Americans Helping Americans Abroad

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In 1973, AARO was founded essentially under the impulse of a woman deeply concerned that Americans living abroad faced major problems in maintaining and transmitting their citizenship and, while they were subject to taxation by the IRS, did not have the right to vote in American elections unless they were also residents of the United States – Phyllis Michaux’s story about those first days is a dramatic one!

According to its statutes, AARO’s prime mission is advocacy:

Article 2 — Purpose

AARO’s purpose is to create and maintain ties among American citizens located in and/or residents of countries other than the United States, with no regard for their political preferences or party affiliations, in order to:

  • Unite their efforts to promote, assert, obtain and safeguard their social, civil and fiscal rights under U.S. law;
  • Undertake all actions, through all legal means, regarding the recognition of those rights of which they may find themselves deprived due to their absence from the United States;
  • Educate and inform (i) overseas Americans of their rights and responsibilities as American citizens and (ii) the American Federal and state governments about the nature of the American population abroad and about their needs and views.

The Association’s means of action are:

  • Lobbying Congress and the Administration about issues affecting Americans abroad;
  • Seminars, conferences and other events;
  • Research and publication of documents and news;
  • Collaboration with and membership in other organizations with similar purposes;
  • Undertaking all means of action that the Board of Directors should deem useful in the realization of its purpose.

AARO policy is discussed and voted on by the Board of Directors at their monthly meetings and the full membership is regularly consulted on important issues.

The new association’s first campaign was to fight for voting rights for the overseas community and since that time, it has taken up a series of new challenges which it has fought for with vigor, if not always totally successfully. It does have a number of successes to point to, however, and has, on many occasions, gone to Washington to speak on behalf of the growing numbers of Americans living and working abroad.

Since 2002, AARO has been an organizer of and participant in annual “Overseas Americans Weeks”, when representatives talk to legislators and policy-makers about issues directly affecting the overseas community. The issues listed in this section are those on which AARO has historically focused most closely.

We welcome new ideas, feedback and, just as importantly, new advocates!

If you are interested in participating in AARO’s work in any of these areas, by going to Washington or participating in letter-writing campaigns, doing background research, contributing articles, or in any of a number of other ways, please contact AARO (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or the committee chair in question (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - etc.).

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Advocacy Letters Article Count:  2
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About AARO Article Count:  7
Americans Abroad Caucus Article Count:  4

A group of House Representatives who understand our issues.

The Americans Abroad Caucus is a group of members of the House of Representatives who, by joining, show they understand and value the contribution of their overseas constituents. 

Launched in February 2007, the number of officially registered Americans Abroad Caucus members has varied in recent years, ranging from a low of about 15 at the present time to over 30. Caucus members have been historically drawn from the ranks of both Republicans and Democrats, consistent with the bi-partisan nature of most of the issues of U.S. citizens abroad. Given the informal nature of the Caucus in practice, a non-listed member may very well be quite active on a specific issue(s) of concern even if not listed as having formally registered as a Caucus member. 

The Caucus was long chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D. NY) who was a long-standing champion of overseas voters and sponsored legislation addressing the concerns of citizens abroad, notably The Commission on Americans Living Abroad Act, which would create a bipartisan Federal commission to examine how U.S. laws and policies effect overseas Americans. AARO strongly supports this bill’s reintroduction (as H.R. 2729), by Carolyn Maloney's replacement as Caucus Chair, Dina Titus (D. NV), and hopes it will be enacted during this Congressional term.

Present Chair Dina Titus (D. NV) brings enthusiasm and dynamism to the Caucus, which is presently in the process of reinvigoration. On the Republican side, Rep. Maria Salazar (R. FL), although no longer serving as co-chair or a formally registered Caucus member, remains committed to its work as evidenced by the warm welcome of her staff to AARO's Overseas Americans Week (OAW) delegation in May 2023. Several other Republican House members as well as a few active but not formally Caucus listed Democratic House members also warmly welcomed the AARO OAW delegation.

