As a U.S. expatriate, what state am I a citizen of (if any)?

I’m a U.S. citizen, but have been living in Panama since 1992. For U.S. federal tax purposes, my official “bona fide” residence is Panama. My visa status in Panama is “International Mission,” which exempts me from certain tax and labor-law provisions. I work for a U.S. agency, but am not paid by the Federal Government.

When I was in the U.S. last month, I went with my mother to see a lawyer to help her out with some issues related to her will. The lawyer asked me if I qualified as a legal resident of any state. I said I didn’t know, and offhand, neither did the lawyer.

The last place I lived in the U.S. was Washington D.C. I rented an apartment there for five years, and had a D.C. driver’s license (which lapsed long ago. The only driver’s license I have now is a Panamanian one). I have continued to vote in U.S. presidential elections by requesting an absentee ballot from D.C., since my registration is automatically preserved because I voted in previous elections.

I’ve been interested in getting a U.S. license again for various reasons. Despite living overseas, is it possible for me to qualify as a resident of a state (or D.C.) for license purposes? Would this make me liable for state taxes?

I would appreciate information on this from people who have knowledge of the applicable laws and regulations.
I have a bank account in New York City, where my paycheck is deposited. The mailing address for one of my

I believe in order to register to vote you need to be a citizen, and since that is the last place you registered to vote, and they are still allowing you to vote, you must still be a citizen.

I would contact the DC Registrar of Voters.

Your citizenship doesn’t expire on its own - not unless you renounce it or are excommunicated (or whatever it’s called), you remain a US citizen. Your residency changes.

Similar case (though the rules probably vary for US citizens): I live in Ireland and am permitted to drive here on a UK license. However, to have a legal UK license, it has to have a current UK address on it. So I called the licensing authority and they told me I’d either have to move back to the UK, or surrender it for an Irish license. So I drive on it in a gray area: it’s legal here, a foreign country, but not in the UK, where it was issued.

From what I know of driver’s licensing in the US, though, the rules are dependent on the issuing state.

I am not asking about U.S. citizenship. There obviously no question about that. What I am asking about is how I stand regarding state (as in states of the U.S., including D.C.) citizenship.

Is there such a thing as state citizenship, as opposed to state residency? Can I be a state citizen, without being a state resident?

Although D.C. has “allowed” me to vote, all they really did was send me an absentee ballot when I requested one. They would have checked to see that I was still registered (which I was automatically, since as long as you vote in a presidential election you maintain your registration for the next one), but I’m sure they did not verify my residency.

I don’t think there is anything like state “citizenship”, except in the sense that politicians mean when they say something like “I am proud and humble to represent the distinguished and wise citizens of the great state of (fill in the blank).” States don’t issue passports or citizenship documents.

State “residence” varies for different purposes. The time you need to live in a state to qualify for a benefit (say in-state college tuition) is usually longer than the time you need to live there to incur an obligation (say a requirement that you register your car or take out a local drivers license). College students often retain their parents addresses as their official residences even if they are living in another state most of the year. Military people might be stationed abroad for years, but they often list a family member’s U.S. address as their residence. You are obviously a D.C. resident for voting purposes if they are mailing you an absentee ballot, but you might not qualify for unemployment benefits there.

Usually a state will require you to list a current local address to obtain a driver’s license, but there may be exceptions. Your best bet would be to contact the authorities in the state where you are planning to do this. Your tax status would be a different matter, and again might vary by state. But you wouldn’t even have to think about that if you established your U.S. residence in one of the states that does not have a state income tax.

The US Constitution is your friend. :wink:

Article Two, Section Two:

Amendment Fourteen, Section One:

As far as United States citizens overseas, IIRC, one’s permanent residence is one’s address within the United States or its territories. I will try to find a citation for that.

Reader99: Go to and click on “instructions.” Then go to MILPERSMAN. I’m sorry to say it’s a PDF file; however, it does contain the correct information regarding a military member’s permanent address. Here’s the quickdown as this retired PN1 recalls it:
[ul][li]Home of Record = actual place of residence upon enlistment or commissioning. Previously one could change that upon reenlistment; however, for many years now that has not been the case. The only way to get a different Home of Record is to separate from the Service and then after a period exceeding 24 hours, enlist or accept a commission while you are living at the new place.[/li][li]State of Legal Residence = place the Servicemember declares as his actual legal residence for the purposes of voting, taxes, etc. IIRC, the state one is abandoning has the legal right to declare such a change as being “solely for the purpose of evading taxes.”[/ul][/li]
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I am in a similar situation. I had residency in the Republic of Georgia, but the work contract ended and I am now in Europe. I do not yet have residency here… working on it, but it is a several-months-long process.

