“My life is here”

Janette Clemens, pictured here at the New Rive Gauche Café in Grevenmacher Mike Zenari

Janette Clemens, pictured here at the New Rive Gauche Café in Grevenmacher Mike Zenari

For Janette Clemens, the “tipping point” nudging her to renounce her US citizenship was an interaction she had with her local bank. 

Clemens, born in the United States to a German mother and American father, has called Luxembourg home since 1986, after she visited her grandparents during a vacation and decided to stay. They ran a small café in Grevenmacher, where Clemens still lives today. “In the beginning, it was really hard because my grandmother only spoke Luxembourgish and German, but I only spoke English,” she said. Despite initial language barriers, the country made a good impression on her. “I couldn’t believe I could walk around, even in the middle of the night, without worrying that anything would happen to me. As an American, you’re not used to that.”

Today she’s fluent in Luxembourgish, has two children, two grandkids, and has been with her husband for over 30 years. Although she’s well-integrated, there was a transition phase. “I never had homesickness in the sense of hurting or crying, but there were things I missed.” That included “certain comforts”, such as longer opening hours, but over time she has come to appreciate the differences. “I realised you have more quality time here.” She also praises Luxembourg’s social system and security. 

In 2014, realising “my life is here”, Clemens obtained Luxembourg citizenship, breezing through the language test and sitting through classes she calls “a waste of time”, saying she’d have preferred to learn less about contracts, more about political parties. For a few years, she held dual citizenship. “I would have kept my [American] citizenship if I didn’t have problems with the bank here. That was the point when I said, I’m done.”

Clemens, wanting to refinance, explained she had been refused at a new bank because she was a US citizen. “It’s so much paperwork they have to do to give information to the US,” she says. “If something’s wrong with that, the fines are high.” She’s referring to Fatca, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, enacted in 2010 which requires foreign financial institutions to reveal certain account details about US citizens or face penalties. According to Forbes, the “laws can be a burden, especially for US persons living abroad. Their American status can make them untouchable by many banks.” Clemens started feeling “like a slave… They say in America you’re free [but] I don’t know any other [citizens] having so many problems than Americans abroad.” US citizens also have to file taxes from abroad.

The year Clemens renounced, she was one of over 5,000 Americans globally to do so. A US embassy in Luxembourg spokesperson said they processed “approximately 15 requests for certificates of loss of nationality, usually through renunciation, per year, without significant year-on-year variance over the last five years. These figures include persons of all nationalities who have made appointments at the US embassy in Luxembourg, including non-Luxembourgers who live in the Grand Duchy, as well as those who reside in other countries, particularly those in nations bordering Luxembourg.”

Clemens wasn’t pleased that the fee to renounce had spiked 422% in 2014 to $2,350 (previously $450), making it the world’s highest. But the process was quick: she says it took mere months from the time she filed her paperwork to receive her certificate of loss of nationality. When she collected the document, she wasn’t invited back into the US embassy--it was passed to her by a representative from behind a glass security barrier--which, she says, left her with mixed feelings. “It was a feeling as long as you’re on our side, everything is okay. But it’s not about a side or not. It’s a decision I had to take to go on with my life.”