International Legal Requirements
All governments require foreigners to have an appropriate
visa to reside in their country. This endorsement or stamp
placed in your passport by a foreign government permits you
to enter that country for a specified purpose. If you are
planning to reside in a country for an indefinite period of
time, most countries will require you to seek residence status.
See the section on Citizenship to learn what effect this may
have on your U.S. citizenship.
Applying for a Visa
In most instances you must obtain the necessary visa before
you leave the United States. Apply for your visa directly
from the embassy or nearest consulate of the country in which
you plan to reside.
A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S.
should be available at your local library or by ordering the
publication Foreign Consular Offices in the United States
from the U.S. Government Printing Office. You can write or
call them at Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; telephone (212) 512-1800
to check pricing and stock information.
A work permit is usually required and is a separate document
from your visa or residency permit. It is necessary if you
plan on working in a foreign country. It may be obtained either
before you leave the U.S. or after you arrive in the foreign
country, depending on the laws of the particular country.
It is usually applied for at the same time as the residency
permit or visa. (Note: The Department of State cannot help
you obtain visas or work permits.)
Registration at U.S. Embassies or Consulates
As soon as you arrive at your permanent residence abroad,
you should register in person or by telephone with the nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration will make your presence
and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you
in an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information
on your welfare or whereabouts may not be released to inquirers
without your expressed written authorization. If you register
in person, you should bring your U.S. passport with you. Your
passport data will be recorded at the embassy or consulate,
thereby making it easier for you to apply for a replacement
passport should it be lost or stolen.
Consular officers abroad cannot perform a marriage for you.
Marriages abroad are generally performed by local civil or
religious officials. Once your marriage is performed overseas,
U.S. consular officers can advise you on how your foreign
marriage document can be authenticated. A marriage which is
valid under the laws of the country where the marriage was
performed is generally recognized by most states in the United
States. If you are married abroad and need confirmation that
your marriage will be recognized in the United States, consult
the Attorney General of your state of residence in the United
Marriages abroad are subject to the residency requirements
of the country where the marriage is performed. There is almost
always a lengthy waiting period. Some countries require that
the civil documents which are presented to the marriage registrar
abroad be translated and authenticated by a foreign consular
official in the United States. This process can be time consuming
and expensive. Unlike in the United States, civil law countries
require proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract.
If it is necessary to obtain this proof overseas, you can
execute an affidavit of eligibility to marry at a U.S. embassy
or consulate for a small fee (currently $10). There are also
individual requirements which vary from country to country,
i.e. parental consent and blood tests. Before going abroad,
check with the embassy or tourist information bureau of the
country where you plan to marry to learn of any specific requirements.
In addition, the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Room
4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520 has some
general information on marriage in a number of countries overseas.
If you are already abroad, consult with the nearest U.S. embassy
The validity of divorces obtained overseas will vary according
to the requirements of an individual's state of residence.
Consult the authorities of your state of residence in the
United States for these requirements.
Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen
Most children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents
acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. As soon as possible after
the birth, the U.S. citizen parent should contact the nearest
American embassy or consulate. When it is determined that
the child has acquired U.S. citizenship, a consular officer
prepares a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of
the United States of America (Form FS-240). This document
is recognized by U.S. law as proof of acquisition of U.S.
citizenship and is acceptable evidence of citizenship for
obtaining a passport, entering school, and most other purposes.
Federal Benefits Services Abroad
Federal agency monthly benefits checks are generally sent
from the Department of the Treasury to the U.S. embassies
or consulates in the countries where the beneficiaries are
residing. When you move overseas, report your change of residence
to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The usual procedure
is for the embassy or consulate to then forward the check
through the local mail system to you. It may be possible to
make arrangements to have your check deposited directly into
a bank account located in the United States or in the country
where you reside. Check with the benefits paying agency or
the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for further information.
If your check does not arrive or you have other questions
about your benefits, contact a consular officer at the nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate. If the consular officer cannot
answer your inquiry, he or she will contact the appropriate
paying agency, such as the Social Security Administration,
and make inquiries on your behalf. If you move, notify the
nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at least 60 days before
the move. This will enable the Federal agency to update its
records so your checks are sent to the correct address.
Assistance In Voting in U.S. Elections
Americans who reside abroad are usually eligible to vote
by absentee ballot in all Federal elections and may also be
eligible to vote in many state and local U.S. elections. Eligibility
depends upon the laws and regulations of your state of residence
in the United States. To vote absentee, you must meet state
voter registration requirements and apply for the ballot as
early as possible from the state of your last domicile. Should
your state ballot not arrive in sufficient time, you may be
eligible to use a Federal write-in ballot known as a F.W.A.B.
You should consult the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for
Selective Service Registration
Section I-202 of the Presidential Proclamation of July 2,
1980, reinstituting registration under the Military Selective
Service Act, states:
Citizens of the United States who are to be registered and
who are not in the United States on any of the days set aside
for their registration, shall present themselves at a U.S.
embassy or consulate for registration before a diplomatic
or consular officer of the United States or before a registrar
duly appointed by a diplomatic or consular officer of the
Check with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if you need
Safeguarding Your Passport
Your passport is a valuable document which should be carefully
safeguarded. When living overseas, the Department of State
recommends that you keep your passport at home in a safe,
secure place. Although a passport kept at an available storage
facility outside the home might offer maximum security, keep
in mind that an emergency requiring immediate travel may make
it difficult or impossible to obtain your passport before
departure. In such a case, it may not be possible to obtain
a replacement or temporary passport in time to make the intended
Loss or Theft of a U.S. Passport
If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, report the loss
immediately to the nearest foreign service post and to local
police authorities. If you can provide the consular officer
with the information in the old passport, it will facilitate
issuance of a new passport. Therefore, you should photocopy
the data page of your passport and keep it in a separate place
for easy retrieval.
