Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Albert Lu of The Power & Market Report.
We talked about my experiences in the Middle East and international diversification tips—particularly for those who don’t have a lot of assets.
Our discussion is below. I think you’ll not only enjoy it, but you’ll also learn something too.
Until next time,
Albert Lu: Nick Giambruno is the senior editor of Doug Casey’s International Man. Nick, thank you so much for joining me today. It was a pleasure meeting you at the Casey Summit, and I really enjoyed your presentation. But one thing that struck me immediately when we met is something that you said. You said something like, “There’s nothing like Beirut in the summer,” and it’s not something I’ve ever heard from an American. I think you have had quite an interesting career journey. First, can you tell me a little bit about your background? What did you study in college, for example?
Nick Giambruno: Let me explain that, because that will explain my little quote about Beirut. I’ve been interested in the Middle East ever since I was a kid. And how I got interested in the Middle East is that I used to be an avid sports fan, but to get to the sports section of the newspaper—this was before the Internet—you’d have to at least see the front page. So I would always see the front page, and often it would talk about what’s going on in the Middle East, and it would fascinate me even at a very young age. So that kind of planted the seed for my interest in the Middle East. Later when I went to college, I did a degree in international finance, and with that degree you pick a region of the world you would like to focus on, and I chose the Middle East. This meant I had to actually go there and learn the language (Arabic) and the finance issues of the region. There aren’t many colleges in the Middle East where the credits transfer back and count at American schools. The American University of Beirut was one such school. It’s a fantastic university that’s been around since the 1860s, and it’s just beautiful—located right on the Mediterranean. So I went there, and I really fell in love with the place.
Parts of Beirut have a European character; other parts have a distinct Middle Eastern character. And in the summertime it’s just a ton of fun to be there with the beaches and the legendary nightlife. So it’s not just all about the car bombs, as you see in the media. Once you get to know what it’s really like, Beirut is a wonderful, cosmopolitan place.
But the bad stuff obviously does exist—it’s not all sunshine and rainbows—but the way the media portrays it is a huge exaggeration. I lived in Beirut for close to three years in total, and I never once felt threatened or anything like that. There’s so little random crime there compared to the US. There is, of course, crime and violence related to politics, but that isn’t random for the most part; and as long as you’re not involved with the various political factions, nobody is going to bother you—other than to try to sell you a T-shirt.
Anyway, after I graduated from college I got a job with an asset manager in Minneapolis, but I always longed to return to Lebanon. So I decided to take a different path with my life and leave my current job and move to Beirut. It was of course a risk, because I was moving there without a job, without a work permit, and without a residency permit—things that are not easy to obtain. At the time I was also studying for the CFA designation (chartered financial analyst)—which has a society chapter in Beirut. So I figured even if I couldn’t find a job in Beirut, I could at least study for the CFA and enjoy living there.
It turns out I was able to land a job with an investment bank, and everything worked out. Later, I had the chance to meet Doug Casey when he visited Beirut—I had been reading his stuff for many years prior—and that meeting would eventually lead to me taking on the role of senior editor over at the International Man website.
Albert: Over the years, I had many opportunities to study and work with Lebanese people. I remember them telling me how much of an emphasis there is on education in the culture of Lebanon, and it reminded me of the Asian and Indian communities I had seen. Did you find that emphasis on education?
Nick: Yes, I did. It’s a source of prestige to be educated in European or American institutions in Lebanon. To the extent that you can generalize, I find that the Lebanese people are some of the most entrepreneurial and business oriented I’ve ever met. I think that stems from a lot of things: their maritime trading history; their geographic location between East and West; and also their desire to be global people. Many Lebanese speak three languages—Arabic, French, and English. So to know that many languages, by definition you have to be pretty well educated.
Albert: So you’re the senior editor of the International Man, which is a Doug Casey publication. International Man is a book that I read a long time ago, and I just remember becoming fascinated with this lifestyle that Doug was living. The book was published way back in the 1970s, but you’ve revived it in an online publication with the International Man website.
Nick: The purpose of the website was to take the pioneering mission of Doug’s book and keep it alive in a format that could be constantly updated and give people information on the best ways to get a second passport, to move some of their savings abroad with offshore banking, investing in foreign real estate, and so forth.
