Are You Considering Dual (or Triple) Citizenships?

Rosemary Bailey Brown RSS / 01.10.2007. u 14:12

I've been thinking a lot about citizenship recently both because of Serbia's political debate about new citizenship laws, and also because many B92 readers have emailed me letters (thank you!) often mentioning they themselves are citizens of multiple countries.   Many members of my extended family  including my Father, also have multiple citizenships.  I'm not qualified to comment on political debate, but I can extend three practical considerations:

#1. Useful papers vs heartfelt allegiance

I've noticed as people start collecting citizenships, the importance and meaning of each citizenship often lessens in their hearts.  A citizenship which in essence should mean what country you consider yourself to be on the "team" of (sort of like basketball teams, only in this case countries), instead becomes a matter of convenience.  A matter of useful papers.  For example, my Father uses his Irish citizenship pretty much soley for the purpose of getting in shorter, quicker lines in European airports when he has to go through passport control.  Otherwise he considers himself American.

In fact I often hear Serbs refer to their various citizenships (Croatian, German, American, Australian, whatever you have) as "Passports" or "papers" as though that is all citizenship really is: useful travel documents.  And, for Serbs in particular, external passports have been so useful in the past 15 years that it's understandable that they would think of passports as a primary extra-citizenship motivation.

It seems very odd to me though, but then I come from a country where only 27% of citizens even bother to get passports (and that number was just 7% two years ago before new laws requiring Americans carry passports for trips to Canada, Mexico and the Carribean.)

Anyway, if the Serbian government is hoping to get truely heartfelt allegience (including of course greater tax income, "improved" demographic data, and military/public service on demand, which are the three government benefits of increased citizenship) then just handing out passports to citizens of other countries won't help them with any of those objectives. 

The more passports a person has, in general, the less they are a citizen of anywhere, except the world in general.  

#2. Increased paperwork

If you hate paperwork and administration, extra citizenships can be a big pain. One of your passports, or driving licenses, or town citizen cards, or some other paper is constantly being outdated.  I have one friend who spent two months this year just going around filing in various countries trying to get everything updated... and still one document, that later turned out to be vital, slipped through the cracks.     

#3. Tax considerations 

As I said above, a MAJOR reason why countries want citizens is to tax them.  The USA in particular is very big on this.  Before you accept another citizenship ALWAYS research the tax implications.  Wikipedia has a lot of pretty good information on this, although with Serbia's changing laws, who knows how taxes for citizens may change in the coming years?

BIG tip: If you are thinking about getting a US greencard or passport, or you are pregnant and think it's a good idea to have your baby in the USA so your child is an automatic US citizen, please research taxes beforehand!  

The USA taxes ALL citizens and greencard holders regardless of where they live or where they earn their income.  And taxes are pretty high compared to Serbia.  I pay 42% of my earned income in Federal and State taxes, not including sales or property taxes.  If I live in Serbia fulltime and enter the USA less than 31 days per year, then I still have to file documents quarterly and pay thousands of dollars in some US taxes, including taxes on US property and "unearned income" such as interest on bank deposits anywhere in the world.  

If I decide to give up my US citizenship, I would still have to file for and pay US taxes for 10 years after that!  (In addition, the US might not ever give me a visa to visit again.)   

If you have a baby that is born in the US and so is an automatic US citizen, that child has to begin filing for US taxes when the child is old enough to have an income as well -- no matter where in the world the child lives or what the income is from.   The US tracks these things increasingly, so now if your child grows up and applies for a US passport years later, the IRS (tax department) will immediately ask that now-adult child for back taxes and documentation for his or her entire life!  

So, yes you can get a passport, but it can be expensive.  And as computerization and national tax cooperation increases worldwide, it's increasingly hard to hide from the tax man in another country.

Still considering multiple citizenships?  I know I am.   Good luck and please let me know what your advice is.

Komentari (14)

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dunjica dunjica 15:27 01.10.2007

question of loyalty

Thank you for the topic, Rosemary!

Indeed I have been considering the question of dual/multiple citizenships since the time my first (Yugo) citizenship had become invalid. I could choose between Croatian and Slovenian at that time and I´ve decided to take the citizenship of my home country, Cro. At that time I have started to develop that attitude of being loyal to one country in a sense of active citizenship. It means: my citizenship is a serious matter for me for I am politically active there where I am and the fact that I don´t try to collect citizenships I see as a sign of taking this engagement serious.

