Work Abroad but earn in USD

Monday, August 29, 2005

We're Here to Steal the Water!

I received a comment on the blog the other day about the United States' secret plan to, through the use of military bases and systematic foreign land acquisitions, acquire the "Acuifero Guaraní" in the tri-border area. Apparently this speculation is being fueled by a new film called "Sed", which was just recently released.

The reader states, "I think it is a bit ignorant to laugh at this as being a bizarre conspiracy theory. It is a very well known although admittedly controversial issue. Greenpeace co-founder Rex Wyler said recently in a news article (Clarín 28/08-2004) that war over water reserves is likely not far off in the future, and compared it to USA's war over oil in Iraq."

The Water Conspiracy

There's plenty of fresh water in the United States. Has anyone thought just how we're supposedly going to transport all this water from Argentina to the U.S.? You'd have to build either a canal or the mother of all pipes to transport the water north. You'd have to get multilateral cooperation of every country between Argentina and the United States. Just think about the effort involved here. Let's be realistic people. Look at the effort involved to build the Panama Canal, which is only 51 miles long. Now think about building a canal 5000 miles north between Argentina and the United States. Getting the picture of the effort involved here? This is nothing more than bizarre conspiracy theories from people who've watched too many X-Files episodes.

Other Argentine Conspiracy Theories

Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to people in the office here and the most of the people here believed the U.S. faked the moon trip and shot the whole thing inside a TV studio. From what I've been told, a lot of people here don't believe the moon trips actually happened. It was just another U.S. conspiracy. There are 400,000 employees and contractors who worked on the Apollo program who would disagree. But I'm sure they're all part of the conspiracy, right?

Let's Start Getting Real

The more likely explanation is that Ted Turner and all these other people who are buying up land are just rich people who like open spaces or are looking to make money on timber, hunting & fishing, etc. Ted Turner is the largest landholder in the United States and so its not surprising that these same land-obsessed guys want to come to Argentina and buy land here also. I'm certain there's no grand conspiracy at work here.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dual Citizenship

Today I received two comments from readers about dual citizenship that I wanted to share. I've done a little research about this issue myself, so I will point out a few of the misconceptions that many people have about dual citizenship and then discuss the pros/cons a little.

First Reader's Comment

Not sure if you knew, but you do make some risk by obtaining citizenship and their passport. The main one is that while you are in Argentina, the U.S. can't do anything for you. If you are jailed, the U.S. consular officers do not have the right to see you, check up on you, and make sure that everything is going OK.

You also, I believe, forfeit the right of the U.S. government to sue on your behalf (I believe). For example if they decided to snatch up your business and house and give you nothing for it, the U.S. government can't intervene on your behalf.

It is doubtful like any of this stuff would happen to you, but we are, after all in Argentina -- home of a lot of corruption and many dictatorships. Just throwing it out there to say that there are tradeoffs for a worry free trip to Cuba.

Second Reader's Comment

You shouldn't be advising people on your blog to get citizenship from Argentina. If the US finds out about that, they'll lose their American citizenship. Not very patriotic of you, asking people to betray their country.

My Response

First off, I want to say that there's a lot to address here. I'm going to deal with the facts first and then I'll get into the issue of patriotism. I'm not sure if this reader first reader is correct about U.S. consular officers being denied access to a dual citizen. Maybe someone has a reference about that. This is one of those things that might be true or perhaps not. Who knows? I'd like to see a reference first.

Common Misconceptions About Dual Citizens

  • The U.S. recognizes dual citizens. Although the U.S. did not recognize dual citizens at one time, this hasn't been the case for many years now.
  • Acquiring a foreign citizenship does not mean you will lose your U.S. citizenship. The only way to lose your U.S. citizenship is to actually go before a foreign consular official and renounce it. No one can take it from you without your consent.

Common Misconceptions About U.S. Intervention Abroad

The reader mentioned that the U.S. wouldn't be able to "sue on your behalf" if a foreign government snatched up your business and house. Let me first say that unless you're a big campaign contributor to a number of different politicians, the U.S. isn't going to do anything if you fall victim to the actions of a foreign government. No one is going to make an international incident if one American has a dispute in a foreign country. Forget it. The U.S. government does not get involved in settling the disputes of its citizens abroad.

Additionally, the only services a consular official can provide when you are jailed are to refer you to a lawyer as well as communicate messages to and from your family. They won't intervene in your case, they won't provide you with any kind of legal services, and they certainly won't pay for your defense.

