ACA NEWS UPDATE Issue 180, October 2009 ACA – the Voice of Americans Overseas
An e-mail News Update from American Citizens Abroad
Editor for this edition: Dorothy van Schooneveld
You can read the web version of the News Update on the ACA Website: www.americansabroad.org
IN THIS ISSUE:
* IRS announces one-time extension for filing FBARs
* Proposed health care legislation – join ACA in giving input now!
* MOVE voting bill gains support
* Individual states scored re overseas voting
* Condolences to Rep. Carolyn Maloney
* H.R. 3240: passports for overseas minors + empowering the Hague Convention
* Author seeks tales of adjusting to life abroad
* US and Switzerland revise tax treaty
* IRS survey of international taxpayers
* Tax-saving strategies
* Overseas Americans remain uncounted in 2010 census
* Should congress make visa waiver travelers pay to promote tourism?
* Growing interest in pilot project extending Medicare coverage to Mexico
* Upcoming events
* Contact us: let me count the ways!
* While you’re surfing …
FILING FBARs: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 15 OCTOBER
On 21 September, the Internal Revenue Service announced (www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/
By extending the deadline for a short period of time, the IRS is providing relief for those taxpayers who had intended to come forward prior to the deadline, but faced logistical and administrative challenges in meeting it. Reporting should cover the accounts involved for the six-year period starting 2003.
Penalties during the voluntary disclosure period will include tax due plus interest from time of accrual, and penalties for non-filing, plus interest from date of accrual. The IRS continues to promise that taxpayers who do not voluntarily disclose their hidden accounts by the new deadline will face much harsher civil penalties, where applicable, and possible criminal prosecution.
Taxpayers who reported and paid tax on all their taxable income for prior years but did not file FBARs, should file the delinquent FBAR reports according to the instructions (send to Department of Treasury, Post Office Box 32621, Detroit, MI 48232-0621) and attach a statement explaining why the reports are filed late. Copies of the delinquent FBARs, together with copies of tax returns for all relevant years, should be sent to the Philadelphia Offshore Identification Unit at: Internal Revenue Service, 11501 Roosevelt Blvd., South Bldg., Room 2002, Philadelphia, PA 19154 Attn: Charlie Judge, Offshore Unit, DP S-611. The IRS will not impose a penalty for the previous failure to file the FBARs. [Note: A US citizen is supposed to inform the IRS and the US Treasury annually of foreign bank accounts that have together totaled $10,000 at any time in the course of the previous year.] The IRS has even established a “voluntary disclosure hotline” (https://www.irs.gov/
Tax experts who spoke at the 2 September 2009 Geneva meeting on the subject of FBARs and the IRS voluntary disclosure period were unanimous in taking the stance of encouraging “noisy” compliance (coming forth under the special voluntary disclosure program). No one is making predictions as to the extent (if any) that the previous method of “quiet” compliance (i.e. filing amended returns without formal declaration of previous non-compliance) will be tolerated.
Much, much more on this topic on the ACA website (www.americansabroad.org), in the FAQs available on the IRS website (www.irs.gov), and in the excellent series of articles posted on the GenevaLunch website (https://genevalunch.com/2009/
US HEALTH CARE REFORM BILLS
Two health care reform proposals are wending their way through Congress at the moment; both bills can be viewed on the government website (www.thomas.gov). Neither plan foresees provisions to cover Americans living abroad.
The House version, “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009” (H.R. 3200), has been approved by relevant committees, but not yet put to vote of the full House.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) released his plan for the “America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009” in mid-September. This plan would require “all U.S. citizens and legal residents” to subscribe to health care insurance of an approved type, and to report such coverage to the IRS on their tax return. Failure to obtain such coverage would lead to an excise tax of up to $650 per individual or a maximum of $1,900 per family.
ACA has written to Senator Baucus and members of the Senate Finance Committee, with copies to the members of the Americans Abroad Caucus, asking that exception be made to the “all U.S. citizens” for Americans residing abroad, as specifically provided in the House bill. Americans abroad are encouraged to write their Senators (those from the state where one last resided before moving abroad), asking them to support addition of such language. A model letter can be found on the ACA website:
MOVE VOTING BILL GAINS SUPPORT
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) was incorporated in July as subtitle H of the FY2010 Defense authorization bill, and was passed by the Senate. The Defense authorization bill is currently in House- Senate conference.
