[The following post is by TDV Editor-In-Chief, Jeff Berwick]
I recently had the pleasure to speak with Glen Roberts, a self-described "techno-geek", blogger and the author of How to Renounce Your US Citizenship in Two Easy Steps. The book was written as a guide to cut through opinions and describe the requirements and process of renouncing US citizenship… something in high demand lately. Glen renounced his US citizenship after living in various Central and South American countries for more than a decade and currently resides, statelessly, in Paraguay.
His story is one of the most interesting we’ve heard in the neverending Escape from Amerika struggle. Here was our conversation.
The Dollar Vigilante (TDV): Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you ended up in Paraguay?
Glen Roberts (GR): I was born in 1962 and lived in the midwest of the US until the end of 2002. I worked in the computer programming field as well as publishing an alternative newspaper called Full Disclosure. A secret FBI memo (which I received a censored copy of under the Freedom of Information Act) in 1988 described it this way: “Full Disclosure professes to be an alternative newspaper dedicated to exposing excesses of authority and providing information on citizens' rights so that its readers will be prepared to intelligently deal with intrusions into their lives by the Government. One of Full Disclosure's special concerns is technology and privacy.”
TDV: Wow, they were that on top of things even way back in 1988! I’m sure our dossier with them is a few hard drives full today.
GR: I think the underlying issue here is that the FBI is both a criminal investigative agency and also an intelligence agency. I think obviously their intelligence mandate beyond whatever legitimate intelligence activities they engage in, also includes the investigation of and maintaining information on US citizens who exercise their constitutionally protected rights. That information of course, then becomes available for whatever political purposes might arise in the future. I also believe that because of their appearance as a law enforcement agency, much of their intelligence activities under cover of law enforcement, ie: in plain sight and no one notices.
TDV: Which agency in the US government isn’t an “intelligence” agency anymore! Anyway, please go on about your background...
GR: In 2002 I went on vacation several times in Costa Rica, each getting longer. I hadn’t made any specific plans to move, however. In early 2003, I visited the US and upon my return to Costa Rica had planned to go back and forth regularly. However, I found life more fulfilling outside the US and have never been back since.
Costa Rica ultimately was not the right place for me and then I spent about 5-½ years in Uruguay. Almost 4 years ago, I moved to Paraguay and find that it is a comfortable fit for me.
TDV: We also find Latin America to be one of the most enjoyable places to live. When, how and why did you renounce your US citizenship?
GR: I formally renounced my US Citizenship on June 21, 2013. The renunciation ceremony took place at the US Consulate in Asuncion on that day. I had previously met with the US Consul and he read me a 12 point document on the consequences of renunciation. The actual ceremony is very quick. I made a youtube video with a reenactment of it, and the essential part of the ceremony takes about 90 seconds!
However, that shouldn’t undermine the significance of it. I believe that it is truly profound not only on a legal level, but also on a spiritual level. When I look back on things, I would say that metaphorically, I had been an eagle chained to a flagpole, and my renunciation cut me free.
I walked into the US Embassy that day as a poor burdened human with the weight of the US and all it does on my shoulders. I left free as an eagle to explore new heights.
TDV: Eagle, nice metaphor!
GR: I had researched the topic of renouncing my citizenship various times over the years I lived outside the US. However, it never quite clicked. I think some of that may have been that I didn’t have another passport. Some, was that I was still “American”.
Over the 11 years I lived outside the United States, I changed significantly. Much of the fear and anger I had felt on a daily basis vanished. I became more healthy, more self-content, more at peace with myself. As I became more disconnected from the American culture and as saw myself as being less and less “American”, the label became more and more of a burden for me.
Not to mention my feelings of having lived in a lie when I was active publishing Full Disclosure, ie: being taught as a child I lived in a “free country”, yet found whenever I exercised those freedoms, I was “put down”, it not outright harassed or threatened.
The day to day burdens of being an American also I believe leave everyone walking around with a black cloud over them. People seem to be culturally engineered into a state of discontent and the solutions, choices and opportunities for change simply lead to more disillusionment.
TDV: Many people are under the impression that in order to renounce your US citizenship you had to be a citizen of another country. Clearly that is not the case. Was that brought up at all during the renunciation process?
GR: There are countless misconceptions about the requirements and process of renunciation. Also, many who haven’t gone through the process often express views indicating that it is also an adversarial process as well.
The first indication that it not required that you have to be a citizen of another country is by reading the State Department guide called the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) which outlines the process and requirements for all functions of the US Consulate. That guide clearly states that one is not required to hold another nationality in order to renounce their US citizenship. It only indicates the person should be told of the consequences and if they still want to go ahead, to process the renunciation.
In my book, I have included a complete copy of the FAM section on renunciations, as well as a copy of all the forms I was required to complete, along with my answers. You can see exactly what information you need to provide. Hint: it is not very much, nor very detailed.
You can also see the 12 points they read you about the consequences. One of those points is about Statelessness. In my case, the US Consul and I had a brief discussion of that topic and he additionally gave me a page from the FAM apparently not generally available to the public.
