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Expat Interview: Sunshine and Taxes

Expat Tax Expert Interview

Today we meet Carrie McKeegan, an expat entrepreneur who has found a method of making money via a portable career that allows her to work anywhere in the world. Carrie has started a successful business with her partner that aims to solve many expat’s tax problems. Here she shares details of how she achieved what some people can only dream of while also offering some great tips for people who would like to find a method of making their own career portable.

You are somewhat of a serial expat. Please tell us where you are originally from and what prompted you to move overseas on so many occasions?

I am from the United States originally (New York) but spent 6 years during my childhood in Mexico City, so am used to the expat life. I was raised with a deep appreciation for travelling and that has stayed with me! My husband David and I love experiencing new cultures, new places and so all our moves have been prompted by that wanderlust. There are so many wonderful places in the world- we find it hard to pick just one!

Of all the places you have lived, which was your favorite and why?

It’s hard to choose a favorite! For the laid back beach life, I love Bali, Indonesia. For city living, New York and Buenos Aires are tough to beat. Rio de Janeiro is a great mix of the two- beach life but with a city twist. I think different places “speak to you” at different points in life depending on what you are looking for at that moment. Right now, since my husband and I have two young children and a very demanding work schedule, Buenos Aires is perfect. The kids are learning Spanish, have a wonderful “jardin” (preschool), and we have all the modern conveniences we need with the extra bonus of the Argentine culture and way of life.

Which was your least favorite?

Mendoza, Argentina. We lived in a house about 20 minutes from the nearest city and found it a bit hard to break into life there. It was a small town, very focused on the wine industry (which had its benefits too!) but we found ourselves a bit isolated.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your life as expat?

How important it is to remain open-minded. Every culture does things in a different way and you have to be willing to learn, to take the best parts of that culture with you and make them your own. You need to adapt and be comfortable with change.

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What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to an overseas country for the first time?

Don’t take it too seriously. Some people spend years planning an overseas move and it becomes overwhelming and daunting. Assuming you have a job or source of income you can take with you, nothing is permanent. Pack your bags, get on a plane and see how it goes. You can adjust later as you learn more of what you like and what makes you tick in that new country.

You have started your own business while living overseas. Please describe what you do and how that came about.

My husband David and I are the founders of Greenback Expat Tax Services, a business that specializes in tax preparation for Americans who live abroad. We started the business in 2009 in response to our own frustration with not being able to find accountants with the right training and background in expat taxes while we were living in London. Now we have a team of 19 accountants, all of whom are experts in US taxes for Americans living outside of the US. It’s been incredibly fulfilling watching the team grow and help people resolve their taxes, which can be a stressful and infuriating part of expat life without the right support.

What key challenges did you face when establishing your business?

Both my husband and I were accustomed to working in big businesses before starting Greenback, so were unprepared for how hard it is to vet and hire people like web designers, web developers, etc. when you are on your own without the backing of a procurement team! Now that we’ve built up a wider network, we’re able to get referrals for marketing services like those, and that certainly helps. We’ve been fortunate that as the business has grown, the number of cloud-based solutions has grown as well, but when we first started out, it was less common to have a business that operated online with clients all over the globe, so we struggled to find the right technology solutions at the beginning.

What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who wish to establish a portable career?

Meet and learn from people who already have portable careers. There are so many great online resources out there- everything from websites with a tremendous amount of content that can help aid your thinking to Facebook groups, meet up groups, membership sites. Simply spending time getting to know people in those communities can help you think of ideas you never imagined.
Many careers that traditionally have not been portable can now be moved online and thus be done from anywhere in the world. People are getting more and more comfortable communicating via Skype and doing business that way- don’t be afraid to be the first in your industry to make that move. I know an interior designer and a nutritionist, off the top of my head, who have moved their businesses to be all virtual- those are two professions that most would think are location-based, but they don’t have to be.
Get rid of 90% of your stuff and as much bad debt as you can. You can’t take the risks you will likely need to take to move your career to a portable one if you are weighed down like that. You need to be nimble.

You have moved overseas with your children. What do you believe are the advantages and disadvantages of raising children abroad?

Such a complicated subject! Our hope is that our kids are exposed to so many people, cultures, languages that their depth of experience is rich and one they can draw upon through any aspect of their lives. However, living abroad means less time with family- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. We make the most of Skype and trips to the US, but we know that there is a trade-off there that is difficult to come to terms with.

Finally, what’s next for you?

From a lifestyle perspective, we’re splitting our year between Bali and Buenos Aires this year, and we’re excited to see how that lifestyle evolves and works for us and the kids. From a business perspective, we’ve been trying to find new ways to share information with Americans living abroad about their tax obligations, and we’re planning to do a lot more with more personal communication channels such as webinars, podcasts, meet up groups, etc

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