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Can I Lose My US Citizenship if I Live Abroad?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Naturalized U.S. citizens can live abroad for extended periods without losing their citizenship, unlike permanent residents.
  • There is no scrutiny or risk of losing citizenship due to prolonged absences from the U.S.
  • Engaging in illegal activities, serving in the military or government of another country without authorization, or other specific actions can lead to the revocation of citizenship.
  • The intention behind these actions is also considered when determining the loss of nationality.

Getting naturalized and accepted as an American citizen is a dream come true for many immigrants and non-immigrants. You’d have to spend years and fulfill inflexible criteria to even be eligible for consideration.

But that doesn’t mean you cannot lose your American citizenship. In fact, some attorneys say losing US citizenship is far easier than obtaining one. In this article, we’ll explain how your abroad trips can affect your US Citizenship.

Can Naturalized U.S. Citizens Live Abroad?

One of the significant advantages of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is the freedom to travel without stringent restrictions. Unlike permanent residents, naturalized citizens don’t have limitations on the duration of their stays outside the U.S.

Permanent residents might face scrutiny if they are absent from the U.S. for more than six months. Prolonged absences can lead to complications, with authorities potentially deeming that the individual has abandoned their U.S. residence. In extreme situations, this can result in the revocation of their status and possible deportation.

However, for naturalized U.S. citizens, such constraints are non-existent. Simply put, extended absences from the U.S. will not, on their own, lead to the loss of citizenship. Thus, if you’re considering relocating abroad for an extended period after naturalization, you have the flexibility to do so. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to be aware of certain obligations and considerations to avoid unintended consequences.

Overseas Residency and U.S. Citizenship

Residing abroad doesn’t automatically result in losing U.S. citizenship, but prolonged stays can raise concerns. Typically, if a naturalized citizen lives outside the U.S. for over a year, they may be viewed as abandoning their citizenship. However, maintaining ties like submitting U.S. tax returns or owning property can counteract this presumption.

Dual Citizenship and Naturalized Citizens

A prevalent myth is that dual citizenship acts as a shield against the loss of U.S. citizenship. Although the U.S. typically recognizes dual citizenship, it doesn’t guarantee permanent protection from renunciation. If a naturalized citizen willingly and officially gives up their U.S. citizenship, their dual status is forfeited, leaving them with only the other country’s nationality.

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Renunciation vs. Relinquishment vs. Revocation

Navigating the complexities of U.S. citizenship involves grasping various concepts and actions that could affect an individual’s status. Whether through intentional renunciation or unintentional relinquishment, the path to citizenship can be as delicate as it is diverse. In this section, we delve into the nuances between renunciation and relinquishment, as well as the circumstances that might lead to the revocation of U.S. citizenship.

Renunciation vs. Relinquishment

It’s crucial to understand the difference between renunciation and relinquishment. Renunciation involves a conscious and voluntary decision to abandon U.S. citizenship. In contrast, relinquishment can arise from certain actions, like joining a foreign military, potentially implying a desire to forgo U.S. nationality. With relinquishment, one might unintentionally lose their citizenship without a direct declaration.

Revocation of U.S. Citizenship

While the revocation of U.S. citizenship is an uncommon event, it is legally possible under certain conditions. One notable circumstance is when a naturalized citizen willingly renounces their loyalty to the United States. This act of renouncing citizenship requires the individual to take an oath of renunciation in front of a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer while they are on foreign soil. By doing so, the individual clearly expresses their desire to voluntarily give up their U.S. citizenship.

Ways to Forfeit Naturalized U.S. Citizenship

While U.S. citizenship is enduring for most, there are specific instances in which one might risk losing it. These exceptions encompass:

Denaturalization by U.S. Immigration Authorities

This occurs when citizenship, initially obtained, is found to be based on fraudulent actions, material concealment, or willful misrepresentation. Denaturalization is an infrequent action; however, its occurrences rose during the Trump era.