I recently tried to obtain a tourist visa from an embassy here to go on holiday. I was told that since I didn’t have legal residency, I had to get it in the US (or Moscow which covers Georgia as Georgia has few foreign embassies). Since I don’t want to deal with the hassle of going to Moscow, I guess I need to go back to Washington to get this visa (or mail my passport there). I am not sure where I am resident right now… nowhere I guess. If one doesn’t have an address in the US, and one is between residency permits overseas, I am not sure where I am. :slight_smile:

This depends a bit on what state you last lived in when you were in the US. I’m not a lawyer but I am a US expatriate who has been a legal resident of a foreign country for over three years. My last residence was Michigan and I hold a Michigan drivers license, own a home in Michigan and pay both income taxes and local (not non-resident) property tax in Michigan. I could get away with voting absentee in Michigan but I would not want to for fear of threatening my US expatriate tax status. Each state can determine, on it’s own if you are a resident or not. It is technically possible to not be a resident of any state if the last state you lived in does not consider expatriates to continue to be residents but I’m not sure if any state actually does this. A state without income tax or a differential on property taxes between residents and non-residents wouldn’t really care if you are a resident or not.

Of course, for those of you who have lived in California and experienced their attitude on residency and taxation, you know the Eagles song was really about the California Department of Revenue - “You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.”

Colibri, when I get my absentee ballot (I am a GA resident living in SC) there are usually muliple elections being held from President to Senator down to Mayor depending on what district I am registered in. If you are still getting a ballot with all of these elections then I think that means that the Federal and State/District governments consider you a resident of that district.

Colibri, re. your OP, I thought you meant “state” as in “nation” - that’s normal usage of the word when talking about international matters. I had never heard of the concept of US state citizenship.

You won’t. See the Federal Voting Assistance Program FAQ.

I can’t get the link to work but I think you misunderstood. I do vote absentee from Michigan but only in Federal elections. I think they would allow me to vote in local elections also, but I don’t because on my taxes I state that I am not a resident of the US although I am a citizen.

Head explodes

Would everybody do me a favor and stop pontificating on legal issues if you have no idea what you’re talking about? There is so much misinformation on this thread I could use it to fertilize my garden. The one poster who actually did some research is Monty; everyone else seems to be completely wrong.

Yes and yes. As Monty noted, the Constitution says that a citizen of the U.S. is also a citizen of the state in which he resides. KenGr is incorrect that a state gets to decide who is and isn’t a citizen thereof – this is a matter of federal constitutional law and therefore is binding on the states whether they like it or not.

[N.B. For the purposes of the following discussion D.C. is no different than a real state and so in most places I’m not marking the distinction.]

To be a citizen of a given state, one must be both a citizen of the United States and a domicillary of that state. One is domiciled in a state when one considers it his permanent residence, the place to which he comes home after any journey. One can change his domicile only by 1) taking up residence elsewhere and 2) intending to remain there. Therefore, the question critical to the OP is whether Colibri considers Panama his home and intends to stay there for the forseeable future, or whether he’s in Panama just for his job and expects to return to the U.S. (even if not necessarily D.C.) when his tour of duty is over. (This analysis is all spelled out rather neatly in Mas v. Perry, 489 F.2d 1396 (5th Cir. 1974); if you’ve got access to it, I recommend a reading – it’s a hoot.)

If Colibri considers Panama just a waystation and he plans to return to the U.S., then he has never changed his domicile and is therefore domiciled in and a citizen of the District, and will be until he either changes his domicile (by moving to some U.S. state with the intention of staying there) or gives up U.S. citizenship. If he considers Panama his home, then I don’t know what the outcome might be. This would seem to indicate that his domicile is now Panama, but I’m not sure if a foreign nation counts (given that he’s still a U.S. citizen and the 14th Amendment says that U.S. citizens are also citizens of a state – not of a foreign country). I think that most courts would consider him to still be a citizen of D.C. until his domicile changes to another state (or statelike entity), but as far as I know it’s an open question.

