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Lief offered six recommendations for good offshore banks that are still accepting U.S. clients. Then he offered a non-recommendation for one bank that we'd formerly done business with personally. This bank sent us the dreaded "We're closing your account" letter last year. They provided no explanation for why they were throwing us out and closing our account and gave us but 30 days to move the money.

"The worst part," Lief explained, "was that this was the one instance where I hadn't taken my own advice. I didn't have a second, backup account for this corporation, so I had to scramble. I spent a good number of the 30 days I'd been allowed knocking on the doors of banker-friends, trying to find one who'd open a new account for me before the deadline. I finally found one (it's one of the banks on my top six list)."

One symptom of the shake-up (shake-down?) taking place in the offshore banking world right now is rising fees. Banks are passing along the costs of complying with FATCA rules to clients.

"One bank in Panama," Lief explained, "is now charging a fee of any foreigner interested in opening an account with them. This fee is payable up front, before any other discussion takes place. If, after reviewing your paperwork, the bank decides it will not open an account for you, the fee is not refundable."

Lief closed his offshore banking remarks to the group with three pieces of advice:
  • Create redundancies. For every foreign bank account you have, you need a second, backup account...
  • When you have the opportunity to open an offshore account...open it. "You're here in Belize this week," Lief said. "I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity to start the process of opening an account. Two Belize banks are represented here at the event. All you have to do is stop by their tables in the exhibit hall..."
  • Don't close any foreign account you have if you don't have to—even if you have no immediate need for it. You never know when or if you'd be able to replace it in the future...

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Peter and Lief's remarks and recommendations for where and how to bank offshore in our post-FATCA world were recorded and are being edited now, along with the recordings of every other presentation from last week's meetings in Belize City. Together, this timely bundle of resources will create our new Wealth Building and Diversification Kit.

Right now and for the next 72 hours only you can reserve your copy of this everything-you-need-to-know-to-diversify-offshore program pre-release for 50% off the regular price.

This discount expires at midnight on Nov. 2.

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That was the starting point for Lief Simon's opening remarks Wednesday morning. These meetings in Belize City this week are not about woe are we. These meetings are about solutions, strategies, and opportunities.

How can you survive the ups and downs of today and tomorrow, of markets, economies, currencies, and political regimes, when you can't predict them and you sure can't control them?

Spread yourself around so that you're not at the mercy of any one of them, so that no particular down is fatal for you. It is the only sensible course of action, elegant in its simplicity but intimidating, too, when you're standing at the starting line.

You've read about this idea before, I'm sure. It's often referred to as the "Five Flags" strategy. In fact, it can translate as six or seven flags or maybe only two or three.

I couldn't tell you what level of diversification you require. That depends on your circumstances and your agendas. Big picture, the objective is to disperse your assets, your investments, your business, and your lifestyle across borders so that they're all as insulated as possible from outside threats. How far and wide should you spread? That depends on how much you've got and what you ultimately want to do with it.

That said, Lief made one universal recommendation yesterday morning out of the gate:

"The easiest and best way to get started at this," he told the crowd in Belize City, "can be to open a bank account in a different country. This is a low-key, no-risk first step that will allow you to begin to get your bearings in the offshore arena and that will facilitate further steps toward realizing your ultimate diversification strategy, whatever that evolves to be."

Lief then, with the help of one of our favorite offshore bankers, a professional with more than 30 years' experience managing and directing banks in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas, walked the group through the thinking that should go into choosing where to take this first step.

That is, where should you think about opening a bank account offshore?

It depends on why you want the account.

If you're planning to relocate to a new country, then you need a personal operating account in that country, this to facilitate paying local expenses. Likewise, if you make an investment in rental property in another country, you'll want an operating account in that jurisdiction. Otherwise, you'll be reduced to withdrawing money from the ATM and then going with cash to the electric company to pay your bill each month.

If you're forming a corporation or starting a business overseas, you'll need a bank account to support it, again, in the country where the corporation is operating.

The other kind of account you might want offshore is an investment account. This can be a place to park capital, an opportunity to earn dividends, and a means to investing more globally than may be possible through your U.S. investment account.

If you're opening a bank account offshore for practical purposes (because you're planning to live, own property, or run a business in that place), then the "where" is straightforward. Not so if you're interested in opening an investment account offshore. In this case, the where is dictated by the bank's minimum investment requirement, fee structure, and customer service, as well as by things like whether the bank makes it possible for you to send an international wire transfer without visiting a branch in person and whether it provides debit and credit cards for the kind of account you're thinking of opening.

In this case, the where can also come down to: Which bank will open an account for you?

In this post-FATCA age, it is harder than ever and harder all the time to open an offshore bank account, especially if you're an American. Lief and his colleagues made specific recommendations for banks that are still interested, FATCA notwithstanding, in working with Americans, then detailed the requirements and the processes for opening accounts with them.

This week's program has been built around a series of panel discussions conceived on the Five Flags strategy and intended to help those assembled think through their own global diversification plans with the help of pros with many, many years of experience at this.

