Introduction: A self-described "techno-geek," Glen Roberts is a programmer, webmaster and blogger as well as 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 present the requirements and process in a direct and straightforward manner. Glen renounced his US citizenship after living in various Central and South American countries for more than a decade. He is now a happily stateless person.
Daily Bell: You've written a book, How to Renounce Your US Citizenship in Two Easy Steps. Tell us about it.
Glen Roberts: I wrote the book as a guide for those who have an interest in renouncing their US citizenship. It is designed to cut through all the opinions and discussions and present the requirements and the process in a direct and straightforward manner. For that reason, I included a copy of all the forms that I completed for the process. You can see exactly how little information is required. I also included a checklist of things to do to complete the process.
A brief history of myself and my experiences renouncing are included. That keeps it interesting and, to my surprise, a number of people who I don't believe have ever imagined living outside the US, much less renouncing their citizenship, have enjoyed the book.
My book should help you make the decision if you are concerned about any of the issues related to the process. However, the underlying choice is yours alone.
Daily Bell: Why did you write it?
Glen Roberts: After I renounced my US citizenship I made two observations. First, people came to me asking for information on the process but the conversations always got bogged down with angry rants about various US policies. I can't say that I disagree with any of those concerns but they are irrelevant to the process. In fact, by renouncing your US citizenship you are able to simply step outside all that drama. Second, what I read online and in newspaper articles was again overshadowing the process and the empowerment the process gives the individual with the political complaints.
I chose to write a statement regarding why I was renouncing. It is completely optional; there is no need to discuss why you are renouncing. The "why" is not a part of the process. You need only express your intention and that is done via taking the oath of renunciation. I included a complete copy of my statement in the book. I began it this way: "I think at the first moment of looking at a blank screen to begin writing this, the thought came to mind that this is 'supposed' to be some kind of in-depth, angry rant about all the real or perceived 'injustices' of the United States at a personal as well as global level." I don't think that point can be stated strongly enough. Renunciation is a quick exit from all that drama.
I wanted to share my story so those pondering the prospect would be able to feel comfortable making the choice.
Daily Bell: Take us through renunciation.
Glen Roberts: The most important part, of course, is organizing your affairs and then making the decision. Those are not parts of the process I can help with. I think it is best if one renounces because they believe it is best for them, not because they are upset with the current president or any of the other millions of complaints one may have with the United States. The media focuses on those who are enraged with FATCA. Renunciation is much bigger than FATCA.
I would recommend that before renouncing because of FATCA or any other injustice perpetrated by the US, that you first get a feel for how your life will be better without US citizenship (aside from the lightened paperwork load). I personally see the tax side as a positive side effect, but not my underlying motivation.
I felt that I had changed as a person from when I left the United States over a decade ago. I felt that I had outgrown the US, and carrying the nationality around with me was heavy baggage. Though I could have renounced at anytime, it took me nearly 11 years to come to the point of feeling it was the right time.
I scheduled an appointment with the US embassy. Their online system offers few choices, so I selected "other." The day before my appointment, I decided to email and let them know why I was coming. That resulted in a big letdown. I was informed that no one was in the embassy that week who could handle the process.
Originally, I was not going to present a statement. However, the night before my appointment, I thought that maybe the meeting would be a vicious conflict. I would be meeting with an officer of the United States and telling him I no longer want to be a member of his "club." Not only that, but I didn't plan to be a member of any political "club." I would in a sense be stepping completely out of the system. I've read some blog posts that suggest if you try doing that you will be told you are crazy and sent away, quite possibly in less polite terms.
So I decided that it would be best to prepare a written statement, and the result was a one-page letter explaining how I had changed, how I felt that now the United States was a foreign country to me. I also made reference to changes in my physical appearance during my time outside the USA, as show by my passport photos taken six years ago. I went from appearing unkept, angry and overweight to shining health.
When I arrived at the embassy I was presented with various forms to fill out. I had tried to complete most of them at home, but was caught a little off-guard. After completing them I was asked to wait. After a short wait, I was called to the window by the US consul. He greeted me by saying, "I see life has been good to you in MERCOSUR," clearly recognizing the change in my physical appearance. Of course, the changes were much deeper.
We had a brief discussion. He then read me the required "warning" and an appointment was scheduled for about ten days later for the renunciation ceremony. I should add that this first meeting is often referred to as an "intensive interview." The forms showing exactly what information you need to provide and the "warning" are included in my book so you can be prepared.
The renunciation ceremony involved a long wait until I was called to the window. Then the vice consul reviewed all the papers, noted that he had to read me the warning, too, (as he had to sign that he had read it to me). After he completed that he handed me the Oath of Renunciation (also included in my book) and asked me to raise my right hand and read it. At that moment I was an American citizen. As I completed the Oath I was no longer an American. We each signed two original copies of all the documents, and I was asked to wait.
After a short wait, I was called back to the window and presented with my US passport canceled, and a Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States, signed by the vice consul with the US embassy seal affixed. That was June 21, 2013. That day, I entered the US embassy as an American citizen and left not only not as an American, but without any nationality at all.
Ultimately, the paperwork is submitted to Washington for final approval, the only requirement being that you were a US citizen and that you took the Oath voluntarily with the intention to lose your citizenship. That approval took nearly 15 months. I recently heard from another ex-American who just completed the process in Montevideo, Uruguay and it was less than a month from his Oath to approved certificate. He also had made the choice to become stateless.
