Questions: An Emergency passport? European citizenship; foreign banking rules; walking away

March 5, 2010
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Greetings from Malaysia, where I’m spending an extended weekend before heading briefly to Singapore on business.  I’ll tell you more about the country next week… but if you’re interested in Asia, it should definitely be on your radar.

Before turning to this week’s questions, I wanted to give you a quick update on the job posting from a few weeks ago.  Ordinarily, Matt and I would have made a decision by now, but the applications keep rolling in… I lost count after a few hundred.

To expedite our decision, we’re going close the posting at 11:59pm EST, Monday night March 8. No other applicants will be considered after that time.

Please remember, since there have been so many applications, my staff and I will not be able to respond in order to confirm receipt. Rest assured, if you sent us an email, we received it.

On to this week’s questions:

Tom writes, rather emphatically “Simon, I left the US over a year ago. I now need a 2nd passport as I am almost out of pages on my current one. Problem is, I can’t go to the embassy due to some legal problems back home, and I don’t have $50k to spend on a new passport. What can you recommend?”

Tom has an interesting and unfortunately all-too-common case. I don’t know what he’s done or if he’s guilty of any wrongdoing, but a last-minute second passport is no panacea for criminal troubles.

(to be clear, I don’t equate ‘law’ with morality, but this is a different subject altogether)

Why? Because even if you’re completely innocent of some trumped-up charge, any new country that would consider accepting you for citizenship would first do a background check, and if you’re in hot water, they probably won’t take you.

Conversely, if you actually have done something immoral, you should probably just face the music. After all, the cosmic forces of the universe have a way of working these things out.

Regardless, I think this underscores the importance of taking action. If you have the means, going through a second citizenship process NOW, before it becomes a critical need, is a smart thing to do.

I discussed a few cost effective second passport options last week, and I will continue to do so in future letters.

Speaking of second passports, I made a mistake when I mentioned something about Polish citizenship last week– my thanks to “anonymous” for sending along this correction:

“Simon, you said that a Polish citizen could establish permanent residence in another European country like France or Italy and  become eligible for citizenship there after 7-10 years.  The EU rule is that local citizenship can be applied for after 4 yrs residence, though it’s much faster with marriage.”

She is absolutely correct, my apologies for the oversight.

Stephanie in New York writes, “Simon, thanks for the great information on opening a foreign bank account this week. As a US citizen I understand that I need to file a form to the Treasury Department each year– what are the details on that?”

First- standard disclaimer: check with your tax advisor for any updates. But the current rule is that US taxpayers must report foreign bank and financial accounts on form TDF 90-22.1 each year by June 30.

According to the IRS, A “financial account” includes any bank, securities, securities derivatives or other financial instruments accounts, including any savings, demand, checking, deposit, or any other account maintained with a financial institution.

As of now, you do not have to file the form if the aggregate value of all of your foreign accounts was less than $10,000 for an entire calendar year. If the aggregate value of foreign accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year, you are obliged to file the form by the following June 30th.

James asks- “Simon- you’ve been in Thailand for a month but you haven’t said anything about the nightlife or social scene!”

That’s because you can read about Thai nightlife anywhere. I figured you’d be more interested in the hydroponics plantations where I buy organic vegetables than a review of the Go-Go bars…

… but to put it briefly, you can find whatever you want in Thailand. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are as pervasive as Buddhist monks and the works of Shakespeare. If there’s interest, I’ll write a dedicated post about this, just let me know.

Lastly, Pat asks: “OK Simon- I owe $136k on a house that I bought 4 years ago; it’s now “worth” about $70k, tops.  I make plenty of money, but the payment is slowing me down.  Would it be immoral to jump ship and go rent somewhere else?”

Personally, I have an immensely open mind to not judge people for the way that they live. I only broadly repudiate things based on very few moral absolutes– for example, genocide and pedophilia are clearly ‘wrong’ in my book.

Walking away from your mortgage does not make my list.

If you do decide to walk away (and I’m not encouraging you either way), just bear in mind the single universal law of causality… there will be consequences from your actions, and you must be prepared to accept them.

That’s all for this week; enjoy your weekend, and we’ll talk again on Monday.