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Dominica Citizenship by Investment costs remain as-is

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In the last few months, there had been rumors that the Dominica citizenship by investment program was going to raise its cost far above its current price of $100,000.  For now, however, the price will stay the same.

 

Grenada: an affordable citizenship by investment option for families

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One of the factors that can affect the costs of applying for citizenship by investment is who all the primary applicant intends to make part of the application. Many citizenship by investment programs charge large fees for additional family members (such as spouse and children) to be included into the citizenship package. The island nation of Grenada, however, offers a citizenship by investment package that may just be the least expensive high-grade program for families.

Specifically, the Grenada program offers a one-price package for families of up to four people. The two primary options are either one-time contributions or purchasing qualifying real estate. The contribution option for an applicant is $200,000 paid to Grenada’s National Transformation Fund, and will cover the applicant, his spouse and two children. Grenada also offers a $350,000 investment option for real estate that would cover the applicant and four family members.

A one-time contribution, or a purchase of qualifying real estate can be an integral part of a higher-net-worth individual’s estate, succession and asset protection plan. It provides an applicant with a high visa free travel, and an easier entree into places as far flung as the Schengen area and China.

Grenada’s program is a relative newcomer, having been launced in 2013, but it offers unique benefits, such as:

–A quick route to citizenship, with a processing time of 60 business days.
–A streamlined application process with no requirement to take part in an interview, show minimum education or language skills, or demonstrate previous business experience.

Citizens of Grenada can take advantage of not only the right to live and work in Grenada, and dual citizenship, but visa-free travel to more than 110 countries and territories, including the UK, Schengen Area, and China.

If you are interested in learning more about Grenada’s program, contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Hong Kong 2015 Report, Part 1

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Part 1:

I’d stopped doing travelogues a while back. Many of my trips were repeats to locations already visited, or were purely for relaxation, so often, there wasn’t much to write. I thought, however, it might be a good idea to keep track of my activities on my Hong Kong trip.
Unlike a quick jaunt to the Caribbean or Latin America from the U.S., a trip to Hong Kong takes more planning and flight time. Obviously, this makes it harder to explore for a casual traveler like myself. Tickets are not cheap and one is faced with a dilemma of either buying the cheapest tickets in the economy class—thus suffering 16-17 hours of uncomfortable cattle car treatment—or ponying up for the comfortable but far more expensive business or first class seats.
My friend and I had decided a while back that we wanted to explore beyond our usual haunts in Latin America and the Caribbean and so opted for Asia. We ended up booking our flight to Hong Kong almost a year in advance. The result was a less expensive retail price (for him) and the ability (for me) to use miles. We both obtained business class. His cost: around $3,500; my cost: 110,000 miles. From my attempt to use miles later, I can see that this is probably the best deal I’ve ever obtained, and perhaps will obtain, using miles.
If you’re traveling to Hong Kong to explore business and investment opportunities, or to use it as a launching pad for further travels, I would suggest business class flying. Hong Kong isn’t cheap—nor is flying there. If you can’t afford to fly there in something other than the economy class, perhaps you should consider other areas to visit for investment that are less expensive, because flying will be just the first higher cost you experience when traveling there. That sounds snarky, but what I mean is that if you endure 17 hours of uncomfortable flight because you can’t afford (or don’t want to pay for) a more comfortable seat, your entire time spent traveling in Hong Kong will likewise be either uncomfortable and cheap, or comfortable and more than you want to pay.
The flight departed an hour late because of septic tank issues. One of the three tanks weren’t working, causing four lavatories in the plane to be unusable. One was in first class. The other three were in economy class. I’ve been on economy class before when one of the few toilets was nonfunctional, and it was not fun. I couldn’t imagine being cooped up cheek to jowl in those tiny seats for 17 hours, lining up for access to restrooms.
By contrast, in business, we had our own “pod,” lie flat seats, tv with hundreds of shows, movies and titles, plus plenty of food. In addition to the meals served, they had a self-service walk-up bar where you could obtain fruit, snacks and sweets. Also, wi-fi was offered for a price. The price for wi-fi for the entire flight was $20.00. The wi-fi service was weak, however, and also spotty. I was able to send out some business and personal emails via webmail, but I would have never been able to connect remotely into my office computer given the poor connection. Still, improvements are coming. I look forward to the day when we can use seamless high-speed internet on planes and stay fully connected. I’d used go-go inflight wireless before on domestic flights and the quality was quite good, much better than what was on this flight.
Between working remotely on the plane, and watching a couple dozen inane American sit-coms, along with a little sleep in between, I passed my time fairly well on the flight. There were nicer seats up in first class. The best I could tell, the only additional benefits obtained by the eight first class passengers were (1) nicer swiveling seats; (2) a wine-tasting (!) and (3) more expensive-brand amenity kits. Unless first class seats could be obtained at a nominal price more, they wouldn’t have been worth it to me (I think in terms of miles, a first class seat would have cost almost twice as much when I booked a year ago).
We left Dallas at 12:30 p.m. local time and arrived in Hong Kong at about 6:30 p.m. local time—Hong Kong is 14 hours ahead of Dallas local time.
Everything about the arrival process sparkled with mythical Asian efficiency. The immigration form was the shortest I’d ever filled out, and the line took no more than ten minutes. I had my checked baggage in another five, and after walking through the “nothing to declare” section of Customs, we quickly met our driver and exited the airport. Upon arrival to the hotel, we were quickly escorted in, given our keys, and shown to our rooms.
Departure was similarly efficient in reverse. Passing through security and immigration in Hong Kong’s airport was a breeze. The business class lounge was well appointed and offered food sufficient to constitute a meal (rather than just bar snacks like most lounges in the U.S.). Our flight back was similarly uneventful.
Every trip I take out of the country draws into contrast the immigration and customs process in other countries versus the United States. Having flown to third world countries and to first world ones as well, the difference cannot be written off to the backwardness or forwardness of certain other foreign countries compared to the US—our process is almost inevitably the worst. The lines are longer, the process more complicated. The immigration officer looks angry perpetually; perhaps he’s hoping to make a would-be terrorist nervous and give himself up. The wait on our luggage is much longer; everything is less pleasant, and more tortuous coming back in through the U.S.


