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Contrary to popular belief, most U.S. citizens that move abroad are not rich

Contrary to an apparently widespread belief back in the U.S. – and especially, it sometimes seems, among certain lawmakers in Washington – most American expats are not rich, and don’t live abroad in order to avoid their U.S. tax obligations, a new survey has found.

Most expats don’t leave home to protect their wealth.

Just 33% of some 602 American expats living in 47 countries who participated in the survey said their annual household income was more than US$70,000 (£54,000, €62,570), and just 10% said they enjoyed more than US$150,000 in income a year.

Rather than to avoid tax or experience a new culture or language, meanwhile, the No. 1 reason given by the survey participants for living abroad was “love” (see pie chart, below).

The online survey, the results of which are contained in four separate reports (the links to which may be found by clicking here), was carried out between late September and early November of last year by a Paris-based American expat named Laura Snyder, who, as reported here earlier this year, was named the overseas representative for the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, which exists to help identify tax issues of importance to taxpayers.

Snyder conducted her research, using the open source LimeSurvey software, in association with an American expat organization that subsequently decided not to remain involved with the project.

She decided to see the project through to completion on her own, with the help of two similarly-motivated colleagues, explaining that she felt she “owed it to the 602 people who took the time and trouble to respond to the survey to find a way to put the results into the public domain.”

Snyder told the American Expat Financial News Journal this week that her report will be the subject of a presentation in early December at a conference in Prague, on the subject of diasporas.

For more about Snyder’s research, click the link below.

Credit: American Expat Finance,

11 thoughts on “Contrary to popular belief, most U.S. citizens that move abroad are not rich

  1. Income and wealth are two different, but sometimes related things. If your retired chances are your significant earning days are behind you. But you may have accumulated assets and be considered wealthy, or well off. This article is flawed from the beginning.

  2. What about those who must live on their social security benefits? That is not wealth nor is it “love” whatever that means in this context.I agree that this article is flawed, and also misleading if not false.

  3. Pixelvt is right about the article being flawed from the beginning. Ms. Snyder used 602 responders to her survey to come up with her results. That’s not a significant number of expats worldwide. She’s based in Paris where I’m sure expats reside for different reasons than they do here in Ecuador. Her biggest category is “love”. Love of what? In France it probably means love of a significant other. Here in Ecuador she might find that love means love of an affordable retirement.

  4. Actually, the survey is fairly representative. Expats on this forum forget that poor, elderly retirees to South America are only a small slice of the total expat pie.

  5. The links to the study don’t work. From a naïve perspective, I suspect that the study is flawed in its survey (random sampling) methodology, leading to wrong, or worse, misleading results. LimeSurvey software can randomize questions that deal with some bias problems, but the key issue is WHO willingly responds to the survey in the first place (random sample of the population?).

    If an expat is wealthy and abroad to avoid taxes, would they admit that? Inversely, an expat of modest means (some savings and social security) would be expected to have a reason other than tax avoidance, since they most likely pay little or no taxes in the first place. It seems that the inferential power of the survey is dubious at best. It would be helpful if the study were available.

    Having said that, as a matter of politics and policy, the survey results are wonderful and should be presented to every American politician! I certainly don’t want the IRS to use this or any study to support greater scrutiny of expats.

  6. sounds like a lot of BS to me since I know a fairly large number of expats and as many ecuadorians who definetly are nor represented in this so call ‘STUDY’. Many of them can’t even aford the local required insurance.

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