Almost Fearless

Could You Ever Give Up Your Citizenship?


Last week I wrote about our decision to move to Spain and afterwards I was informed by a reader that no… in Spain (unlike some other countries in Europe) you can’t maintain dual-citizenship. In fact, you have to stand before a Spanish judge and renounce your US citizenship and swear loyalty to the crown.

The idea of that hit me emotionally. Giving up my American citizenship? It just feels like… I don’t know really scary and I feel attached to it. I’m not even the most patriotic American, I am annoyed by our politics and sometimes things in our culture drive me crazy. But the idea of turning in my passport, even to receive a Spanish one, well it just made me realize what a huge decision this is.

I wonder if other people feel this way… if you could instantly receive citizenship in any country in the world, would you be willing to renounce your home country’s citizenship?

Could you do it?

By the way, I think it’s a fair thing for Spain to ask of me, and maybe by the time I qualify, after 10 years of living in Spain, I will feel very differently. My friends and new “family” will be Spanish. Spain will feel like my home. Living in the US will be a distant memory.

We will still go to Spain, but now, I have this very large question looming on the horizon… perhaps I’ll just remain a permanent resident forever, or maybe I’ll make the plunge one day. What would you do?


Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Hi Christine

    No, I could not do this, nor would I recommend it! Only because your original citizenship is a part of your identity, perhaps more than you think. I met a Lebanese man once whose wife had to renounce her Italian citizenship years ago, just for marrying a foreigner (as were the Italian govt’s rules those days apparently), and the emotional effects were much greater on them and their children, more than they could have ever imagined when they first married. There is something to be said about having some legal right to your original citizenship, and a sense of identity that is recognized by that government.

    Although, if you did renounce it, the resulting effects may end up as a great stories, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise. You never know what can happen! But I personally could not do it, as much as I already consider myself a citizen of the world.

    Best of luck,

  • I might consider giving it up for Swiss.

    Do keep in mind the U.S. tax thing, too. After 10 years of being in Spain, are you still going to be stoked about paying income tax every year to the U.S. as well?

    • When I was researching it, I found a ton of stories about US citizens doing just that, giving up their citizenship after years of having dual citizenship in say the UK or Australia because the tax laws are crazy. For example if you sell your house in the UK you have to pay capital gains on it to the US, even though the UK doesn’t do that.

      • I’d not really considered the idea of the new host country forcing you to give it up, and really had always thought tax issues were the biggest real reason people even considered it. Crazy that it applies to other income as well. I’ve only earned abroad as income, never investments, so hadn’t realized that one either.

        So many things to weigh though, no? I think the thing that would hit me the hardest emotionally would be landing at EWR or something and going through the ‘foreign nationals’ line.

      • This is why I eventually will give up my US and just keep Brit, as we may end up living in Canada ( my husband is dual) or elsewhere in the EU. Big decision though.

  • My husband, born on India, got his US citizenship in 2011. However, India does not allow duel citizenship so when he applied for a visa to visit India in 2012, he had to renounce his Indian citizenship. He said that was the hardest time he ever had signing a document. He knew he had to do it but the moment it came was much more emotional than he expected. We asked to have the passport returned so he could keep it for memories. And he doesn’t regret the decision. But renouncing your citizenship is a truly emotional experience and not one to be taken lightly.

    • If one day your husband wishes to return to India, even part-time, it may be an issue for him, although if he is making his living in the US, he probably still won’t regret his decision.

    • If your husband was still Indian today, according to the news plans of Shri Narendra Modi, he would get lifelong visa.

  • Our kids had to give up their Chinese citizenship to take Canadian citizenship when we adopted them. That made me really sad, and I feel very conflicted that the choice was made for them (by the Chinese government, which chose to send them for international adoption) rather than being their own choice. I really wonder how they’ll feel about it when they get older.

    I can’t imagine giving up my Canadian citizenship — it would feel like divorcing my family. Even if I left, I would want to hold onto the right to always return and be cared for here, and I’m happy to pay taxes and whatever else to contribute to the country.

  • We certainly wouldn’t set out with the intention of giving up our citizenship. In fact, doing so seems completely unthinkable at the moment. But I might feel differently after spending a decade somewhere. Then again, I might not.

