08/06/2009 23:25



The Voice of Americans Overseas

Issue 176


May-June 2009


ACA voices support for voting reform legislation

OAWs 2009 & 2010

Relation of taxation to trade – study requested

Americans Abroad Caucus – 2 new members

Legislation and the legislative process

Credit card legislation signed into law

ACA urges US assurance of consular visitation

Banking problems as an American abroad?

Tax info – in two pages!

White House names Coordinator

Summertime – time to plot your college applications

ACA in Prague is online

Share your personal experiences

April ACA-US Embassy information meeting

Reminder: ACA 18 June annual meeting

While you're surfing …

ACA Supports Voting Reform Legislation

ACA has recently submitted a letter to the Committee on House Administration, supporting H.R. 1739, the Overseas Voting Practical Amendments Act of 2009, introduced by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Mike Honda. Read the full text of this and of all bills introduced in Congress. The bill, previously introduced in the 110th Congress, gives numerous procedural “tweaks” to the existing UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act), and includes funding for outreach to voters abroad.

Overseas Americans Week 2009 and 2010

§ This year’s Overseas Americans Week consisted of a team of twenty-three delegates from the three participating organizations: American Citizens Abroad (ACA), AARO (Association of Americans Resident Abroad) and FAWCO (Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas). Hats off to all of these people who spent their own time and money to work on behalf of all overseas Americans. Read the full coverage of the OAW.

§ First-time delegate Lori Hakulinen recorded her impressions of the dizzy, exciting days of OAW week. Read it online in the OAW section of the ACA website.

§ OAW 2010 is already scheduled for the week of 19-23 April. New groups, and potential delegates should get on board as early in the game as possible. Contact the ACA office for information on how to participate.

OAW Groups ask for New Study on Effect on Trade of Taxing
Overseas Americans

ACA and other groups participating in Overseas Americans Week requested a new study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO – formerly the General Accounting Office), which is responsible for researching and reporting for the federal government.

A GAO study made in 1978, “The Impact on Trade of Changes in Taxation of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad”, noted that the United States is the only industrialized trading nation of the world to tax the overseas income of its non-resident citizens, and predicted an adverse effect on the US GNP (gross national product) because of it.

A year later, the President’s Export Council’s “Task Force to Study the Tax Treatment of Americans Working Overseas” concluded in its report that “Americans are still being taxed out of competition in overseas markets”. It recommended: “work should begin immediately to encourage enactment of a new tax law to put Americans working overseas on the same tax footing as citizens from competing industrial countries.”

A second GAO study in 1981, “American Employment Abroad Discouraged by U.S. Income Tax Laws”, once again stressed that “tax provisions … are proving a disincentive to employment of U.S. citizens abroad and, therefore, adversely affecting exports”.

Almost two decades later, as tax reform is in the air, OAW partners plead that correction of the tax treatment of Americans abroad and the related negative effect on US trade figures should be factored in to any reform. Read the full paper on this subject.

NOTE ALSO the interesting article by Shawn Zeller in the American Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal. “Exports equals jobs,” he writes. Speaking primarily about the Foreign Agricultural Service and the US Commercial Service: “The return on investment – when the jobs and follow-on economic activity generated by those exports is considered – is substantial. Some estimates place it at $400 for every $1 the taxpayer invests.”

Americans Abroad Caucus Expands Further

With the addition of Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Eric J. Massa (D-NY), the House Americans Abroad Caucus now numbers a healthy 28. Rep. Clyburn is Majority Whip in the House, and Rep. Massa is known as a human rights advocate, interested also in strengthening health care and Social Security.

Read the caucus members Biographies (founded in 2007 by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Joe Wilson (R-SC).

Please note: unless your congressional representative (i.e. the person representing the district in which you last resided in the US) is a member of the Caucus, communication with the Caucus must pass via ACA or other overseas American group recognized by the Caucus. Members of Congress receive thousands of messages from their constituents each month, and their staff members must concentrate primarily on servicing the member’s home voting district.

Legislation Affecting Overseas Americans

ACA tracks legislation introduced in Congress which would affect Americans living abroad. A regularly-updated spreadsheet of the bills introduced in the current congress can be found on the ACA website. Like all services provided by ACA, this information is collected and entered by volunteers. You can help us to keep this updated by contacting ACA with news of any new bills you are aware of.

