Following on with our series of question and answer articles we had a very interesting question put to us recently from a reader who, quite understandably, is concerned about the consequences for expats in the event of a worldwide economic collapse. The question posed was:- “If we become expats and then, in the future there is a worldwide economic collapse will we be able to return to the US?”
The editor and two regular writers for Escape From America Magazine share their thoughts and opinions on this question.
Julie R. Butler
As things currently stand, expatriating from the United States does not mean that you will not be allowed to return, except in a few circumstances.
Expatriation does not require you to give up US citizenship. Most expats keep their US citizenship for a wide variety of reasons, among them being the fact that gaining citizenship in another country is not an easy process, requiring time and patience, the taking of citizenship exams, money to pay for all the fees, a pile of official documentation, notaries, apostils, a lawyer… and don’t forget the US$450 you must pay for the final privilege of handing over all of your rights and privileges as a US citizen.
Gaining residency in another country or even citizenship does not negate your US citizenship, and you will be free to come and go, unless you have a suspiciously Arabic-sounding name, you have engaged in some perceived treasonous act, or “pal’ed around with terrorists” or other deemed enemies of the state, or for any other reason that the US Department of Homeland Security has decided to secretly put your name on the infamous No Fly List. But this blacklist only inhibits the way that you travel, prohibiting entry into US airspace, not entry into United States territory itself.
If you renounce your citizenship, forget about reversing your decision. It is irrevocable. In that case, you would be required to apply to the US Department of State for a visa, just like most other aliens who wish to enter the United States. The exception is that citizens of the 36 nations that participate in the Visa Waiver Program are allowed to visit the US for up to ninety days without a visa, assuming that they meet all the requirements.
If you become a citizen of a country not in that program, in order to receive the ninety-day visa, the consular agent who is reviewing your case must be convinced that you are not among the Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas, i.e. crazy people, criminals, tax evaders, and other ne’er do wells, and also that you intend to return to your residence abroad.
There are other kinds of visas that you may be eligible for, or you may apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for a green card to establish residency in the US as a foreign citizen.
Be aware that having a visa stamp in your passport does not guarantee entry into the United States, as that is at the discretion of the immigration officers at the point of entry, who are also on the lookout for criminals and ne’er do wells.
Reentering the United States to visit or attend important family functions such as a marriage or a funeral may be the only reason preventing some disillusioned expats from renouncing their citizenship. Others consider that they may one day want or need go back to the United States. And those US citizens who are not considered to be enemies of the state will – in fact, must – be allowed back into their country…
…barring any drastic changes due to the feared meltdown, such as (insert your favorite imaginative post-apocalyptic scenario HERE)…
The short answer is yes! As a US citizen, you are allowed reentry into the US anytime, provided you have the proper documentation. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has made several exceptions to this rule in the case of some persons of Somali, Pakistani, and Sudanese descent who are native-born in the USA.
The family structure of those of Muslim descendancy in most cases is very tightly woven, and even after several generations, it is not unusual for them to be in close contact with far flung family members in their ancestral homeland. And this has been where there have been problems on several occasions. Pakistan, for good reasons, is currently on the “list” of suspect nations, and members of the Islamic faith traveling back and forth are subject to extra scrutiny, sometimes leading to delays or outright refusal of their retuning to the US, in spite of being native-born Americans.
In the case of non Islamists, I do not see a problem on the horizon.
Besides, if there were a complete economic collapse, why would you want to return to the USA? I have a feeling that when that event occurs, you may be better off in an inexpensive foreign country. Your cost of living will likely be lower, and there will be many fewer hungry people with lots of guns looking at you as a potential meal ticket.
Once you have settled into a foreign country, make it your home, without the emergency escape back to the USA. If you want to situate yourself properly in your new home, you should get a small parcel of land where you can grow food for yourself and your family. Make sure you have reliable water supply and network with your neighbors so as to establish a barter system to get what you can’t grow.
A worldwide global financial collapse was one of the topics of conversation at the regular expat get together I attend every Sunday lunch. We talked about what it would actually mean in terms of how it would affect our everyday lives and what we could do to prepare ourselves. Universally we agreed that there would likely be shortages of gas, water and food and that unless we stocked up on life’s basic essentials we would suffer hardship and hunger. Even though we live in an agricultural area where there is an abundance of locally grown food it is not hard to predict that empty supermarket shelves would be a catalyst for panic and resulting civil unrest. Which leads to the question, if that happens would we be able to return to our home nations… or more specifically would we want to?
As to whether an American citizen would be refused re-entry to the US simply on the basis that they had chosen to live overseas, I rather think that would depend on the extent of chaos a global financial collapse would cause. If U.S. airports were still open and functioning and there was no restriction on travel in to and out of the country then there would be no problem. However, if there was uncontrolled rioting and airports were forced to close then, of course, traveling back to the U.S. would be difficult.
Having expatriated and made your home in a new country I have to wonder why anyone would want to return to a worse situation than the one they left behind. I would think it far better to stay put and make the best of a bad situation. That is unless life in the new host nation became intolerable in terms of anti American sentiment and hostility, or in extreme circumstances deportation was imposed. Both eventualities cannot be ruled out totally and so expats must take this into consideration and be prepared.
Truth is, no-one really knows what is going to happen if or when a global financial collapse happens so we can only speculate, but I do not believe fear should get in the way of making your plans to live overseas.
Do you disagree with our answers? Do you have other options or opinions to share with our readers? What has been your experience? Please leave a comment.
Every week, we receive numerous inquiries covering a variety of subjects that are important to you. Now, we would like to invite all of you to participate in our new feature by submitting questions that are relevant to expat living, whether you are planning to retire, work abroad, study, wander, or are just curious about life as an expat.
We encourage you to submit your questions to us, and our answers will be published on Expat Daily News on Fridays. This is an effort by your editors, all experienced travelers and expats, to serve you better, and have you share your curiosities with your fellow readers.
We are looking forward to hearing from you.
About the authors: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home. [ send her an email ]
Jamie Douglas is an Adventurer, Writer and Photographer with an amazing array of Nikon equipment, and a lifetime of experience traveling and documenting. To contact him for assignments and new adventures, email: jamie.douglas [at] yahoo.com
Julie R Butler is a traveler, blogger, freelance writer, and editor who has authored several books, self-published as eBooks, including Nine Months In Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info).
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