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PRACTICAL INTERNET PRIVACY
Here is a comprehensive introduction to internet and telecommunications privacy. The author is an “independent emergency callout specialist for home and small business computer users” in the U.K.
There are lots of reasons you might prefer not to have every website you visit and email you send logged and recorded for years to come. I cannot think of any why you would. In many countries, however, internet providers are required by law to do just that.
According to the London Telegraph, from April 2009 that now includes all European Union countries. For the tech-minded, here are the gory details. You can be sure it is being done elsewhere, legally or otherwise. For a global overview with “heat map,” you can check out last year’s “Electronic Police State” international rankings here. Surveillance is even more intense in large corporate or government environments, where you may also have trouble visiting certain “unapproved” sites.
At the other end of your internet connection, the same thing may be happening. Browsing and emailing, for example, usually discloses an “IP address” – the equivalent of your internet telephone number – which can be traced to you through your internet provider. Many sites, such as Google, also build up a profile of your activity based upon your IP address, “cookies” (data stored from earlier visits), search requests and other factors, which can be retained indefinitely. Forums and blogs will often record your IP address along with your comments and retain them for years.
This was underlined to me some time ago, when I had a problem with a Google search. In order to proceed, they required verification by typing in random letters, partially obscured in an image. After a couple of failed tries, on the third attempt Google presented me with a word consisting of my name complete with a spelling mistake peculiar to details held by my internet provider (a large multinational). At that moment, I was not using any privacy techniques. Nevertheless, I now have a new provider and often use the powerful, private Ixquick alongside Google.
Individual hackers can be a danger when they identify your IP address: A 17-year-old boy was recently jailed for what is known as “Swatting” his online-gaming opponents. According to The Register, on multiple occasions, he obtained their IP addresses and hacked their internet provider for their personal details. He then called in armed SWAT teams to their houses by faking (“spoofing”) their telephone numbers in emergency calls.
You should note the low to non-existent standards of evidence under which the State will dispatch violent military force against the innocent. In fact, not only did the State effectively assist him, he was much less guilty when compared to the confiscation, tasering, torturing and killing of governments everywhere against their own opponents.
This highlights by far the biggest privacy concern: Accumulated profiling by Big Brother in order to identify dissenters, protesters, whistleblowers, tax escapees and political opponents.
But, there are fairly easy ways to keep “two sets of books” with your internet provider and also to “anonymize” your site visits, posts, chat, voice, video and email. It all starts with a clean computer:
Practical Privacy – Stage 1
Many PCs are riddled with viruses, spyware, toolbars, “helpers” and weighed down with bloated “security” suites. If you have a PC, then do what I have done for many hundreds of customers in recent years: First, get rid of Norton/Mcafee or similar bloatware and restart. Next run “msconfig” as in this tutorial (Vista users just type “msconfig” in the Search box). Restart.
The best and leanest antivirus is currently the free Avira Antivir. You will also need weekly or monthly manual scans with Spybot (un-tick all options except Desktop Icon on install). Do a scan with both and that is it. In case of a stubborn problem try a Malwarebytes one-off scan. If problems persist, then a backup and system reinstall is needed. Note that you do not need a complicated firewall because your router acts as a double hardware firewall, plus there is an adequate built-in Windows firewall anyway.
With a clean, fast computer the first and easiest privacy step is to clear it of data retained from previous activity. This can be available through the internet to others via things like cookies and add-ons like Java or Flash. You can clear it in this way:
On a PC, get the free CCleaner. Un-tick everything except Desktop and Start menu shortcuts on install. Ideally, run CCleaner just before and just after any private browsing is required. The standard settings are fine – except be sure everything is un-ticked under Options>Advanced. Expect the first run to take a while and to be surprised how much junk there was. After that it will usually be instant. For an equivalent, Mac users can use free programs like “Onyx” or “MacJanitor."
With this security setup and a little care about what you click on, you can have years of trouble-free computing, with the basics in place for some privacy.
Practical privacy – Stage 2
The next step is to obscure your activity from your internet provider, and to obscure your identity at sites you visit. There are several ways of doing this – most requiring technical knowledge of things like “proxies” and “shell accounts.” But there are easier ways:
In an emergency, one obvious way is to drive around with a laptop and find a public or open internet connection. This would normally only reveal your general geographic location. If you are not doing anything to attract, for example, SWAT teams and are not hogging a lot of bandwidth, then you are harming no one. Long-range wireless is also an option.
One other way would be to use the TOR anonymous internet system. The only problem here is the unreliable browsing speed. It is quite easy to install and try, though.
For a permanent, reliable solution you need access to a Virtual Private Network or “VPN” service. VPNs are often used by businesses to securely log in to office networks from home. A VPN privacy service can completely obscure your IP address from sites you visit, while obscuring and encrypting the content, sites and servers you visit from your internet provider. Basically, it will tunnel everything you do to another computer in another part of the world of your choice. It does mean trusting the VPN provider to some degree (the best keep no logs) and it does mean paying a subscription. But you will get fast or even full internet speeds – in my own case, reliable enough to do chart-based day-trading.
Both Mac and Windows users can easily connect using the basic VPN software already built in. Or, there is a better solution called “OpenVPN.” Versions of this on the Mac include “Viscosity” and Tunnelblick. The service provider will supply instructions.
One VPN service I use is Perfect-Privacy, with multiple servers around the world. I also like the very low-cost SwissVPN in Zurich. Bear in mind that lag will increase the further away you are from the VPN server. There are many others (metropipe, cryptohippie, xerobank, secretsline, etc.).
One technical warning about “DNS leaks”: These can bypass your VPN so that although actual content is secure, the names of sites visited could be visible and therefore logged. The fix does require extra steps but is reasonably easy: full instructions and a test here.
With a VPN setup, you can be less concerned about trusting email providers and using encryption. Just get a free web-based email address in another country and always use the VPN to access it. However, be careful not to include identifiable personal info in the email content.
In addition, for moderately sensitive email content, both sender and recipient could use temporary Hushmail accounts. Or, learn to use highly secure PGP encryption with any email provider. Other free options include Mailvault (with easy PGP built in) the secure (but U.S.-based) Cryptomail, and Privatdemail. Subscription options include Neomailbox and GeneralMail. However, unless you encrypt your own email, remember you are placing trust in an unknown service provider. Rumors abound, for example, that the popular Safe-Mail is a Mossad “honeypot” – though I have seen no real evidence of this.
Voice and Chat Privacy
Because a VPN connection is a secure tunnel (at least, from you to the VPN server) there can be less concern also with voice, video and chat services. However, here are some extra security steps:
For extra Instant Messaging security, try OTR. For voice and video content there is ZPhone (at both ends) in conjunction with Yahoo messenger or Apple iChat. Skype will conceal content from casual eavesdroppers, but many suspect a “backdoor” and your activity is logged by their software. Gizmo5 may be an alternative with its internal encryption, plus it will work with Zphone. SIP Communicator is a one-stop secure video/IM/chat solution with encryption (including ZPhone) built in.
But do be aware that unless you use a VPN, voice and email encryption only prevents wiretapping of content and does not prevent tracking who you are and who your contacts are.
For interaction with regular telephones you really need a “SIP” account – which is a bit like an email address for voice/video. These can also be assigned a regular phone number.
Get a free SIP account from IPTel, AntiSIP, SIP2SIP or PBXes. VoIPUser will also give you a free incoming and outgoing UK telephone number. You can get a free U.S. incoming number from IPKall. An incoming local number could be forwarded and used in conjunction with an “offshore” outgoing provider (e.g., Link2VoIP, Switzernet, Peoplefone, VoIPGate) for call records privacy.
Note that “IAX” is a better but less common alternative to the SIP standard (see IAXterminator, EuroIAX, Les.net, VoIPGate).