Daily Bell: How did you feel afterwards?
Glen Roberts: I felt lighter. Some friends even said I looked thinner, though I hadn't lost any weight physically. I would say that it was a spiritual rebirth. I simply died and was reborn without all of the American baggage. I no longer have any moral, legal, financial or spiritual obligation to answer for the deeds of the United States.
Daily Bell: Why didn't you claim another state before you renounced?
Glen Roberts: I think that in my experiences living outside the USA for a decade, I came to see life as a need to find peace within ourselves. Taking an allegiance to a country, a group of political leaders, is inherently contrary to that. I have seen many write that one's identity and even their self-esteem comes from that allegiance (which is usually involuntary) to the State. I believe that our identity and self-esteem are inherently and solely our own. We are created by a bio-spiritual system, not a political one. Our identity and self-esteem come to us from our spiritual essence combined with our experiences of life. We are creatures of the earth, not minions of some group of so-called "leaders." The benefits of joining a "club" is for the leaders of that club, not the individual members.
Daily Bell: What do you think of nationalities anyway?
Glen Roberts: A better question to start with would be, "what is nationality to begin with?" For most people in the world, nationality is simply an involuntary allegiance to a group of political leaders, organized by geography, membership in a "club" that says it is for the benefit of its members, yet in reality offers nothing. This allegiance, though completely void of free will, is often so strong that citizens will choose to die and/or kill for their "leaders." As well, the leaders make use of that connection and often force their citizens to kill or be killed on their behalf.
Within each nationality the citizens are presented with one kind of system or another for the selection of their leaders and choices on a variety of issues. Of course, in some places those choices are extremely limited. In other places, the choices appear to be completely free and across a wide spectrum of issues. One might describe these differences as the "bad" to the "good" countries.
The "good" countries seem intent on forcing their will upon the "bad" countries. The reality of the "good" countries, the democratic countries, I believe, is that although the citizens vote and are therefore "in control" of it, the choices are actually very limited and result in nothing more than ever-increasing chaos and drama.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, in part, "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality." I would ask how many people in the world can actually change their nationality? If one actually had that right, then each and every person would have a viable opportunity to do so. As a practical matter we are all stuck with the involuntary allegiances we received at birth. We rally behind the concept of free will, while bound to the realities of the State.
Nationality seems best described as a tool which serves best to keep the people of the world engaged in petty dramas within their country and internationally. That keeps people so distracted that no one is able to live in co-respect with their fellow mankind or find personal peace for themselves.
Daily Bell: What do you think of the passport system generally? What does the system do and why? How old is it?
Glen Roberts: A passport seems to serve two purposes. One is to identify an international traveler and two, to identify one as a citizen of a particular nation. There are probably some practical reasons for such a travel document. However, it might be best if travel documents were issued by an international authority so that individual countries would be unable to restrict international travel of their citizens.
Daily Bell: Is the passport system evolving? Is it going to be harder to travel in the future?
Glen Roberts: Because a passport as a travel document is issued by the country that a person is a citizen of, it gives that country power, control over the ability of its citizens to travel internationally. The large countries certainly appear to be on the track of more rules and regulations. There is some talk about the US deny passports, too, refusing to renew them, and even possibly revoking them if someone owes back taxes above a certain amount.
Daily Bell: Why would nations want to restrict travel?
Glen Roberts: As a child in the United States, I learned that the United States was special, unlike other countries, because of all the liberty and freedom offered its citizens. Yet as an American citizen I was prohibited from visiting Cuba, or even purchasing their products in other countries, for example Cuban cigars. The US sees that embargo as some kind of punishment for the misdeeds of Cuba some 50 years ago.
As a US citizen with my involuntary fidelity to the State, it would have been morally corrupt, not to mention a crime for me to visit Cuba or even purchase a cigar at a major shopping center in Asuncion, Paraguay. If the United States has a problem with Cuba, I think it would be better to show by example a better system than attempting to impose "our" will upon them.
Maybe the underlying problem of travel restrictions is more a fear that one could discover their underlying allegiance to their country is not so strong after they have experienced the world and the many cultures and political systems, and found friends in all these strange and foreign lands.
Daily Bell: Should you hold more than one passport?
Glen Roberts: Many feel it is important to have more than one passport. I met one person who said he had six or seven. The advantage is that if one country becomes restrictive another one may give you more latitude. But at the same time, you will have an allegiance, an obligation to each country you hold a passport from. It could include military and/or tax obligations among others. Though many countries at this time don't seem to have difficult obligations, you will be affected by any changes they make in the future. Depending on your views, you may be accepting a moral or spiritual burden by taking an allegiance, to something you are not in complete agreement with.
It is a personal choice and I would focus more on what you are seeking to attain than what you are seeking to avoid.
Daily Bell: Should you hold NO passports?
Glen Roberts: Again, it is not for me to recommend this or not. I believe most people in the world don't hold a passport. Most Americans don't have a passport and have not visited a foreign country. That goes for most other countries, too. I have met many people who have never been out of their hometown, be it New York, Montevideo, or Asuncion.