    Either way I wouldn’t let it impact my decision today. Residency without citizenship seems like a perfectly workable situation in the short run. I’d wait to deal with the long-run until it arrives.

  • Wow! My mom is from Spain, and she has dual citizenship. I always thought that “renouncing’ your citizenship was more of a formality than actually giving up your passport. It does make sense that you maintain loyalty and fulfill civic duties to the country or countries that you maintain your citizenship.

    One other thing to note should you surrender your citizenship is that the US gives you a nice little parting gift in the way of an Exit Tax. I am not sure of the amounts, but they will tax your net worth up to a certain amount. It gets messier the higher your net worth. See the link:

    I think you will know what to do when the time comes. No need to hurry and make decisions now if you don’t have to. So much is changing with the world that in 5 years you might see things differently.

    Good luck! Can’t wait to follow along!

    • As far as I understand, it’s a formality. Family members have done it, and hold both. You’re not really giving up your US citizenship (nor the taxes you pay on any income) but you swear allegiance to another country at the same time, without the intent to renounce your American citizenship. Just be careful with your husband about signing up for foreign military, though I don’t think that’s mandatory in Spain.

      • Speaking of foreign military, you’ll want to look at what Cole’s obligations are for military service, if any. Does Mexico require military service? Or Spain?

    • According to the site you brought, “Some individuals are exempt from the exit tax of expatriation, including: People who have not lived in the United States for more than ten years during the last 15 years”, so that’s an easy way to get around that tax right there.

  • I faced this when I moved to Australia. Although I’m a Canadian citizen, I’ve lived in the US for 20+ years and my residency is there. I had to give that up to become an Australian resident. I felt quite sick about it at first, but now I feel at peace and rather proud. This change in my residency is proof of my courage to change my life. And that’s a good thing. 🙂

  • I’m not sure I could, as a US citizen. We like to travel so much, and I feel like with the world in its current state, even though we try to choose “safer” places, you never know what will happen. When he was in the Marines, my husband helped evacuate US citizens from Liberia, not former US citizens. Who knows, other countries may have done the same for their own citizens, but the US generally seems to look after its own when the stuff goes down. Even when we were in China last year, a small part of me worried about what would happen if they finally went to war with Japan over the island territory. Of course I felt safe, but knowing we’re Americans helped in a way.

  • I’m cheap. If I had to pay 2 taxes and I knew I wasn’t coming back to the States, I’d change over.

    The thing is, you’ve not been a US citizen for several years now. Not in the whole scheme of things. Sure, you’ve paid your money in taxes, but have you been loyal to the US by living in other places?

    All this being said, you probably don’t have to change over to Spanish citizenship right away. So live there as long as you can, and by the time you need to change over, if you do need to change over, it might just feel right.

  • After five years of living abroad, I had gotten quite cavalier about it and thought–yes, if not for friends and family, no question I would renounce it. Then lately I have started being homesick for the US lifestyle. And the reality hit that I could give that up, just to avoid taxes? My question is, why not just choose a place in Europe that allows dual citizenship? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about it.

  • Germany has the same policy. I couldn’t do it. I’ve lived here for 8 years now, my husband is German (which means that now half of my family is German and here), and our daughter was born here. I can’t even imagine ever moving back to the United States (I’m also an American.) And yet the idea of giving up my US passport…I just couldn’t. The idea that I could potentially not be allowed back in or to work there in some hypothetical future where I want to return is too much for me (but I don’t even want to go back…emotions are strange sometimes). Afterall, the other half of my family is there… My daughter will have dual citizenship until she is 25, and will then have to decide which to keep. For now I’m content to have the “eternal visa” that comes from being married to a German. Anyway, long story short, I totally understand where you are coming from. It is scary. It is extremely emotional. Maybe in another 8 years I will feel differently. Who knows.

    • One more thing: The one thing that sometimes nags on me is voting. I am allowed to vote in local elections here, but not national. Yet I am allowed to vote in the US, for politicians that aren’t really relevant to where I live my life.

      Taxes have never been a reason for us, as I maintain an income level low enough that I rarely owe more than 100 bucks in America each year. However, I have family help on the ground for filing said taxes, and having to take care of it myself would be another stone in the road that might make giving it up seem like a good idea. But at the end of the day I think the emotional grounds will still outweight the potential practicalities.