American Citizens Abroad has endorsed a letter of Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) to their colleagues to ensure a strong, bipartisan statement of support for the MOVE Act.
Subtitle H, added to the appropriations bill in a unanimous voice vote, would make needed improvements to UOCAVA and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to correct the critical points of failure that have prevented military and overseas citizens from exercising their fundamental right to vote. For example, this section would address critical shortcomings in current law by:
- Guaranteeing that military and overseas ballots will be counted if sent by Election Day;
- Allowing military and overseas voters to request and receive election materials; electronically – such as registration forms, blank ballots and election information;
- Ensuring that states send out ballots a minimum of 45 days in advance of the election so military and overseas voters will receive them in time;
- Improving awareness and use of a failsafe ballot that voters can use if their ballots are lost in the mail;
- Prohibiting states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the basis of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions;
- Giving more resources to the Department of Defense Voting Assistance Offices who provide voting information and support to service men and women and their families;
- Establishing standards for record-keeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and
- Encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.
The ACA website provides a sample letter for individuals or groups to send to congress to indicate their support for passage. (www.aca.ch/joomla/index.php?
STATES COMMENDED FOR EFFORTS TO FACILITATE OVERSEAS VOTING
Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, South Carolina and Kansas were top-scorers as states with voting policies that are the easiest to navigate for overseas and military voters, according to a report released by Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) in early September. In the report, OVF Research Director Claire Smith unveiled the UOCAVA* State Policy Index (SPI), a new scoring tool to measure the impact of individual states’ implementation of federal overseas voting legislation.
The five lowest-scoring states are: Alabama, Wyoming, Arkansas, New York and Nevada.
Smith presented the findings in a new study, “It’s in the Mail: Surveying UOCAVA Voters and Barriers to Voting”, at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association held in Toronto, Canada. The complete OVF report can be downloaded at: https://www.
* UOCAVA – Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act
CONDOLENCES TO REPRESENTATIVE CAROLYN B. MALONEY
Clifton Maloney, husband of Rep. Carolyn Maloney and retired investment banker, passed away from natural causes while on a mountain-climbing trip in Tibet. American Citizens Abroad has sent a message of condolence to the representative from New York, a long-time friend of overseas Americans who co-chairs the House Americans Abroad Caucus.
H.R. 3240: PROTECTING OVERSEAS MINORS
The “International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009” (www.thomas.gov/cgi-bin/query/
Title III (Miscellaneous provisions) of the bill would change current law to permit an American parent with joint custody of a minor child living outside the US to obtain a US passport for the child without the co-signature of a non-American parent. The provision, which would bring relief to many situations that arise due to mixed nationality marriages, is limited to children under 14, as that is the limit under law of the present co-signature requirement. (The State Department has raised the present co-signature requirement to 16 years by internal regulation.)
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE OF ADJUSTING TO LIFE ABROAD
Dana Prophet, President of the American Society of South Africa, is looking for persons to share their stories for a compilation, The Expat Syndrome, addressing the emotional and psychological experience of individuals who leave one life behind for another. This guide would offer tips on how to deal with the symptoms of depression, isolation and the shift of self-worth many expats struggle with, and would be aimed at people who have undergone or are planning long-term or permanent relocations. She writes, “I am looking for all perspectives, not just American. If you are an expat from any country to another, I would love to hear from you!”
If interested, please contact Dana via email@example.com.