At no time did the US Consul express any issue or personal concern with respect to my decision to renounce or become Stateless. I would say that my decision to become Stateless had no significant impact on the process or the information I was requested to provide.
Another common misconception is that you need to “pay for the forms”. The forms are freely given to you, and the administrative fee (now US$2,350 - a 400% increase just recently instituted) is not collected until immediately before the renunciation ceremony.
TDV: Are you able to travel outside of Paraguay without having any passports?
GR: That is a question I am not prepared to answer directly. I prefer to share my actual experiences, not speculate on possibilities. There is a UN treaty that was written in 1954. The title is “Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons”.
Article 28 of that treaty provides in part, “Travel Documents. The Contracting States shall issue to stateless persons lawfully staying in their territory travel documents for the purpose of travel outside their territory, unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require, and the provisions of the Schedule to this Convention shall apply with respect to such documents”. The schedule then describes this document, and for all practical purposes, it looks like and functions as a passport. However, the cover describes it as a travel document per the 1954 convention, and it specifically disclaims any relation to the holders nationality: “This document is issued solely with a view to providing the holder with a travel document which can serve in lieu of a national passport. It is without prejudice to and in no way affects the holder’s nationality.”
Paraguay became a party to that treaty on July 2, 2014 (see a list of countries who have signed the treaty here) and therefore has an obligation to provide me with that travel document.
I recently met with the Human Rights department of Paraguay and they understand their obligations under the Convention. They also explained and I understand that not only am I the first Stateless case they have, but also because they only recently became a party to the treaty, they have yet to develop any process, forms, or anything else to implement it.
TDV: That is one of the great things about living in many “underdeveloped” countries… a complete lack of government size, ability or experience to focus on many of these things. But, please go on.
GR: They did accept an application from me to be recognized as Stateless. They are also working to help me update my immigration records to reflect that status as well. I had previously applied for and received permanent resident status.
I decided to wait until Paraguay recognizes me as a Stateless person and not an American before I explore using my Paraguayan Cedula for international travel. I also believe that as they create a framework under the treaty, I will receive a travel document.
When I renounced my US Citizenship, I did so with the realization that it could be difficult to travel internationally for sometime, if not forever.
TDV: This is a unique way to go about things. Most people would apply for Paraguayan residency (and therefore a cedula first) and then even get a Paraguayan passport before renouncing. It seems you have reverse engineered the entire process. We don’t want to be negative nellies but we are willing to bet it will not be an easy process. But, we’ll definitely be curious to follow your progress as will many of our readers. What other rights does the 1954 Convention offer?
GR: I think as a brief general overview of the treaty, one might describe it by saying that basically it ensures that Stateless people will be treated the same as another other legal resident. That Stateless people cannot be discriminated against because they have no nationality. However, it does have one provision that may be of particular interest to those who are seeking to change their nationality from US to something else.
Article 32 provides: “Naturalization. The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of stateless persons. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.”
Though it doesn’t obligate a party State to grant citizenship. However they are required to make it an easier process. And, depending on the country, it may well be that the process of obtaining citizenship would be significantly facilitated by becoming Stateless first. The risk, of course, is that according to the US State Department renunciation of citizenship is the most unequivocal way to lose citizenship and "such action is final and irrevocable."
TDV: What have been the positives and negatives of renouncing US citizenship for you?
GR: Though many people bring up the issue of international travel, I don’t see that as a particular negative. Throughout my life, I’ve gone decades without any international travel. So, whether it is another year, two or more before I am free to travel internationally at will, I am content with my life here in Paraguay.
Another negative aspect of course is going through the more complicated IRS paperwork for the year of renunciation, but I believe that is more than balanced by being free of those obligations thereafter.
(Editor’s Note: For those looking to renounce who have substantial assets and may be liable for an egregious “exit tax” from the US government, TDV Wealth Management has solutions to make this process much easier and less ‘taxing’ so to speak)
At the time I renounced, I felt that maybe some of my old friends from the US would “attack” me as being unpatriotic, an idiot, etc. However, I was surprised that I didn’t get any reaction of that kind, not from my friends, or even strangers. Of course, not everyone agreed with my decision, but everyone seems to support it.
TDV: We aren’t that surprised. There is a massive swell of people in the US realizing that the US isn’t the land of the free, at all, anymore… and many are jealous if you can get out.
GR: I would even to an extent include the personnel at the US Embassy when I renounced. I can only describe their interaction with me as professional and in some cases friendly. Much different that what I often read in articles, blogs and comments from people who have not personally been through the process.
For the positive aspects of it, it was for all accounts a process of death and rebirth. I was simply able to cast off the the nonsense of the past and start a new. I don’t feel burdened by the label of being an American.
TDV: You sound like you are an anarchist, or at least your actions have been very anarchist like. Are you?