As for whether Colibri is entitled/required to vote, get a driver’s license, or pay taxes in a state in which he is a citizen but not a resident, I refuse to offer an opinon, because I simply do not know the law in this area.


I’m a U.S. citizen and a resident of Canada. I can vote in Federal elections by way of an absentee ballot and I’d be a registered voter of the state in which I last resided. Last time I looked into it though, I was not technically a “resident” of that state as I had not been living there for X number of consecutive months, and had no address there, and will not be returning in the near future.

Here in Ontario, to be a resident you have to be physically here for a specific number of months out of a given period. It doesn’t matter if I own a home here, I have to actually be here. (I can lose my health coverage if I’m away for too long.)

You’d have to look up the residency laws of your home state. I haven’t looked into it in a loooong time, so stuff may have changed. IIRC they are similar in nature. For a driver’s licence – dunno about D.C. – but these are the residency-related stuff from the Virginia DMV (warning: PDF file). I assume DC is similar and presumably their DMV has an on-line presence, but I didn’t find it in a speedy search.

The voting info for U.S. citizens living abroad is extremely helpful – tons of on-line info available.

I believe the confusion is arising due to the use of the word “resident.” Be sure to include the appropriate qualifying adjective and that might help. There’s a difference between physically resident and legally resident.

I worked at an office in Maryland which had a branch in England. While I was there, several people transferred to the England office for a three-year term. When they returned, they each took up residence in Virginia. Had they moved back into Maryland, they would have been liable for three years of Maryland state income taxes.

It was explained to me that a person’s domicile is the state where they lived and intend to return. Their residence is where they happen to be living at the time. By returning to a different state, their domicile (and their tax status) changed. As I recall, they had to live in another state for three years before moving back to Maryland.

Hmm. Interesting. I Googled “District of Columbia residency requirements” and the results are kinda confusing (some downright conflicting).

School’s say “you must be living here for one year.” Divorce law sites say “one of you must be residing in DC for six months.” And lots of sites say stuff like “you must comply with state residency laws for such-and-such” but don’t supply even a link to a government website that would explain in detail just what exactly that means.

How annoying!

I am not sure what worries there are about “US expatriate tax status” in that my understanding is that all USA citizens are required to pay (or at least fill out the appropriate forms) the IRS regardless of residencey. Certainly none of the various IRS form 2555 bits I have noticed over the years is infleuenced at all by voting or not voting in USA elections.

As a USA citizen living in Canada, with a last USA residency of Illinois, I can get an absentee ballot from IL to do my voting. I think it only includes the federal voting (ie for president) but I understand that some states include state races on absentee ballots.

Since the USA has such a huge infleuence worldwide, I feel that there is a certain duty to casting a ballot. Heck, I am being taxed by the USA, so I should be able to vote - and I am.

Some of these sorts of issues are addressed with online resources. The major parties want you to vote for them so they collect this type of information at places like and

As has already been pointed out, has all sorts of good info too. They point out that “residency” means different things in different contexts - they speak only about your residency for purposes of federal elections.

If you gain “non-resident” status by virtually of having your primary residence outside the US for a consecutive period of 330 (if I remember correctly) days, you become eligible to exclude the first $80,000 or so of your income from US Federal Taxes (can’t remember what the number is this year). This status does not affect your eligibility to vote in federal elections for president. However, my understanding is that by declaring your primary residence to be outside the US, you lose the right to vote in local elections which, of course, require you to be a local resident to be eligible.

In spite of this the states may require you to pay taxes even with your expatriate status. I’ve always seen this as an inconsistency. When I request an absentee ballot I have to define whether I am voting only federal or if I am a resident.

Michigan (and most states, I think) clearly states that you must be a resident to register to vote, but I have to declare that I am not a resident, for tax purposes. Federal laws trumps this by saying I have the right to vote in Federal elections from my last residence in the US. But what about local elections?

And I think the confusion here is due to the posting of the original question since people are not “citizens” of states, they are “residents”.

KenGR: Please re-read that there constitution. It specifically provides that citizens of the United States are citizens of the state in which they reside.