How to Renounce Your Citizenship

On the heels of Texas Senator Ted Cruz disavowing his Canadian citizenship, experts explain the process for several countries.

Ted Cruz: Canadian-American. After the Dallas Morning News outed the Texas senator and Tea Party stalwart's dual citizenship (he was born in Calgary, Alberta), Cruz announced late Monday night that he would give up his Canadian citizenship.

While he said he has "nothing against Canada" and does not have a Canadian passport, he felt that as "an American by birth and a U.S. Senator" he "should only be an American."

But how does one go about renouncing citizenship? It's not as easy as burning your old passport. Practices vary from country to country, with some examples below.


Canadian regulations afford Senator Cruz a comparatively easy renunciation road. The first step, ticking off six boxes on the list of eligibility criteria, promises to be relatively straightforward. This will include demonstrating that he or she is over 18, that he does not reside in Canada, that he presents no security threat to the country, and that he understands the full significance of the action. An applicant must also prove that he or she will not be left "stateless"—lacking citizenship in any other country.

Having met the criteria, Cruz then merely has to fill out an online application and pay a nonrefundable fee of $100, the processing time for which can vary from three months to a year. Since Canada does not levy taxes on income earned overseas Cruz will not face any tax bill, as he would if he were giving up his U.S. citizenship.

Cruz will then join a very small group: Last year only 192 people applied to renounce their Canadian citizenship, compared with 1,130 in the U.S. for the second quarter of 2013 alone.

United States

Citizenship renunciation has had a complex history in the U.S. Prior to the late 19th century, most countries considered a person's birth citizenship to be permanent and immutable under the doctrine of perpetual allegiance.

This proved nettlesome for early British immigrants who, by virtue of their British birth, were sometimes pressed into service by the Royal Navy despite holding U.S. citizenship and having immigrated to America years, or even decades, earlier. The practice of impressment was so controversial as to have played a significant role in causing the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain.

Nor was the practice confined to Britain alone. Germany, Sweden, and other countries also frequently drafted into their militaries U.S. citizens visiting their homeland.

In 1868, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which specifically allowed for citizens to renounce the citizenship of the country from which they emigrated. But since the U.S. had no control over other national policies, it also sought out foreign agreements that harmonized naturalization laws—what became known as the Bancroft Treaties.

Today American citizens opting to renounce their citizenship do so primarily for tax reasons, according to Freddi Weintraub, an immigration lawyer with Fragomen, a New York law firm.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that taxes all income by its citizens earned overseas above $100,000. In 2012, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a citizen of Singapore, whose tax rules are substantially lighter by comparison.

But the renunciation process is not without headaches, says Weintraub. You must first go to a consulate or embassy overseas and announce your intentions. Then "there are a bunch of affidavits that you have to complete," she says, "because they have to make sure that you are of a sound mind, and that you understand the ramifications of what you've done."

A consular officer then conducts an exit interview and has the individual sign an oath of renunciation. And depending on a person's income and wealth, exit taxes may be accessed.


In the Soviet era, renunciation wasn't even an option for most citizens. Emigration was restricted except in extraordinary circumstances. When the Soviet Union finally allowed certain groups—such as ethnically Jewish citizens—to emigrate in the late 1970s, those moving to Israel were forced to hand over their Soviet passports at the border.

The current procedure is more flexible, if beset by bureaucracy. As with Canada, proof of alternative citizenship is necessary. But in Russia's case, the bureaucratic hoop jumping has just begun.

Nationals living abroad are first required to have an up-to-date Russian passport—which would have been a problem for someone in Senator Cruz's situation, since it takes months and a fat stack of paperwork to obtain one. You also need a translated and notarized copy of the other country's passport. Plus official proof that you owe no taxes to the Russian government, which is not so easy to get unless you live in Russia.

A fee is assessed. All documents are submitted in person. And only then does the six-month processing begin.


Like Canada and Russia, France only allows its citizens to renounce their citizenship if they first demonstrate alternative citizenship. They must also prove a "lack of family and professional ties in France," according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In December 2012, French actor Gerard Depardieu renounced his French citizenship in a dispute over tax increases on the wealthy instituted by the new president, Francois Hollande. Facing an effective tax rate of approximately 85 percent in France, Depardieu first moved across the border to neighboring Belgium, where the tax rate stands at 60 percent.

Then in a strange twist, Russian President Vladimir Putin handed Depardieu a Russian passport, which the actor happily accepted. Now facing an income tax rate of only 13 percent, Depardieu is registered as a resident of Saransk, a small town in the Russian province of Mordovia, about 400 miles east of Moscow, and has plans to star in a Russian film set in Chechnya.


In contrast to the countries above, Japan does not allow dual citizenship.

Along with its neighbor Korea, Japan automatically revokes a person's Japanese citizenship once he or she is naturalized in another country. Minors under the age of 21 are allowed to hold two passports, but upon coming of age, they must renounce the second passport or forfeit their Japanese citizenship.

Though it was formerly quite common, actively barring dual citizenship has all but disappeared over the last several decades. Even Germany, previously a staunch adherent to the policy, has relaxed the restriction in recent years and now allows exemptions to be considered.

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