Two Schools of Thought

I suppose there are really two schools of thought on this issue. Some people are looking for their government to protect them. Other people, such as myself, are looking to protect themselves from their government. I'd much rather have a second citizenship and have the ability to protect myself from a government run amock than not have one and hope that my government might be more willing to protect me in some hypothetical situation.

Reasons For A Second Citizenship

Anyone who doesn't recognize the need for a second citizenship either doesn't desire to have more control over their life or just isn't thinking hard enough. The reader pointed out that Argentina is corrupt and has had military dictatorships in the past. That's all true. That's why it would be a good idea for people from Argentina to get a second citizenship of their own. One of my co-workers just got her Italian citizenship and her European Union passport. If she is ever affected by another economic crisis or if the country has another military dictatorship, she'll have the option of leaving for Europe.

The same is true with a second citizenship from a country other than the U.S. Looking back at the last half century or so, I can think of a lot of people who, if they had a second citizenship, might have had reason to make permanent use of it:

  • Any young person drafted into military service
  • Former active duty military who are being "backdoor drafted"
  • The 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and jailed in prison camps (the so-called "War Relocation Camps") during World War II
  • Muslims who are being disappeared as "material witnesses" without trial
  • Anyone falsely accused of a crime
  • Any business person with an unreconcilable dispute with the government

These are all extreme cases, of course. We all hope that none of these situations would ever happen to us. However, that's why you buy insurance -- for protection against the possibility of something happening. In fact, if there ever comes a time when a person needs to use their second citizenship, it may be for something totally unanticipated.

If terrorists ever start detonating "dirty bombs" in U.S. cities, I can tell you that I wouldn't stick around for that. I wouldn't be able to live in a place and know that I could be hit with killer radiation at any moment. I can deal with the threat of plane or train bombings, but if they ever start with nuclear devices, that's when I check out of the USA for good.

The same goes with the whole Social Security and economic issue. If there's an economic crisis in the U.S., I want to have a place I can go to get away from all of that. I know it sounds funny to say that someone might go to Argentina to escape an economic crisis in the U.S., but I think there is a real possibility of a total economic meltdown in the U.S. sometime within my lifetime. There are serious structural problems with the U.S. economy that no one is addressing.

Other Reasons For A Second Citizenship

There are plenty of other reasons to have a second citizenship that aren't so dramatic:

  • As I hinted at in the previous article, the U.S. places travel restrictions on its citizens. I believe, ideologically, that they don't have the moral right to do this.
  • There are countries require U.S. citizens to have a visa to travel there that don't have the same restrictions to travelers from Argentina.
  • There are banks, investment companies and mutual funds outside the U.S. that, due to the way they interpret U.S. law, won't do business with U.S. citizens, including expatriates not residing in the U.S.

Dual Citizenship & Patriotism

I hope this article cleared some things up about dual citizenship and why expats might want to consider it. As the second reader pointed out, there seems to me to be a stigma of being unpatriotic associated with acquiring a second citizenship, but I don't think that should be the case. All the reasons I listed for getting a second citizenship are to protect oneself from a government run amok. Of course there are the secondary convenience reasons as well. However, the key point here is that you can love your country without loving the government.

I think that's one key difference that separates people from the U.S. and Argentina. Most people I've talked to in Argentina love the country, but they hate the government and their politicians. No one here would call someone unpatriotic because they don't respect the government or the politicians. That's not the case in the U.S., however. Whenever someone starts getting critical of the government, Fox News and all the other talking-heads accuse them of being unpatriotic. I don't agree.

Having a second citizenship is really just a way of protecting yourself and giving yourself a lot more individual freedom. To me, individual freedom is what being American is all about. That's the ideal anyway. Although the constitution of the U.S. guarantees individual freedoms, it is not always adhered to, especially nowadays. Someone with a single citizenship always lets the government have the last word about what individual freedoms he or she really has. People with dual citizenship always have the last word -- they have the freedom to leave when they don't like what their government is up to.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Physical Presence Test" For Argentine Visas

I received a question from a reader today about a "physical presence test" in order to renew the financier (rentista) visa.

Reader's Question

I was wondering if you knew whether you are required to stay in Argentina for a certain number of days during the year after you've been given say, a Rentista Visa. Aside from the passive income requirements for this visa, is there an actual "physical presence" like requirement, or can you come and go and simply renew it in year two. The goal is to get to permanent residence status but be free to come and go and travel in and out of Argentina...laying the foundation for permanent residency because it's where I'd like to live on and off for the rest of my life.

