Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Hard to believe it has been a year already.  A year ago today was my first day of A-100, or as it is more commonly known in my A-100 class, as the "Badging day from Hell."  A lot has happened in a year - most notably moving to Belize, etc.  And while I have been at Post for 8 1/2 months, others from my class are just arriving or have not finished training yet (learning Chinese and Arabic will do that to you).

I spent last week training in DC.  I have recently switched from visas to American Citizens Services.  I am not the go-to person when someone loses their passport, is arrested, has their Crocodile Sanctuary burned down by an angry mob, or is killed by a jaguar.  I am also the point person to help victims of crimes and international parental child abduction.  So, last week, I joined a dozen officers and foreign service nationals for training in Assisting Victims of Crimes and International Parental Child Abduction.

Both of these are probably bigger issues than you would first think.  Sadly, thousands of Americans each year are the victim of a crime overseas.  The great majority of these are property crimes, but we also deal with murder, rape, child abuse, armed robbery, assault, terrorism, etc.  We strive to help the victim file police reports, provide them with information about the local judicial system, contact family and friends, and put them in contact with resources in the US.  Unfortunately, we are not able to do the things that most victims want (restitution for their lost property, investigation, and arrest of the criminal).  I do not look forward to these difficult cases, but I think that the training definitely helped me understand what I can (and cannot) do for these victims.

International Parental Child Abduction is a much bigger issue than most of us realize.  It refers to when one parent takes the child to another country without permission.  The most famous case was the Sean Goldman case which got tons of press in the last few years.  These cases are usually governed by The Hague treaty, which essentially states that the kid should be returned to the country of usual residence and the courts of that country will decide custody.  It probably doesn't surprise you to learn that this often doesn't happen as it is supposed to.  The class wasn't very good, but the information was useful.

More enjoyable for me than class was meeting with old friends.  I got to meet up with a friend from high school - Brandon; a friend from college - Nick (incidentally, today, Nick's wife played in a quartet with Medal of Freedom winner YoYo Ma at the White House while President Obama quietly listened in the corner); a friend from the U.S. Attorney's Office - Katie; and several friends from A-100 stationed in DC on their first tour - Morgan, Ian, and Tryg.  I had great food, great beer, and great conversation.

This week, I am trying to do my taxes.  I usually do my own taxes, but I may have to get some help this year. The federal return is no problem, but I am struggling with the State taxes.  When I joined the State Department, I picked Missouri as my state of domicile.  I have my bar license there, spent 7 years for college/law school in the state and the taxes work in my favor.  But, I also lived part of the year in Virginia (both with and without VA domicile).  I am not a tax attorney nor a CPA, but from what I understand, there are three possible scenarios of what I have to pay on state taxes:

  • Scenario 1 - I pay VA taxes on my Coast Guard income.  The moment I joined the State Department, I became a Missouri tax payer and ceased to be a Virginia tax payer (despite the fact that I continued to physically reside in VA).  I'm even with VA and Missouri refunds me all of my withholdings.
  • Scenario 2 - I pay VA taxes on my Coast Guard income and my State Dept. income up until I moved to Belize.  Since no withholdings occurred on the State Dept. income, I owe them taxes on approximately 4 months of salary, while Missouri refunds me all of my withholdings.
  • Scenario 3 - Virginia says I am still a resident of the state, despite living in Belize, and I owe them taxes on everything.  Furthermore, they charge me with tax fraud, I lose my security clearance and job.
I've been assured that Scenario 3 is unlikely, but also told that VA likes to hound military and foreign service officers to keep them as residents.  I think Scenario 1 is the proper way for this to break down, but getting the online tax software to accomodate these issues is tough.

So, if anyone out their in the foreign service world has dealt with this issue, or knows of an adequate, cheap, tax preparer (except the whole state thing, my taxes are simple), please send me a message or leave a comment below.


  1. Hey Al -- I worked with a tax guy in Arlington who was familiar with FSO issues of domicile, per diem, etc. I passed him along to a few others in my A-100 who are at post already and they said working with him from afar was just fine. His name is Art and his email's AAG8686 at aol dot com if you're interesting. The rate he told me was $95/hour, which seemed very reasonable given other quotes I'd gotten. Good luck!

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  3. You could try this FSO spouse.


    Good luck.