BANKING:
While exploring Hong Kong, I hoped to set up a bank account. I dressed in business casual attire and made my rounds in an attempt to get a bank account started. Unfortunately, my attempts resulted in a complete failure, ending in my giving up disgustedly. No thank you FATCA. In sum, my experience was that the banks’ willingness to roll over to U.S. FATCA demands meant that as a practical matter, the banks appeared to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to keep U.S. citizens out. Making it more complicated was that different branches might give conflicting answers. Two banks specifically stated they would take U.S. citizens who were non-resident in Hong Kong, so long as the proper documentation was provided. I visited HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, Standard Charter, and Bank of China. Here were my experiences, in brief:

Standard Charter: I was shown in to an efficient waiting room and given a number for the queue. The officer started taking my information and didn’t flinch when I informed her I was a U.S. citizen. However, when she learned I wasn’t resident in Hong Kong, she apologized, told me she could not open an account for me, and showed me the door.

Hang Seng: similar experience.

HSBC: I was directed to a customer service representative. The representative grilled me as to why I would want to set up a bank account if I wasn’t going to live here. I explained that I wanted to have an account in Hong Kong so I could do business in Asia and keep money in a different currency. After some consideration, this seemed to satisfy her. She then looked at my paperwork, including my passport and my driver’s license. My passport contained only my middle initial, whereas my license included my full middle name. This was a discrepancy, she told me, and she could not accept my paperwork because of this discrepancy. I left dejected.

Bank of China, take one: I met with a customer service representative who indicated he could in fact set up a personal account for me. I presented him with my passport and proof of address. My proof consisted of a utility bill printed off from my online account (I don’t get sent paper bills). This wouldn’t suffice as it was not considered an original bill. I was sent packing, albeit politely. Given that this was the beginning of the week, I debated having an original of some other utility bill fed-exed to me in Hong Kong.
That night I wrote both to Hang Seng and to Bank of China indicating that I wanted to open an account, that I had the requisite paperwork, that I wasn’t going to be resident in Hong Kong, and asking if this was a problem. Both banks wrote back indicating this wasn’t a problem but that each bank branch had discretion as to whether to open up an account.

Bank of China, take two: I located two online bills, printed them off in color, cut the ticket portion off at the dotted line, and decided to take another try. Out of curiosity, I decided to try a Bank of China branch a block away from my hotel, rather than first going back down to the Central high-rise district. I found a customer service district who indicated willingness to help, but upon hearing I was non-resident in Hong Kong, indicated he could not help me. Though this conflicted directly with what I’d been told twice by other Bank of China representatives, I was too dejected to argue—especially since this local branch representative didn’t speak very good English in any event.