Introducing bills, while an essential step, is only a first step. Many bills serve largely as goodwill gestures on the part of congresspersons introducing them and, once referred to the appropriate committee for study, they remain on the shelf, gathering dust. Andy Sundberg, a founding director of ACA, has written an informative overview regarding how a bill moves (or not) from being introduced to becoming law.

“Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act”

The “CARD Act”, introduced in the Senate by Christopher Dodd (S. 414) and in the House by Carolyn Maloney (H.R. 627), was signed into law by President Obama on 22 May 2009. It is now Public Law 111-24, and comes into effect 15 months after the date of enactment.

Provisions of the law will engender major changes in practices of many US credit card issuers. The summary is an eye-opener as to current uses and abuses, and the extension of various time limits will facilitate those who are managing US credit card accounts while based abroad. For instance, credit card statements must be mailed 21 days before the bill is due, rather than the current 14; prohibits late fees if the card issuer delayed crediting the payment; requires cardholders to be given 45 days notice of interest rate, fee and finance charge increases; and requires payments in excess of the minimum to be applied first to the credit card balance with the highest rate of interest. Furthermore, credit card issuers will be prohibited from increasing rates on a cardholder in the first year after a credit card account is opened.

ACA Continues to Pursue the Consular Visitation Issue

ACA has helped draft a letter to be sent to the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees and the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, urging that legislation be passed to bring the United States into compliance with its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, particularly with Section 60 of that treaty: guaranteeing the right of access to consular officials to foreign nationals arrested within treaty member countries. In the outcome of this long-term case the US was judged non-compliant in a case brought before the International Court of Justice by Mexico.

ACA and other groups of Americans abroad fear that if the US does not comply with this treaty obligation on its soil, other nations may not enforce the right to consular visitation of Americans arrested on their territories.

Bank problems related to being an American Abroad?

§ Problems with US banks because of having an address out of the US? Numerous Americans have reported having accounts – even those they have held for decades – frozen or closed (often on short notice), solely because they reside abroad. There is NO legislation supporting or requiring this, but banks may be subjected to additional paperwork requirements for individuals with foreign addresses, and banks have the liberty to accept or reject clients.

ACA has been collecting case histories of people with such problems. Summaries have been shared with concerned members of Congress and through on-going correspondence with the American Bankers Association. Due to this sensitization campaign, the problem is being closely monitored. If you have a story to contribute,
contact ACA.

A solution which some people have found to be successful is side-stepping by providing an American address – either through using a professional mail-forwarding service, or the address of a trusted relative or friend.

§ Problems with banks abroad. Problems with the Swiss banking giant UBS have been outlined in previous issues of the News Update. Other foreign banks are also leery of opening investment accounts for American clients; see, for example, the online paper Telegraph.co.uk concerning British banks. Again, ACA is collecting case histories to form an overall picture. Contact ACA.

Tax information in two pages?!

The IRS has issued a useful two-page Publication 4732 summarizing federal tax information needed by US taxpayers living abroad. It gives contact information and URLs, as well as a list of other IRS publications covering various aspects of federal taxation fuller detail.

White House Names Coordinator For Outreach For Overseas Americans

American Citizens Abroad has been in contact with the newly appointed Coordinator for Outreach to Overseas Americans in the White House Office of Political Affairs, Bobby Schmuck. Mr. Schmuck, a recent Northwestern University graduate, was active in President Obama’s campaign.

ACA has long pushed for a focal point within the White House for Americans abroad. Now that the position has been created, it will still take some time to develop its full potential. ACA looks forward to working with Mr. Schmuck and others to sensitize the Administration to the full range of issues affecting overseas Americans.

Break Time, Summertime a Great Time to Work on College Applications

Georgia Fox , international educational consultant, reminds secondary school students and others aiming for university that a bit of extra effort expended during vacation periods can supply that extra push that will get you into the college or university of your choice in their first round of acceptances. Her article, “Jumpstart your college application!” can be found on the ACA website.

