Can Debt Collectors Sue You If You Move Overseas?

I think of Miami as a “gateway” city. There are many international travellers and part-time or temporary residents. People come and go from places all over the world; people stay for a while and then leave. Miami residents that were born here in the United States seem to be more likely to meet and marry a resident of another country and move overseas, or might be more likely to take a job outside the United States. We are truly an international gateway city!

So, a relevant question in Miami is: can debt collectors sue a consumer if he or she leaves the country to reside elsewhere?

My answer: Yes. And no.

Why I say “yes”: If the company that owns the debt in question decides, based on the paperwork they possess and the procedures they have in place, that the debt is most likely to be successfully collected by going the lawsuit route, they will begin the process of suing.

Much of what takes place in filing a lawsuit is based on paperwork and computer records (regardless of how accurate or substantial.) Sometimes, when a debt collector decides to sue, the consumer won’t even know until there is a knock at the door by a process server with the summons to court, OR if the consumer happens to voluntarily contact the debt collector.

So sure, a debt collector can begin legal proceedings whether a consumer lives in Miami, Alaska, Venezuela, or Timbuktu. (Note: generally, a debt collector will use the process of ‘skip tracing’ to determine whether or not a consumer is ‘lawsuit worthy’)

But Not So Fast… So technically, yes, a debt collector can sue if a consumer has moved overseas, but practically speaking, it isn’t that easy. While debt collectors can file the paperwork to sue even if the consumer has already moved overseas, it will be virtually impossible for them to provide good service if the consumer is out of the country. (Read here about the difference between proper and improper service of a summons, and how process servers frequently cut corners.)

How can a local process server hand over the required paperwork to someone living overseas? Most likely, it’s not possible. The only option would be to find out where the consumer IS living, hire a process server in that foreign country, etc., etc. Chances are, it won’t be worth it in time, money, or research to do this, so the debt collector will let the case languish. If the consumer returns to Florida, the statute of limitations will likely have expired before the debt collector gets around to refiling.  (Note: technically, absence from the state ‘tolls’ or pauses the statute of limitations, but a debt collection lawyer most likely won’t take this into consideration, and will not file the lawsuit as there are severe penalties against collection lawyers that file lawsuits that are barred by the statute of limitations.)

What If? So, what if a consumer has moved to Malaysia, Amsterdam or wherever, and finds out that legal proceedings have been set in motion? The critical issue if the consumer was truly overseas when the lawsuit was filed is most likely going to be the previously mentioned sewer service–improper/false service of the summons and paperwork. The only way the lawsuit could proceed to a courtroom and a default judgment would be sewer service, and even from afar, a consumer would be able to hire a consumer attorney practicing in the state where the lawsuit was filed and judgment obtained, to fight the judgment. Paperwork would be pulled, the consumer would offer proof that he or she was no longer in the country at time of service, and most likely, the issue would be put to bed.

To be clear–if a consumer moves overseas, all debts are still owed. Just remember, for anyone that becomes aware that a debt collector is trying to sue while they are living overseas–it would be worth a few international telephone calls to contact a consumer attorney in the state that the lawsuit has been filed, particularly if a default judgment has been obtained while one was out of the country.
photo credit: sxc.hu/topfer

One Response to “Can Debt Collectors Sue You If You Move Overseas?”

  1. Patrick says:

    But what about the other way around?
    If a US citizen acquires debt in Germany and returns to the US what will happen?

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