Americans Helping Americans Abroad

Featured Articles

  • The Bittner FBAR Case

    In our September 4, 2022, issue of the AARO News and Views we highlighted the importance for AARO members that the US Supreme Court granted review (grant of certiorari) of the case Alexandru Bittner v. United States, concerning the calculation of penalties for failure to file a Foreign Bank Account Report aka FBAR (whether Mr. Bittner should pay $50,000 or $2.7 million). The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 2, 2022. Please read the article about the case and the Supreme Court hearing written by AARO’s VP Advocacy Fred Einbinder.

    Read More
  • The Windfall Elimination Provision

    Improving Expats’ Access to Savings and Retirement Plan

    In July of this year AARO President Doris Speer wrote to members of the Senate Committees on Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions calling attention to the exclusion from the financial system that American expats too often face, notably as regards to access to retirement plans and savings vehicles.

  • The Windfall Elimination Provision

    The Windfall Elimination Provision

    Over the past several years, Congress has introduced several bills to reform or repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). One of them, the Social Security Fairness Act, H.R. 82, now has 295 co-sponsors (207 Democrats and 88 Republicans) and moves will likely be made this fall to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

  • Enhancing American Expats’ Access to Savings Vehicles and Retirement Plans

    The SECURE Act 2.0 (“Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2022”) aims to expand coverage of employer-sponsored plans and increase retirement savings, as well as simplifying and clarifying rules. With suitable modification it offers an attractive vehicle for addressing one of the most severe problems facing expats: access to savings vehicles and retirement plans.

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  • Comment on the Senate Finance Committee’s “International Tax Reform Framework Discussion Draft”

    In April, AARO made a submission to the Senate Finance Committee relating to its hearing of March 25 on U.S. International Tax Policy. The Committee is advanced in following up with proposed legislation.

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  • It's So Difficult to Save for Retirement

    AARO Advocacy Survey

    AARO conducted a survey in October/November 2020 to aid us in our advocacy efforts. The results of the survey have been very informative and give us fuller insights into your issues.

    The eleventh, and final, article, “My Social Security Was Reduced! It’s called WEP.” has been posted.

  • A sampling of the words survey participants used in describing their experiences with the extraterritorial application of U.S. taxation and banking polices.

    SEAT Publishes Survey Report

    From late October until mid-December 2020, Stop Extraterritorial American Taxation (SEAT) carried out a study to better understand the effects of the extraterritorial application of U.S. taxation and banking policies on persons living overseas.

  • End CBT! New Talking Points Document

    AARO has prepared a set of talking points to support ongoing discussions to end the citizen-based taxation system in the U.S. and move to an alternate method. Links to supporting documentation are included with the talking points.

  • New Taxpayer Advocate Recommendations

    The National Taxpayer Advocate has released its annual report to Congress proposing legislative recommendations to resolve taxpayer problems.

    Read More

From Overseas Vote Foundation
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(Please note that this article has been updated and that, as indicated below, there are now 23 states plus the District of Columbia where American children born abroad can vote.)

When I go grocery shopping, I hit the ethnic food aisle for peanut butter. My 10-year-old is reading “King George: What Was His Problem?” on top of memorizing the Bourbon kings. And of course we celebrate Thanksgiving even though it's near impossible to find a nice fat turkey in France in November.

Sound familiar? Most expat parents go to a lot of trouble – and expense – to keep their families connected to the US: holidays, international schools, yearly pilgrimages to stateside relatives.

If your child was born overseas, then you also almost certainly braved the paperwork to provide your newborn darling with an American passport and Social Security number.

When these foreign-born American citizens overseas turn 18, they will need to file US taxes and sons will be expected to register with the Selective Service. But a lot of them won't be able to vote.

Surprised? You're not alone. At Overseas Vote Foundation, we get a regular influx of questions to our Voter Help Desk from parents who want to help their dual-national or expat 18-year-old exercise their right to vote. They’re often bitterly disappointed when we tell them that said 18-year-old doesn't have a right to vote.

What's up with that?

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act guarantees the right to vote in federal elections for American citizens living temporarily or permanently abroad, doesn’t it?

Yes. But the tricky part is in Section 107, “Definitions”. An overseas voter is:

  1. an absent uniformed services voter who, by reason of active duty or service is absent from the United States on the date of the election involved;
  2. a person who resides outside the United States and is qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States; or
  3. a person who resides outside the United States and (but for such residence) would be qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States.

But what if the person in question has never been domiciled in a state? UOCAVA doesn’t cover them. The right to vote is not guaranteed by the Constitution; it is a “gift” of the states. If you move back to any state: problem solved.

But don’t think that having gone back to see Grandma every summer counts; every state has different registration requirements but coming through on vacation, even long ones, doesn’t meet them.

Now, there are 16 states that have already been convinced of the unfairness of this and allow children born overseas to register using one of their American parents registration address: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  Editor's note: since this article was written a number of states have joined this list; as of August 2012, 23 states and DC allow these children to vote.  To the above list, you can now add: Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, in addition to the District of Columbia.

And there are lot of foreign-born voters who have registered from overseas and their election official has either let it pass or not noticed. But, technically, it’s against the rules in the 44 other states. (No election official I contacted seemed very sure of the answer to this question, but it would appear that children born in the states but raised overseas, like mine, also fit in this category).

How many 18-year-old potential American voters are disenfranchised by this oversight? No one really knows. Hey, here’s a good idea: why don’t the Census people count Americans overseas? But that’s a different can o’ worms.

We guesstimate the number is around 200,000, a figure too small to have captured any federal legislator’s interest despite regular complaints from AARO and its allies.

Help is On the Way

Recently, a commission which, chances are, you’ve never heard of – the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) – took it upon itself to address this unintentional injustice.

The ULC is a non-profit staffed by some 300 lawyers, judges, legislators and law professors who volunteer all the time they devote to the organization. Its purpose is to draft “Uniform Laws” for legal areas that all states must govern and where the law functions more effectively and justly if all the states operate in the same way. The Commission’s best-known laws are the Uniform Commercial Code and the Uniform Gift to Minors Act.

The ULC is currently working on the Military Services and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voters Act, which would allow children born overseas to vote by using their parents’ address.

(It would also solve several other overseas electoral problems that federal legislation can’t address. More on that in future postings!)

If the Commission approves the final draft of the law, then it will be submitted for passage by each state’s individual legislatures. The law would apply only in those states where the legislature votes Yes, but it doesn’t need to be passed by all 50 to be valid.

On its current schedule, Commissioners are hoping that at least 25 states will pass the law by 2011, enfranchising tens of thousand more young Americans in time for the 2012 election.

Who Cares?

To us expat families, it’s not about how many voters are left out. And it’s not about the mechanics of voting. It’s about having our right as American citizens to transmit that citizenship to our children. And, let’s face it, citizenship without a guaranteed right to vote is second-class.

Expat or no, most Americans would agree that there should be no second-class American citizens. The 1986 UOCAVA law righted this wrong for us; let’s hope the ULC succeeds in righting it for our children.

Accessing Financial Services as an American Expat, Paul Atkinson

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Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

 Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)AARO urges all Americans overseas who have not already done so to create an account and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive updated travel and other security information, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. AARO's understanding is that the information contained in the enrollment is NOT shared with the IRS or other USG agencies.

Enroll here:

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In addition to its core activity of advocacy on behalf of the almost 9 million Americans living and working abroad, AARO offers benefits to members that can make their life abroad easier and more interesting!