GR: I don’t wish to apply that label or any other to myself. Even the label “Stateless” takes away from people seeing me as the individual I am and grouping me with others that may or may not reflect my personality.
When I took my Certificate of Loss of Nationality to a translator he glanced at the document and then we were discussing other things. He asked me if I was a libertarian. I replied that I didn’t like to use labels, but that would fit better than “republican” or “democrat”. Then he noticed the document again and commented that, “this looks really important”. I replied yes and suggested he read it.
We then had a lengthy discussion on the topic. He had been a university student in the US, so was well versed in the politics and culture from his experiences. As we concluded the conversation, he said, “I am sorry that I asked if you were a libertarian. I can see you are an earthling”.
I think the impression one gets from the term “anarchist” is a society that is in a constant state of chaos. I also think that if you look around, or particularly, if you read the newspaper or watch the news, that you could only conclude that we are now living in a constant state of chaos!
I believe that our culture of citizenship, particularly based on birth and geography creates a system that is inherently dependent on conflict and fear. If not for a constant state of conflict and fear there would be no purpose or need for our “leaders”.
TDV: Or no need for rulers, so to speak. Ahem, carry on.
GR: Yet, from the first moments of our lives we are locked into and taught that because of our citizenship we are obligated to, bound to and subservient to our leaders. That of course is contrary to the teachings that we are free willed, or have liberty. We get emotionally so caught up by the pledge of patriotism that we never see the reality, or if we do, have no opportunity to reconcile the difference.
My question is how we can shift from that kind of system to one where we live in co-respect of each other. Not that we would live in a lawless situation of chaos, but rather the “law” would be for our protection, not the empowerment of political leaders.
TDV: We like your perspective on things and agree! A big part of our writing here at TDV focuses on transitioning to a new, better system. An asystem, in fact. Of course, the word “anarchy” has been promoted by governments (and their mainstream media arms) to sound like it would be a terrible existence. It would be… at least for a time, for the government and their employees as they’d actually have to go out and get a real, productive job.
As an aside, TDV has a large global network of likeminded people around the world like yourself and we have a number of people in Paraguay. I’ll make sure to connect you with that network (Editor’s Note: You can get access to TDV Groups through a basic subscription to The Dollar Vigilante).
Do you have any final comments or things you’d like to let our readers know?
GR: With respect to the process of renunciation, keep in mind that it is a simple process. The reason why is not important. It is not a question on the forms. There is no need to rant about FACTA or any other ill actions of the United States. You can be sure the personnel in the Embassy are completely aware of the consequences of FACTA and all the other bad activities of the country. Their job is to process your paperwork, not address those concerns. Your renunciation is a political statement enough, and once it is complete you are free of all the drama and nonsense of that country. There is no need to try and make the ultimate exit an adversarial process. Step through the door and into your new life.
The decision is important, whether you have a second citizenship or not. As stated above, it is "is final and irrevocable." You cannot go back next month and get your citizenship back.
In my book I don’t address the issue of Statelessness beyond how it affects (not at all) the renunciation process. I will address the issue of being Stateless when I have sufficient personal experiences to make a proper report.
The first place to study that topic is the 1954 Convention and the list of countries that are a party to it.
I also think that just like becoming an expat, it is more important to focus on where you are going than where you are coming from. I’ve seen many expats who although are physically outside the US, seem to be emotionally engaged at the same level they were before. There are many great new experiences awaiting and they are much more fulfilling than remaining trapped in the emotional drama of the US. However, as an expat you always have the option to simply return.
An ex-American will have a very difficult time returning to live in the US and in some cases it may also be extremely difficult to even visit. I made the choice after being outside the US for 11 years. I recently heard from another ex-American who renounced a decade ago, also after having been outside the US for 11 years.
TDV: Yes, we’ve heard varying accounts on the degree of ease of returning to the US to visit if you have renounced. As with all things government related it is a fairly grey area and mostly depends on what new passport you carry and if you need a visa. If you do need a visa then your fate on receiving a tourist visa to the US lies in the hand of a government bureaucrat who may or may not be in a bad mood that day.
In any case, this has been simply fascinating and we’ll be watching how things progress with you. Thank you and please keep in touch.
GR: Thank you.
There are not many stories of Americans who have renounced their citizenship without already having acquired a new owner (country). One of the only cases we know of was Jeff Knaebel, an American who lit his passport on fire in India… and then soon after, himself. Glen seems to have taken a much more pleasant course and is living happily in Paraguay and has written about his experiences in How To Renounce Your US Citizenship In Two Easy Steps (you can purchase the book here).
Glen is definitely a trailblazer in this regard but we would caution others to be careful if you follow in his footsteps. Entering into unchartered waters can often be uncomfortable… But if you are considering getting a second citizenship and/or renouncing we advise you to both check out Glen’s book as well as contacting TDV Passports who can give you some consultation on your options.
Hopefully a day soon comes where no slave card (passport) is needed to travel or live freely. But in the meantime, people like Glen are blazing new trails to try to shed their owners.
We wish him all the best!