Whether you should hold a nationality is a much more important question. Of course, without a nationality you cannot have a passport. However, there are some travel documents available for people in such a situation. There are also some countries that issue passports that don't convey nationality. I am in the process of obtaining an appropriate travel document.
There are very few people who chose to given up nationality completely. Some of them are very well known. For example, Albert Einstein renounced his nationality and remained stateless for five years. Karl Marx renounced his nationality at age of 27 and remained stateless until his death, as did Friedrich Nietzsche; he renounced at 24.
At this time, the United States is one of the few countries that allows its citizens to renounce if they hold no other citizenship. However, it appears to be extremely uncommon. There seem to be currently three living ex-Americans who are stateless. Myself, Mike Gogulski and, most recently, Jason Minard. For sure there are others who have not shared their status publicly.
Daily Bell: What about being a perpetual traveler? Is that a good idea?
Glen Roberts: Many expats are so-called perpetual travelers. In fact, I believe that may be a category that most expats fall into. The high-tech, Internet-connected world makes it a very feasible lifestyle. Simply visit a country as a tourist and stay for as long as you are allowed. That is often 90 days. At the end of the 90 days take a short trip somewhere and return for another 90 days, or one might cycle between two countries, or even move about more as a nomad.
A fairly effective "off-grid" lifestyle is possible, though you will need to keep a current passport and the purchase of property or businesses may be legally limited. I think the best time to be a perpetual tourist is when you are thinking about living someplace. Check it out for six months or a year without any paperwork hassles or obligations. For longer than that, you may find the obligation of traveling to become a chore and/or costly.
Daily Bell: A CNBC editor labeled your book un-American. Why?
Glen Roberts: If you viewed the word to mean "anti-American," then I believe many would agree. I am certainly "anti-American" in some ways. However, it is the right of all Americans to renounce their citizenship, so that could hardly be un-American.
However, I think his meaning was less "anti-American" and more a throwback to the McCarthy days where un-American was a pejorative term of US political discourse. The use of the term was to attack someone in an attempt to discredit or insult them, simply because they were being good Americans and exercising their American rights. His view seems to be that people should seek political change through voting and lobbying. My view is that the most important, easiest and, of course, most effective thing to change is ourselves.
If that change brings us to a point where we feel US citizenship is no longer appropriate, then the American thing to do is exercise our rights and renounce it. America was founded on the principal of the rights being inherent with the human being, but we seem to have found ourselves in a world where the exercise of our rights is considered bad. Step out of that situation and let your soul roam wild and free.
Daily Bell: Have you received other negative feedback? Positive?
Glen Roberts: In Latin America, it is the dream of many to visit, if not live, in the United States. Many seem completely amazed that an American would renounce his citizenship, to the point of disbelief. Others in Latin American see the United States as a monster that is out of control around the world and are amazed and delighted to hear of my decision.
The book itself stays out of the political issues except for briefly touching on some of my experiences as an adult in the US. I think because of its down-to-Earth nature, there has been very little negative feedback. I was surprised by the positive feedback from my friends, old schoolmates and others that I don't imagine ever considered renouncing.
Daily Bell: You run websites. Let's go back in time. Tell us a bit about your childhood and how you got involved with the Internet.
Glen Roberts: I was always in conflict with the "authorities" and in the school system excelled at not participating. However, there were a few exceptions. In high school one of the teachers had used his own money to purchase an Altair 8800 computer for his students to use. That computer is one where you used toggle switches to enter programs and lights to see the results. Accessories included a paper tape reader, dumb terminal and various systems for recording programs or data on cassette tapes. Long before the Internet.
He also made arrangements with a department at the University of Michigan for selected high school students to use one of their facilities outside of normal business hours. I can't imagine how Karl Zinn got the idea that it would be okay to give some high school students keys and permission to hang out in his university department building without supervision and use the personal computers available there! However, he had a vision about the future of the personal computer and it also offered me an opportunity to escape the emotional distress of conventional schooling.
I was one of the high school students who were among the first to arrive in the evening and the last to leave in the morning. That often meant spending from 6:00 PM to 7:00 AM every night there. At much as it is humanly possibly to merge with the machine, I did. It also meant my efforts to escape the school system were intensified, as I had no time much less a desire to attend any classes there.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your run-in with the Pentagon in the mid-'80s.
Glen Roberts: I believe that I was destined to finish high school in 1980 had I followed the official indoctrination plan. But I was side tracked by the computers. At 15 I was working for the University of Michigan doing computer programming. I worked for two different departments at the university. Shortly after that I started doing contract programming work for other companies. In 1979, at 17, I went to Europe for a few months to do computer programming for a company there.
As you read that, you may well be thinking that I was a bright young man, though uneducated in a formal manner, on a great career path of computer programming. To an extent that was true. But there was another side, a much stronger side. I was a very angry young man, one that was completely disillusioned with the system – all aspects of it. I had seen the system was a lie. In junior high I was told there were "electives," yet in the end you had to take all the courses, and the only election had to do with the scheduling. They were childish and stupid.
The programming, however well it paid, wasn't fulfilling. It left a gap that needed to be filled. That gap, the answer to it and my natural quest for information, led me on an adventure that encompassed basically my entire adult life in the United States, some 20 years of it.
