Derek Sivers

Why I let go of my U.S. citizenship


I forbid myself from anything too tempting or addicting. I keep no cookies in my home. To prevent myself from falling off the wagon, I strap myself to the mast.

I was born in California, and lived the first forty years of my life in America. But I wanted to challenge myself to live in the rest of the world - to get to know it deeply - so that many countries would feel like home.

It was a nice idea, but as soon as times abroad got a little tough, I’d move back to my comfort zone. America felt like an addiction.

So I decided to ban myself from returning - to burn the ships.

There’s a legend of a military leader with a hundred men in a few ships that landed on enemy shores. But waiting on land were a thousand enemy soldiers. So as soon as his men disembarked, the leader ordered them to burn the ships, to prevent retreat.

For years I thought about this story and the idea of letting go of my U.S. citizenship as a way of burning my ships and preventing my retreat. Eventually I followed my life’s motto of “whatever scares you, go do it”, then showed up to the U.S. embassy in Singapore, filled out the forms, and became an ex-citizen.

If you suspect I was doing it for tax reasons, no. My taxes went up, not down, since all of my income is from the U.S. The IRS gets at least 30% of everything I earn, and will for the rest of my life.

I really was just forcing myself forward into the world. And it’s worked. New Zealand, Singapore, England, and India are my legal and emotional homes now. Hopefully more to come.

Since I left in 2010, I’ve only visited America for a few days. I don’t have the right to enter. There’s always a chance I might never see my family again. Because of that, I often regret it. It’s usually best to keep options open.

I’ve kept this a secret for twelve years because I didn’t want to be attacked by those who might mistake my adventuring as insult. But now it seemed better to just explain.

For another side to this story, see “Why I left America”.

Derek Sivers passport