Later on I moved to Germany and some time later I´ve got the right to become a German citizen. I knew for pretty sure that I consider Germany my (new) home and was already active in different political NGOs. But I couldn´t identify with the idea of becoming German. It was relatively long process, with lots of doubts, considerations and critical reflections before I´ve given up Cro and took German citizenship.

I do not plan to take my old Cro citizenship back, in spite of certain benefits it would bring to me (e.g. real property I have there). I think that if I mean it serious with political engagement in the country I am a citizen of, than it is fair not to confuse with split loyalty.

I support the right for free personal choice and do not claim my example as universally applicable or exemplary.
DejanOz DejanOz 15:29 01.10.2007

it depends...

I've noticed as people start collecting citizenships, the importance and meaning of each citizenship often lessens in their hearts.

To me, the meaning of my citizenship of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was in a pretty bad shape when the country, errr, fell apart. The same (but with less of an emotional impact, being hardened by the first experience) happened with the meaning of my citizenship of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and then Serbia and Montenegro, when these two successively fell apart. They say that my current citizenship of the Republic of Serbia is just a succession of the previous iterations, but I kind of held particularly the first one close to my heart.

So, you are right, the importance and meaning I attach to the above citizenships was decreasing pretty rapidly with each change (or so-called "succession".

It might come as a bit of a surprise then that I feel pretty good about my more recent citizenships, of NZ and of Australia. And, who knows, given time (and the lack of any further "successions" I might warm up a little bit to the Serbian citizenship. It is, however, a bit difficult to feel important travelling the world as a Serbian citizen, not only because of what might seem obvious to some, but perhaps more for the hard-to-believe fact that, at least for now, there is no such thing as a Serbian passport!
lidiaz lidiaz 15:34 01.10.2007

Dual citizenship

There is one big issue that you are forgotting. It is a work permit, or right to work. Taxes are much easier if you earn your money.
Yes, we have dual citizenship. And getting my Israeli is the biggest succes in my life.
My husband could not get work permit at all without it. We were there on my student visa. Not being able to work is terrible.
The other thing is that we know now that Israel is our country that will help us if we get in trouble somewhere. Like sending planes into areas after some dissasters, negotiating with kidnapers to let us go, and then sending a plane to bring us back. Then, when we get old, we will have some social security if we don't have enough on our own.
The third thing is freedom that we've got with Israeli passports.
I still did not feel a single downfall because I have 2 passports.
oldtajmer oldtajmer 15:40 01.10.2007

Dual Citizenship

I have a feeling your concerns do not mirror most Serbian citizens' who are aspiring for a new motherland. Here's why (peppered with some general comments):

1. Useful papers vs heartfelt allegiance
citizenship which in essence should mean what country you consider yourself to be on the "team" of (sort of like basketball teams, only in this case countries),

Perfect analogy! Now think about the NBA. How often do players switch teams, and how do the fans respond? Perhaps if my country of birth had not betrayed its citizens as much as it did, I would have a different view, but today it's just a handy piece of paper! Besides, aren't we all human beings regardless of the passport we carry?

I recently met someone whose family is Pakistani, born in the UK, UK citizen, living in the US. He considers himself Pakistani, even though he never had Pakistani citizenship. Weird huh?

2. Increased paperwork

I think the issues you listed are minor compared to the amount of paperwork you need to file every time you apply for a Schengen or US Visa with a Serbian passport :) So that inconvenience probably far outweighs the inconvenience of maintaining two driver's licenses. Also, and more importantly, for most Serbs living abroad, that citizenship, or green card, means a livelihood, means not worrying about losing your house, or your kids being able to go to school, so really it's hardly a choice. So, taking care of the extra paperwork is just part of the deal, if you know what I mean.

Of course you know that for most Serbian males, until recently at least, military service was also a consideration in the citizenship equation.

3. Tax considerations

This is a good one. I think most people don't think about this one at the time they make that decision. Probably part of the reason is that largely people make this decision at at time in their lives when they don't have enough assets to concerns themselves with double-taxation.