At first I was just looking for information without any particular focus. Soon I discovered the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and felt empowered. I could ask any federal or state agency for copies of whatever documents I chose and they were obligated to send me the copies within a week or two. As I recall, the State of Michigan had five business days and the federal government ten. Of course, it was rare for them to respond according to the law.
I started to publish a small newsletter, which later I renamed "Full Disclosure, and published in a tabloid format on an irregular basis for many years. In 1983 I found a path to greater empowerment. The provisions of the FOIA, which allow someone who made a request to file a lawsuit in federal court if they didn't get a response in the required time (ten business days for federal agencies). In 1983 I filed my first lawsuit against a federal agency. That happened to be the CIA.
The result was an award of $600 for attorney fees and the release of some documents. Over the years, I filed many more such lawsuits, though without an attorney. For the $50 filing fee, I, a "worthless" high school dropout could make the federal government jump through hoops. At the first hearing with respect to that CIA case, the first time I had ever stepped foot inside the federal courthouse this is what happened. The government sent an attorney from Detroit and two from Washington, one from the CIA and one from the Justice Department. They met for the first time in the lobby of the federal courthouse in Ann Arbor.
Though looking back I can say that I really had no idea what I was doing, how to do anything, any social skills and minimal English skills, I was finally doing something. I was in the driver's seat against some of the most powerful organizations in the world. I paid my 50 bucks and they jumped through hoops for me. An endeavor worthy of repeating.
I kept collecting information and publishing my tabloid, and became very good at digging out information. I also developed various sources. For example, when John Gotti went on trial the last time, I received a phone call and the voice said: "You will receive a phone call from a producer at ABC World News Tonight. Whatever they ask for, tell them you can provide it." They wanted to see the kind of bugging equipment the FBI used to spy on John Gotti. I arranged an interview with them and made a presentation.
The publishing and computer work supported me at least well enough to pay the electric bill (usually). During the 1980s most of my efforts were with the FBI, CIA, local police and the like. Once the 1990s and the Internet came, I eventually gave up the printing press and developed some websites where I gave examples of "private" information that was publicly available – often the dislike of many, including privacy advocacy groups who seemed more interested in debating the abstract issue while I felt content offering live demonstrations was more important.
Some time in 1997 I discovered that when a person is nominated to become a military officer (all officers of the military go through this process), their name and Social Security Number (SSN) is presented by the president of the United States to the Senate for confirmation. The Senate then publishes the list in the US Congressional Record. Newt Gingrich was bragging about how all this government information was available online and available to the public. So I had a look!
He was right! I compiled a list of 4,500-plus names and SSNs of US military officers. Colin Powell, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and thousands of others were on the list, all complements of the US Senate and their website (also available in the print version of the Congressional Record as I write this today). I listed them on my website and questioned why they were so published by the Senate.
The first significant attention to that page was by Time magazine in June of 1997. However, nothing much came of it. Then in December of 1999, one-and-a-half years later, I got a call from a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. He said that a source had given him a copy of an internal memo from the US military about my website and wanted my comments.
I asked him to send me a copy so I could review it and comment. He refused to provide a copy, obviously, because I would publish it on my website and have the story before he did. However, he said it would summarize it for me.
It went something like this: I had created this website and some criminals used the data to get credit cards in some of the military officers' names. A special task force between civilian and military law enforcement agencies was created to investigate the matter. The Secret Service had contacted me and asked me to remove the website and I had refused. Because I refused to take down my website, the task force sought assistance of the US Attorney. The goal was to close my website. However, the US Attorney refused to assist them, citing that it was within my First Amendment rights to publish that information on my website. The memo listed the URL for my website and was presented as some kind of warning.
The Wall Street Journal article that came out, page one, above the fold, included a quote from retired Maine General Paul K. Van Riper saying, "Roberts should be less concerned with privacy laws and more concerned with physical laws, especially what happens when a closed fist hits him upside the head." The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that I was, according to unidentified "members of the military," " becoming a threat to national security." The Pentagon refused comment.
Daily Bell: Was this the reason for you leaving the US?
Glen Roberts: The truth is, I didn't leave the US. Not the way you are asking anyway. I didn't pack my bags because of anger over the situation, or out of fear that a US military officer was going to beat me up, though maybe I am surprised no one tried. I didn't even wake up one morning and think, life would be so much better if I moved somewhere else. I didn't research for a country to move, pack my bags in disgust with the United States and venture off.
The adventure with the Pentagon was really nothing new. It was really the kind of thing that had represented my life over the past 16 years. In 1986 an FBI agent telephoned me and threatened me. What had happened is that I was becoming disillusioned that no one was listening. Of course, I understood the government needs to "blame the messenger," yet it didn't seem anyone was getting the message.
I continued maintaining my websites and supporting myself with computer work. At that time I had a small local computer store. The only way to describe it would be with the word stress. In 2000, I went through a Chapter 11 reorganization and in a sense, "renounced" the computer business, as I was supporting myself online by then. However, the word stress was still upfront and center in my life.
There was no end to the stress. As I had said, in high school I had essentially "merged with the machine" as much as humanly possible. That aspect was as strong as ever. I was stressed by the culture, my work and everything around me. I took a long weekend vacation in Costa Rica. It was a terrible experience. But those three days away from the US, away from the news, away from email, away from the phone, planted a seed.