And don’t forget ACA’s own collection of expat tales, So Far Yet So Near. More than 40 very individual experiences of Americans living abroad briefly or long-term, with or without adjustment problems. To order, click on links on ACA’s home page (www.americansabroad.org). Remember, too, any books ordered when you enter amazon.com or amazon.co.uk through the ACA website will bring us a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Switzerland and the US sign revised double taxation agreement
On 23 September, Switzerland and the US signed a protocol in Washington amending the bilateral double taxation agreement (DTA) in the area of taxes on income. In addition to other changes, the protocol contains provisions on the exchange of information in accordance with the OECD standard. Any request for administrative assistance must clearly identify the taxable person concerned and, in the case of banking information, the bank concerned. As has been the case with past DTAs, so-called “fishing expeditions” are not permissible. These provisions are not applicable retroactively; in terms of the exchange of banking information, they are effective as of the date of signing the protocol.
For complete details, see the article in GenevaLunch: https://genevalunch.com/2009/
IT’S FOR REAL: IRS SURVEY OF INTERNATIONAL TAXPAYERS
Tiffanie Bruch, a social scientist involved in research for the Internal Revenue Service, has informed ACA that there really has been a survey sent to certain international taxpayers, in an attempt to learn how better to transmit information to overseas filers.
“The pre-note for the survey went out on July 27th and both the actual survey and reminder post card have gone out since then,” she writes. “The IRS has hired a Contractor, Pacific Consulting Group, to conduct a survey of international taxpayers. The survey has been mailed to 36,000 randomly selected international taxpayers. Participation in the survey is strictly voluntary and all responses will remain anonymous. Survey participants may either complete the mail survey or they can take the survey on-line. The survey is designed to examine international taxpayer’s awareness, current use and willingness to use IRS services and resources. This information will help the IRS provide better service to international taxpayers. Survey recipients are advised to contact Pacific Consulting Group at the number provided on the mailings for additional information concerning the survey process.”
ADVICE ON TAX MINIMIZATION STRATEGIES
Anthony Noto, a Shanghai-based ACA member who is a financial planner, offers some basic advice on tax-saving strategies for investing by Americans abroad (www.aca.ch/joomla/images/
2010 CENSUS APPROACHES: OVERSEAS CITIZENS REMAIN OUT-OF-SIGHT
If you have moved abroad since 2000, it may come as a rude surprise that you will not be counted in the 2010 US census enumeration unless you happen to be physically present in the US on the critical day: April 1, 2010. And that is no April fool’s joke to many overseas Americans.
Who, then, is counted in a US census? The Census Bureau (www.census.gov) replies: “The person filling out the questionnaire should include information about all household members (including him/herself) who live and sleep at the address most of the time. The person should also include people who are staying there on April 1, 2010, who have no permanent place to stay. The Census Bureau is mandated by the Constitution to count everyone who lives in this country, regardless of immigration or citizenship status.”
Will 2010 Census apportionment population counts also include any Americans overseas? “Yes, the 2010 Census apportionment counts will include Federal employees (military and civilian) and their dependents living overseas with them that can be assigned to a home state. These data are provided to the Census Bureau by the employing Federal departments and agencies through their administrative records. Private U.S. citizens living abroad who are not affiliated with the Federal government (either as employees or their dependents) will not be included in the overseas counts. These overseas counts are used solely for reapportioning seats in the U. S. House of Representatives.”
Overseas American groups made a concerted push to be included in the 2000 census. It was determined that the matter would be investigated, and a pilot attempt at a census of Americans living in France, Kuwait and Mexico, met with disappointing results. The Government Accountabity Office’s (GAO) report entitled, “2010 Census: counting Americans overseas as part of the census would not be feasible” (www.gao.gov/new.items/
An excellent historical view of the varying treatment of overseas Americans in past US censuses can be found in Karen Mills, “Americans Overseas in the US Censuses” (www.census.gov/population/
TRAVEL PROMOTION THROUGH TAXING TOURISTS?
Since 2001, the US share of the world travel market has decreased by nearly 20 percent.
In early September, the Senate passed S. 1023, the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, which would promote a public-private partnership to promote the United States as a tourist destination. The bill will now move to the House, where it was previously passed in 2008, during the 110th Congress. Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) said in a 10 September press release that there are already 70 cosponsors in the House.
