. I’m looking toward the future.