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Banking Issues Article Count:  13

In recent years Americans living outside the United States have increasingly encountered problems opening and maintaining financial accounts both inside and outside the United States. These problems have related both to access to the payments systems and to the ability to open and manage savings vehicles.

The source of these problems has almost always been legislation or regulatory measures which are new or have recently been reinforced and add to regulatory burdens or legal risks for financial institutions. This leads them to discriminate against “U.S. persons” or some subgroup(s) of them, notably those living outside the United States, to minimize costs and risks.

The Banking Committee has been created to work to mitigate these problems by focusing on both advocacy and, without endorsing any identifiable financial institutions, such practical support as we can provide.

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Business & Trade Article Count:  1

Members of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas are U.S. citizens who reside throughout the world. The cross-border flow of capital, goods and people under the laws of the United States and the jurisdictions where we reside, as well as under the rules of bilateral and multilateral agreements, is of crucial importance to our members.

With a new U.S. government in 2017 certain to re-evaluate U.S. participation in multilateral agreements and agencies, the future of U.S. participation in the Asian Development Bank, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the World Trade Organization demand the utmost vigilance by overseas Americans.

AARO monitors cross-border business facilitation issues that impact our worldwide members who are executives and employees of American and multinational companies, as well as overseas-based American citizen entrepreneurs. AARO maintains an ongoing dialogue with U.S. government agencies and personnel with regard to business facilitation issues.

Together with other relevant stakeholders in and outside the United States such as trade associations, chambers of commerce and American citizen social organizations throughout the world, AARO is a leader in seeking positive reform when needed.

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Citizenship Article Count:  7

When AARO was founded, children born abroad of an American parent married to a foreigner were denied U.S. citizenship because of unfulfilled residency requirements. Young adults lost their U.S. citizenship because of similar residency requirements. Americans who acquired another nationality were being stripped of their U.S. citizenship.

AARO has advocated successfully over the years to change these citizenship laws, eliminating the last two (in 1978 and 1991), reducing residency requirements for transmitting citizenship to children born abroad (in 1986 and further in 1994) and facilitating citizenship for minor children whose parents cannot satisfy the reduced residency requirement (in 1994 and 2001).

Today, AARO works to protect these gains in citizenship whenever legislation to weaken them is proposed in Congress, to inform Americans abroad about citizenship and visa regulations, and to help members with their own or their children's citizenship issues.

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Events Article Count:  2

AARO has scheduled a series of informative seminars addressing estate, financial and tax issues for Americans living abroad.

As a service to its members, AARO has frequently sponsored seminars focusing on tax and other issues.

For 2023 AARO is scheduling several new seminars, which will focus on estate planning, French taxation and U.S. taxation for expats. Upcoming seminars will be advertised in the News & Views newsletter as well as AARO’s social media channels.

Pre-registration and payment of a small fee to defray production expenses and support ongoing advocacy will be required. Attendees will be able to ask questions to the presenters.

We plan to record each seminar and post the recording in the Members Only section of the AARO website so that all members, even those who could not attend, can view it afterwards.

Scheduled seminars include:

FATCA Article Count:  9

The enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010, has had a significant impact on the ability of Americans living outside the United States to open and maintain financial accounts. It has increased the burdens on reporting of financial assets held outside the United States, including those located in the jurisdiction of residence of the U.S. citizen.

AARO is committed to bringing the real challenges of Americans living overseas to the attention of our governmental representatives. AARO advocates for simplifications to FATCA reporting that do not detract from the law’s stated goals, such as exempting financial accounts in the country of residence of the taxpayer from FATCA reporting requirements. Together with our banking committee, we work to address the challenges created by FATCA for Americans living overseas and to propose and promote more fair laws and policies.

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AARO has always supported tax compliance and elimination of tax fraud. It therefore recognizes the need for financial reporting.

