As I mentioned in my last post, the tax implications of being an American living abroad are complicated. So I figured I should get some advice from the experts — i.e., the IRS. (My accountant has a few clients who live abroad, but she says the IRS knows a lot more about this than she does.) I also have some questions for the Embassy, but the ones I have for the IRS are urgent, as my 2012 tax return is due next Tuesday. (Yes, I filed for an extension.)
Fortunately, the IRS has an office in the US Embassy in London. I have a visit planned for Thursday, in advance of a talk I’m giving at City University London on Friday. I bought a train ticket for the day before my talk, so that I could ensure I had time to visit both the IRS and the embassy.
This visit looks highly unlikely to happen. I checked the IRS London site the other day and read, “In case of sequestration, the office will be open for phone service and walk-ins, but with a reduced staff. Thank you for your patience.” So I was hoping to visit anyhow and get my questions answered, but prepared for a longer-than-usual wait time. I called their contact number a short while ago, though, selected the option to speak to a person, and let it ring for seven minutes before I gave up. Seven minutes. I think I can conclude that there’s nobody there. And there’s nobody to make even that small change to the website, to alert people that there’s nobody there. So now I am going to London a day early for no reason, taking a whole work day away from the university. Yes, I can do some work remotely, but there are decided advantages to being able to get to the university when I need to.
Worse than that, though, is that I now have to file my 2012 tax return without getting my questions answered. And of course if I miss something or make errors, I’m the one who will have to pay the penalty and interest. You may say I should have done this sooner; but that would have cost me a separate trip to London — probably about $150 even if I made it a day trip. You may say I could have done it by phone before the shutdown, but I am very skeptical that a phone call could have provided all the information and help I need.
This government shutdown — which I blame entirely on Speaker Boehner and a minority of Republicans in the House of Representatives (plus the Koch brothers, gods rot them) — is costing me time and money and is creating stress in my life.
Many other Americans are experiencing effects that are far worse than mine — they are not getting paid at all; they are not getting childcare, healthcare, housing, environmental cleanup, food safety inspection, drug safety inspection, and all the other services that we have democratically agreed that we will provide for ourselves and that have been suspended by the shutdown. But my point in writing this blog post, relatively small though the shutdown’s effect on me personally may be, is to emphasize that the impact of this travesty — and yes, it is a travesty — extends far beyond the shores of the United States. Far beyond.