The popular but U.S.-based CallWithUs offers calls (only) via their own OpenVPN connection, as does Brujula. Link2VoIP offers “IPSec” VPN access for calls, useable with some dedicated routers, from computer desktops, with the iPhone/iPod Touch, and with most Windows CE smart-phones and PDAs (IPaq, HTC etc).
If you do not have an incoming phone number for your SIP account, with some providers you can still be called using the free SIPBroker service. This service has local numbers in many countries and you are contactable via an “extension” number after the local number has been dialed.
Making calls through a VPN does reduce the need for call encryption. But, on top of that, free software like Qutecom and MiniSIP have end-to-end encryption built in. SIP Communicator includes encryption not only for SIP calls, but also secure video/IM/chat. XLite does not include encryption, but is very popular and will work with Zphone. Also see Zoiper for both IAX and SIP.
In practical use, there is no need to be bound to computer speakers and microphone: you can easily use USB, wireless “Bluetooth” (including mobile phones) and other headsets or handsets.
A SIP account will also work without the need for a computer via special standalone “IP phones” or with regular telephones via SIP adapters. These plug in to your home broadband router. But if you want them to go through a VPN, there are then two options: You could set up “Internet Connection Sharing” on a dedicated computer with a VPN connection. Or (for the tech-minded only) here is the setup for a specially modified home router. For offices, the Draytek 2820 looks like a one-stop broadband/VPN/SIP solution.
Mobile Call Privacy
When on the move, Wi-Fi and SIP capable mobile phones, PDAs, or netbooks can offer more privacy than a regular landline or mobile call, even without a VPN connection. But it is possible to use a VPN through public wireless networks from many smart mobiles:
The iPhone and the iPod Touch offer an easy solution by including VPN software. The Apple app store offers SipPhone [now iSip] to make calls. Third-party offerings like Fring and Gizmo5 also work, but with less privacy and more lag (search for Youtube tutorials). You will need a microphone or hands-free set for the iPod Touch. “Jailbreaking” the iPhone/iPod Touch opens up other options, including Siphon – obtainable through the alternative “Cydia” download source. 2G iPod Touch models can easily be set free in less than 5 minutes, older models in less than a minute. You can be sure of a solution from the same sources after new updates.
The IPaq and other “Windows Mobile” phones and PDAs include VPN connection software. OpenVPN is also available for some. For making SIP phone calls, SJPhone is popular, PortSip is another.
Nokia or other “Symbian” models need SymVPN – also check that particular models have a SIP dialer inbuilt (e.g., Nokia E51).
But overall, a tiny netbook could be the stylish, all-in-one privacy option for home, office and on the move. For voice calls, it might be most convenient when used with a handset, or linked via Bluetooth (wireless) to a headset or mobile phone. You might consider the excellent Asus EeePC 1000HE with 9.5-hour battery life, or the popular Samsung NC10.
Of course, one big problem – and partly the reason I have suggested many free services – is a lack of internet payment privacy. This has strengthened the now pervasive custom of demanding personal, private information with every transaction. Here are some solutions to look at:
In the U.S., you could check out the various over-the-counter Mall Cards available. While in the UK and Europe, Paysafecard (e.g., for Amazon vouchers), UKash, and the Prime Card or Payzone prepaid debit cards are the nearest equivalents to cash online I have found. UnLinq is a worldwide (U.S.-based) card option. There are also “virtual card” resellers with varying degrees of privacy. Debitcards4all currently have a good reputation at the talkgold forum, where you can also find other available options. For sending and receiving small payments, consider ePayarea.
You could also look at gold- or fiat-backed e-currencies. However, stability is a concern as is the intrusive information demanded by most exchangers – even if you pay in cash. Of all e-currencies, the soundest may be Pecunix. The most widely accepted – since the fall of e-gold – is probably the fiat-based Liberty Reserve.
For lightweight privacy, note that in many countries you can add an additional cardholder name to an existing card account.
Under the present system, if you want to avoid identity theft, hacker attacks, profiling and more, you need to be cautious about giving out personal information:
Wherever possible, refuse, confuse or completely separate your name, address, date of birth and any other identifying numbers. Understand that you do not have a moral obligation to help a stranger track you against your will. Legally, at least in common law countries, you can call yourself whatever you like. I also do not recommend you supply, for example, your actual date of birth – just to open a free email account.
Some online privacy suggestions:
Whenever supplying information online, assume it will be incorporated into a database forever. Assume that this will then be incorporated into a bigger search engine that merges multiple databases with all information about you. Assume that this will be available instantly to friend or foe, for free or a small fee.
- Always “enhance” your date of birth;
- If you must supply your name or, for a delivery, your home address, then not both together;
- Make use of junk email services like Mailinator or Dodgeit;
- If possible, do not register – use logins from Bugmenot.
- Create throw-away email addresses for minor online registration/confirmation;
- Maintain separate, completely isolated email addresses for important functions;
- Use aliases or alternate spellings of your surname and make use of your middle name/s;
- Google multiple occupancy or serviced office addresses when a verifiable address is demanded;
- Make sure any supplied address matches the VPN country you are using;
- Consider setting up a mail-drop – near and/or far;
- Develop alternate signatures for forms, packages etc. and compartmentalize their use;
- Incorporating an LLC or using a business name can have privacy advantages;
- Make special efforts regarding the personal details held by your ISP and/or Telco;
- Consider posting well-wrapped cash or money orders for purchases.
Data Backup Privacy
Special steps are needed for storing and transporting data privately, including through customs checkpoints, where your laptop could be seized:
Tiny micro SD cards are currently available up to at least 16 Gb. These can be tucked into a lapel, collar, hair clip etc. Or, an ideal, discreet and radiation proof solution would be inside a covert coin. Another option is to encrypt your data and upload it to the very useful, free Stashbox service, which will immediately return a web address to download it from later. Of course, there is always the old, “send it as an email attachment to yourself” method for smaller data backups.
Some might argue that actual criminals or terrorists could use these techniques to hide themselves. Possibly, but more likely they have other ways – like hacking in and controlling other people’s computers, using other people’s credit cards, and letting someone else take the blame. Either way, why should we all go into slavery, just to be “protected” from them?
Remember that governments are not omnipotent, though they would like to be. In reality, they are relatively few in number and there are many practical, economic and technological limitations. Also keep in mind sheer information overload – there can only be so many watchers.
But there is a real threat, particularly if you are targeted. In these perilous times I hope these privacy techniques will encourage you to speak out more freely and help you maintain more financial and personal security.
MONTANA CITY DEMANDS SOCIAL NETWORKING LOG-INS FROM JOB SEEKERS
Everything you have posted can and will be held against you ...
Bozeman, Montana is demanding that job applicants provide usernames and passwords to all the applicant’s social networking website memberships. Obviously this requirement is obnoxious and over the top – a city representative allowed as how they might relent and change the requirement to just signing up the city as a “friend” on sites such as Facebook, and under intense public scrutiny the city ultimately relented (see immediately below). But it points to the basic issue of just how much one discloses on such sites, or anywhere on the internet.
The bottom line is one should expect one’s name to be Googled by potential employers, governments and other stalkers. In this day and age a lot of what shows up will be unavoidable, but there is good reason to be very careful in what one purposely adds to the mixture.
If you apply for a job with the City of Bozeman, Montana – a mid-sized burg halfway across these United States – you are forced to surrender usernames and passwords for every account you have set up with websites of the “social networking” variety.
According to the City, that includes everything from Facebook and MySpace to YouTube to, well, Yahoo! and Google.
“Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.,” reads a waiver form that allows the City to investigate a job applicant’s “background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records.”
Then it asks for usernames and passwords.
With most websites, sharing log-in information is verboten. “You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account,” reads the Facebook EULA. “You will not transfer your account to anyone without first getting our written permission.”
And then there is the question of whether the City of Bozeman has overlooked the great American right to privacy.