But as a 2019 GAO report (Foreign Asset Reporting, Actions Needed to Enhance Compliance Efforts, Eliminate Overlapping Requirements and Mitigate Burdens on US Persons Abroad [GAO-19-180], April 2019) made clear, current requirements are poorly targeted and probably ineffective.

Notably, reports on foreign financial accounts are required on three separate administrative forms: Form 8938 (filed by account holders) and Form 8966 (filed by foreign financial institutions), both required by FATCA, and FinCen 114 (“FBARs), required by the Bank Secrecy Act. Awareness of these reporting obligations is often poor, especially as regards FBARs since the filing threshold is low and they are filed separately from tax returns.

This can easily lead to non-compliance, often inadvertent, which in turn exposes holders of foreign financial accounts to very large FBAR-related fines.

AARO has recommended that financial reporting requirements for Americans resident overseas be consolidated and drastically simplified (see position paper on Financial Reporting Requirements) and that the disproportionate penalties for violations be eliminated.

The natural way to do this is to replace the existing reporting regime with the Common Reporting Standard (eliminating the FBAR), since this is already widely used internationally. Accounts located in overseas Americans’ countries of residence should not be considered as “foreign” accounts and should be exempted from all reporting.

AARO Special Report: “The Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR)”

What it is (and why no American expat can afford not to know about it)

Not enough American expats know what an FBAR is, let alone that they may need to file them.

For this reason, AARO – working with London-based American journalist Helen Burggraf – has prepared this four-part Special Report on FBARs, aka “Foreign Bank Account Reports”.

We urge those who are not familiar with FBARs to at least read the beginning of this first article, because you do not have to be rich to find that you have fallen foul of the FBAR regs (and since FBARs are not a tax form, they are often not prepared, or even mentioned, by U.S. tax preparers).

This Special Report from March 1, 2022 on FBARs consists of:

  • The main story, “The Foreign Bank Account Report (FinCEN Form 114) at 51”.
  • A list of suggestions experts have said could improve the FBAR implementation, “Ways Experts Say FBAR Could be Improved” .
  • How we got here from the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act, “How We Got Here: an FBAR Timeline”.
  • Finally, some data showing (to the extent that we were able to ascertain, given how little has officially been published) how many people file FBARs, “FBAR Filing Data by Year”.

We would like to add here that Helen was given considerable support in producing this material by Jack Townsend, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based offshore tax (and FBAR) expert, for which we would like to express our heartfelt thanks.

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Overseas Americans Week (OAW) Article Count:  7

OAW serves as the focal point for AARO’s year-long advocacy efforts.

Since its founding in 1973, AARO has repeatedly gone to Washington D.C. for its Overseas Americans Week (OAW), an annual five-day “door-knock” campaign to bring our issues personally to the attention of Congressional lawmakers, government agencies and their staffs. We also meet with researchers, think tanks and other associations, exchanging with them on the issues facing Americans abroad. For the last several years we have been joined at OAW by our partner, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO).

AARO’s long history of advocacy in Washington D.C. has included fighting for the vote for Americans overseas, the transmission of permanent citizenship to children born to overseas Americans, bilateral Social Security totalization agreements for the protection of retirement benefits, the successful defense against legislative attacks on the Section 911 Foreign-Earned Income Exclusion, as well as our efforts to eliminate citizenship-based taxation.

Primary Issues for Overseas Americans

Although we have remained focused over the years in the areas of voting, citizenship, taxation, banking, Social Security and Medicare, our priorities change from year to year depending on pending legislation (or the lack thereof). For example, we are still working hard to create an equitable tax system for overseas Americans and have more recently ramped up our advocacy in the tax and banking area, trying to address the lack of access to workplace retirement plans; the FATCA and FBAR financial reporting burdens and excessive fines; and the increasing numbers of financial institutions refusing service to Americans living abroad.

We will adapt our advocacy to meet the challenges faced by our members.

Position Papers

You can read here the most recent position papers outlining AARO’s positions on the various issues, which provide the basis for our communications at OAW.