I then planned a longer vacation and went back to Costa Rica for ten days with arrangements to keep an eye on my business and explore something new. That turned out to be a great experience and a short time later I returned to Costa Rica for a month. During that trip I rented a house. I returned to the US in February of 2003 for a week or so. When I got back to Costa Rica, I moved into my house and made plans to spend a month or two there and a month or two in the US.
However, my new life distracted me and I never return to the US. It simply became uninteresting. Since I was only a tourist for the first year or so in Costa Rica, I had to travel every 90 days. I explored Panama, Peru and Colombia. Now, that is an advantage of being a perpetual tourist. You may be "forced" to explore some other countries and find it a very fulfilling experience.
Daily Bell: Give us some background on where you went.
Glen Roberts: I originally moved to Costa Rica and think it was about 2-1/2 years that I stayed there. Near the end of my time there I was traveling to Colombia a lot. It would be easy for me to say that Costa Rica is a terrible place to live and recount many "bad," even terrible experiences there. However, I think the issue had much less to do with Costa Rica and much more to do with me.
I simply jumped from the US culture, the US mindset, into Costa Rica. That is completely incompatible. Those 2-1/2 years were a great transition for me out of the US mentality. Also, because I spoke absolutely no Spanish, I became disconnected from the news, which was at that time only available in Spanish. At the time I probably felt a bit frustrated by that. However, looking back there were two great benefits that I couldn't have foreseen. First, my addiction to the news was deprogrammed! Second, in my efforts to learn Spanish (self-taught there, too), I became social. The social side of my life, which had been so underdeveloped by my close connections to the machines, was able to blossom.
Daily Bell: You ended up in Uruguay for a while. Why?
Glen Roberts: I like to tell people that I threw a dart at a map of the world and it hit Uruguay. Really, that is not so far off. Costa Rica wasn't working for me and I wanted to find a place that would accept my earnings via the net for residency purposes and it appeared Uruguay would. At that time there was no information in English about Uruguay and little to none in Spanish. I was one of the first to set up an English forum on the topic of Uruguay. I started the first English-speaking expat meeting in Montevideo. That was in November of 2005 and they still meet every Sunday.
The plan was to go and stay it if was a nice place, or move on. I ended up staying there for 5-1/2 years.
Daily Bell: What do you think of Uruguay and South America from the standpoint of living there?
Glen Roberts: I enjoyed my stay in Uruguay, but found I like Paraguay more. Each country in South America and different parts of each country are vastly different, in culture, language, climate, food, etc., so it isn't fair to group them together. I think many people do far too much online research and build up a detailed image of a place in their minds only to be let down when they arrive. They are not let down because the place isn't nice, but rather it ends up seeming so different from what they had imagined. The world is far too interesting to not explore. Pick up a few basic facts and then get your feet on the ground.
Daily Bell: What are some countries in Latin America that you might recommend and why?
Glen Roberts: The map idea is good. Put up a map of Latin America on the wall and throw a dart. Wherever it lands should be a great place to start, or at least the city closest to your dart that has an international airport.
Daily Bell: You live in Paraguay – why?
Glen Roberts: I like it better than Uruguay. It is more dynamic. It has a younger population that is looking to do something with their lives. The import taxes are decent, so the country is flooded with high tech stuff. It is multicultural. Lots of ethnic restaurants. I learn bits of Chinese at the farmers market. There are two legal languages, Guarani and Spanish. Spanish is a second language for many Paraguayans so I am not so out of place. There are plenty of fresh and tropical fruits. The people are friendly. The bottom line is that I find it quiet and comfortable.
Daily Bell: Give us a sense of the positives of renunciation.
Glen Roberts: It was a spiritual rebirth casting off all the emotional, financial and spiritual burdens of the United States. I can look at my past activities (and write about them) without being dragged into the issues emotionally. I don't have to answer for what the United States does when asked by people I encounter. I am no longer labeled as something I am not. Additionally, I have no further financial obligations to support the political nonsense of that country. I don't have the paperwork hassles. In the case of the royalties I earn from Amazon, the United States takes a 30% cut directly from Amazon. I am out of the loop with respect to paperwork.
Daily Bell: Give us a sense of the negatives.
Glen Roberts: The final tax return for the United States is a bigger hassle than the usual returns. But, it is a one-time deal. Because I am stateless, I have no passport. I am in the process of getting a travel document. However, a friend from Malta who is visiting said, "It doesn't matter if you can never get a travel document, there are so many opportunities here." Travel to the US may be difficult or even blocked in some circumstances. I haven't been there in almost 12 years and find the world much too interesting to have any interest in that small corner of it.
It can be difficult to explain, in English or Spanish, the "why." Sometimes showing photos from my old passports says it all. How can you tell someone that you've found the possibility of discovering a bit of inner peace? How can you condense 20-plus years of life in the United States and what you learned from it into a sound bite? The concept of statelessness, much less voluntary statelessness takes it to another dimension. Maybe the best way to summarize it would be to call it the desire for: privacy, the right to be left alone.
Daily Bell: How would someone arrange their affairs once they've renounced? What do they need to do? Do they need to travel constantly? Can they stay in one place?