Actions covered under the “loss of nationality” law

As laid out in Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, certain acts, when performed “with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality,” could lead to loss of citizenship. These acts include:

  • Naturalizing in another country post 18 years: This doesn’t concern those who have dual citizenship by birth. And remember, intentionality is vital, allowing many to maintain dual citizenship with the U.S. and another nation.
  • Serving in a foreign military: Joining or serving in a foreign country’s military, particularly if it’s hostile towards the U.S. or if you serve in a significant position, can be interpreted as an act of relinquishing U.S. citizenship.
  • Engaging in a foreign government’s operations: If one, after turning 18, takes up roles, tasks, or offices under a foreign government, and either becomes a citizen of that nation or pledges allegiance to it, this might lead to citizenship loss.
  • Intentional renunciation of U.S. citizenship: Some choose to officially renounce their U.S. citizenship, especially when wanting to settle in countries that disallow dual citizenship. This act also gains attention when affluent individuals renounce to evade U.S. taxes.
  • Acts of treason against the U.S.: Inherently, actions or conspiracies against the U.S., such as plotting its overthrow, taking arms against it, or declaring war, can result in forfeiture of U.S. citizenship.

In essence, if none of the above circumstances applies to you, residing abroad shouldn’t jeopardize your status as a U.S. citizen.

Safeguarding U.S. Citizenship While Abroad

For naturalized citizens residing outside the U.S. for extended periods, there’s a risk of inadvertently losing their citizenship. Here are steps to help ensure continued allegiance to the U.S.:

  • Stay Connected to the U.S.: Frequent visits, maintaining financial connections, and engaging in U.S.-related activities reflect a commitment to U.S. citizenship.
  • Consistently File Tax Returns: Submitting annual tax returns, even without tax dues, highlights adherence to U.S. legal responsibilities.
  • Keep a Current U.S. Passport: An active passport serves as tangible proof of ongoing citizenship.
  • Stay in Touch with U.S. Officials: Regularly updating the closest U.S. embassy or consulate with current contact details is essential.
  • Consult an Expert: If in doubt about one’s citizenship status, seeking guidance from immigration lawyers specializing in citizenship issues is recommended.

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Final Thoughts

Unless you’re involved in any of the above-mentioned situations, your long absence from the United States shouldn’t pose a threat to your American citizenship. However, you should always communicate with the government wherever required. In case of any confusion, it is advised to get in touch with a registered attorney.

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Living Abroad as a Naturalized Citizen FAQ

Below, you will find some common questions about going abroad with U.S. citizenship and their answers.

1. Can a U.S. citizen stay out of the country for more than 6 months?

Yes, a U.S. citizen can stay out of the country for more than 6 months. However, prolonged absences might raise questions about one’s intent to maintain U.S. residency and can have implications on returning.

2. Will I lose my U.S. citizenship if I become a citizen of another country?

Not automatically. The U.S. generally allows dual citizenship. However, if a U.S. citizen voluntarily and explicitly renounces their U.S. citizenship when acquiring another nationality, then they would lose their U.S. citizenship.

3. How long can a U.S. citizen live abroad?

A U.S. citizen can live abroad indefinitely without losing their citizenship. However, certain actions or prolonged absences may lead to suspicions about their intent to retain U.S. citizenship.

4. How long can you reside outside the U.S. without risking your citizenship?

U.S. citizens can live abroad for an unlimited duration without losing citizenship. Still, maintaining ties to the U.S. and other factors play a role in determining one’s continued allegiance to the country.

5. For what reasons can a U.S. citizen lose their citizenship?

U.S. citizenship can be lost through specific acts like treason, formally renouncing citizenship, or committing acts implying an intent to relinquish citizenship, such as serving in a foreign military hostile to the U.S.

6. What is the penalty for U.S. citizens entering or leaving the U.S. using a foreign passport?

U.S. citizens are required by law to enter and leave the U.S. using their U.S. passports. If they don’t, they may face fines, delays, or be denied entry upon their return. However, penalties can vary depending on circumstances and the discretion of immigration officials.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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