    • It’s a hard decision to give up an American passport, dreamed of by so many in the world. I had the same issue in a country far less popular than Spain or Germany. It cost me on a professional level, as without citizenship, I could not officially practice my profession; but I couldn’t give up my US citizenship. And now, I am back in the USA–so imagine the problems, if I had done it.

      • I think you will flee USA once the dollar crashes, and the mayhem that will ensue when everyone fights to get food, water, and go into shock then the riots begin, and what not. Also many other countries will fall as well like a domino effect. There is no way USA can pay back 18 trillion. If so with what???? Furthermore if the NWO goes into effect, the USA Constitution will be suspended and any USA citizen overseas will be ordered to return to USA and if they refuse they will be subject to arrest and indefinite detention and be declared an enemy of the state.
        This is part of their plans when the dollar crashes folks so wake up..

  • I can’t say I would rule it out entirely. But I can say I would think long and hard about it. There are often penalties and I know that you must continue to pay taxes for 10 years after giving it up. I feel the same as you do, I am shocked at the thought but I also feel quite disconected from that component to my identity and to say the politics annoys me is an understatement:) Either way I am sure you will research and make the best decision you can.

    There are many coutries where you can hold dual citizenship. Have you looked into those at all? I know Costa Rica offers it.

    • Once you renounce your citizenship, you are not subject to pay US taxes for 10 years after giving it up. What they are saying is they have up to 10 years to hit you with an audit if they desire to know and determine if you should pay taxes.
      Regardless of that rule, once you renounce the US, the IRS cannot touch you within a 10 foot pole, even if they want to hit you with a tax. Tough, B.S. You now are a citizen of another country and you tell them you no longer have it, and say bye bye. If they wanted to tax you, they should have said so prior to your departure and renounciation, not 10 years later. Forget it.
      Whoever told you that is full of hocky pock. Before you renounce, move all your assets out of the country first, otherwise they will hit you for an exit tax of 15 percent if it is over 1 million. Example > say you win 2 million civil lawsuit. In some cases you have to pay a tax on it and in other cases you do not, depending on the lawsuit itself and the case involved. Now lets say you just won the 2 million, ok do not have it deposited into any USA bank account but have them pay the money to your foreign bank account. Now the money is in your account but overseas. Now you renounce your citizenship. They cannot hit you with an exit tax because you have no account worth over 1 million in USA. But you have the 2 million out overseas.
      Its mere technicality here. Essentially you won in USA, but you not receive the money in any USA bank account, but received the money overseas in another countries bank account. Technically USA never got the money in your USA account!!!!! Its where you received the money and its location that gives you that loop hole. Most people do not consider winning a case and the lawsuit that gives you money is considered income earnings.
      You see a lot of people earn the money in USA but put that money overseas known as off shore accounts to avoid paying IRS taxes. These people are subject to USA taxes because they earned this income in USA.
      In my opinion when you win a civil lawsuit, depending on what it is, for the most part you are not taxed, but do not have it deposited into any USA Bank account. OK Once they have that deposit recorded in USA, you can be subject to an exit tax of 15% on top of 39.6% which essentially will wipe out much of your winnings!!!!
      Another way to get the trail of that money to disappear. Once you receive the money deposited overseas, then go to that bank and withdraw all of it out in their currency. Now its out of the bank and no one will know what you did with that money because here is what USA will do. They know you won 2 million, but that money was sent and received by you overseas to such and such Bank account. Now, later on, the USA does not see that money in that particular bank account overseas, and its gone. They or any bank around has no way of knowing where that money went once its all withdrawn. This stops the paper and wire trail.
      Now later on you go to a different bank and wish to wire and deposit that money you previously took out to another overseas acount. You then wire it out to another country. You go to your final country designation and take it all back out of that bank in the other country.
      Again this stops the paper trail. After that your done. USA will never know where it went to.
      As long as someone has money in any account, and uses like a visa card or debit card from that bank, you always have a paper trail and that is how they know where your money is going because its all recorded. If you pay by cash, they have no idea where you got it from and many places today do not like receiving cash because they themselves cannot make any money because you not use that credit card or visa card. With those cards they make money on you.
      I once wanted to buy a car, and when time came to pay for it, they were already making out the credit and loan payment plan. I said what are you doing? I then plopped down 30 grand on the salesman’s desk and said its paid in full. When they saw it, they went into shock, and actually tried to refuse the cash but they had no legal grounds to refuse USA currency as payment for an item. You should have seen how sad they looked on their faces. They reluctantly took it, and car was paid in full and I walked out with a brand new car. Essentially they lost a lot of money on that sale and extra profit. I am the one who came out ahead on the deal!!!!!!!