Glen Roberts: Someone who is planning to become stateless – and I might mention that as I write this I got an email from another ex-American who just renounced his citizenship in Latin American and became stateless – needs to do some serious research and have a backup plan. If someone already has another nationality, then they already have a passport and need only review what countries require a visa. You might actually find travel easier without the burden of being American.
Daily Bell: How do they protect their assets?
Glen Roberts: The same as always, but with less paperwork!
Daily Bell: Do they have to pay taxes?
Glen Roberts: Most countries tax people based on physical presence, not citizenship. Hence, you will look to pay taxes where you live. When looking for a second citizenship or place of residency it would be wise to research carefully if a particular citizenship or residency burdens one with worldwide tax obligations. Caution: Uruguay is shifting towards that kind of system and it may be in place for some kinds of income. Most of the information suggests that an expat "shouldn't worry." However, if you are making a lifetime commitment to live somewhere I'd dig deeper than those kinds of assurances.
Taxes are an issue where you should seek professional advice from a qualified advisor. That may be extremely difficult in a country where you are not fluent in the language and/or there have been recent changes in their tax laws.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your tax situation now that you are stateless.
Glen Roberts: As a legal resident of Paraguay, my obligations are the same as other Paraguayans, and the same as before I renounced. The change is that as of the date of my renunciation I have no further reporting or filing obligations with the United States. My final return is, of course, completed after the date of my renunciation, but only up to that date. Additionally, for any US source income, my situation is now the same as any Paraguayan's or other "foreigner"; that for the most part boils down to 30% being withheld and all the paperwork obligations being on whoever is paying you / withholding it. Those with rental income or other kinds of US source income will need to research the topic in depth, and may wish to seek other investments that are less "taxing" in the paperwork department.
Daily Bell: The US media do not report much on statelessness. Why do you think that is?
Glen Roberts: There is a moderate amount of reporting. But it is focused on solving the "problem" of statelessness. Unfortunately, the problem is not the stateless person, but rather the governments who don't respect the human rights of all people whether they are bound by a nationality or not. There are millions of stateless people in the world, up to 10 million or more. Most are that way by their circumstances in life and not respected as humans by any authorities.
An article was recently published in the mainstream media entitled, " 'It's a Form of Torture': UNHCR Launches Campaign to Eradicate Statelessness." I wrote fairly strong response to that, which I titled, "Involuntary Allegiance, Citizenship, Statelessness and Torture." I felt the original article was putting the burden of human rights abuses by governments on the shoulders of the stateless people, looking to change their status to resolve the issue.
In my response, I pointed out that, "in my case, the State only left me feeling belittled and of no value." I also noted what I believed to be the correct response to the problem: "all of the issues related to statelessness simply vanish when a government respects all the people within its realm."
Daily Bell: There are not many renouncing their citizenship in the US. Why is that?
Glen Roberts: The news reports say the number is large and increasing. They are sensationalizing an irrelevant aspect of the issue. They might do better if they looked beyond the count, beyond the anger over FATCA and sought to understand the underlying issues. I don't think it is important if there is one person or a million people renouncing. The important aspect is that each person who renounces has apparently found a way to better their own life in a way that is also respectful of everyone else.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion on the topic is based on anger and fear. The renunciation won't take that away, but it will give you the option to simply step out of that drama. Some feel that because they repeated the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school that they "owe" something – their soul, maybe – to the United States. They are forgetting that allegiance was not made of their own free will. It was imposed upon them. Yet, however wicked that imposition was, they have the right to renounce it and in 90 seconds be free. I say 90 seconds, because I made a YouTube video reenacting my renunciation ceremony and the oath requires less than 90 seconds to complete.
Daily Bell: But many corporations are leaving. In a sense, therefore, US renunciation is significant. Can you tell us more about this phenomenon?
Glen Roberts: Though I haven't researched it, I suspect it is nothing new. Large corporations have always had the legal staff available to research and follow up on their best opportunities. They are simply following their rights as provided by the US Congress. Unfortunately, most small businesses don't have the same opportunities, for lack of resources.
However, individuals do and some, like the corporations, make the decision for strictly financial reasons. I think the significant aspect of renunciation for an individual is the breaking of that involuntary allegiance. It opens the door to free will; it removes your bondage to the United States.
It is much easier for an individual than a corporation but we humans have emotions and other issues to address. However, lacking in a corporation is the emotional department; I can see the media attempting to stir up emotional distress over the issue. Can a corporation be belittled into remaining in the US even though it is contrary to its financial interests? For an individual, it is a private matter between you and the embassy staff. Only after the fact will your name be published.
Daily Bell: Why are so many unhappy with the US?
Glen Roberts: All of us have our reasons. A compilation of the complaints may take a library to hold. Many choose to seek change via voting and writing their congressmen. I believe that route usually leads to increased dissatisfaction and anger. Unfortunately, that anger sometimes leads to terrible things. I believe the best path is to look at changing ourselves. In my case, that was to renounce, simply disconnect from the nonsense, to let my soul roam free.
Of course, that doesn't decrease any of the nonsense, but by being disconnected from it, I am not burdened by it.
Daily Bell: Why do many seek out third-world countries rather than, say, Europe when deciding to leave?
Glen Roberts: I cannot speak for others, but I ended up in South America mostly because my exit from the US started as a vacation in Latin America. I've found when people come to Latin America, they often chose a place to live near the first hotel they stay in. That first point of entry seems to generate a kind of comfort zone.