First flag, banking...next flag, residency...

More from the scene tomorrow.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Of course, we're recording every presentation, including the series of Five Flags panel discussions so that, even if you couldn't join the group in Belize, you don't have to miss out entirely on all the intelligence, recommendations, advice, and strategies being shared.

These audio recordings will be edited and bundled to create our first-ever Wealth Building and Diversification Kit.

While Lief Simon's Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit continues in Belize, we're making this new program available pre-release for 50% off the regular price. Details are here
 

Continue Reading: Hydroponics And Organic Gardening In Cayo, Belize

 
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"Until that point, Belize had been British Honduras, a colony of the Crown.

"The constitution for this new country was based on the Canadian constitution. What does this mean?" Peter asked the crowd.

"That means boring. Boring politics, boring everything. Not much to rock anybody's boat.

"As a result, in the nearly three decades since, Belize has managed to remain largely under the radar. Ambergris Caye drew some attention as the setting for TV's 'Temptation Island.' Otherwise, other than from global divers and sun-seekers, Belize has been really successful at attracting very little attention.

"I spent many of the first 27 years of my 30-year banking career in Europe," Peter continued, "working with Swiss banks, for example. We Swiss bankers back then would turn up our noses at the mention of 'Belize banking.' Bank in Belize? Who would give their money to a Belize banker, we wanted to know. Bankers in Belize can't count, can they?

"About four years ago, I retired from the Euro-bank where I'd been working. Retirement's not so much fun, I realized after about two days. When I thought about returning to work, I considered not the opportunities in Europe, but those on this side of the world, in the Americas.

"That's looking like a smart move right now. In the time since I moved from the banking industry in Europe to the one in Belize, the global banking industry has been turned on its head.

"Used to be, the mention of 'banking' brought places like Switzerland or Austria to mind. This paradigm has collapsed. Banking in Switzerland has collapsed.

"There are dozens of 'banking havens' around the world. The truth is, though, that very few of them deserve the description right now. Belize is an exception. Belize is a true banking haven.

"Why? Two reasons.

"First, bank secrecy. Belize maintains it. Anyone in the Belize banking industry who violates the country's bank secrecy laws goes to jail for a minimum of 18 months. Trust me. You don't want to spend 18 months in a Belize jail.

"How has Belize managed to maintain its bank secrecy position while other better-known jurisdictions have all but abandoned the idea?

"That's it, precisely. Belize is little-known. Remember, this country has kept its head down. No one pays it any attention, and Belize is keen to keep it that way.

"The second reason Belize stands out among the world's bank havens right now is liquidity.

"Used to be, when I started talking about bank liquidity at a conference like this one, I'd notice people begin to nod off. Some would even head for the door. Nobody had any interest in the idea.

"I notice, though, today, you all seem wide awake. Thanks to recent events, bank liquidity has become a hot, sexy topic.

"Current liquidity among banks around the world is less than 4% In fact, it's just about 3.1%. That's the average worldwide. What's the situation in Belize?

"Banks in this country maintain liquidity rates of 24%. This standard is mandated by the Belize government. A quarter out of every dollar in a Belize bank must be liquid. If a bank falls below this level of liquidity, the government can take the keys and close the bank.

"How did Belize bankers fare during the recent banking crisis? We sat back and smiled. We knew we didn't have anything to worry about, and, in fact, not a single Belize bank has failed.

"Belize banks maintain an extraordinarily high standard of liquidity, and they lend only 50% loan-to-value for mortgages. That's how Belize banks stay healthy.

"You can open a bank account at my bank in Belize with zero dollars. Why? Because we, like all Belize banks, are focused on attracting small- to medium-sized investors. We're not going after mega-clients. Mega-clients attract attention. Remember, Belize is a low-key jurisdiction, happy to stay off the world's radar.

"That's not to say we're ready to open an account for any shyster who comes along. The days of sewage banking are over. The banks that threw off a stench in places like Panama and Belize, are gone. No more numbered accounts. We need your name and your address (not a P.O. Box).

"And we're going to ask you how you made the money you're depositing. We need to know our clients. We need something to fill in the blank on the application form. This helps to protect fellow account-holders, as well as the bank.

"Remember, Belize speaks English. So your account manager is an English-speaker. And Belize is in Mountain Time. You don't have to get up at Midnight to have a conversation with your banker.

"Americans and Canadians can open either a personal account or what's called a structure account. This is the preferred option. It's an account formed for you by someone else that's not in your personal name but in the name of a structure--a trust, a company, or a foundation, for example.

"Once you're offshore, you want to do as little in your own name as possible. Put everything possible in the name of a structure.

"You don't have to come to Belize to open your account. In most jurisdictions, including Panama, you must appear in the bank in person to fill out the forms, sit through the interviews, and sign on the dotted line. Not so in Belize. You don't ever have to step foot in the country if you don't want to.