Speaking with a local Montana TV news station, City attorney Greg Sullivan says Bozeman takes privacy seriously. But he defends the burg’s log-in grab. “So, we have positions ranging from fire and police, which require people of high integrity for those positions, all the way down to the lifeguards and the folks that work in city hall here. So we do those types of investigations to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the City,” he said.
Ah, but if I hand over my Facebook user name and password, I am also handing over an endless stream of information posted by my Facebook “friends.”
“You know, I can understand that concern,” Sullivan said. “One thing that is important for folks to understand about what we look for is none of the things that the federal constitution lists as protected things. We don’t use those. We are not putting out this broad brush stroke of trying to find out all kinds of information about the person that we are not able to use or shouldn’t use in the hiring process.”
Sullivan did not respond to our request for comment. Talking with the news station, he said that the City would consider changing its policy so that job seekers would only be required to sign up the City as a “friend” on sites like Facebook. And he said that no job seeker has ever rescinded their application after reading the wavier form.
But that is because people rarely recognize a threat to their own privacy. Even if the City claims that privacy will be respected, you are handing your usernames and passwords to individual City workers. And individual workers have minds of their own.
Facebook is not pleased with the Bozeman situation and plans to contact the City. “This is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which received feedback from users and was ultimately approved in a site-wide vote,” the company tells us. “Our policies prohibit those who use the service from soliciting login information or accessing an account that belongs to someone else. In addition to violating Facebook’s policies, we think this practice violates personal privacy, and we plan to reach out to the City of Bozeman to discuss it with them.”
Bozeman, Montana Ends FaceSpaceGooHoo Log-in Grab
After a virtual avalanche of news coverage, the City of Bozeman, Montana has decided it will no longer ask job applicants for their FaceSpaceGooHoo log-ins.
As we explained last week, the mid-sized American burg was requiring City job seekers to surrender usernames and passwords for all “social networking” sites they used, including everything from Facebook and MySpace to Yahoo! and Google. But as reported by a local TV news station on Friday, the City has dropped the requirement.
“Effective at noon today, the City of Bozeman permanently ceased the practice of requesting that candidates selected for positions under a provisional job offer to provide their user names or passwords for candidates Internet sites,” City of Bozeman city manager Chris Kukulski said.
The original story about the log-in grab aired on the same news station Wednesday evening. And by Thursday, the City was flooded with email complaints, as stories appeared from the Associated Press and countless online news outlets. Apparently, City lawyer Greg Sullivan was fielding a complaint a minute. Then, on Friday morning, during a 90-minute staff meeting, City officials decided the requirement “exceeded that which is acceptable to our community.”
Kukulski said that the City only requested the usernames and passwords after applicants had conditionally accepted a job, and he apologized for the uproar over the issue.
He also said that Bozeman has suspended the practice of viewing online information that sits behind the collected passwords and that the log-in info will remain the confidential property of the City.
“Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.,” read a waiver form that allowed the City to investigate an applicant’s “background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records.”
The form then asked for usernames and passwords.
Facebook told us on Thursday it would be contacting the City about the requirement, calling it a breach of privacy. Which it is.
YOUR OFFSHORE DICTIONARY
Awaiting the arrival of the ghost of Ambrose Bierce.
A perhaps overdue dictionary, translating offshore financial argot into terms understandable to an offshore newcomer. From August issue of Caribbean Property Magazine, the author invites everyone: “If you understand the jargon in these articles, I congratulate you. ... If not, keep reading.”
If you are considering a move, permanent or otherwise, from your first-world country base to an offshore domicile a few years down the road, you no doubt have been spending some time reading up on the good, the bad and the not-so-good about your country of choice. While conducting your research, many of you have no doubt run across quite a few advertisements and articles about second passports and the “offshore industry” and how it can save your precious resources, as well as protect you and your family.
If you understand the jargon in these articles, I congratulate you. However, most everyday people have difficulty understanding the rather legalized terminology involved with the offshore industry. For instance, can you cite the difference between an Apostille and a Bearer Bond? If not, keep reading.
It is hard to feel enlightened when you just do not understand the jargon you are reading. So, hopefully this tutorial dictionary overviewing the main terminology of the offshore industry will help to clear up any questions you might have. Considering that many of us really will need that offshore account, trust or corporation in the near future, the read is well worth the effort.
Anonymous Bearer Share Corporation – In this corporate structure the ownership of the corporation is not recorded in any registry or database thus the owners are anonymous. The owners hold the physical shares of stock. There is no reportage of transfers of ownership either. As an FYI Panama is the last place you can get a truly anonymous bearer Share Corporation with no loopholes and no financial statements to file and no tax returns to file.
Anonymous Foundation – This is normally known as a Private Interest Foundation. It is anonymous in that the beneficiaries need not be revealed or made public. There are foundation council members which are the nominee – meaning they do not know you. There is also a founder which is often provided by the forming law firm so as to not reveal the person behind the foundation. Foundations may or may not have protectors. Foundations can have secret instructions as to how the assets of the foundation are to be dealt with. Generally foundation assets are non-sequesterable which means non freezable.
Anonymous Offshore ATM Card – This term refers to a card that is ATM only and has no name printed on the card. This assures one of greater privacy when drawing money out of an ATM machine in that the bank and operator of the ATM machine does not get your name. Today all ATM and Visa cards must have ID on file for each card which is a government issued ID like a Passport and often a utility bill is required. When you are acquiring the card through a seller in a privacy oriented jurisdiction there is a reasonable amount of privacy.
Anonymous Real Estate Ownership – this is accomplished through titling the real estate in the name of an anonymous bearer share corporation or in the name of the anonymous foundation .
Apostille – This is a commonly encountered signature verification process. One first goes to a notary public to get a document signed and notarized. After this is done one takes the document to an Apostille who certifies that the notary is a true and correct licensed notary. It is sort of verifying the notary. Apsotille certificate are usually quite official with seals, signatures stamps etc. Our law firm only requires them for immigration document verification in place of consulate authentication of documents.
Asset Protection – This is a term applied to a person specializing in protecting the assets of others generally in an offshore privacy friendly jurisdiction with strong bank secrecy and excellent corporate privacy laws. Asset protection works better in a jurisdiction offshore to your own since the lawyers, courts and government from your own country (there are still a lot of dictatorships out there) have no authority in the offshore jurisdiction, so it is often referred to as offshore asset protection.
Bank – A financial institution that is licensed and regulated by a government that accepts third party deposits and can make loans.
Bank Secrecy – A term applied to offshore banks that are located in a jurisdiction with string bank secrecy laws.
Balloon Payment – A large or balloon payment due at the end of a loan, typically a home or car loan, to pay off the amount the payments did not previously cover. Often used as a loan type in offshore banking and asset protection. A foundation can make a loan to a natural person who then pays interest only for 60 months and then at that time must repay the principal or roll the loan over for another term.
Bearer Bond – This is an instrument where one could carry a government or solid rated bond for $100,000,000 and there is no ID required to negotiate it, well at least back in the 1980’s anyway. Why one would feel good about a piece of paper worth so much money is somewhat odd. This is not something very often encountered.
Bearer Share Corporation – This is a corporation that is formed with bearer share stock certificates. This means the ownership of the bearer share corporation is based on who owns the physical stock certificates. With a some jurisdiction’s iBearer Share Corporation there is no recording of the owners in any registry or database nor is there any recording pertaining to the transfer of the ownership thus it is an anonymous corporation.
Beneficiary – A person legally entitled to receive benefits through a legal device, such as a Foundation. With some foundations the beneficiaries can remain off the public records ... anonymous is a good word.
Corporate Agent – Generally a non-lawyer that can form corporations in certain offshore jurisdictions. These people are not attorneys and thus one has no attorney client privilege in dealing with them.
Garnishment – A court-ordered process that takes property from a person to pay a debt. For instance, a person who owes money to a creditor may have her wages garnished if she loses a lawsuit filed by the creditor. Offshore garnishment orders are not valid in some countries like Panama, so check out your potential jurisdiction.