Multiple and fraudulent U.S. passports are used in many
types of criminal activity, including illegal entry into the
United States. In processing lost passport cases, the Department
of State must take special precautions that may delay the
issuance of a new passport. If you suspect a U.S. passport
is being used fraudulently, do not hesitate to contact the
nearest passport agency in the United States or American embassy
or consulate overseas.
CITIZENSHIP AND NATIONALITY
U.S. Citizenship and Residence Abroad
U.S. citizens who take up residence abroad or who are contemplating
doing so frequently ask whether this will have any effect
on their citizenship. Residence abroad, in and of itself,
has no effect on U.S. citizenship and there is no requirement
of U.S. law that a person who is a naturalized U.S. citizen
must return to the United States periodically to preserve
his or her U.S. citizenship. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy
or consulate if you have any questions about nationality.
FINANCIAL AND BUSINESS MATTERS
U.S. citizens must report their worldwide income on their
Federal income tax returns. Living or earning income outside
the United States does not relieve a U.S. citizen of responsibility
for filing tax returns. However, U.S. citizens living and/or
working abroad may be entitled to various deductions, exclusions,
and credits under U.S. tax laws, as well as under international
tax treaties and conventions between the United States and
a number of foreign countries. Consult the Internal Revenue
Service (IRS) for further information.
For information on taxes and locations of IRS offices overseas,
contact any office of the IRS or write to the Forms Distribution
Center, Post Office Box 25866, Richmond, Virginia 23289. That
office also has copies of Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S.
Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad; Publication 901, U.S.
Tax Treaties; Publication 514, Foreign Tax Credit for Individuals
and Publication 520, Scholarships and Fellowships. The IRS
has also put together a package of forms and instructions
(Publication 776) for U.S. citizens living abroad. The package
is also available through to the Forms Distribution Center.
During the filing period, you can usually obtain the necessary
Federal income tax forms from the nearest U.S. embassy or
If you have access to a personal computer and a modem, you
can get forms and publications electronically from the IRS.
The forms and publications are available through IRIS, the
Internal Revenue Information Services on FedWorld, a government
bulletin board. On the Internet, you can telnet to fedworld.gov.
or for file transfer protocol services, connect to ftp.fedworld.gov.
If you are using the Internet's World Wide Web, connect to
Foreign Country Taxes
If you earn any income while you are overseas, you may be
required to pay tax on that income. You should check the rules
and regulations with that country's embassy or consulate before
you leave the United States, or consult the nearest U.S. embassy
or consulate abroad.
Some countries will permit you to maintain a local bank
account denominated in dollars or in another foreign currency
of your choice. This may be a good idea if the U.S. dollar
is strong and the local currency in the country you reside
in is weak. If that country does not permit you to maintain
U.S. dollar bank accounts, another idea would be to keep your
dollars in a bank in the United States. That way you could
convert them to the local currency as you need them rather
than all at once. This would protect you in the event that
the country you are living in devalues its currency.
To avoid the risk of running afoul of foreign laws, if you
own property or other assets both in the United States and
overseas, consider the idea of having two wills drawn up.
One should be prepared according to the legal system of your
adopted country, and the other according to the legal system
of the U.S. Each will should mention the other.
Having two wills should ensure that your foreign property
is disposed of in accordance with your wishes in the event
of your death.
A major decision that you will have to face when you live
abroad is whether or not to purchase a home or property. Because
prices in many foreign countries may seem like a bargain compared
to the United States, there may be some merit to investing
in real estate. However, you will need to keep several things
in mind. First, check to see whether the country where you
plan to invest permits foreigners to own property. Many foreign
countries do not permit foreigners without immigrant status
to buy real estate. Also, there may be restrictions on areas
in which you may buy property and on the total number of foreigners
who may purchase property in any one year.
One way for a foreigner to purchase real estate overseas
may be to set up a bank trust and then lease the property.
For your protection, you should first consult with a local
real estate agent and then hire a reputable attorney. Check
with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you
plan to purchase property to obtain a list of lawyers. A good
lawyer will provide you with information about having your
real estate contract notarized, registered, and if necessary,
translated. Your attorney should also be able to advise you
on protection against unscrupulous land deals.
Before you make a real estate purchase, learn the customs
and laws of the foreign government with regard to real estate.
In the event of a dispute, you will have to abide by local
and not U.S. laws. A good rule to follow is that before you
invest in any real estate take the same precautions which
you normally would take before you make a sizeable investment
in the United States.
Restrictions on Products Entering the U. S.
Fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, plants in soil, and many
other agricultural products are prohibited from entering the
United States because they may carry foreign insects and diseases
that could damage U.S. crops, forests, gardens, and livestock.
Other items may also be restricted, so be sure to obtain details
of regulations before departing for your trip back to the
U.S. These restrictions also apply to mailed products. Prohibited
items confiscated and destroyed at U.S. international postal
facilities have almost doubled in recent years. For more information
and to request the pamphlet, Travelers Tips on Prohibited
Agricultural Products contact the agricultural affairs office
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or write to the
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department
of Agriculture, 4700 River Road, Unit 51, Riverdale, MD 20737.
Importing A Car
If you plan to bring a car back with you, before purchasing
it, make sure it conforms to U.S. emission standards established
by the Environmental Protection Agency. If your vehicle does
not conform to standards, it may be banned from entering the
country. For further information, obtain the pamphlet, Buying
a Car Overseas? Beware! from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, Public Information Center, Mail Code 3406, 401 M Street,
S.W., Washington, D.C. 20460.