Under the Act, a non-profit public-private Corporation for Travel Promotion would be established, financed 50-50 public-private. The public portion of the funding would come from a $10 fee leveled on foreign travelers who enter the United States under the visa waiver program. Delahunt claims, “The bill – which requires no money from the American taxpayer – is estimated to attract 1.6 million new international visitors to the country and add $4 billion to the U.S. economy. An analysis by the U.S. Travel Association reveals that this program would create nearly 40,000 new American jobs.”
The European Union (which contains many of the 35 visa waiver countries: https://travel.state.gov/visa/
PUSH CONTINUES FOR MEDICARE PILOT COVERAGE IN MEXICO
Paul Crist and his group, Americans for Medicare in Mexico - AMMAC (www.MedicareInMexico.org) continue to push full steam ahead in favor of a pilot project extending Medicare coverage to qualified persons, including many U.S. retirees, residing in Mexico. His fervor has led to an article in Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/2009/
The American Benevolent Society in Mexico City, headed by ACA Country Contact Barbara de Franco, is in contact with AMMAC, and recently attended a conference on global medicine (formerly known as “medical tourism”) at which he gave a presentation.
n 8-10 October 2009: Women’s International Networking (W.I.N.) Conference, Prague.
n 11 October 2009: ACA will be at the Palexpo Geneva.
n 17 October – 2 November 2009: Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center information and training sessions in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Paris and Geneva.
n 31 October 2009: ACA will be at Expat-Expo in Prague.
n 20 November 2009: American International Club Welcome-to-Geneva luncheon for the Honorable Donald S. Beyer, new US Ambassador to Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. ACA members can sign up at “member” rates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
n 19-24 April 2010: ACA will participate in Overseas Americans Week in Washington, DC.
Will we be seeing you there? Links to all the above on the ACA website (www.americansabroad.org).
BY ANY MEANS, CONTACT ACA!
ACA Headquarters in Geneva:
Phone/fax: +41 22 340 0233
Facebook – www.facebook.com - American Citizens Abroad group
Country-specific websites: Canada (www.acacanada.us) and the Czech Republic
Your input is important to us. Let ACA know what you feel strongly about, how you can help, what you feel we can do better, by whichever means is best for you.
WHILE YOU’RE SURFING …
Is that food or drink still safe to consume? What is the best way to store it? Can it be frozen? StillTasty (www.stilltasty.com) has compiled answers from a host of sources, including the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), the National Watermelon Promotion Board, the American Egg Board, etc. Methods for freezing raw eggs, whether to refrigerate bananas, whether one really has to consume by “Best by” or “Use by” dates … a host of answers on food safety.
(Thanks to reader Lou Berman for this tip.)
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THE ACA NEWS UPDATE EDITING AND PUBLISHING TEAM:
*Editor-in-Chief: Dorothy van Schooneveld
*Senior and Web Editor: Karl Jauch, ACA Executive Director
* Editor: Lori Hakulinen
This News Update is, like ACA itself, of, by, and for Americans abroad. ACA is staffed entirely through the efforts of volunteers, with its primary income source being membership fees and donations from concerned individuals.
If you would like to become part of the dynamic all-volunteer team that powers ACA, there is a constant need for additional physical and/or electronic staff.
Contact ACA's Geneva office at:
American Citizens Abroad (ACA)
5 rue Liotard
CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Phone and fax: +41 22 340 0233
While ACA makes every effort to be accurate in the information it transmits, such information is not to be considered a substitute for specific and qualified professional advice.
American Citizens Abroad (ACA)
The Voice of Americans Overseas
5 Rue Liotard
1202 Geneva, Switzerland
American Citizens Abroad (ACA), the voice of Americans overseas, is a non-profit, non-partisan, all-volunteer organization that represents the interests of Americans living and working outside the U.S. to the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Federal Judiciary to insure that Americans overseas are treated with equality and fairness. ACA keeps Americans overseas informed and supports their role as informal representatives of the United States. To learn more about ACA please visit our website, www.americansabroad.org
Disclaimer: While ACA and its board members make every effort to be
accurate in the information they transmit, such information is not to
be considered a substitute for specific and qualified professional
ContactAmerican Children Abroad
Ben and Helena Henderson
Prague, Czech Republic
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