Guillotine Clause – This was an offshore banking trick that worked like this: The offshore bank was given standing wiring instructions to immediately wire the total amount of money in a particular offshore bank account to another bank account in another off shore jurisdiction the very instant any inquiries were made concerning that account by any interested parties. Of course the next bank would have similar instructions and so on down the line so the money could almost stay in constant motion. While banks are no longer allowed to have such Guillotine instructions, some foundations can have them and execute them by having the foundation protector generate instructions based on certain events spelled out in the Foundation secret instructions pertaining to any asset the foundation has.
Heir – One who receives property from a deceased individual. The term is used commonly when discussing foundations and trusts.
Internet Banking Offshore – This term references a bank that allows clients to access their bank account using the internet from anyplace in the world.
Judgment – This is a term to reference a decision rendered by a court after it has heard a case. It may say so and so has to pay the other entity so much money. In the world of offshore asset protection judgments from other countries are generally not enforceable in the offshore jurisdiction.
Jurisdiction – The authority of a court to hear and decide a case. Generally in offshore jurisdictions the courts will not hear a case when the events occurred outside of it and the only reason the case is brought to the jurisdiction is because the entity was a Corporation of that country and/or there was a local bank account involved.
MLAT or Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty – This is a treaty where certain countries agree to help certain other countries obtain evidence in criminal cases. These treaties are full of exceptions, special clauses so there is no universal formula for these, they vary from treaty to treaty.
Natural Person – This is a common offshore legal term meaning a living breathing person as opposed to an unnatural person such as a corporation.
Nominee Directors – In an anonymous bearer share corporation or a Sociedad Anonyma, directors of the corporation are recorded in the public registry, owners are not recorded. So what is done is nominee directors are used who are paid employees and do not know you at all. These people are generally professional directors sitting on the boards of hundreds of corporations seriously confusing anyone trying to track down information from the public registry about any corporation filed in that jurisdiction. The nominee directors in some jurisdictions represent a dead end as far as this is concerned. You are normally supplied with resignation letters from each nominee director giving you control over them. If you are the signatory on a bank account the banks will not add signatories or remove signatories without the written permission of the existing signatory.
Offshore – This is a term that means outside of your own jurisdiction, water is not a necessary ingredient.
Offshore ATM Card – This is a card that must be preloaded with funds before the funds are available for withdrawing from an ATM machine or used at a POS (point of sale) location for a purchase. These cards do not have a MasterCard or Visa logo and are not credit cards and thus cannot be used online.
Offshore Bank – The term refers to a licensed bank that is located in a jurisdiction different from your own country.
Offshore Banking – This term is used to refer to a bank located in a jurisdiction different than the one you are in. Panama is offshore for someone in the UK and Nassau is offshore to someone located in Panama. The term does not necessarily refer to a bank in an island jurisdiction. For a person in France a German Bank would be offshore. Offshore banking has little to do with bank secrecy. In some jurisdictions offshore banking licenses are issued to offshore only banks. These offshore banking licenses are restricted banking licenses that do not let the bank engage in business in any way shape or form with the resident of the country.
Offshore Banking and Bank Account – This is a phrase used by people to reference a bank account opened up in an offshore bank. This phrase is not a legal or banking term but nonetheless is a popular term anyway.
Offshore Bank Account – The term refers to one opening a bank account in an offshore bank. It does not necessarily mean a bank located in a tax haven country, just a bank located in a country offshore or foreign to your country.
Offshore Banking Account – This is a term pertaining to a bank account that is maintained in an offshore jurisdiction other than one’s own country.
Offshore Company – This term refers to a company that is formed in a jurisdiction offshore to one’s own jurisdiction. It is another way of saying offshore corporation.
Offshore Company Formation – This is the formation or creation of an offshore company. A similar term would be offshore incorporation. In the world of offshore formation is a term often used in place of the word incorporation.
Offshore Company Incorporation – This term refers to the act of forming a corporation bearer share or otherwise in an offshore jurisdiction relative to your own country. The incorporation process varies from country to country. In some countries only a lawyer may file a corporation and in other countries registered agents can do so.
Offshore Company Registration – This term describes the act of registering an offshore company or corporation. One may register an offshore company formed in the same jurisdiction as where it is registered or one could register an offshore corporation from a foreign jurisdiction in which case certain registration rules may apply to domesticate the offshore company in the registration jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions the registration process could compel revealing the ownership, financial records etc thus destroying any anonymity features the underlying corporate formation may have.
Offshore Corporation – The term refers to a company that is formed in what is considered to be an offshore jurisdiction relative to the jurisdiction you are located in. An offshore corporation does not necessarily need to be located in a tax haven company. This means an offshore corporation could be formed in a country with a high corporate tax basis or the term could just as easily apply to a corporation formed in a country with a zero or very low tax basis for income derived offshore.
Offshore Credit Card – This is a card issued from a bank that is offshore. The credit card comes with a line of credit and does not have to be pre-loaded from your own funds. It is very rare to ever see an offshore bank issue a credit card without securing the line of credit with funds held by the bank.
Offshore Debit Card – This refers to a debit card which is issued by a bank or card issuer that is located offshore to where you are located. The term can be applied to a card which requires that funds be in the bank or placed in the card account prior to being available on the card. The term can apply to a MasterCard or Visa card as well as an ATM only card.
Offshore Formation – This is term referring to the creation of a corporation, foundation, or trust in a jurisdiction offshore to where you are located.
Offshore Foundation – Term used to mean a foundation formed outside of your own jurisdiction.
Offshore Haven – A term mused to apply to a jurisdiction with no taxation on offshore derived income.
Offshore Incorporation – This is a term pertaining to the formation of a corporation in an offshore jurisdiction. Panama is a popular offshore incorporation jurisdiction with over 400,000 corporations registered here.
Offshore Incorporation Services – This is a term applied to a firm that forms offshore corporations. Usually the same firm would also form an offshore trust or offshore foundation. Sometimes the entity doing the offshore formations is a law firm and sometimes they are just corporate agents.
Offshore Lawyer – The term generally applies to a lawyer located in what is considered to be a popular offshore jurisdiction for the formation of offshore corporations, offshore trusts, offshore foundations and opening of offshore bank accounts. These lawyers engage in the activities and in asset protection in general.
Offshore Stock Broker – This term refers to a stock broker located in an offshore jurisdiction. Bank secrecy and taxes have no meaning here.
Offshore Tax Haven – A country in which there is usually a zero tax basis where offshore banks exist and offshore corporations can be formed.
Offshore Trust – This is a term that simply refers to a trust that is formed in an offshore jurisdiction.
Online Banking – Internet access to your bank account allowing one to check balances, transfer between accounts and launch international wires from anywhere in the world.
Onshore – The term is generally applied to your jurisdiction meaning in your own country or jurisdiction.
Pensionado Visa – A permanent residency visa issued to retired people that comes with a basket of benefits these can have different titles – the Pensionado is the term used in Panama.
Secret Bank Account – There is no longer any such thing. One needs to bank in an offshore jurisdiction that has bank secrecy.
Sociedad Anonyma – This is the Spanish term for an anonymous bearer share corporation where there is no recording or registration of owners of the corporation.
Sparbuch Account – These bank accounts were all ended in 2002 yet they curiously are still fraudulently sold on the internet. They were issued from banks in Austria. You got a special passbook enabling you to conduct banking inside the branch of an Austrian bank using the book as sole ID; it was a numbered password protected offshore bank account. You were also able to take out $20,000 a day from special ATM machines in Austria anonymously. When these accounts were around most people ignored them because it required trip to Austria and the inconvenience of moving cash around.