I'm not sure that third-world countries are that much more popular than Europe. During my renunciation process, while I was waiting for approval from Washington the "excuse" from the embassy for the delay was always something about the backlog of renunciations, mainly because of a large number of now ex-Americans in Europe renouncing over FATCA.
Additionally, I believe many countries in Latin American have recently (the past few decades) put dictators and oppressive regimes behind them. They are in the early decades of newfound freedom. Many believe the United States is at the opposite end of that cycle, coming to the close of freedom and entering into a period of dictators and oppressive regimes. It is not a difficult choice to make if you have the option of which part of that cycle you want to experience.
As well, for those on limited incomes or looking for opportunities so-called third world countries may provide good options. I've often found that some services, such as electric, Internet, cell phone, etc. are cheaper, better and more available than compared to many places in the USA. For example, comparing where I last lived in the US and here in Paraguay, I have more options for Internet and cell phone, as well as better options for them, and I pay less than if I were still living in that US location.
Daily Bell: Do you think things will continue as they are in the US and the West? Or will they get better? What do you think about the recent US elections?
Glen Roberts: I recently wrote a commentary about the Governor's election in Florida. My interest in that topic is zero. However, I've been forced to see political ads from one of the candidates and imagining what the other had to say for months. I titled my commentary: "Bozo vs. Bozo." In my view, one of the Bozos was going to win with the same ultimate effect. After the election I saw half my US friends on Facebook screaming about the end of the world. Had the election gone a different way, the other half of my US friends would have been screaming the same thing.
I don't believe the US is heading in a direction where the population will be able to find contentment or inner peace. The voting system, if nothing else, will keep them from that. The media will continue to fan the flames of irrelevant but emotionally charged issues. The powers-that-be will simply increase their power while the people seek more and more drastic political action to protect them from the chaos.
Daily Bell: How would you structure your affairs overseas if you wanted to leave the US or another Western country?
Glen Roberts: I think the most important aspect is to realize that the place you are going is not the US. It is not a place that has the good features of the US and none of the bad ones. It is not a place as you have read about it online. It is not a "paradise," not a bastion of unlimited liberty. You cannot simply pack your bags, go some place and be an American there.
Just as you cannot be American, you cannot be a local. You will be in a place that will sometimes be absolutely wonderful and at other times leaving you wondering how such place can actually exist. It is in those moments that it is more important not to be American. There are a number of very good American attributes, like work ethics, punctuality, efficiency, etc. But that is the American perspective. In some places those attributes are unknown and possibly offensive. That, I believe, was a big reason I found Costa Rica an unsuitable place to live. I hadn't made the transition between the cultures yet.
So I would get my mind around the need to go and explore, to have an adventure, to learn how the world works from the ground up. Learn new ways of living and seek answers to the frustrations of life from within.
To start that adventure, I'd get my affairs in order. Access to funds. Limited power of attorney for someone "back home," if needed. Then I'd become a perpetual tourist until I found a place I really wanted to be. Then I'd liquidate any physical assets in the US. I would not try to move a container or two of "stuff." That will only serve to hold you in the place you used to be. Be defined by your inner essence not two tons of physical stuff you can struggle to carry about the globe.
Daily Bell: Would you try to buy land or a farm?
Glen Roberts: I'm a techno geek. What would I do with a farm? I wonder if transistors would grow? Seriously, many have ideas about buying a small farm and creating an organic, self-sustainable environment for themselves. I think that is a great idea. If that is your dream, by all means go for it. I think one of the best things I did was getting disconnected from the media, the mainstream news and the websites that deal with all the conspiracies, risks and other negative news. Once you've moved outside the US, that is all irrelevant and a big distraction.
Daily Bell: How about owning versus renting an apartment?
Glen Roberts: A new city or country can seem very appealing in the first months. After you get into the routine of life there, however, it can be less inspiring or worse. Since I moved to Uruguay in 2005, I've seen many foreigners move there with great expectations. Some last a few days or a week. Others a few years. Some move on as part of their adventure in life. Others return to the US in disgust over the failure of Uruguay to meet their expectations. For that reason many recommend living in a place for at least a year before making a purchase. It can also be difficult to sell a property. However, there can also be something said about owning a small place to live, particularly in a location that has very low property taxes.
There is no one-size-fits-all advice for any of these topics. My best advice is to start exploring, even if it is just a weekend getaway someplace. Every minute spent exploring foreign soil will be worth much more than the time spent behind the computer screen or in a book.
Daily Bell: Would you own physical gold and silver?
Glen Roberts: I would never own "physical" gold or silver that was held by a third party. Therefore, it is important to look at one's lifestyle with respect to any regulations for buying, selling, owning and crossing borders with precious metals, especially for those with a perpetual tourist lifestyle. I would also look toward the future and bitcoin.
Daily Bell: Would you try to hold dollars? Is the dollar a dependable currency these days?
Glen Roberts: Again, it depends on your situation. Are you living and earning locally where everything is done in a "foreign" currency? I would hold some bitcoin. I would also look to engage with bitcoin to help it become used as a real currency. I would also work with in (in small amounts) to learn and become comfortable with it.
Daily Bell: What's next for you?
