Problems for U.S. Writers Working Abroad?

Dear Angela,

I am not a rock star. And yet, when hired me in their first wave a few years back, that’s what they promised. What I was, I think, was a shill. After a couple of years, and with no way to even review horrific ad hominem attacks before they were appended to one’s columns–and hard on the heels of an editor bowing to pressure from a single reader who didn’t like something I had written and telling me to write otherwise–I quit. I was writing on ethics, by the way, and the editor in question was acting, in my opinion, highly unethically, especially for a so-called news outlet.

Before I resigned (I would hardly miss the pittance that showed up on Paypal each month), I literally erased most of my articles. I failed to erase all of them, unfortunately, which means that is now making money on my work without paying me any sort of royalty; I find this unethical, but also typical of I think I probably had realized they lacked ethics and would not treat any writer who resigned fairly, hence my denying them as much of my work as I could.

About six months ago, I decided that I’d just as soon write for them again, not to write for them per se, but so that I would have an account and they could then start paying me for the clicks on those old articles they’ve been reaping benefits on for a few years. They were happy enough with my writing when I reapplied. But when they heard I was living in the UK, even though I maintain US bank accounts and mailing and phone addresses, they decided they couldn’t handle that.

Now, I wonder if that’s an decision for internal reasons of their own, or a decision in regard of some new rule regarding doing business abroad that burdens U.S. companies. It is extremely difficult, due to recent IRS and state department rules, for a U.S. citizen to do business abroad. Understandably, few foreign banks want the IRS demanding access to their financial records, which is now the case. Some foreign banks will not serve U.S. citizens at all because IRS compliance has become too intense and costly to the banks; others limit the products offered to very basic, low-interest checking and savings accounts.

There is only one way for an American to obtain full banking services while living abroad these days, and that is to renounce their U.S. citizenship. In 2011, after many of the changes were announced and the IRS began pursuing those who failed to file FBARs, renunciations trebled from a year earlier, to about 1800. I expect the number will rise for 2012 because of the draconian provisions of the FBAR legislation, and the fact that most Americans are blind-sided by it. Why? The ONLY way to even know about it is to be reporting $15,000 in interest income, which is when the IRS form with the FBAR information in it first appears anywhere on any Income Tax forms…and yet, the FBAR applies to any American with $10,000 in a foreign account for even a single day per year–as in, the day one’s book advance arrives, for example. The penalty? A minimum $10,000 per incident plus up to 40% of the amount in the account. Although the FBAR legislation was supposed to catch big-time money launderers and terrorists, it is destroying retirees who move abroad, and it doesn’t do much for artists and writers, either, who may live abroad and get caught unawares when the contract they’ve been hoping for finally happens. Even accountants whose clients are not global high-rollers sometimes do not know about the dreaded FBAR, and so do not advise their clients. Few authors of my acquaintance have either world-class accounting help, or reportable savings interest of $15,000 per year, thus they are ripe for the plucking.

Those are pretty big deals for ordinary people. Perhaps there are deal-killers for companies hiring and paying U.S. citizens living abroad, or, for that matter, foreign citizens. But’s reaction did raise the question in my mind, and I thought it might be a question some of your readers would be interested in if they are living abroad, or intend to, for any period of time. I am living permanently in the UK, having bought a house and, in fact, having renounced my U.S. citizenship–although not over the FBAR issue. My husband is British, I hold Irish citizenship, and there was just no reason for me to spend the rest of my life unable to do any significant banking or investing because of the requirements of a government I no longer live under. (Only the U.S. and Eritrea make such a magilla for their citizens who move abroad…an interesting factoid in its own right.)

Best regards,