Finding the Right International Resources

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on November 14, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

“I have an idea of what I should do, but where do I start?”

It was a sunny morning on Ambergris Caye, Belize, yesterday as over a dozen internationally-minded new friends sat in a circle with global financial, banking, corporate structures, and real estate experts.  We were entering our roundtable discussion about how to take the next steps internationally.  The past few days had been full of educational courses covering cross-jurisdictional strategies and opportunities for participation, and now we wanted to cover the execution.

Finding the Right International Resources

We had a bit of time to sneak away from the classroom and onto the boat to snorkel the Belize reef!

One common goal among the group, generally, was to breakdown the concepts that are associated with going global.  Often assumed to be complex and convoluted, we tend to turn to our national experts for advice.  However, the sad reality is that most domestic CPAs, attorneys, etc. are not familiar with the international sector.  In fact, ask your advisor if they, personally, are involved internationally.  Many are not, which is why they look at you like you have 10 heads when you tell them you own timber in Panama or a beachfront condo in Nicaragua.  While many are brilliant in their specific field, as soon as the term “overseas” pops up, there is a good chance they may freeze up.  If you have an advisor who knows how to fill out Form 5471 or FinCen 411, then congratulations.  You’re among the ultra-minority.

Among our international group, we often quote Mike Cobb’s wise saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  And for good reason.  When I first moved to Managua out of college, I was naïve about tax returns.  I had never indefinitely moved abroad and had never earned an income without a W2, let alone in another country.  Come tax time, I frantically turned to Google for the answers, however, forum responses were contradicting and the IRS website was difficult to understand.

Confused, I decided to try another lifeline, my dad.  He told me he’d talk to his long-time CPA in New York to figure out what to do.  And in the meantime, I reached out to a few other American colleagues.  And boy am I glad I spoke to my co-workers.

Finding the Right International Resources

My dad and I, ready to board the ferry to Contadora Island, Panama.

My dad’s CPA, who does not typically handle foreign accounts, said because the income was coming from outside of the country and I was living outside the country, I was in the clear and didn’t have to do anything.  My colleagues told me just the opposite… because I was living and working outside the U.S., I needed to report every single cent earned and pay the corresponding tax, with the only exception being if I qualified for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.  They referred me to a few international tax experts who then laid out the intricate laws in front of me.  They continuously stressed the importance of over-reporting and keeping records of all of my international activity.

It wasn’t that my dad’s CPA was trying to get me in trouble, she just simply didn’t know.  And luckily, the advice from the experts saved me on many fronts.  This topic of “where to turn” popped up during the symposium quite a few times, and during the roundtable we took the time to address the concerns.  Below are a few snippets from the conversations that were had yesterday.

Finding the Right International Resources

Classroom time!

Going global can be simple, as long as you are working with the right resources.  A few key resources that we highlighted during our chats included both human personnel and material items:

  1. Financial Planner to assist with a couple of factors:
    1. Analyze what percentage of your portfolio should be international
    2. Determine what sort of international structure(s) best fit(s) your goals and your existing portfolio
      1. Requirement: must be internationally-minded
  2. CPA/Accountant to:
    1. Assist with filing tax forms pertaining to your domestic and international returns
    2. Work hand-in-hand with other international accountants or CPAs
    3. Depending on the structure you establish, you may need to send a copy of a local filing to your home country.
      1. Requirement: must have worked with international investments, bank accounts, and corporate structures
  3. Whitepapers, guidebooks, manuals, and handbooks pertaining to the topics you’re interested about from reliable sources

Yes, finding and making sure you have the right resources is the key in that sentence. Let’s remember that one of the most valuable resources we have is each other.  Being that we’re such a small, tight-knit group of like-minded individuals, we each have the capability to assist others who may just be starting out.

Finding the Right International Resources

The group enjoying dinner together at one of Ambergris Caye’s  most delicious restaurants, Hidden Treasure.

At this symposium, there were a few people who were still in the pre-goal phase of planning.  They absorbed as much information as possible, despite being whacked around by the fire hose of information.  After many hours of insightful presentations, yesterday we boiled down three of the most important takeaways when considering investing, owning, retiring, living, or playing overseas:

  1. Work with a CPA, financial advisor, or tax specialist who is on the same page as you and understands the global concept.  There is nothing more discouraging than sharing a new exciting opportunity after the information-packed, 4-day conference you just attended, just for him to shoot it down because he doesn’t know where Belize is on the map.
  2. While the internet is a great starting point, it should not be the end-all-be-all when making an important financial decision.  The best investment you can make is going boots-on-the-ground, meeting the team and doing your due diligence in asking for real clients to talk to.  Plus, listen to your Spidey-sense.  If you feel something isn’t right, trust your gut.
  3. Like Donna’s mention of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  Even if you don’t have a concrete global plan laid out in front of you, that’s OK.  Plans are bound to change along the way and mistakes will be made.  The most important action you can take is to just start. Start somewhere.

Finding the Right International Resources

With the convenience of the web, traditional face-to-face meetings are becoming less popular, making conferences like this one even more valuable, memorable, andConsumer Resource Guide

worthwhile.  If you have the chance to attend a live event, make the time to go.  The networking alone with other like-minded friends will open the doors to many new and exciting possibilities.

I am not a CPA, tax specialist, or financial advisor.  I learn from the experts and then further relay the information onto my CPA, friends, family, and colleagues for them to complete their own research.  If you’d like additional information about any of the following, please reply to the topic of this email and we’ll introduce you to the right folks:

  • International Real Estate
  • Taxes
  • Residency/ Citizenship Programs
  • International Corporate Structures & Trusts
  • Global Private Placements

Finding the Right International Resources

Despite the rain, we had a memorable time together looking at Grand Baymen, Belize, real estate!

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on November 14, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.