Maybe, after being disappointed in a big election or disagreeing with the government’s policy on some foreign policy issue, you’ve heard someone say, “I give up my American citizenship and I’m leaving the country!” Maybe you’ve said it. We normally don’t take anyone seriously, though, especially if he’s a naturalized citizen.

As a naturalized citizen, you worked hard through a long process to become a US citizen. Do you really want to give up all of the rights and privileges that you’ve worked so hard for? It’s possible to abandon or renounce your US citizenship. Although it’s not as easy as simply announcing to the world that you’re “giving it up,” there are several things that, if done by you intentionally, will automatically cancel your US citizenship.

Voluntary Acts

The US immigration laws are very specific about what it takes to abandon or give up your US citizenship. You have to perform or do any one of several listed things, and you have to do it voluntarily and with the intention of giving up your US citizenship. In other words, it’s nearly impossible to lose your US citizenship accidentally.

Whoever claims that a US citizen has renounced her citizenship has the burden of proving it. If you do one of the acts specified in the law, it’ll be presumed that you did it voluntarily. That is, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the US Department of State, which are in charge of these citizenship issues, will assume that you meant to give up your US citizenship. You can rebut or disprove that presumption, though, by giving evidence that you didn’t intend to lose your citizenship or that you didn’t perform one of the specified acts.

Your citizenship is lost automatically if you :

  • Formally renounce your citizenship
  • Become a naturalized citizen in another country after you turn 18 years old
  • Take some jobs with a foreign government after you turn 18
  • Serve in the armed forces of a foreign country, under certain circumstances
  • Commit treason against the US

Formally Renouncing Citizenship

This is the surest way to give up your citizenship. Generally, you have to go before a US consular or diplomatic officer in a foreign country, usually at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you want to live, and sign an oath of renunciation. The oath of renunciation is then forwarded to the US State Department, along with a certificate of loss of nationality.

With one exception, you can’t renounce your US citizenship while you’re in the US or one its territories, such as Puerto Rico.

If the US is at war, you can formally renounce your citizenship while you’re still in the US, or one its territories, by putting your renunciation in writing and sending it to the US Attorney General.

In most cases, once you’ve renounced your US citizenship you can’t change your mind and you can’t become a US citizen ever again. There’s one important exception, however. If you renounced your US citizenship before your 18th birthday, you may have your citizenship reinstated if you inform the State Department of your desire and you do so within six months after turning 18 years old.

Naturalization Elsewhere

If, after your 18th birthday, you become a naturalized citizen of a foreign country (or take an oath of allegiance to that country), your US citizenship may be lost. Under the old immigration laws, your act of becoming a citizen of another country was considered to be an act contrary to being a US citizen, and so citizenship was automatically lost. The law today is different.

If you become a naturalized citizen of another country, it’ll be presumed that you don’t want to lose your US citizenship. If the US embassy or consular officer finds out about your naturalization, you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire about your intentions. Unless you make an affirmative, direct statement that you intended to give up your citizenship, you’ll still be considered a US citizen.

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