OAW Reports and Videos

Click on the links below to see what AARO did at OAW for each year since 2014 (please note that we could not go to Washington D.C. in 2020, 2021 or 2022 because of the COVID epidemic).

Perspectives from Abroad Article Count:  2

AARO members from around the globe share stories and perspectives, from economic analysis to human interest. Their reports tell us about the unique challenges they face and the inventive solutions they find their host countries.

We welcome contributions from members everywhere! If you would like to share a story, a lesson learned, an obstacle overcome or a new challenge on the horizon, please use this form to contact us.

We are also interested in articles that appear (preferably in English) in your local press giving more information or new perspectives on issues that AARO is following closely. Feel free to send us links to such articles and, where possible, we will post them for others to read.


Profiles Article Count:  2

 

Representation Article Count:  2
Social Security and Medicare Article Count:  4

Americans who reside abroad may have complex relationships with the two major U.S. “entitlement” programs, Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare.

An employment history in the U.S. and one or more other countries may create eligibility for pensions in one or more of these countries. This is complicated by the fact that only a couple dozen countries have bilateral agreements with the U.S. that may permit reciprocal recognition of employment in both countries to decide whether a pension has been earned.

The U.S. pensions also provide for spouse, dependent and survivor benefits, but these vary according to the citizenship and/or U.S. residence periods of non-American family members.

The taxation, or not, of U.S. pension income may depend upon bilateral agreements as well.

U.S. Social Security pension amounts reflect average lifetime U.S. earnings and are calculated without knowing the existence of the foreign earnings. Since the pension amounts are not a fixed percentage of these earnings, but instead are progressive, U.S. law currently requires a reduction in the U.S. pension (the Windfall Elimination Provision) to offset this computation anomaly.

With rare and precise exceptions, Medicare provides no health coverage outside the U.S., but anybody with 10 years of contributions to Medicare may receive Part A (hospital costs, excluding doctors) while in the U.S., without premium charges. Part B can be purchased, but enrolling after age 65 incurs a permanent 10% penalty per year of delay except in some cases of accepted employment-related coverage abroad.

AARO's mission is to inform members of the conditions for accessing Social Security and Medicare and to lobby for appropriate changes to that access for Americans living abroad or who return to the U.S.

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Taxation Article Count:  42

Due to the combination of citizenship-based taxation and complex United States tax rules applicable to non-US assets and income, Americans living outside the United States face particular tax burdens and compliance costs.

The mission of the AARO tax committee is to (1) remain current on tax matters of concern to Americans living abroad, (2) present information on topics of relevance to the community of Americans living abroad through our publications and conferences throughout the year, and (3) actively pursue redressing inequalities before our governmental representatives by raising awareness of laws and legislation which disproportionately burden Americans abroad and proposing and promoting more favorable laws and policies.

Voting from Abroad Article Count:  11

When AARO was founded in 1973, Americans living abroad without a residence in the United States did not have the right to vote in U.S. elections.

In 1975, two members of the AARO board, Phyllis Michaux and Sonja Minçbère, thought up what would become the “teabag campaign”, which was ultimately picked up by scores of American organizations around the world.

In response to the floods of teabags being sent to Washington with a cover letter urging support for two bills, Congress passed the needed legislation and on January 2, 1976, President Ford signed the law giving overseas Americans the right to vote.

Since then, AARO has worked with its partner organizations and with Congress to improve voting legislation and expand voting rights for the overseas community.

Today, thanks to sophisticated technology, it is easier than ever for overseas voters to exercise their rights, but organizations like AARO have to – and do – remain watchful. The Federal Voting Assistance Program has estimated that overseas citizens represent over 3% of the total vote, and we all know that elections can be won by far less than that!

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Reaching out to the wide community of Americans residing abroad is AARO’s mission. These motivated members explain how they use their own skills to facilitate life outside the United States for other Americans. 

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From time to time, AARO issues press releases to highlight major news or to highlight our endeavors. These press releases help AARO reach external audiences and creates awareness around AARO’s advocacy efforts.

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