“We’re rockin’ here in Prague!” …

… enthuse Ben Henderson and Ira S. Rubenstein, ACA’s Country Contacts for the Czech Republic. Check out their new country-specific webpage. For those who may be in Prague, note that they will be present at the American Embassy Garden Open House on 22 June. Ben can be contacted via email through their website.

Researchers, Journalists Looking for Your Input

§ Moved (or been moved) abroad as a result of the recession? Willing to share your story of how your professional career has been affected? A major news network seeks input. Contact via the ACA office.

§ Living abroad, hard hit by tax laws as they affect overseas Americans, and willing to speak out? Contact a relevant reporter via the ACA office.

§ Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) is researching the time it takes mail to be delivered in the US when sent from various countries worldwide. Anecdotal evidence accepted, but preferred are official estimates from a national postal system or actual tracking of a specific mailing. Contact Claire Smith, Research Director of OVF.

§ “Transcultural Wellness” survey. Hello! K. Elizabeth McDonald, a doctoral candidate in Counselor Education at The Pennsylvania State University, is conducting research that explores wellness in transcultural individuals. She seeks participants for a research study who have: (a) spent a significant part of their formative years (before age 18) outside of their passport-country; (b) intended/have intent to return to their passport-country to reside; and (c) are 18-years-old or older.

Those who agree to participate will respond to questionnaires taking approximately 15-25 minutes to complete. Participation in this study is completely voluntary and one is free to withdraw from the study at anytime. No personal identifying information is required; participants will not be linked to any publications or presentations from this study. For any questions or comments, please contact K. Elizabeth MCDonald or her advisor
Dr. JoLynn Carney.

Joint ACA – US Embassy Meeting well attended

About 100 people – a record attendance – showed up for the Town Hall meeting organized by ACA and held at Webster University in Bellevue, Switzerland on Thursday evening, April 30th 2009. This fourth annual Town Hall meeting featured talks by U.S. Embassy personnel from Bern, led by the Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affaires Ms. Leigh Carter, provided information on visas, American Citizens Services and federal benefits, followed by a question and answer period. Also present was consular agent Jonathan Lippmann of Geneva.

Highlights of the evening's discussion were the importance of timely passport renewal, accessing

social security benefits and the need for State Department officials to engage in dialogue with, and address concerns of, Americans living overseas. Representatives of Democrats Abroad, Republicans Abroad and the American International Club of Geneva gave brief overviews of their organizations' activities to the assembled group of interested Americans.

Thanks to the generous supply of wines from Jean-Robert Bugnion's vineyards, the Domaine de Chatelanat in Perroy, and lovely appetizers offered by ACA volunteers, and the excellent facilities of Webster's meeting room, the evening was very pleasant and a great occasion to mix and mingle with fellow Americans.

Thanks to ACA Director Karen McCusker for this report

ACA Annual Meeting – 18 June, Geneva

ACA's Annual Meeting will be held on Thursday, June 18th beginning 6:30pm at the AXIA Investment offices at 2 rue Thalberg, in downtown Geneva, Switzerland. There will be financial and project reports, election of directors and officers, and time for general discussion of future plans.

Please RSVP by June 10, 2009 — if you want a chair to sit on!
Email ACA or phone: +41 22 340 0233 .

While You’re Surfing …

Check out the National Geographic website, where the famous magazine continues its long tradition of sharing images, maps, history, and features about this world of ours. Photographers and lovers of photos will delight in the new “Your Shot” feature – you can submit your own photo for consideration, view and rate those of others, or with a click turn any of the photos into a jigsaw puzzle to solve! Via the “Digital Photography Blog” and the “Editor’s Pick Blog” you can pick up photography tips from experts.

The National Geographic site was this month’s “Site of the Month” in the American Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal. The AFSA publication, available online, offers a wealth of analysis of US foreign policy – past, present and future – and a broad diversity of viewpoints that might surprise the uninitiated.


If you would like to become part of the dynamic all-volunteer team that powers ACA, there is a constant need for additional staff – especially if you can work from your home.

Specific jobs include: research assistants, database managers, event planners and coordinators, tax specialists, and lawyers. Interested parties may contact ACA's Geneva office:

American Citizens Abroad (ACA)

5 rue Liotard

CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Phone and fax: +41 22 340 0233

Or send us an E-mail





American Children Abroad

Ben and Helena Henderson

Prague, Czech Republic

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