Swiss Numbered Bank Account – These at one time in the 1980s were dead anonymous bank accounts, thus no need for anonymous bearer share corporations. The bank itself had no idea who you were and you operated the account through passwords. These accounts are long gone. Now the next generation numbered Swiss bank account means the bank knows who you are but only certain people inside the bank can access that information. No longer anonymous and they will raise a red flag whenever they are used for wire transfers.
Tax Haven – This term describes a country that has little or no income taxation. Some of these jurisdictions survive on import duty taxes. Others make offshore income exempt from taxation and instead impose a fixed tax annually on a corporation. Tax haven is a term that has nothing to do with bank secrecy.
Tax Treaty – A tax treaty is a treaty two or more countries have with each other regarding taxation. Some of these treaties call for information sharing about bank accounts. Some of these treaties call for no double taxation so if one pays tax in one jurisdiction that tax counts against the tax they owe from the other jurisdiction.
Virtual Visa or MasterCard – This is a card that is issued by email only. It is only useable online since no physical card is ever delivered. ID is required for this card usually.
Writ of Mandamus – This is Latin for “we command.” A writ of mandamus is a court order that requires another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual to do something it so orders. Currently, jurisdictions generally ignore such orders from other jurisdictions.
RELATIVE PROPERTY BARGAINS IN THE DOMICAN REPUBLIC AND ST. KITTS & NEVIS
This promotional but informative piece from the Caribbean mortgage specialist Conti Financial Services covers two property markets not frequently addressed in these pages: the Dominican Republic and St. Kitts & Nevis. The claim is that properties on those two Caribbean islands are relatively cheap, but we have some doubts about the yardstick being used. It brings to mind the old Jack Benny response to the question “How are you?”: Compared to what?
A few factoids on getting a mortgage on a Caribbean property, at least via Conti: the minimum downpayment is 30%, the minimum loan size is $500,000, mortgage maturity is 15-20 years, and mortgages are interest-only.
The Dominican Republic – the Jewel of the Caribbean
Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Caribbean,” the Dominican Republic is one of the most popular destinations for overseas property buyers in the Caribbean at the moment.
Property there offers buyers a wide variety of options, from new seafront developments, to villas and rural farmhouses. As the top Caribbean holiday destination, it has several international airports which allow tourists (almost 1/3 of them from the USA) and homebuyers ease of access, and tourism is a major driver in the success of its property market.
Prices tend to be less expensive than the rest of the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic takes up 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola, and is a favorite stopping-off point for the many cruise ships which sail among the islands throughout the year. The local economy depends largely on tourism for survival, but makes a great location for a second home, or even as a destination for a permanent home. Property development on the island tends to be spread around the coastal areas, with Puerto Plata on the north coast and Punta Cana among the most popular locations. Prices tend to be less expensive than the rest of the Caribbean – another reason why this is currently a great place for a home overseas.
Playground for the Rich and Famous
The Dominican Republic has gained a reputation for attracting some of the world’s biggest celebrities. Many enjoy the same sun and colorful atmosphere that “regular” tourists come to enjoy, but it is the promise of anonymity and escape from their hectic lives in the spotlight, that attracts a number of stars to come and relax here.
The property market and the investment opportunities it presents have been catching the eyes of many of the celebrities who make a stop here. Among the personalities to grace the island with their presence are icons like Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Sting, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, and Julio Iglesias. ...
Property Market Overview
The Dominican Republic slipped from the property market limelight for several years, but its economic fortunes were turned around from 2004. Today, the government has increased the country’s tourism traffic significantly, and has developed its overall potential through the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. This has resulted in strong investment growth prospects.
The island’s property market is emerging at a fast pace, largely basing itself, unsurprisingly, on tourism. A stable government, a vastly improving infrastructure and easy access via three international airports are further encouraging people to take holidays and buy property here. Year-round climatic appeal along with quality new resort developments mean that many buyers enjoy holiday use of their properties in addition to successfully renting them out during vacant periods, too.
Many investors are keen on properties which can be bought within the confines of resort developments ... Any connection to hotels on the same site can be an advantage, as this can often lead to management of the property, and means that the most efficient rental scheme can be employed with the support of the hotel group.
It is predicted that the tourist trade in the Dominican Republic will continue to grow for the next decade, which is tempting many to invest.
There are no restrictions on foreign nationals buying here (in fact, they have been doing so for years), and the lower cost of living also makes it easier and cheaper for families to maintain a second home than on some of the other Caribbean islands.
Maximum Returns from a Growing Market
With a colorful and, at times, turbulent past, the Dominican Republic has often been seen as one of the poorer Caribbean nations. However, many consider this the best place to come if you want the opportunity to obtain maximum returns from a growing market.
The lower cost of living is attracting tourists and property buyers in ever greater numbers, both from the UK and the rest of the Americas. There are property bargains to be found, with strong returns and rental yields possible, based on high tourism demand for the foreseeable future.
St. Kitts and Nevis – Unspoilt and Undiscovered
Found in the east of the Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis has a completely unique feel, much like the tropical paradises of the South Pacific. They are two tiny islands, with populations of 39,000 and 11,000 respectively, and anyone with a love for stunning beaches, abundant nature and a luxurious, laid-back atmosphere will be absolutely at home here.
Property prices have increased steadily since the early-2000s, but, like the Dominican Republic, the islands are still much less expensive than other in the Caribbean. According to recent reports, property here can be 30%-40% cheaper across the board than in Barbados, and beachfront houses can cost around 20% less than similar properties in the Turks and Caicos archipelago.
St. Kitts and Nevis are described as “wonderfully undiscovered,” and whilst they appear to have suffered none of the negative consequences of mass tourism, visitors are still welcomed with open arms. It is no wonder that they are also affectionately known as the “Secret Caribbean.” Building regulations state that no building can be taller than its surrounding palm trees, so the islands remain blissfully unspoilt, and the two islands’ capitals, Basseterre and Charlestown are considered to be two of the most charming in the whole of the Caribbean.
The beaches are a huge attraction for those staying in self catering St Kitts and Nevis accommodation, with soft white sands and palm trees perfectly positioned for stretching out a hammock. The islands are also home to some of the most exciting scuba diving sites in the world, as they are only now being fully explored. Of the some 400 ships known to have sunk in the area, only around a dozen have been identified, and visibility can be up to 100 feet. The Black Coral Reef and Blood Bay Reef are particularly popular dive sites in the islands.
The natural interiors of St. Kitts and Nevis make them the finest destination for Caribbean hiking too. The eco-systems hide many rare plants and animals that only live in oceanic rainforests, and the volcanic peaks provide some fantastic walking routes with exceptional views.
Whilst many building projects have stalled elsewhere in the region, developers on St. Kitts and Nevis are still building, mopping up available buyers and getting ready for confidence to return to the world economy, when they can position themselves in a market not spoiled by previous overdevelopment.
In the past four years alone, the pace of property developments has increased rapidly, spurred by the arrival of the vast Marriott resort in Frigate Bay, and increased air flights into the islands. In 2009, the housing market is expected to remain stable, despite the global financial crisis. Whilst some banks have imposed stricter lending criteria, interest in home ownership is still strong, and lenders remain committed to financing in the housing market.
However, as visitor numbers are not so strong, the potential for holiday rentals is weaker than that of the Dominican Republic. That said, government efforts to boost tourism with increased direct air travel from Europe and North America into the area seem to be paying off. Several property developments are in progress, and St. Kitts, the busier of the two islands, has a port large enough to attract a regular flow of cruise ships which bring half a million passengers each year.
Mortgages in the Caribbean
The types of mortgages available in the Caribbean are similar to those offered at home. There are a variety of interest rates and these can be fixed or variable. The interest rate payable is usually driven by how much of a loan is required compared with the value of the property (the “Loan to Value” or LTV). Generally speaking, the bigger the deposit you have to put down on a property, the more competitive the mortgage deal will be.
