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Old 07.08.2011, 15:52
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US Taxes: Come Clean or Jump Ship?

Hi guys!

I'm an American citizen, about to turn 39. My parents were American expats (they both live in the US now); I grew up almost entirely in Europe, studied here and have been married to a Swiss for about 16 years. I currently have double citizenship (US + CH).

For various reasons - in particular, frittering away my earning potential on the way to a doctorate - I never managed to do much earning until now. I've always known that I ought to be filing income tax returns - but the US has always seemed very, very far away (about 3 visits to family over the last 20 years ... ), and besides: I've never been anywhere near the point where I'd actually have had to pay anything, so I've never really had a bad conscience. Mostly, I got used to ignoring the whole issue in my early 20s ... and ... well, yeah ...

However, I've finally escape academia and settled into a Swiss job that will paying (brutto) around 130K per year - which is probably has me a little north of the money line. Also, my passport will be due for renewal in about 3 years. Also, I have kids (12 and 14) interested in obtaining citizenship via my mother (I don't qualify).

So ... I guess I need to make a decision. Either I make an effort to "come clean" with the US authorities or else I just pay a visit to Bern and toss my passport over the fence of the US Embassy.

That decision, in turn, has a lot to do with how much grief would/will be involved in getting into the taxman's good books. Can I hope for some kind of amnesty?

Also: *Have* they actually started checking tax history when they renew passports?

For that matter: how does one actually renounce one's citizenship??

BTW, I'm not feeling too cavalier about renouncing. Despite my very vague relationship with the US - I do sort of think of myself as an American. My parents were the real deal, I have a US accent, I was home-schooled in the US system, I like american football - the thought of simply giving it up doesn't feel quite right. Then again, my life is completely Swiss - I even speak CH-German with a Bündner accent - I'll probably never go back for more than a tourist trip for the rest of my life ... (Any yet, re-reading: note that I just wrote "go back." Why "back" ... ?)

So ... to reiterate: How painful would it be to come clean? And: what kind of knowledge do you guys have about similar situations?


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