"But I'd suggest you come have a look. You'll find yourself in familiar company. This is where the Baby Boomers are headed. They're coming our way in growing numbers. Walk down the street on Ambergris Caye, and you hear the music of the Boomers all around--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin...

"These folks had a great time in the 1960s...then they became the most boring people on the planet. They made a lot of money...and now they're looking to reclaim their lives. They're finding their way, in retirement, to places like Belize...where they're listening to their music again, growing their hair long again, and spending their days stoned again...

"I'm joking about that last bit. But my point is that Belize has what a lot of people in North America are looking for at this point.

"It's also got the most appealing banking industry in the world right now."

Ann Kuffner
Live and Invest in Belize Conference Insider

Editor's Note: We got Peter's complete address on tape, and it's featured along with all the other presentations from last week's conference in our all-new Live and Invest in Belize Home Conference Kit.

The audio recordings are being edited as I write. Meantime, you can purchase your copy of this important and very timely resource pre-publication and save a full 50%. Full details on the Live & Invest in Belize Home Conference Kit here.Continue Reading:

Image source: Tbachner

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"About a year ago," Phil continued, "I'd driven from Belize to Cancun in a hurry. I was running behind schedule and raced across the border, happy that they didn't pull my truck aside for inspection.

"On my way back to Belize a few days later, though, I realized I had a problem. I'd managed to drive across the border from Belize without getting an exit stamp in my passport. No one stopped me on the way out, no one asked any questions, and I was in such a rush that I didn't think about it.

"Back at the border trying to get back into Belize, though, then I was stopped. 'Where is your exit stamp?' the guy wanted to know.

"'Somehow I neglected to get one,' I explained.

"'Do you understand that the fine for this is US$1,000?' he asked stoically.

"'Listen, though,' he continued, 'maybe it doesn't have to come to that. Why don't you take this away with you,' he said, indicating my passport, 'and then come back with something inside. We'll go from there.'

"I walked over to the side of the room and had one of those moments of truth. Should I pay the guy off...or take my chances on having to pay the US$1,000 fine...

"I put US$20 inside the passport and walked back over to the guy, placing my passport on the counter in front of him. He picked it up and looked inside.

"'I don't think you understand,' he said. 'It's Christmas time. And I'm going to have to share this with all the guys here. I think we're going to have to do better than US$20.'

"'Well, sir,' I began, 'this isn't really about the money. This is about the principle. It was an honest mistake. I just passed through quickly earlier in the week and forgot about the stamp. I come and go across this border all the time. I'm very actively invested in your country, with three different property development projects. I've been doing business in Belize for many years. So, again, this is about the principle here. It's not about the money.'

"'Right now,' my friend on the other side of the immigration counter replied, looking straight into my eyes, 'it's about the money.'

"How could I argue with that? I put another 20 dollar bill in the passport, and my new friend seemed happy.

"'Next time you come through, you look for me,' he told me. 'You'll have no problems from here on out...'"

We had no problems yesterday. Our lady immigration officer waved us through (after, yes, stamping our passports). Likewise, the lady customs inspector. She waved us through after asking but a couple of questions half-heartedly. She didn't seem overly interested in getting up from where she sat. It's hot in this part of the world, and the immigration and customs hall at the Mexico-Belize border isn't air conditioned.

From the border it's an hour-and-a-half to Belize City. Driving in to town just as the sun was setting last night, I felt nostalgic. I came to Belize City for the first time about 25 years ago. I've returned at least two-dozen times since. Belize City today looks exactly the same today as it did two-and-a-half decades ago. Nothing changes in this town. "The good news from Belize is no news from Belize," jokes a local friend.

Yep, Belize City was a dump 25 years ago, and it's a dump today. A remarkably down-at-the-heels place as desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint today as it was when I first set eyes on it all those years ago. Few other places in the world are as reliably or as appallingly shabby.

But that's Belize City. Belize City appearances aside, this little country is more appealing right now than ever before in its history.

Belize has been enjoying average growth rates of 6% per year for the past six years. Its economy is no longer supported entirely by timber, chicle (the stuff they use to make Chiclets...it comes from a tree), and bananas. Today it also includes revenues related to tourism, real estate, financial services, and oil.

The real reason, though, why Belize is so interesting today to the would-be expat and investor is because it has managed to remain well under the world's radar. As banker Peter Zipper explained to the group assembled in Belize City today for our Live and Invest in Belize Conference:

"In today's world, small is good. None of the world's bullies are paying any attention to Belize because there's just not enough here to get their attention. Bigger fish to fry elsewhere."

Meaning the good news from Belize remains: No news from Belize.

And everyone down here in Belize likes it that way just fine.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. We're recording every presentation, every discussion, every question, and every expert response of this week's Live and Invest in Belize Conference. We'll package the entire collection of live recordings along with all other materials from the event to create our new Live and Invest in Belize Home Conference Kit...which we'll make available to you at a pre-publication discount starting later this week. Watch this space.Continuing Reading:

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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