In the Caribbean, you will be expected to have at least a 30% deposit, the minimum loan is $500,000, or £250,000, and the mortgage can be on a repayment or interest-only basis. The length of the mortgage term may be shorter than you are used to, at 15 to 20 years.
It is vital that you determine how much you can afford before embarking on the purchase process. An “Approval in Principle” (AIP) will do just that – it will tell you exactly how much you can borrow and what price range you can realistically consider when conducting your property search.
An AIP will also put you in a much better position with developers, or private sellers, and prove to them that you are a serious buyer. Given a choice, they are bound to prefer a purchaser who can demonstrate that they have their finance in place, rather than somebody who has yet to consider how to fund their dream purchase. Buyers with an AIP could also be better placed to negotiate price.
The Caribbean mortgage market does lack the sophistication and range of products available in the mature mortgage markets of North America and Europe. But a mortgage specialist, such as Conti will have familiarity and understanding of the lenders and will know of any restrictions and administration requirements, which can save you a lot of time, cost and hassle when arranging a mortgage.
THE CAPITAL OF LATIN AMERICA
No longer Miami.
Miami has hit hard times. Simon Black believes “that the city represents the absolute worst of the economic bust,” and does not see things getting better soon. What will replace Miami as “the capital of Latin America”? Black is placing his bets on Panama. Some of the article commenters take exception to the idea that Miami’s best days are behind it, or that Panama is so great.
For Latin Americans, Miami has been a lot of things – the major financial center, the cultural Mecca, prime tourist destination, the business capital, and a symbol of international success.
The city made its riches and opportunities available to all nationalities, reaching the point during the most recent real estate boom where one could become financially successful and never speak a word of English.
Truly, Miami was a frontier island between North and South, sort of a Hong Kong of the Americas, infusing business savvy and capital with cheap labor and an extraordinarily large market. The fact that Miami is so close to the United States and participated in the U.S. banking system (the world’s #1 tax haven for non-U.S. citizens) was a major benefit to individuals and businesses.
Naturally this is all changing now.
I have friends and family in Miami and come through the city from time to time in transit ... and I believe that the city represents the absolute worst of the economic bust – entire blocks of condo buildings sitting empty, former high-powered real estate agents working as pool boys, and the car repo lots filled with exotic sports cars. (Not to mention Miami has absolutely, unequivocally the WORST airport in the developed world.)
This is the effect of the residential real estate bubble bursting, as well as the drying up of domestic and foreign tourist dollars that used to be a steady source of tax revenue.
An imminent drop in commercial real estate, the next bubble desperately seeking a pin, is likely to further damage the city’s medium-term prospects. Excess inventory of warehouses and office space will likely lose significant value, creating negative equity scenarios for banks and investors.
Even the drug trade, once the city’s key economic growth engine, has slowed down.
While it is not my intention to prognosticate a death sentence for the city of Miami, I do feel obliged to point out that the wealth and wealthy have not simply vanished from the face of the earth or passed on to money heaven. Nay. They are simply regrouping in other locations. But where?
Sao Paolo would be the most logical choice given the size and scope of Brazil’s economy ... but there are too many problems – notably the language, crime, utter lack of transparency, and capital controls. Plus it is just a crappy city.
Mexico City? Ha. next.
Buenos Aires makes more sense with an established financial infrastructure, but the government is too unstable to take seriously.
Santiago is a major success story, but its paper thin financial industry will not be able to support regional capital flows for quite some time.
Bogota also makes sense given the size and potential of Colombia’s economy and its significant economic success; but the country still suffers from security stigma and paranoia, and problems with Venezuela do not do it any favors as a financial center.
That leaves Panama ... an open, bilingual, vibrant capital city with a well-established international banking center, free flow of capital, stable government and economy, and an ace-in-the-hole to guarantee sovereign independence.
Best of all, it is dead square between North and South America, and just 2.5 hours flight to Miami.
Not a bad compromise ... and this is one of the key reasons that I am bullish on Panama.
Yes it has its share of problems – no place is perfect. But Latin America has woken up to the economic reality of Miami.
Capital is going to look for its most conducive home, and Panama represents a safe, cultural fit. And for individuals and business, the transition to Panama is easy. Besides, Panamanian immigration officials welcome visitors with open arms, in stark contrast to the immigration thugs in Miami.
While I do not believe there is going to be a huge sucking sound coming out of Miami, it is clear that Latin America is certainly looking to crown a new capital city.
I am convinced it will be Panama.
YOU ARE SAFE IN COLOMBIA
If you are looking for a place that is off the beaten path, still undiscovered by the mainstream and quite close (3½ hour flight) to the United States, Simon Black would strongly consider Colombia ... but not Bogota. “The capital city is nice enough, but unless you have to be in Bogota for a specific reason, the best city in Colombia in my opinion is Medellin. In Medellin, the weather is ... perfect. The people are extraordinarily friendly, the nightlife is spectacular, and the costs are very reasonable.”
“Colombia is an absolutely intoxicating country,” Black says, “beautiful, culturally vibrant, and economically sound.” And it is safe, all drug cartel-related violence news to the contrary. About as safe as the U.S., statistically speaking.
I know what you are thinking. “Why the hell would he be in Colombia?”
I get that a lot. The vast majority of the world only knows two things about Colombia – drugs and terrorism (though in all fairness, “one man’s freedom fighter ...”).
People recall hearing about kidnappings, lawlessness, and of course that scene from Clear and Present Danger ... that must be the reality in Colombia, right?
Wrong. To think that cartels and kidnappings dominate the political and social landscape of Colombia is like thinking that everyone from Texas rides horses and wears cowboy boots ... or even worse, acts like George W. Bush.
The fact of the matter is that you have about the same chance of getting kidnapped in the United States.
In Colombia, 8 foreigners out of roughly 1 million tourists were kidnapped in 2007, and 553 locals were kidnapped out of a population of 45 million. That same year in the U.S. there were 3,437 non-runaway abductions reported in the United States with a population of 300 million ... pretty much the same odds.
Bottom line, if you do not feel unsafe in the U.S., you should not feel unsafe in Colombia.
Furthermore, similar to how the United States adopted a culture of security after 9/11 with its ridiculous color-coded alerts and nationalization of panty-screeners at airports, Colombia (and Bogota in particular) has adopted its own culture of security.
Police and military forces are present everywhere ... it is impossible to walk on the streets Bogota for more than five minutes without seeing uniformed personnel and one of the billboards that says “The police are here to protect you.”
Fortunately, though, in my several visits to Bogota over the last few years, I have yet to have a negative encounter with the cops. Whether in wealthy neighborhoods like the Zona Rosa, or more squalid areas in the southern part of the city, I have never seen the police hassling anyone. It is a show of force.
To further this point, Colombia’s tourism board recently changed the national tourism slogan to “Colombia – The only risk is wanting to stay ...” (this is much better than Panama’s slogan “it will never leave you” which sounds more like a case of herpes.)
I could not agree more. Colombia is an absolutely intoxicating country – beautiful, culturally vibrant, and economically sound. In fact, the most severe impacts of the crisis have largely sidestepped the country, which has shown the same resilience as Poland’s economy.
Here in Bogota, for example, the local newspapers are filled with help wanted ads for everything from medical transcriptionist to associate lawyer. Restaurants and shopping malls are not filled to capacity but still enjoying a steady flow of patrons.
There is also little sign of bubble carnage like closed shops, liquidation events, and an endless row of “FOR SALE” signs in front of properties. In short, Colombia is appearing quite healthy relative to the rest of the world.
So would I live here? Absolutely. If you are looking for a place that is off the beaten path, still undiscovered by the mainstream and quite close (3.5 hours) to the United States, I would strongly consider Colombia ...
... but not Bogota. The capital city is nice enough, but unless you have to be in Bogota for a specific reason, the best city in Colombia in my opinion is Medellin. In Medellin, the weather is ... perfect. The people are extraordinarily friendly, the nightlife is spectacular, and the costs are very reasonable.