However, most countries have tax treaties that cover these cases. I am not sure if the US and Serbia do, but it's highly unlikely that Uncle Sam will manage get his hands on your Serbian income or assets, given the state of the financial industry there. And there are ways around that, too, which are not discussed in polite company :)

Finally, personal experience and advice? I think the answer is "it depends". I would say worry about practical aspects, like residency visas, work permits, the tax issue (#3.) etc, more than 1. and 2. In recent years we really have been fortunate that both the US and Serbia (I'm assuming Serbian is the citizenship you're considering?) have fairly tolerant dual-citizenship laws. So you will never have an issue crossing a border, worrying which passport to use. (e.g. in the Milosevic days, if they caught you with two passports, they would make you choose one).
If having a second citizenship will help you somehow, take it, if it's just a "statement" or emotional connection, forget about it! Get a residency visa (green card equivalent), it's probably good enough.

That's my $0.02 (yeah, I know this is more like $20
tnosugar tnosugar 15:47 01.10.2007

Citizenship as passport

I'm afraid you cannot expect a different standpoint from people who are heavilly dettered from traveling more than 500 miles in any direction (Serbia) with admnistative barriers.

Dual citizenship is an understandable matter of necessity here. Secondly, at regional level, in generational terms our once common state of Yugoslavia has recently disintegrated and left many people of mixed ethnic origin in one newly-formed state or the other.

Since the societies in the newly-formed countries are reinforcing their new nationshoods with more or less severe forms of cultural nationalism, the individual who still have multiple ethnic allegiances (or allegiance to a Yugoslav nation that is no more), one of the few form of reinforcing their multiple ethnicity is to take multiple citizenship citizenship.
Bosko Bosko 16:09 01.10.2007

Rationality and...

Dear Rosemary, I have no doubt in your best intentions, but you are obviously applying a wrong methodology. If your "best intentions" were aimed at understanding the reasons behind the Serbian new Citizenship Law. You seem to be a rational person, thinking in a rational way. But, don't forget the rule, "when in Serbia do as the Serbs do". In the Balkans, the rationality is not the most reliable standard to explain politics, or generally the conduct of the people.

To help you I will give you a few hints:
1. Of course that the tax income would be a good reason for a State to promote its citizenship. In this case, the tax income is probably the last reason the politician had in mind. More probably, most of them have not even had a thought about the tax income.
2. "Improving" demography in Serbia? Not likely. Most Serbs in Serbia would not want those who live outside to come to live in Serbia.
3. Military/public servants? Unrealistic. Most of Serbs had enough of that. Public servants? Serbia had enough of that - I mean public servants of Serb origin coming to Serbia and taking good jobs. At least many Serbs think that way.

I hope these hints may help you. At least not to go in wrong direction.

I may give you a few more hints later.
Soylent Green Soylent Green 20:02 01.10.2007

On being able to choose and switch your RP

Free choice of RSP (Racketeering Services Provider) is essential ingredient of the modern consumer society. Long gone are the days when you'vee been stuck with the same brainwashing and taxing kleptocracy all your life (see "patriotism".

In the modern world being to reap benefits of various RSPs and their offerings helps diligent consumer retain wealth and sanity. RSPs will however use all available means to minimize customer attrition, as you, the consumer, is their only source of income. Currently they divide the planet like territorial cartels, or cooperating monopolies, but smart consumer can find ways to play them against each other.

After all, you've all seen Yojimbo, right?

So which kleptocracies make the ideal passport portfolio today, with long-term benefits in mind? Here is my pick.

If you have money:

- China (this is the place to be for long term investors; cheap labor under communist regime, free capitalism for the rest; autonomous nuclear power untouchable by outside RSPs

- Russia (successfully competing as tax haven with Carribeans and some euro mini-nations; autonomous nuclear power untouchable by outside RSPs

- USA (still has a solid imperial decade or two, ideal for investors, very bussiness-friendly, god help you if you must work there)

If you have to work:

- EU (remains socialist at heart; flimsy nuclear infrastructure so no tax shelters

- Canada (like EU but american culture; probably the most depressing country in the world)

- Rich mideast oil nations - these passports are worth your weight in gold. If you found a way to get one let me know.

adam weisphaut adam weisphaut 20:12 01.10.2007

Re: On being able to choose and switch you

Soylent Green
- Russia (successfully competing as tax haven with Carribeans and some euro mini-nations; autonomous nuclear power untouchable by outside RSPs

However you run a high risk of being racketeered by of one of the many local NGO-s under the control of ex KGB operatives.
Soylent Green Soylent Green 02:25 02.10.2007

Re: On being able to choose and switch you

adam weisphaut

However you run a high risk of being racketeered by of one of the many local NGO-s under the control of ex KGB operatives.