Glen Roberts: One of my current projects is to obtain a travel document. As that progresses and I have some successes or failures, I'm sure to be writing about it. I am also involved with many projects that are outside the realm of citizenship, the United States, etc. Since I live in an apartment and have no land (much less a farm), I have a couple of small projects. I've built an automatic sprouter, which offers me hassle-free fresh, organic greens. Also, I am growing and cultivating spirulina. I believe many consume powdered spirulina for its health benefits. Imagine a ready supply of fresh, living spirulina that you can eat within minutes of harvesting.
For the past six months I've had a sensory deprivation tank in my bedroom. I've been using it for about two hours a day and plan to continue with that. I believe that health food and a good deal of "isolation" can set one well on the path to positive personal change. I also want to continue with my adventures in the Amazon (which is, of course, dependent on a suitable travel document) and related explorations. As I mentioned in my book, that topic will be reserved for its own book.
Daily Bell: Are you going to try to become a citizen of some other state?
Glen Roberts: At this point I don't see that I could honestly say that another state provides something that I would want to take allegiance to. I think many that take on a second citizenship and then renounce their US citizenship are choosing between the lesser of two evils. I would like to go about my life without the burdens of politics and also with respect for my co-inhabitants of the earth and the earth itself.
Daily Bell: Are you planning on writing more books?
Glen Roberts: There are some ideas in the works. You can subscribe to my author's profile on Amazon.com and when they come to fruition you will be one of the first to know.
Daily Bell: Any other points you want to make or websites you want to recommend?
Glen Roberts: I think the most important thing is to find your place, find your free will, become at peace with yourself the best you can. Whether that includes moving outside of your home country and/or renouncing your citizenship, are all personal decisions and the answer can only come from you.
My personal rant / blog is at glr.com and I've set up a forum where people can discuss the topic of renouncing citizenship. It is at howtorenounce.com. I would also like to mention my Uruguay forum at www.totaluruguay.com.
My book is available via Kindle and in paperback format on Amazon.com.
Daily Bell: Thanks for your time!
Beyond what Glen Roberts has to say in this interview, the really interesting aspect is the emergence of the story of another Internet pioneer and privacy advocate, decades before Edward Snowden, who may or may not be what he claims he is. But Roberts certainly is.
A young man with a chip on his shoulder, Roberts took on the US government, the Pentagon and even the office of the presidency based on his perception that the Internet was almost entirely unsecured and an evident and obvious threat to privacy.
That hasn´t changed. Nor have Roberts's concerns. He owns and runs a number of websites today and has an exciting expatriate lifestyle that features trips to the Amazon to work on physical and psychological healing with tribal shamans.
But he has also re-engaged the state, particularly the United States, based on his continued concern about privacy and the authoritarian measures that are abusing the security of the Internet.
Fortunately, Roberts is not the only one voicing concern. There are, in fact, numerous companies that have sprung up in the wake of Snowden's revelations that are working on legitimate encryption that will safeguard privacy in an era where government authorities believe it is their right to know everything about you.
Roberts no doubt will make more contributions to Internet privacy over time, and we're glad to have brought his story to you in this interview. He represents untold 'Net history that ought to be part of the lore of this exciting time.
Like everything else, innovative tools provide both promise and the opportunity for abuse. Mr. Roberts could have gone to work for numerous government agencies and, given his talents, could have accumulated a great deal of money and power in government service.
Instead, he's remained in the private sector and is now once again raising the alarm about Internet problems within the context of larger political concerns. We need more Glen Roberts. We're glad we met this one.
That said, we should also be clear that High Alert is certainly not endorsing statelessness as the alternative to being a citizen of an oppressive regime. There are opportunities to secure passports from countries that offer much more flexibility and thus ensure your mobility is not impeded. Statelessness, on the other hand, radically limits your options.
As someone whose wife has recently renounced her US citizenship, which I've written about in these pages, I'm more than familiar with the emotional and logistical aspects of the process of renunciation. She now carries a Canadian passport, which permits us to live abroad and not be subject to Canada's residency-based taxation. It also allows her to travel, crossing boundaries without fear of being detained. This is just one of many options available to those who wish to get out from under the heavy hand of the US.
Like it or not, we live within a structure of regulatory democracy. While we certainly don't endorse the system, it is what it is. As of now, without a passport one is limited to one of two options: crossing borders illegally, which we don't advise – in fact, one of our editors spent quite a bit of time in a Yemen jail for crossing a border without state-required documentation – or remaining stuck in one particular country without the ability to get out. While you may have found an environment in which you're happy right now, who's to say that over time the government of any country will not become oppressive enough or the society chaotic enough that you no longer wish to remain? Without a passport one is simply stuck with no exit strategy.
We encourage you to make a wise decision about what kind of passport you carry and what taxes you're required to pay. More intelligent planning is to have the right type of passport, one that opens more doors and more opportunity so that you can enter or exit as needed and keep your tax structure private. Be logical in thinking through the best alternatives to the current system and ensure you have the most flexibility and mobility with the least amount of intrusion, tax-wise and otherwise.
At High Alert we will continue to notify readers as we discover solutions that offer opportunity for just these kinds of dilemmas so that you can consider whether implementing them might work for you. As always, we maintain that thorough due diligence followed by determined human action on your part is the key to developing options to live freer in this unfree world.