Bank of China, take three: Not to be dissuaded, I decided to go back to Central and try again with Bank of China. I went into a different part of the bank and was directed to a different customer service representative. This customer service representative was very friendly, spoke good English, and gave me very detailed explanations. But the entire time, I felt like he was trying to find a reason not to accept my application. He spoke to me about my purposes and when I initially said “investment,” he told me that wasn’t open for non-residents. So I said “savings” which satisfied him. I gave him my paperwork, my bills (which passed the “authenticity” test), and then…. They got hung up again on my name. The fact that my middle name wasn’t spelled out on my passport but was spelled out on my license caused him to say he couldn’t open up an account. If I could, however, get the U.S. to issue me a new passport with my middle name spelled out, however, he could help me open an account. No thanks….
At this point, I made a decision that I didn’t want to go any further opening up an account in Hong Kong. It was clear that the Banks were very resistant to opening up an account for me. If they were that difficult now, who’s to say that even if I eventually opened one that it wouldn’t be arbitrarily closed later at some point?
Mission not accomplished.

More to come.......

 

Hong Kong 2015 Report, Part 2

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In the middle of the week, we’d planned a day trip to China. Travel to China requires a Visa for US citizens which must be generally obtained ahead of time. However, we’d found a tour operator, Viator, that had a day trip to China; in this trip, the tour price included a group visa. We booked. We met our tour group at the Mandarin Oriental at 7:30 a.m., and were picked up by a van. The van took us to Pier 4, location of the particular water ferry we were taking to Shekhou, across the water, to the Shenzhen area. Our guide, Alex, was a native Hong Konger; our group of 13 was geographically diverse, with members coming from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and then my friend and me from the U.S. During the approximately hour long ferry ride, our guide went over our plans for the day.
Upon arrival to Shekhou, we quickly went through immigration and customs and were picked up by our tour bus for the day. We had a driver and a second tour guide, “Albert,” who lived in Shenzhen and spoke decent English. Shenzhen was a formerly lightly populated area of rice patties that had been transformed in the last three decades into a city of ten million people with multinational industries throughout. The city was modern, gleaming and well-kept. Along the way (and in fact, throughout the trip for the day), our guide told us stories of how China has transformed in the modern era, how many Chinese have bought phones, how many Chinese work jobs, how religion once again takes a role in China, etc. Our first stop was at what our guide said was a typical Chinese kindergarten for typical middle-class Chinese families. A hundred or so children were outside doing morning exercises on a playground, as we were allowed to walk through the area, peer inside classrooms, and meet teachers. The children weren’t distracted by our appearance, nor were the teachers. Previous reviews indicated that the visit to the kindergarten was part of the typical tour. On the way out, I noticed a metal sign placard with the communist hammer and sickle on it. As I left and back on the bus, our guide once again emphasized that this was a typical kindergarten for middle-class. For it to be a typical kindergarten, it occurred to me that the whole place had been a showpiece. The place was extremely clean, all sorts of photographs were placed throughout the halls of teachers and children. And all of the teachers were young and fairly attractive—probably only one or two older than their 30s. In no other part of our trip did we see the hammer and sickle, either. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like we’d been led to a sort of government showplace, and further, that our guide was sort of a government cheerleader.
Our next trip was to a museum. We were told that it was a museum with terra cotta warriors and jade. We went in, we perfunctorily shown two terra cotta warriors with a terra cotta horse, and told a few things about jade artifacts. Then we were taken into what was essentially a jewelry store for jade. Really, this place was a jewelry store that somehow had gotten hold of a couple of terra cotta artifacts.
Next, we were taken to see pandas in the local zoo. Though the local zoo had a number of animals, our tour bus took us up to the panda exhibit to see those animals. Though pandas were shown as the photographic highlights of the tours, the actual enclosure was underwhelming. They were in a glass enclosed structure, two of them, both asleep. The glass was dirty, and didn’t lend itself to good photographs.
We left and were then taking a two and a half hour ride by bus to Guanzhou.

 

Nicaragua Travelogue, 2014

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Travelogue.2.14.14

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

I’m sitting with the doors open in the beach villa I’ve rented, listening to the waves crash to the shores 50 feet below, enjoying the 80-degree breeze, and sipping on freshly-made orange juice the cook made earlier. I play appropriately themed tropical music on my laptop as I surf the internet and intermittently write.

My family members have emailed me photos of their backyards, while I browse the Facebook photos a number of acquaintances have shared. They all show the same thing: snow. And lots of it. Grey skies and lots of white. I’m not missing it.