  • I wish there were such a thing as “Earth/world” citizenship. I do not identify with my U.S. citizenship. In fact, when I travel, it’s a bit embarrassing. I know how “American” translates and the instant stereotype/pigeon hole it puts me in. Really, what is citizenship beyond artificially drawn lines and tax liability?:)

  • When you get your American citizenship, you have to do the same thing (renounce all your others). You can renounce your citizenship in the Spanish authorities eyes’, but you can still maintain it by the American authorities’ if you don’t officially renounce it here – which means you’ll still hold all the same privileges and be taxed by the US while you’re abroad.

    But yeah, I don’t know… I guess for me it would depend on how passionately I feel about the country’s politics and how much I want to participate… because if you can comfortably maintain permanent residency, what other big benefits are you really missing out on?

    • But also, renouncing your citizenship is not renouncing your nationality – you will always be American, with or without the passport. Am I right?

  • I’ve got dual citizenship Spanish and Swiss. I have both because Spain lets you keep it as long it you got it by Birth. My mother lost her spanish passport Ehen she was adopted by her swiss stepfather, but I think 8 years ago she could apply for it again (Some change in the law) and now she has both again.
    Not sure I could give up any of my passports. But I have to say two passports are nice especially if one is part of the EU and the other not.
    Hope you will enjoy Spain, my whole Family is from Spain but I never lived there.

  • In ten years time and before you were to make the jump you would seriously want to consider how it will effect your social security benefits, social security survivorship benefits (especially before the kids are 18), and estate taxes for non resident aliens (essentially you would want to relocate all your assets outside the US at that time but that makes it difficult when one has 401ks/IRAs.

    And even if those weren’t issues, the better strategy might be split citizenship between the two of your (one in USA and one in Spain).

  • I would only do it for my husband if we were to move to Argentina. If he wants to become a US citizen he must do it and I would never ever ask that of him. So for now he will just keep renewing his green card until he’s ready to make that decision. I could never do it though just to move to another country.

  • Denmark has the same policy. I’ve lived in US for 20 years, but I still can’t bring myself to give up my Danish citizenship. So, I’m a permanent resident, for how long? Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll feel differently.

  • Who says you have to renounce? I’m Canadian and my husband is Catalan. I plan on applying for Spanish citizenship and keeping my Canadian passport. Just don’t show both at the same time. Before the US relaxed rules on dual citizenship, I knew lots of Americans who obtained Canadian citizenship but did not officially renounce their American one at the Justice Dept. And judging by Spanish bureaucracy, no one will know unless you tell them. You can use a friend or relative’s address when renewing your American passport. Renouncing a citizenship is a document heavy process so simply saying you will is not an act of renouncing. And besides, the US wants to track its citizens’ money all over so it takes years to even renounce American citizenship be aide they want to make sure they got all of your financial info before you leave.

  • That would be an extremely difficult decision. I looked into trying to get my French citizenship as my grandmother was born in France, but once I learned that I would have to denounce my American citizenship, I decided against it. I’m out of the US more than half the year (and if I could swing it financially I’d be gone 365 days of each year), but the thought of giving up that passport… I just can’t imagine it.

    I have a friendly who recently got her Italian citizenship. Do you know if you’d have to give up your American citizenship with that? An option could always be to move to a European country that allows duel citizenship (which I believe Italy does) and then use that EU passport to live and work anywhere in the EU while still maintaining your American citizenship.

    PS. Love your blog. Stumbled across it a few days ago and have been sifting through old archives ever since, particularly your posts on being a digital nomad and India. Expect many more comments in the future 🙂

  • I would grab a Spanish passport or any European passport for that matter in a heart beat! The benefits that come with a European passport are huge. Besides, I’d like to consider my self a citizen of the world and aren’t overly attached to the label of my home country, Australia.

