Friday, March 15, 2013

US expat evacuations: not what people think

Saigon Evacuation
We've turned your country into a parking
lot. The least we can do is evacuate you
Over on Reddit, I asked people's opinions about why more Americans are planning on leaving the US. As is to be expected, when an expat pointed out that we're taxed by the US government and get nothing in return, there was the silly comment of "I wouldn't say you are paying taxes for nothing. If shit hits the fan in your country the US tax payers usually shell out to get your ass out of the country."

I hear this constantly. It seems like it's the last line of defense for those trying to justify the USA's unique worldwide taxation schema. However, Reddit user prezvdi replied to the above with a stunning response:

Do you have ANY experience to back this statement up?? I'm an American living & working in the UK since 2006. I was in Cairo, Egypt for work when the fun kicked off. I sat in the Cairo Marriott Hotel and watched the UK, the French, the Russian, the Dutch, the Chinese governments arrange for evac of their citizens. My company arranged my "departure" with no governmental assistance. I was safe at home in London when I saw on the BBC that finally the USA was going to send help. So yes, the US government will come to your aid. After nearly every other country on earth. Just hope your hotel isn’t overrun first.
I already knew that other countries often simply go in and rescue their citizens, but I didn't realize quite how bad it is for Americans abroad. After all, I live in France and I don't worry that much about the US needing to fly into Paris and rescue me.

So how does the US handle this situation? If they need to evacuate US citizens abroad, they will charge the full commercial rate. That's a US government document, but let me focus on some key bits:
Who will pay to evacuate me and my family? 
If commercial carriers are operating, the Embassy will recommend that you depart on your own and at your own expense. If you don’t have money to pay the fare, the Embassy can help you contact family and friends and assist in transferring money from them. In extreme circumstances, a destitute American wishing to return to the U.S. may qualify for a repatriation loan. The conditions for making such loans are stringent, and your passport will be limited until you repay the loan.
It goes on to say that if commercial carriers are not operating, the US government will charter aircraft, but still bill you the full commercial rate. While other governments are busy getting their citizens the hell out of danger, the US has the cash register open.

So do they bring you home? No. The FAQ explains: In most cases, the U.S. government will bring Americans to the nearest safe location, which is generally not the United States.

So if you're being evacuated from Pakistan, enjoy your stay in sunny Tadjikistan!

I've been trying to find out the evacuation procedures of other countries with little success. France appears to be quite willing to evacuate their citizens as needed and I can find no mention in French law about charging for said evacuation. The UK might charge for evacuation, but unlike the US, apparently has procedures in place to waive said charges when applicable.

So no, the US tax payers will not "shell out to get [my] ass out of the country." That again leaves me in the curious position of wondering why the US demands payments from expats when it gives nothing in return.

In reading through the US evacuation procedures, I noticed something else curious, but first, a digression.

My wife and I have agreed that if we ever have a second child, it will be by adoption. However, US adoption laws are quite clear about how I can pass on US citizenship to an adopted child:
  1. One parent is a U.S. Citizen by birth or through naturalization; and
  2. The child is under the age of 18; and
  3. The child is residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident alien (that is to say has entered the U.S. on an immigrant visa and has an alien resident card) and is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent; and
  4. If the child is adopted, the adoption must be final. If the adoption is to be finalized in the United States, the child becomes eligible for citizenship once the adoption process is completed.
Due to point 3 above, our adopted child wouldn't be a US citizen. One of my children would be a US citizen and the other one would not. Under French law, there is absolutely no legal distinction between biological and adopted children. Under US law, adopted children aren't even second-class citizens if they're living overseas! Of course, this isn't the only way that US parents can discover that their children aren't allowed to be US citizens, but it does have one unlikely, but particularly nasty, consequence.

Imagine that we've adopted a second little girl, my family up and moves to somewhere in the Maghreb and a civil war breaks out and I get killed. If the US is evacuating their citizens, according to their evacuation plans (emphasis mine):
If a child does not have an American parent or guardian in-country, the U.S. government will allow one adult to travel with the child on an evacuation flight. If there is more than one American child in the same family, only one adult escort will be permitted. Non-American siblings will not be provided evacuation assistance.
Got that? The US would be kind enough to allow my non-American wife to accompany our French-American daughter, but her sister would have to be left behind. Fortunately, the French would step in and help out, but honestly, does the US really need to be that explicitly cruel? How often does this situation happen that the US has felt the need to explicitly deny non-American siblings of American children the right to be evacuated to safety?

USA: the land of the cold-hearted cash register.


  1. That is just amazing. Wow. I mean I knew that evacuation services are not included for free part of the "U.S. citizenship package" but I didn't know about the rules for adopted children.

    There is a very strong disconnect between how Americans in the homeland think are the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen and the reality. I can't think of one person I've talked to in the homeland who wasn't 100% convinced that the Marines would show up to help him if he and other Americans got into trouble outside the U.S. The fee business really sets them back on their heels - they had no idea. And once they've wrapped their minds around how it really works, I sometimes get this response, "It's not the problem of the US government if you go gallivanting off to dangerous places and it shouldn't be their responsibility to bail you out."

    Okey-dokey. Fair enough. Nice to know we are on our own.

    But then everyone needs to stop using this as an argument for why we should be paying taxes.

  2. Huh. Seems to me the rules add yet another good reason for US citizens to renounce. Curtis, could you ever see yourself going back to live in the US? Of course that question is premised on the supposition that you have French citizenship, and that may not be the case.

    It's a very interesting topic you've raised, and I hope you get a lot of comments.

  3. So I have personal experience with this during March 11 Earthquake / Tsunami / Meltdown disaster.

    During that time, the U.S. embassy said that it would provide LOANs for economy airfare to those that could prove that they could not pay for their own airfare out of the country... and they would only provide it to the nearest country (South Korea or China, not the U.S.).

    After the meltdown, the embassy provided potassium iodine to Americans, but they would only provide it to those that came in person with ID. They gave me one weeks supply, but would not provide any for my wife or child because they were in school and not present with me. They DID give potassium iodine in advance to those who were part of Tokyo American Club, an very expensive ex-pat club where the well-to-do so as the families of ambassadors and corporate executives hang out with the consuls (membership dues for the Tokyo American Club is ¥3,000,000 for entrance fee for a family, a ¥200,000 deposit, and ¥35,000/month)

    I did not leave Japan, but I took my personal 7-day supply of iodine, which I couldn't get for my wife or child. Had the worst happened (fortunately it did not), I would've given it to them for them to ration between the two of them.

  4. you were asking me how the expat evacuation is handled by the French government:

    If I summarise the info : The french government will provide/ organise civil or military flights. The french citizen and their spouse ( married or not as long as you have a certificate acknowledging the fact that you are living together) and their children will be evacuated. Nowhere it is mentioned a price to pay to cover the cost of the evacuation.

  5. Don't forget that if you are in a country of dual nationality, the US is really under no obligation at all to evacuate you. This is because the rule of non-interference of sovereign nations comes into effect. Thus, one million Canadians who allegedly have US citizenship, most of whom are Canadian citizens, should laugh mockingly at the US claim to provide evacuation services to their expats. If war broke out in Canada, they would be paralyzed by the conundrum of what to do, but there would be few evacuations. We are actually more likely to see the border completely closed off and US citizens prevented from leaving Canada--and this would be for the protection of the domestic population.

    The more I am exposed to this stupidity, the more I see the United States as the biggest laughing stock in the world.