Bogota, in contrast, is slightly more expensive – I have posted a cost of living sample to the website for your review. But most of all, Bogota is a very difficult place to travel from. And for an international man, this is a big negative for me.
I would quite literally have to write you a sonnet to describe how inefficient the airport in Bogota is. The last time I was there it took me 2.5 hours from the time I arrived at the airport until I finally reached my gate.
I have been to Bogota several times, and each time I hope the situation improves. It does not. Medellin is a much more pleasant experience – more on this in future letters. In the meantime, if you have any experiences living in or visiting Colombia, please feel free to share here.
FACTS AND MYTHS ABOUT RENUNCIATION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP
Like that if you renounce your citizenship, you will end up on some list ... and they will not let you back into the country.
A still small but growing contingent of Americans are planning to give up their U.S. citizenship. For some the predominant motivation is pecuniary; for others it is largely philosophical ... with a monetary benefit rider.
Those considering the move themselves should be aware that there a couple of myths floating around about the consequences of giving up U.S. citizenship which a totally untrue or do not apply to most people. No need to hobble oneself by “knowing” something that ain’t so.
I was reading the Financial Times on board a recent flight from Vienna to Vilnius. Right smack dab on the front page was an article about the growing movement of Americans who are renouncing their U.S. citizenship.
As the article goes,
“At the U.S. Embassy in London, there is a waiting list that none of the officials likes to discuss. On the list are Americans hoping to give up their citizenship, as they seek shelter from the Internal Revenue Service.”
The rest of the article drives home a prescient point: Renunciation of U.S. citizenship is an emerging trend that, while still in its infancy, is growing.
So why are so many people doing this, or at least considering the option?
There are a few reasons. For many, it is about money. They live, work, and invest overseas, and none of their income is earned from U.S. sources; yet, the U.S. government still has its hand out for a portion of their profits.
To many expats, this is unjustifiable and abusive: Forcing people to hand over a portion of their labor and receive no benefit in return is akin to slavery.
Expats who renounce U.S. citizenship are freed of this parasitic relationship; they can focus their efforts on things like providing value and growing their businesses, and not thinking about ridiculous and unproductive tax strategies.
For other people, the decision to renounce is rooted in a serious disagreement with the direction that the country is headed. They do not like war, socialism, big government, or the erosion of civil liberties.
While no country is perfect, they realize that there are much greener pastures elsewhere. Their renunciation is a declaration of independence – a declaration of self-reliance in a turbulent world.
In time, I would like to open a larger discussion about this issue because it is such a growing trend. Today, though, I thought I would dispel a few myths about expatriation because I hear these sorts of things all the time.
My personal favorite is the commonly held belief that if you renounce your citizenship, you will end up on some list ... and they will not let you back into the country.
This is simply untrue. If you already have another passport from a visa waiver country (like Canada or Germany), you could enter the U.S. the very next day.
If your other passport is from a non-visa waiver country (like St. Kitts or Panama), then you would have to go through the process of applying for a U.S. visa at a foreign consulate just like everyone else.
The thing is, one of the primary missions of consular officials at foreign embassies is to determine whether visa applicants might intend to overstay their visas and illegally reside in the United States.
Clearly, someone who has just renounced citizenship is in no danger of becoming an illegal alien. As such, it is pretty easy to apply for and receive a 10-year multiple entry visa, unless you have managed to land on a terrorist watch list or have a serious criminal record.
This leads me to the second commonly held myth about renunciation – people think that if you renounce U.S. citizenship, you can only spend a short amount of time in the U.S. each year as a foreigner.
This is also untrue. Most multiple entry tourist visas are good for 90-days per visit; they can be extended through application, or simply by exiting and re-entering the country at a later date.
Generally, after 4-months a non-resident foreigner would become subject to tax on his/her worldwide income.
The biggest thing you have to watch out for, though, is falling back into the U.S. tax net. Generally, after 4-months a non-resident foreigner would become subject to tax on his/her worldwide income. This is common in many countries – New Zealand, for example, has a six month window for non-residents.
Another big misconception is that renunciation reduces your capability to travel. Sure, a U.S. passport is pretty convenient in that you can travel to quite a few places visa-free, but there are easy alternatives.
St. Kitts, for example, has an simple economic passport program that provides visa-free travel to Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, and dozens of other countries. Brazil and Singapore are also great options, and fairly easy to obtain.
The point is that visa-free travel need not end because of renunciation; in some travel cases, renunciation can even be a benefit. After all, no one has ever hijacked a plane and threatened to kill all the St. Kittsians.
Lastly, there are a lot of misconceptions about loss of benefits. If you have retired from the U.S. military and renounce citizenship, you will lose your retirement pay. Check out DoD Financial Management Regulation Volume 7B, Chapter 6 for more information.
One would continue to receive Social Security checks as a non-citizen, at least until it finally goes bust.
Social security, on the other hand, is not forfeited; one would continue to receive checks as a non-citizen, at least until Social Security finally goes bust.
Protect Your Retirement Plan from These Government “Panic Scenarios”
It is time to take personal responsibility for your happiness and your financial well-being.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key.
If anyone is singing out of tune these days, it is the U.S. government. That is what Greg [Greg Adams, from Sovereign International Asset Management Company] thinks. And from the reaction he received, most of the audience agrees with him.
“Congress is holding hearings on overhauling our retirement system,” he said. “The option of nationalization came up and the committee chairman said that ‘nothing was off the table.’” And that includes a mandate about what types of vehicles you can or cannot invest in with your personal IRA and pension funds ... the money you have worked hard all these years to earn and save.
Greg believes there are three “panic scenarios” that may occur:
#1 – The government will tell your bank to purchase U.S. treasuries with 50% of your retirement plan or worse ... like 100%
#2 – The government will tell your banker to stop any transfers outside the U.S. to offshore accounts
#3 – The government will tell your banker to confiscate all gold or other real-value assets in your plan “for the sake of the country.”
Greg also believes that a window of opportunity is, for a short time, still open to protect ourselves against these possibilities.
“There are six things you probably don’t know about your IRA account, but you should”q he said.“qYou can take your IRA offshore, you can open a non-U.S. bank account, an LLC, or a non-U.S. annuity. Or you can buy international real estate with it ...”
Can you guess where this is going? If you want to start a new life beyond the U.S. – in a place like Panama – you need to know this. Act now and you can move your money to Panama, and you can use your IRA funds to buy real estate here.
American Civil Liberties Union Sues U.S. Customs Over Laptop Searches
The court action is designed to obtain records of searches performed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of laptops and written materials from travelers entering the U.S. The CBP currently conducts such searches, including taking images of hard drives, on anyone, rather than on people about whom they have reasonable suspicion.
“Traveling with a laptop should not mean that the government gets a free pass to rifle through your personal papers,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “This sort of broad and invasive search is exactly what the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches are designed to prevent.”
The increase in such searches is causing headaches for companies. Many now issue travel laptops which contain no commercially sensitive information, and set up a File Transfer Protocol site for staff to download necessary data once through border security.
The ACLU originally requested the data in June, and began legal proceedings after gaining no response.
“Under CBP policy, innumerable international travellers have had their most personal information searched by government officials and retained by the government indefinitely,” said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The disclosure of these records is necessary to better understand the extent to which US border and customs officials may be violating the Constitution.”
Which Side Should Expats Be On?
The sidelines, politically speaking.
A country’s political landscape can change pretty rapidly. The recent turmoil in Honduras is a good example. When governments and policies shift, everybody has an opinion about who is right and who is wrong ... resident expats included.
It is helpful to remember that in most cases, we expats are guests in our adopted countries. We may have ... we should have, I think ... strong and well-informed opinions about what goes on around us.
And I believe we should try in every possible legal and locally accepted way to help improve the quality of life for ourselves and the people around us, no matter where we are in the world.
