Friday, July 19, 2013

A Grab Bag of Expat Related News

Image of Buddhist Monks at the Reflecting Pool of Angkor Wat temple
Angkor Wat
Photo CC by Sam Garza 
There's a building going up near us. They workers have torn down an old, crumbling building and they're putting up a new, shiny building. And cutting a cable to our building along the way. One of these things is not nice.

So for the past couple of weeks, I've been limping along with little to no internet service. It's unclear who actually owned the cable that was cut, but our (former) internet provider, free.fr, insists that our service is working fine and no, they have no record of a repair request from us. In fact, our entire building is almost completely without phone, television, or Internet access as those services tend to be bundled together and there's a lovely note on the front door saying "please be patient, no one knows what's going on, no one is sending repair people and please keep hassling your ISPs."

For us, this is the fourth extended outage we've had in 18 months and while it's not free.fr's fault this time, they're response has been so consistently awful that we've cancelled our contract. As one friend of mine with a phone contract from them once said: with free.fr, you'll never be late for a meeting because you'll never be able to call ahead and tell your colleagues.

And so, I've had precious little to say on this blog for a while, so here's a few tidbits to help you pass the time.

The Wall Street Journal, despite turning into a bit of a rag now that Murdoch has gotten his slimy little paws on it, has an excellent essay about how FATCA is hurting Americans abroad and has this paragraph to explain the underlying problem:
[Imagine] this: You were born in California, moved to New York for education or work, fell in love, married and had children. Even though you have faithfully paid taxes in New York and haven't lived in California for 25 years, suppose California law required that you also file your taxes there because you were born there. Though you may never have held a bank account in California, you must report all of your financial holdings to the State of California. Are you a signatory on your spouse's account? Then you must declare his bank accounts too. Your children, now adults, have never been west of the Mississippi but they too must file their taxes in both California and New York and report any bank accounts they or their spouses may have because they are considered Californians by virtue of one parent's birthplace.
That, of course, is how US expats abroad are treated.

The article goes on to be pretty scathing about FATCA and if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know what FATCA is. For those who don't, here's the executive summary: the US government has demanded that all foreign financial institutions (FFIs) in the world turn over records of their US account holders or face potentially massive financial penalties.

Not only is this a gross violation of national sovereignty for the US to demand that foreign institutions submit to the IRS, it's also in violation of the privacy laws of many countries. Worse, the US did this unilaterally without bothering to ask other nations if this was OK. How would the US feel if roughly 200 countries returned the favor and started demanding that US banks turn over records of all their citizens to all the countries on the planet or face penalties? You have to be very, very stupid to not understand why that's a problem.

And what a problem it's turned out to be! The US demanded that all FFIs begin turning in this information starting January 1st, 2014. The world's FFIs asked a very interesting question: "how?".

So the Treasury has pushed the FATCA deadline back six months while they try to figure out an answer to this question. Awkward.

Meanwhile, proving the old adage that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Senator Rand Paul, paleolibertarian extraordinaire (paleolibertarians are liberterians who embrace misogyny and bigotry), has called for an end to FATCA.


On a more positive note, here's a lovely story about what we can all learn from expats. Of course, that's an Australian Web site. The US still seems to hate us.