My Response

There is no physical presence requirement for the renewal of the financier visa. I first got my rentista visa a full year before I moved to Argentina permanently. In fact, renewal of the visa was very simple. The only requirements were that I showed my passive income would continue. I just got another notarized letter from my CPA stating that I still owned my business and that's all that was required.

I sent my documents off and my passport off to ARCA and a week or two later they returned my passport to me with the renewed visa in it. Very simple. I only need to renew it twice more. Next year, I'll renew it for one more year. The year after that, I'll renew for the third time and get a permanent visa. I'll then be able to come and go as I please for the rest of my life.

For this reason, it's best to go ahead and start the visa process as soon as possible. Since there is no physical presence requirement, just get the visa as soon as you can so that the 3 year countdown is started. Since I started one year early, I'll have only lived here 2 years when I actually get my permanent residency.

I intend to apply for citizenship and a second passport after I get my permanent residency. That's one of the reasons I'm in a hurry to get my permanent residency. It is my personal belief that no single country ought to have dominion over an individual's sovereign right to travel and migrate. As much as I respect laws of the United States, I don't believe they have the legal or moral right to control my movements.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Living Carless and Loving It!

One of the best things about living in Buenos Aires is the freedom that comes from not owning a car. Living in the southwest United States, there was no possibility to get by without owning an automobile. The public transportation just wasn't adequate. Here in Buenos Aires (although the people might say otherwise) the public transit is very good. You have subways, busses, and the streets are filled with more taxis than people.

I love the fact that I can live without a car. There's so many expenses related to owning a car that you don't fully recognize until you finally get rid of the thing. I made a list of all the expenses I was paying to own a car and then broke it down so I could see how much it was costing on a monthly basis:

  • $450 - Depreciation
  • $150 - Insurance
  • $160 - Gasoline
  • $10 - Car Wash
  • $12 - XM Radio
  • $8 - Oil Changes
  • $200 - Repairs, Tires, Battery, etc.
  • Total: $990 per month

There you have it -- $990 per month. Almost $1000 per month just to maintain a car. Discounting rent, that's enough to support your entire monthly expenses here in Buenos Aires. Amazing! Just imagine if every U.S. city installed decent public transit and there was good train/bus service between cities -- middle class households would have an extra $1000 per month to make the paycheck go further.

Living Carless in Buenos Aires

Despite the complaints you might hear from people here (and I've heard them), I do think the public transit is good. There are so many bus lines it's impossible to keep them all straight without a guide. The subway is reliable, clean, and has always seemed safe. There's never a problem finding a taxi either.

The main weakness of the subway system is that all the lines connect in downtown. So, if you are at the end of the green line and want to go to the end of the blue line, you have to ride all the way downtown and all the way back up. Nevertheless, line H is under construction and it will address this. God only knows when it will be finished, however.

After living in the American southwest my entire life and never knowing life without a car, I can say that I prefer to live carless in the city. Add to the fact that taxis are cheap (in dollar terms) and you can always hop a cab if you don't feel like taking the subway or the bus. Even relying on taxis everyday, you still wouldn't spend as much as it would cost you to own a car in the U.S.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Second Serbian War Criminal Caught In Argentina

Yesterday the papers reported another Serbian war criminal was caught in Argentina, this time in Buenos Aires. The previous one was caught a few months back in Mendoza after a tip was received from Human Rights Watch. It brings up an interesting issue -- why do all these war criminals flee to Argentina?

My own theory is that it is left over from the days when Peron invited the Nazis to come here after the war. Ever since then, Argentina has been struggling to shuffle an image as a haven for war criminals and place where criminals can hide out. However, perhaps the first famous criminals to flee to Argentina were Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (better known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, respectively), who fled to Argentina in 1901 to escape a $1000 bounty on their heads and the relentless pursuit of the Pinkertons.

I'm glad to see that Argentina is making strides to arrest these people and deport them back to their country of origin, where they can stand trial for their crimes. With the present government's emphasis on dealing with the legacy of human rights abuses in this country, its good to see that Argentina is no longer a safe haven for war criminals. And although some accuse the current administration of drudging up the past for political gain, prosecuting human rights abusers is a good policy, no matter the motivation.