The reason why you would want to do these things is that when you have sufficiently internationally diversified different aspects of your life, you aren’t wholly dependent on any one government. Your destiny is not held hostage by what happens in any particular nation-state. It’s a very liberating feeling to know that you’ve achieved this level of personal independence. It’s a very nice insurance policy to have, especially in this day and age.
But international diversification is much more than that. It’s not just a defensive move. It unlocks new investment opportunities, different places for you to live and work. So it really is two things. One, it’s an insurance policy against an out-of-control government; and two, it unlocks new opportunities for you around the world.
Albert: Is this the implementation of the perpetual traveler or prior taxpayer lifestyle?
Nick: So what we’re talking about here is taking different components of your life and putting them in the jurisdiction that makes the most sense to put them in. And with the advent of the Internet, there’s a new and important part of your life to diversify—that’s your digital presence.
But just to clarify, most people can’t structure their lives to be a perpetual traveler—whereby one is constantly moving between countries and is a tax resident of no country—and you certainly don’t have to. If you can arrange your affairs—namely, your source of income and your family life—to enable you be a perpetual traveler, that’s fantastic, and you can really minimize your taxes and dependence on any government.
But most people can’t live like that—and the nice thing is that you don’t have to. You don’t even have to leave the United States or your home country to do a lot of this stuff. Getting a second passport, opening an offshore bank or brokerage account, obtaining an offshore email account, forming an offshore trust—a lot of these things can be done from your living room in many cases.
Most people realistically can’t just up and leave their jobs and take their families to Singapore or Chile or wherever—but if you can, that’s really great. The bottom line is that you can implement some of these steps we’re talking about and obtain significant diversification benefits without having to immediately leave your home country.
Now, going back to one’s digital presence. This is probably the easiest aspect of your life to diversify internationally. Most people are accustomed to using Gmail or Yahoo or something like that. It’s easy just to switch to an email provider in a jurisdiction that has real privacy protections like Switzerland, Iceland, or Norway—the three best countries for digital privacy that come to mind. However, it’s important to emphasize that offshore email has to be used in conjunction with proper encryption to obtain the maximum privacy benefits. We have a free guide that shows you how to do just that in the free reports section of the International Man (IM) website.
But your digital presence is much more than just email, especially if you run a business. It’s also where your website’s servers are located, and it’s what your domain name is. For more on this, people can check out the digital diversification section of the IM site.
Albert: How can people internationalize their career, especially if they don’t have a lot of assets?
Nick: I do know a handful of people who have gotten sick of the nine-to-five hamster-wheel grind in the US and have moved to foreign countries to teach English. And I think teaching English abroad is really a great way to get your foot in the door in a foreign country. It gives you a source of income. It gives you a work permit. It gives you a residency permit, and when you have those things in hand—and those things are not always easy to get—it opens up a lot of other doors for you.
I’ve never taught English abroad, but from the people whom I know who have, none of them have any regrets about leaving the corporate world to go teach English in China, Thailand, Colombia, or South Korea, for example. They’re happy with the adventure of being in a new country.
If you teach English abroad and spend enough time outside the US, you can save money on taxes, and sometimes the companies and the schools who hire you will pay for your housing costs. So when you have lower taxes and your housing is paid for, you are reducing the two largest expenses that most people have—rent and taxes. Plus the cost of living in many of these countries is lower than many places in the West. What this all means is that your disposable income—which is what really matters—might actually be higher teaching English in Asia than it would be in an entry level corporate gig in a US city. In some cases, substantially higher.
Teaching English might not be the most glamorous work, but when you look at all the other benefits, it can make sense for a lot of people.
Another way for people who don’t have a lot of assets to internationalize is to buy silver and have it stored in a safe foreign jurisdiction, like Singapore—which I am personally doing. Readers can learn more about that at this link.
Albert: Where can people find out more about the topics we have been talking about?
Nick: The free guides and resource section of the International Man website is the best place. Lots of great actionable information there. People can also check out our free newsletter, the International Man Communiqué, which has great content. We also have an active Twitter account.
Albert: Nick, thanks so much for joining me on the show. It’s been great getting to know you, and I look forward to talking to you again.
Nick: My pleasure.