Getting to this part of the Nicaraguan coast is not particularly easy—though it has gotten easier in recent years—which has in the past caused Rancho Santana to refer to itself as the Pacific Frontier of Nicaragua. It is approximately a three hour drive from Nicaragua’s sole international airport in Managua. The roads are not particularly well lit, and are subject to having livestock—pigs, herds of cattle, and oxen carts—traveling them at any given time, meaning that nighttime travel is not wise. To get to Rancho in one day from your point of departure (in other words, without having to overnight in a hotel in Managua) can make for a very early departure and a long day.

We left our home at 3:00 a.m. in order to take a 5:55 a.m. flight to Miami. From there, Managua was a 2.5 hour flight, and we landed at 12:30 local time. After waiting an hour for a rental car, we finally made our way out of the city, and to Rancho Santana, arriving shortly before dusk by the time we’d stopped for some basic groceries. The roads went from four lane out of Managua to two lane, to narrow keystone-paved country road, to washboard dirt roads leading up to the Rancho Santana gate. This is actually an improvement. Up until a couple of years ago, the road leading from Rivas to Rancho (the last hour of driving) was dirt, and rough. The first trip I took with a friend, we had to cross a couple of creeks and bad mud patches that mired some vehicles down.

Rancho Santana was created about ten years ago as a vacation/second home/retirement development in what really was the frontier Pacific of Nicaragua. It’s comprised of about 2,700 acres, and has five different beaches on its properties: two fronting on public beaches shared with other property owners, three smaller beaches located totally within its confines. It’s got good surfing and has styled itself as sort of a natural-based development. Much of the food in the development is grown on-site, and the development even has its own lumber mill. There is one tennis court, no golf courses, and an associated gym just off-site. The activities offered are primarily nature-based: surfing, fishing, equestrian, biking, yoga, hiking and running. Within the development are numerous phases, containing oceanview and oceanfront houses, condominiums, and small casitas for the more budget-minded. Beside Rancho’s clubhouse, they’re building an 18-unit hotel for short-term guests.

Rancho Santana’s main calling card it’s the stunning natural beauty in its surroundings. Many of the properties are located on hillsides or even cliffs, affording the owners of dramatic views of the crashing Pacific waves down below.

I’d visited twice in previous years with a friend, and had decided this would be a place that my wife would love. Although she was initially a little leery of traveling to Nicaragua, she trusted me enough to try it, and we were both rewarded.

Rancho rents numerous owners’ homes for them, and some owners list their homes independently for rent. We found one we liked that was actually on the ocean, and booked back in the fall. The house came with the option to have a cook, but we hired a local service instead for two daily meals. The trip ended up being most likely the healthiest trip we’ve ever taken. We’d specified that we wanted filling but healthy meals, and weren’t disappointed. In addition, we spent a lot of time playing and doing fun physical activities. Two of the guys who worked around the house were also great surfers, and would give lessons. My days fell into a very enjoyable routine that went something like this:

Early morning: jogging, biking or going to the local gym;

9:00 a.m. breakfast with fresh fruit juice, yogurt, granola, and eggs or some sort of omelet or veggie tortilla.

10:00: surfing lesson at one of the two best surfing beaches.

11:30 Back to the house to rest and relax poolside. We’d usually spend the afternoon around the pool, listening to music, looking out over the ocean and chilling out. I’d also write, do some reading on the internet, and generally just occupy my mind.

Lunch on our own, or down at the clubhouse.

Late afternoon: walk one of the development’s five beaches.

Evening: have a fresh-cooked meal of seafood, salad, and freshly steamed veggies as we watched the sun set over the horizon.

Of course, every day had its variations, and we did some other things while there. One day, my surfing guide showed me where some hot springs were located in the little village of Salinas, a few kilometers away. Located a half kilometer or so off the main road, the local government was attempting to tout the springs as a tourist stop. For one dollar, visitors could “take the waters” in a number of pools containing waters of different temperatures. Local women were washing their clothes in concrete wash basins set up for that purpose, and a few of the women were (clothed) bathing themselves while they were doing their laundry.

On another couple of occasions, I drove around to look at the different lots for sale and house construction going up.

While we’d initially planned to take some day trips to nearby locales (Lake Apoyo, Granada, and San Juan del Sur), we ended up enjoying ourselves too much to make it very far. As a matter of fact, there were a number of things my wife and I both agreed we’d like to do at Rancho that we’d like to do next time.

I could wax poetic about the escapist value of this locale (we were worlds away from the political and personal stresses of our home, not to mention its bad weather), or its pristine beauty, but it’s not something that is particularly easy to quantify or particularly desirable to share. Instead, I’d invite anyone who wants to learn more to visit www.ranchosantana.com.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 May 2014 22:10
 
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