  • I’ve had this question from people before, and it is a tough one. I think if I had a chance to get a passport from an EU country, I would do it. I’ve never really felt all that connected to the US even when I lived there. My family members are definitely not close, so making a special trip to the US for a visit is likely never to happen. Definitely is a hard choice.

  • When I lived in Malta they asked me to give up my UK passport which I refused. So I had to get a visa every year stating that I am allowed to work (I am half Maltese). Mow you can have both passports even though we are all part of the EU!!

  • When I was getting my US citizenship 9 years ago, I was told that I would have to renounce my Russian citizenship since the US did not allow dual citizenship. However, nobody followed up or asked any questions, I was granted the US citizenship in due course and left it at that. I travel everywhere in the world with my US passport, but my country of birth does not honor it. At least in my case, renouncing the citizenship is a lengthy and complicated procedure, and I postponed it indefinitely.

  • I renounced my Philippine citizenship when my application for naturalization (in Japan) was approved. It was not a hard decision but I still feel kind of heartbroken.

  • I am not sure if you have to give up your citizenship. There are certain countries, such as Japan, who do not allow dual-citizenship. However, most western countries do. I have met many people with dual, even three citizenships. I know at least one person who received Spanish while maintaining American.


  • I don’t know if I would want to renounce my American citizenship (though I have the good random fortune to be dual US/UK, so I could live anywhere in the EU without having to renounce, I believe). In some respects, I believe that citizenship is such an odd and artificial construct that I’d like to be able to say, “Sure, why not renounce it if it means nothing?” But the US, for all its flaws, is somewhere I’ve always loved and it would be incredibly difficult on a symbolic level. But good for you, having found a home in Spain – creating a home in a new land is not easy, I know.

  • I can and will, as I was raised a Third Culture Kid and am already a dual citizen, and never identified with the American culture. But in your case, where you are basically forced, no I would have issues with that. I know Germany does the same right?

  • I plan on taking the plunge when I go for my UK citizenship, just because I have very little reasons to return to the US. Even though they offer dual UK/US citizenship, I actually would be in a much much worse off position if I were forced to return to the US. So, I’m giving it up to avoid being forced to return under any circumstances. Until the US radically changes it’s healthcare situation, it’s physically dangerous for me to return there and even if I were to, say, have a job with health insurance, I’d be dependant on that job for the rest of my life. With UK citizenship, I’ll (hopefully) also be an EU citizen, and that’s good enough for me. So if, heaven forbid, the UK decides to royally bollocks up the NHS, I have also the rest of the EU to choose from.

  • I’ve been living in Spain for 14 years, and have always been under the impression that you CAN maintain dual-citizenship here. In fact, a few years ago I requested (and received) information about the process of gaining Spanish citizenship, and definitely wasn’t told I’d have to give up my US citizenship. (I’m married to a Spanish citizen, so don’t know if that’s a factor.)

    • That’s interesting because after 14 years, I am sure you would have heard of someone doing it. I got the information from the official Spain website, but maybe it’s more of a gesture, or one of those things they don’t enforce.

  • We’re American and also naturalized Canadians. We did have to take an oath to the Queen, but we weren’t asked to give up the US citizenship. I’m not sure I’d do that, even with the noxious tax on citizenship (rather than residency).

  • Im just wondering what your reference to being eligible for citizenship in ten years is about? I read on a government website where they even went so far as to stipulate that reguardless as to if the marriage was still active or not, that after one year of residency in spain and if you were married to a spaniard, that you were then eligible for citizenship? Im an american presently living and working in soain, and am engaged to a lovely spaniard, and plan on aplying for citizenship as i wish to continue my efucation in the EU and its my understanding that i must have citizenship in order to do so. If someone could correct me or confirm my understanding that would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Dorian,

      The 10 years I refer to in my post is for people who are NOT marrying a Spanish citizen. My husband and I are both Americans, so we would naturalized after 10 years of residency. If you marry a citizen, it’s is COMPLETELY different. Hope that helps!


  • In my case, it would be the other way around, i’m Spanish and i live in the US but with student visa. However i’m not sure if i would need to give up of my Spanish citizenship to become a US citizen. Any ideas on that?