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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Becoming German #1: Initial Setbacks

I've entered my eighth year of residency in Germany, so you know what that means...

Ok, you probably don't know what that means, so I'll just tell you.

It means that I'm eligible to apply for German citizenship. It's not the only way to become German and it's certainly not the easiest way (which is, for the record, via birth canal + German parent and I'm afraid it's way too late for that). The minimum eight year residency requirement was something I found out during my Immigration Saga and I told myself once I reached that marker, I would seriously contemplate the naturalization process.

So the "Becoming German" posts will sort of document my thoughts and experiences along the way. The posts won't be too regular, since I'm still at the beginning stages (and I've found out it's going to be a lot more complicated than I anticipated).*

Acquiring German citizenship is not a decision that I'm taking lightly. If you had a front row seat to the events of the aforementioned Immigration Saga (the post above is more of the tail-end of the whole affair), then you know that this is an issue that I take rather seriously. As German law stands right now, if I became a naturalized German citizen, then I would have to relinquish/renounce (these two words will be important later) my U.S. citizenship. Dual citizenship is possible doesn't apply to my situation. Because of this, the first thing that I've had to consider is whether or not I'd be willing to give up my U.S. citizenship.

...sorry, Ms. Jackson *shrug*
That's a huge thing to think about. Sort of. Kind of. For some people, their nationality is almost inextricably linked to their personal identity. And even if it's not (or at least "not really"), there's still usually some kind of personal connection at the very least.  Twenty-four years of my life were spent in the U.S. (for all you math nerds, that's three-quarters). My family, aside from extended family in Trinidad, still lives there.

It's not like I'm having an existential crisis or anything. For me, the decision would, essentially, be a practical one. Because I no longer wish to reside in the U.S., German citizenship would make my life here in Germany easier. I could cross off visits to the immigration office FOREVER (see: Immigration Saga...again). I'd get automatic EU citizenship, so that I could potentially move to another EU state without having to start all over again. I could vote in elections and add my voice to issues that affect my life here. And so on...

However, because there are also lots of personal connections and whatnot, there could be some practical familial logistical things that I have to consider or, at the very least, come to terms with.'s no small potatoes.

For years, I've only considered the requirements that I would need to fulfill to apply for German citizenship. It wasn't until recently that it occurred to me what I would have to go through to give up my U.S. citizenship.

As it turns out, it would probably be easier to leave the mafia or some kind of street gang. Yes, that is some sweet, sweet hyperbole...but that's what I feel like right at this moment. In my mind, the process of expatriation would go like this:

Me: Hey guys, I'm done being 'Murican, here's my shit.

State Dept: Cool, don't let the door hit you on your way out. See you in the "other" line at the airport.

That is *not* how it works, apparently.

First of all, I have to make sure that my tax shit is super tight with regards to the IRS (that's the Finanzamt, for all you Deutschies), because these mofos do not want to take their hands out of my shallow pockets. If you weren't aware, the U.S. and Eritrea are the only two countries who tax citizens regardless of where they live (i.e. in the country or not). all depends on how much you earn, as to whether or not you actually be required to pay taxes if you earn under a certain amount (I do not earn much, for the record). But you have to report all of your foreign-based income, bank accounts, etc. to the IRS. Legally, you would still have to do this if, for example, you had dual citizenship for the U.S. and another country, but in your entire life never went to the U.S. nor had any intention of doing so.

Fucked up, right? That doesn't apply to me specifically, but I feel it's worth noting. Do you know someone with dual U.S./German citizenship living in Germany and who has never been to the U.S.? Ask them if they file a U.S. tax return every year. Some will have a parent who does it for them, most will not even know what the fuck you're talking about.

Secondly, I have to decide whether I "relinquish" my U.S. citizenship or "renounce" it. On the surface, it just seems like some bullshit semantics. "Renouncement" has kind of a word flavor that you're giving up your citizenship for some kind of ideological purpose. "Relinquishment" feels more like, "Meh...go ahead and have it back. Or whatever."

In reality, these are two different processes (as I understand it right now). If you don't want to become an out-and-out stateless mofo, then before you do either, you should go ahead and get naturalized in another country. Then, given the prerequisite that your tax shit is super tight with the IRS, you can either "relinquish" your U.S. citizenship, by filling out a questionnaire and sending it to the State Department. From there, it's evaluated and they can approve it...or not. If your tax shit is not might get stuck paying an "exit tax". If your tax shit is tight, then they'll send you a certificate...boom, you're done. However, there's no discernible time frame for this process. And if you need confirmation (i.e. Certificate of Loss of Nationality or CLN) that states that you've given up any previous citizenships before you can officially take on a new one. Then your ass might just be "stateless" for a few months, which may or may not be comparable (in terms of anxiety) to switching insurance policies (at least in the U.S) and waiting for the other to kick in.

The other process is, as I mentioned, "renunciation". For this, you must go (in person) to a consulate or embassy. Fill out some forms. Here, your tax shit still has to be tight or else the same exit tax may apply. Your CLN still has to be approved by the State Department in Washington, D.C. before you can hold it in your hands and officially not be 'Murican anymore. There's slightly less red tape (i.e. you might be stateless for less time), but it also comes with a fee of $455 (~327€).

The fee to become a naturalized German is 255€ ($355). So, relinquishment and naturalization would run me about ~$800 (~600€).

I realize this just kinda makes me sound like a cheapskate. However, I would like to emphasize that although I'm normally drawn to inexpensive/free's because I'm less of a cheapskate and more of a broke ass.

The complication of this whole process has resulted in some mild rage over the past few days.  It's one thing to mentally run through the thought experiment of expatriation and all that it entails.

Switching citizenship means that I'll have to apply for a visa if I want to visit my country of birth for longer than 90 days. It means that should I be involved in some sort of horrific accident or some major health crisis (accidental or otherwise), I'd be on my own in Germany. My support system here is above average for a single person without some kind of "ersatz" or legal German family (in-laws and the like). Some extremely forward thinking is involved, e.g. What will I do if I'm physically incapable of taking care of myself? How it is right now might now be the way that it is forever, but a worst-case-scenario is part of the equation.

Having to think about how I would have to inform my future former government of private data in order to release myself from their clutches didn't feel like part of the deal. I relinquish my citizenship, but the U.S. government needs all of my foreign financial information. Spoiler alert: my finances are joke in the first place. Really, it's "the principle of the thing" and after I expatriate, I feel like I'd need to open all new bank accounts.

The thing that steams my clams the most, given all of this new info that I've discovered, is that there are so many morons involved. I'll have to deal with German bureaucracy, U.S. bureaucracy, Europeans who are perplexed at the idea of giving up my U.S. citizenship, and...the worst...U.S. citizens who spout off, "If you don't like it then leave..."

I've left. I swayzed the fuck out of the U.S. and in the last eight years have only been back twice (when my father died and then when my mom died). I'd like to make the breakup official, but like some sort of unhealthy, stalkerish ex...the U.S. wants to make it hard for me to leave the relationship.

So, I'm pissed off. But, I also know that I'm stubborn as hell. I'll make this happen.

Stay tuned, because there will probably be some crazy stories.

*Note: This post is based on information that I've found as I understand it. I'm not a lawyer and don't intend to become one. I will nut up and go to the immigration office to find out more info from them, as well as other legal sources. I haven't found many "Amis" rolling through to become German (if you know one, who is also not half-German or whatever, then let me know asap!) Do not take this as legal advice.. These are opinions and bullshit on my mind right now.

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