But Suzan and I learned early on in our adventures living outside the States, that sticking our noses into local politics is not very productive. We may earn some temporary brownie points from whatever faction or cause we support. But even those factions consider us outsiders – no matter how long we have lived in a particular place. And the opposing factions waste no time in letting us know how they feel about foreigners meddling in local political affairs.
Thankfully, there is no real reason for expats to dabble in local politics in order to have a positive influence on the local quality of life. Without exception, there have been ways to help out in every community we have lived in – without taking a political stand. Literacy programs, food-distribution programs, animal-health programs, safety and sanitation programs…volunteer programs of all kinds are eager for whatever time and financial assistance they can get from any quarter, expat or otherwise.
Suzan and I save the political rhetoric for private conversation. We have found that even local friends that share our views appreciate us not passing judgment or trying to intervene in their local political processes and procedures. They enjoy hearing our views ... and they appreciate us letting them go about their own political business afterwards.
So which side should an expat be on? I would suggest the sidelines, politically speaking. But help in a positive, non-political way to make the quality of life wherever you live as good for as many people as possible.
Being involved locally with a cause you believe in will automatically improve your own quality of life – no matter where you live and no matter what the current political situation may be.
What Can You Do on a Caribbean Island?
Lobster Mojitos anyone?
Since I moved to Belize last year, friends often ask: “What type of entertainment is there in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye?”
That is when I tell them about a favorite Belizean pastime – Fiestas!
On a small island like Ambergris Caye, socializing is the name of the game. So, any noteworthy event justifies a fiesta. We recently attended one of my favorites: Lobster Fest. After a four-month seasonal lobster fast (to protect the population), San Pedranos were salivating in anticipation of our favorite crustacean delicacy.
There are plenty of Caribbean lobsters in Belize. They roam along the barrier reef, in the coastal waters. While in season, lobster is a popular dinner entre available in most local restaurants.
The fiesta starts the same day as lobster season re-opens (June 15), with activities, events, and parties every day for the entire week. The culmination of the week’s festivities took place on Saturday night. A major block party was held in downtown San Pedro, at the town square.
Well placed next to the Caribbean Sea, you cannot beat the town square location for this kind of event. We could watch the waves break on the offshore barrier reef while we sipped our Spicy Lobster Mojitos – just one of the creative cocktails served up at the Fest. It was definitely a lively scene.
In addition to the abundant food and drink, activities included live music and performances. As usual, all entertainment was free. We only paid for our food and drinks, which were reasonably priced.
Mike and I gobbled down five lobster dishes before we reached our gastronomic limit. My favorite was the coconut curry taco. We then tried the spicy lobster role, lobster bisque, lobster skewers with jalapeno sauce, and mango lobster tail. My favorite took the prize for best entrée that night. This feast set us back about $45 for more than we both could eat.
We had chocolate for desert. There are several fine chocolate companies in Belize. Kakaw Chocolates is earning a reputation as a Belizean designer chocolate company. They blend tropical fruits such as dried pineapple, ginger and mango with dark chocolate. Definitely a special treat for the chocoholic.
While we feasted and imbibed, the Fat Cats from Minnesota played rock and roll. At least we had a chance to dance off a few of the calories we had consumed. A Cuban band followed. Then, with much fanfare, the MCs announced the awards. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.
With so many events, it is easy to meet people here. San Pedranos and expats are friendly and the environment is festive.
After Lobster Fest was another local festival, the Dia de San Pedro. Then in August, the famous Costa Maya Festival will be held in San Pedro. It highlights the Maya and local Mestizo culture.
If you are planning a visit to Ambergris Caye, or other parts of Belize, be sure to check the local festival schedule. You will have a great time while you experience the Belizean/Caribbean lifestyle.
Is This the Last Stretch of Forgotten Caribbean Coast?
Even though Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is far prettier than the Pacific, it is too hard to get to. But that is about to change.
A billion-dollar gentrification project is going to transform a forgotten port town in Costa Rica into a major Caribbean hot spot. If you get in on the right side of this massive cash injection, you could make a lot of money.
A billion is a lot to spend on a scheme like this. But Limon needs a lot of work. For much of the last century, Limon was a company town. The controversial United Fruit Company managed the port, built the railroads and bridges, looked after the colonial buildings, and ran the local businesses. Back then, bananas were a better business than tourism. When the company pulled out of town in the 1960s, Limon became Costa Rica’s forgotten province.
When the Costa Rica tourism machine began bringing in droves of foreign visitors in the 1980s, it was the northern Pacific coast that most benefited. Even though Limon’s Caribbean coast is far prettier, it is too hard to get to. But that is about to change.
The Costa Rican government has decided to develop Limon in much the same way the Mexican government developed Cancun in the 1970s. Last month, the Costa Rican President allocated $80 million to kick start the restoration of cultural buildings in Limon and improve the city infrastructure. The rest of the money – $900 million – will come from private investment. When it becomes easier to get here, the tourist stampede is going to be staggering.
The coastline here is the stuff of Caribbean postcards. The sand is white and the water is turquoise. Back from the coast you have the Talamanca mountains. You get magnificent views of the Caribbean and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The breeze is fresh and the wildlife abundant–70% of the coast is protected.
I will be writing about my favorite real estate opportunity on this coast for my Real Estate Trend Alert service.
Live Well on $600 a Month in Ecuador
It is hard to go broke in Ecuador, even if you try.
When affordable quality of life is the number one priority, more International Living readers move to Ecuador than anyplace else.
That is hardly surprising. Ecuador would be worth considering at any price. Readers Lee and Peggy Carper enjoy a comfortable life on less than $600 per month.
The Carpers (he is 56 and she is 53) rent a 3-bedroom apartment in the mountain town of Cotacachi for $150 per month. They pay $250 for food (they eat out every day) ... $50 for medicine ... $40 for maid service ... and $24 to have their all laundry done. With $2 hair cuts, $2 manicures, $2.50 four-course dinners, $10 doctor’s visits ... it is hard to go broke in Ecuador, even if you try.
Before moving to Ecuador, Lee was on disability from a work injury. But now? “I haven’t felt this good in so long I can’t remember,” Lee says. “I used to take pain medication, but here I rarely take an aspirin.”
If you were to move to Ecuador ... where would you live? Here are three suggestions to boost your quality of life and trim your expenses:
1.) Live on the Beach
Our global real estate guru Ronan McMahon has a favorite Ecuador beach pick right now: the surfer town of Jama. Big quarter-acre beach lots are $50,000 ... and with low construction costs, another $50,000 builds you a high-quality, 1,250-square-foot home. For a total $100,000 you can step out your front door and wiggle your toes in the sand.
2.) Retire to a Lush Valley
Tucked away deep in southern Ecuador is Vilcabamba. Known as the Valley of Longevity, the centenarians are common and spry. Jagged mountain peaks rise in all directions. Crystal clear streams splash down from the nearby cloud forest, providing the area with clean water. You can buy a small 2-acre farm here (with a house) for $75,000.
3.) Rent a Penthouse
Reader Kent Zimmerman lives in a rooftop apartment with panoramic views across Cuenca – perhaps the world’s most picturesque colonial city. Kent pays $300 a month rent. If he wanted to splurge, he could have the best address in town – overlooking the parks and Tomebamba River. Here, a huge four-bedroom, two-floor penthouse rents for $1,050 per month. That is, Kent happily points out: “Less than my son pays for his studio apartment back in Boulder.”
The choices of things to do and places to retire to are unlimited in Ecuador. You could buy a colonial home ... meet loads of expats…or strike out on your own ... enjoy the freshest fruit ... spend time with magical shamans ... take pleasure from the warm people and warm weather ... the list is endless.
Put simply: You can do just about anything you want in Ecuador ... except go broke. You can read my full report on the best places to live well in Ecuador ... and learn about one business opportunity that could make you a lot of money in this country ... in the July issue of International Living Magazine.
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