What matters is the total tax, not names of the tax components (income, payroll, compulsory "insurances", excise, sales, VAT, licenses, corporate, state, federal, etc.)

In USA the total tax for not too rich ones (when it drops to near zero) is about 45%.

In EU it's about 65%.

In Serbia it's around 80%.

How much is it in Russia, privately organised extortion included?
adam weisphaut adam weisphaut 07:30 02.10.2007

Re: On being able to choose and switch you

And right you are, the Russian fixed rate of 13% (30% for non-residents) superbly beats these figures. But what I am arguing is that this unofficial rate may be the tricky part. If you run a small or a medium sized business (eg. you are not able to hire a private army) you may be an easy mark for unofficial tax collectors, and for them there is no fixed rate. They may easily squeeze the last ruble out of you be the subject of a hostile take over (of course this is drastically different from the wester variant), and standing up to the NGO may understandaby be bad for your health. Of course the chances are lower if your venture is Moscow-based and not in one of Russia's provinces, but
this remains a viable threat, even in Russia's capitol. The point is that sometimes, if the tax haven is not accompanied by the protection of the state, paying less may actually mean paying more.
Emir Halilovic Emir Halilovic 13:10 02.10.2007

Re: On being able to choose and switch you

Other problems for doing business in Russia abound, and the constraints for non-Russians are increasing. China gets my vote in any case. On becoming a Chinese citizen I don't have a clue...
Rosemary Bailey Brown Rosemary Bailey Brown 22:10 01.10.2007

Thoughts based on your comments

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. Your input is a great education for me.

I agree I was short-sighted not to consider fully the work/employment considerations. I guess part of my blog post -- the part about heartfelt loyalty - was more addressed to the Serb government. If they think by making it easier to get a Serb passport that they are gaining more heart-share from nationals of other countries, I'm not sure that will work. I'm not sure what the advantage is to the government, but then I'm not in government nor trained to be ;-)

On the US tax front, my comments there were more as a warning to Serbs who eagerly seek US greencards and passports -- especially those who come over to have babies in the US. I actually know several people who have done this, come to the US pregnant on a visitor's visa, had the baby and left. None of them realized that meant their kid might be liable for back taxes and big legal complications when he or she grew up. It can be nasty. And if you don't solve the problems you can kiss your passport goodbye.

Milos1946 Milos1946 15:03 02.01.2008

I too am looking for dual citizenship

I have lived in the USA since 1960. Last year my brother and two sisters and I inherited a nice home with plenty of land in Karan, Serbian which I have visited many times over the last twenty years. I do not work now, am 61 and soon to be collecting social security in the US. But my heart is with Serbia as I truly feel Serbian and can speak the language somewhat. I plan on living in Serbia for part of the year and the US for the rest of the year. I am looking to somewhat retire in Serbia but still keep my feet in US because of the many benefits there. My lawyer in Uzice,Serbia says that it will not be difficult for me to get Serbian citizenship. I will apply for it when I come to Serbia in March,08.
Brunehilda Brunehilda 12:28 20.05.2008

Citizenship and natonality

Ithink that here is forgoten one important thing: For most of Europeans and Americans, these two are the same, for Serbs, not. Citizenship means you belong to one country. Nationality means you belong to one nation. So, yes, citizenships for Serbs mean each time less -- they choose those tat will be useful and the reason for that you noticed very well, Rosmary. In the last 20 years, the citizenship that the people who live in Serbia have was of little of non use, so many of them searched for another one that would serve them to travel without problems, and to spare them unpleasant and shameful tratment in almost each embassy they are forced to pass if they want to go abroad, even if it is only for holidays, which also, BTW, is much more expensive than to travel with the any passport that is not Serbian, because you have to pay visa, you have to pay insurance, and you relative has to pay the sealing of his invitation letter to you, so, without even going out of Serbia, you are alreadu some 200 euros short.

On the other hand, we are Serbs and we will be Serbs (whether some like it or not ) even if we have French, US, English or Taiwan citizenship, since we are born and brought up with the culture of that nation and we have it in our blood. Strangely, many foreigners do not see this like this, since I often hear: will you take X citizenship when the time comes? You don't mind becoming X and not beeing Serb any more? Well... I can have X citizenship, but I will always be a Serb. This is the fact, and this is not something that you can choose. Just as you cannot choose your parents, you cannot choose your nationality. It's as simple as that.



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