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Escaping Big Brother by Moving Abroad

Britons resident in the UK should all be in receipt of their census form by now – a document British households are required to complete, by law, every 10 years.  The form pries into all areas of your life; from the type of relationship you have with those resident in your home, to how many toilets you have!  And as much as you might like to use the form as bedding for your hamster or scribbling paper for your child, as a Brit who’s resident onshore, you have to fill it in – or else.

It’s when big brother pushes his nose so far and so obviously into people’s lives that many get an urge to escape his nosiness and take action as dramatic as relocation overseas.  Americans are even more affected by big brother’s constant presence in their lives though, and if you meet any expat US citizen, chances are escaping the system’s overbearing weight was at least in some small part responsible for them relocating abroad.

But is escaping big brother by moving abroad possible?  And perhaps more importantly, should you really sever all discernable ties with the government of your ‘home’ nation?  Britons have been caught up by the earthquake in New Zealand and by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan – but without the Foreign Office or the British Consulate abroad being aware of which Britons are in which nations, how can they help if an expat gets into trouble overseas?

Can You Escape Big Brother by Moving Abroad?

When you expatriate you’re obliged to tell the British taxman that you’re off – and this can benefit you as it stops him wondering why you’re not filling in your self-assessment form anymore.  Form P85 is where you should start – alternatively speak to your accountant about informing HMRC that you’re leaving.

If you don’t tell the taxman that you’re leaving then he can’t work out whether you should be taxed in the UK or not – and once you’re permanent resident overseas, then you normally shouldn’t be eligible to UK tax anymore.  Exceptions exist such as when you’re living in a nation without a double taxation agreement and you’re still in receipt of UK income or gains for example.  So, as stated, speak to your accountant to get things in order before you leave so that HMRC is legitimately no longer entitled to poke its nose into your life.

However, there are very few nations abroad where you can live permanently and fall outside of their own radar – which may be in the form of the tax authority locally, the immigration office or just the local town council.  So, in order to avoid big brother, those who like to take things to extreme could consider becoming a so-called ‘perpetual traveller’ or ‘private thinker’ (PT for short).

To live life as a PT you never stay so long in any one destination that you have to register for residency or tax for example – and in so doing you can conceivably fall off the global big brother radar…

There are entire websites devoted to this way of life – but then there are also checks made on you every time you have to show your passport at any airport/port/border for example, and many nations have CCTV on their town and city streets.  So, big brother is always watching, and unless you’re adept at disguising your identity and you really have something serious to hide, it’s probably not worth going to such extremes and trying to disappear!

What is achievable is severing the majority of ties with the UK.  As stated you can say goodbye to the British taxman, and you can take up permanent residency in a country which is perhaps less overbearing.  You can even renounce your British citizenship and change your nation of domicile eventually if you really want to take things to extreme.

Is Severing Every Tie with Britain a Good Idea?

At Expatra our position is that every innocent person has the right to privacy and freedom in life…but how far should one take this?  The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office invites all expats (and Brits travelling overseas) to sign up to LOCATE, their consular registration service.  The benefits are outlined as being: –

“If a major catastrophe occurs we’ll have an instant record of your details so we can contact you to make sure you’re OK and provide advice.

If family and friends need to get in touch with you we can help them to find you.

It only takes a few minutes to register your travel or residence information online and the local British Embassy will know you are coming.  You do not need to contact them directly.

You only need to register for the service once and then update your account when you make a new trip abroad or change your country of residence.  You can even add planned trips abroad up to a year ahead.

LOCATE improves our ability to provide help in an emergency and reduce delay and worry in times of stress for family and friends at home.”

On the one hand, clearly LOCATE also allows big brother to know where you are at all times even though you’re perhaps no longer a British resident.  It enables the British government to keep stats and facts about you live on databases and it means that ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ from the state’s presence in your life!  All exceptionally negative facts.

On the other hand, as we have literally just seen in New Zealand and Japan, massive and devastating events can happen and anyone can get caught up in them.  If you’re abroad and you’re affected, how will your family back home be able to contact you or find out where you are if you’re hospitalised – or worse?  Supposedly, if you’re registered with LOCATE, the local consular staff can help.

Ultimately it is 100% a personal choice – you need to weigh up the pros and cons of allowing big brother to keep tabs on you when you expatriate to live abroad.  You can slip under the radar, fall off it altogether, or remain on the periphery of its reaches.  There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

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