FACES OF EXPATRIATION – THE GLOBALIST
Lisa R. Mitchell is a Global Business Executive with nearly 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She has spent the majority of her career focused on international business and providing banking services to her global clientele. She was the Vice President and Manager of International Personal Banking (IPB) at Wells Fargo, with offices in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, where she managed a $500 million dollar portfolio and was responsible for overseeing over 200 global corporate relationships and international customers in over 70 countries.
Additionally, she worked for Citigroup and held positions in the mortgage, retail, and expatriate banking divisions. She is also a frequent global speaker and “influencer” in the global financial services space and has written several articles on Global Mobility and Global Financial Services, including expat banking, international banking, credit and finance as it relates to the expatriate, world traveler, and the global digital nomad.
Lisa has lived in three foreign countries and traveled to over 30 more. Most recently, she was an expat for four years in Shanghai, China, serving as Director of Educational Investment for ELS, part of Berlitz, the leading global education company. She prepared senior level expats and their families for all aspects of their international assignments and delivered leadership, soft skills, and cross-cultural training to managers and senior executives in the APAC Region.
Currently, Lisa is working on her first book, to be published in the spring, entitled “Global Money Matters: A Guide for Expatriates, World Travelers, and Digital Global Nomads to Make Smart Money Choices While Living A Global Lifestyle.”
For our Faces of Expatriation series, Griots Republic had an opportunity to ask Lisa a few questions about finances and expat life.
How difficult was it for you to leave the US and live and work abroad?
Not difficult. Ever since I was a kid, living and working abroad was what I wanted to do. I consider myself a Globalist, and I have been working, living, and traveling overseas on and off for 30 years this June. Living a global lifestyle is the essence of who I am. My motto is: If it’s not global, don’t do it. I’ve integrated this into every aspect of my life – education, career, living, travel.
What challenges do you face professionally? Culturally?
Professionally, I always knew I wanted a career in international business, so I chose to study political science and then get an International MBA from Thunderbird, School of Global Management, a school with a legacy for producing global leaders and with a great global network that also forced me to study a language as a requirement. I chose financial services because I thought that would be a good way to ensure that I had a global career.
As an international banker, I was not only able to travel the world, but also run a 500 million dollar global business. Living and working in Shanghai for four years gave me a chance to teach and coach future global leaders. Some of the professional challenges I have faced –working in corporate America can be challenging, and there aren’t many women with global responsibilities, much less African American women in international banking. Honestly, usually the challenges came from the U.S. – people were usually surprised to see “someone like me” engaged in international banking, so my focus is always to be a top performer and strive for excellence.
Managing staff from different cultures had its challenges at times, but I always relied on my training and my long held belief that at the end of the day people are people. I’ve also tried to spend a lot of time understanding other cultures, and trying to meet people where they are and not make assumptions, or try to impose my culture on others.
Overseas, professionally people might be surprised, perhaps intrigued to see me at a meeting, or realize that I was the boss, but once they got over it then we moved on to business. Again, this is where it was helpful to know not only the business environment, but also about the cultural and social aspects as well, so that you have a meeting point where you can engage in a conversation. You’d be surprised how far small talk and knowing a few words in the local language can take you.
Culturally, even after all this time, it’s still a little startling to be regarded overseas first as an American, and your race and gender are second. Also, right or wrong, you become responsible for all the positives and negatives associated with America. Through my training and certification as a cross cultural consultant in China, I learned that you can live in a country for many years and speak the language fluently, but there are just certain cultural nuances that will always be a mystery.
Are there any resources that would assist foreigners in acclimating?
If you are planning on living in a country for any significant time, you will need support not only from expats, but also from locals. I’m always surprised that foreigners don’t take the time to understand the social, political, and business aspects of a country. You understand these things, and you will understand what makes a country tick. It can be as simple as reading a local newspaper, or watching local TV, or eating where locals eat.
Seek out local Meetups based on your interests and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re new to a country, I recommend Internations as they are great at helping newcomers acclimate to a foreign country and they have chapters all over the world. Join as many Facebook groups as you can before you leave to develop contacts. I also like some of the organizations that have been on the forefront of helping American expats for a long time and advocate for them with the U.S. government on important topics like healthcare, financial services, and social security, like the ACA (American Citizens Abroad) and AARO (The Association for American Residents Overseas).
Financial perspectives vary from culture to culture. What differences have you seen?
For most of my banking career, I have focused on international customers, and I managed an expat banking division for Wells Fargo, so I’ve seen lots of expat financial scenarios and dilemmas and experienced a few myself. To answer the first question – as my region of interest is Asia, studying the Asian culture’s approach to money and wealth has always been of great interest to me. We can all learn a lot of money lessons from China, which in just a few decades has lifted millions of people out of poverty. The most important differences I have witnessed are:
1. The absolute rejection of personal debt. The entire culture supports this idea of being debt free, and not owing anyone, this includes buying a house in cash.
2. Saving is paramount. An absolute must in Asian society; and again, the culture (i.e. living with several family members, staying home and not spending money) supports this lifestyle. As one of my students said – they learn to always save just because, save before spending, and save at least 30-40% of salary.
3. Also, openly discussing money is not taboo.
Saving and investing may be a challenge abroad for some. What resources are available? What recommendations do you have to offer?
As for Saving and Investing abroad – there are a few key areas to consider about money management in general when living abroad:
1. Pre-Departure create a financial plan that includes all your home and host country financial obligations and leave room for emergencies, travel, unexpected expenses, income and savings generation, and your eventual financial repatriation. Most U.S. expats underestimate the challenges of managing two financial households in 2 different countries.
2. Find a reliable financial services provider in your home and host country. Most expats just want a free no fee bank account, which is usually fine when you are just traveling, but when you are living in a country, putting down roots and maintaining a bit of permanency, you should be focused on covering yourself in the event of a worst-case scenario. If you have an international emergency, how are you going to gain access to your money quickly. It doesn’t matter if it is a traditional bank, credit union, digital bank, or mobile app –as long as it can meet all your international financial needs –salary and expense delivery, remote deposit capabilities, foreign exchange, money transfer, payments, and great customer service it is a viable option.
Due to U.S, regulations, some foreign financial institutions are refusing to open accounts for U.S. citizens, and U.S. citizens are finding it hard to open U.S. bank accounts while they are abroad or when they return. Some popular Banking resources are: Chase International Banking, Citibank Global Executive Banking, HSBC Expat Banking, State Department Federal Credit Union, Zenbanx, Monese for Banking. TransferWise, Wordremit, and Revolut are helpful resources for Foreign Exchange and moving money. PayPal, Splitwise, M-Pesa, WeChat Wallet, and Alipay work for Payments.
3. Taxes – U.S. citizens are taxed on worldwide income, and except in certain instances must file a U.S. tax return. Also, FATCA and FBAR ae additional important tax filing requirements if you have foreign assets. Now there is also the Passport revocation law which allows the State Department to revoke your passport if you owe more than $50,000 in taxes. You may also have to file a State tax return depending on which state you call home. Also, don’t forget about host country tax obligations.
4. Investments – stay away from “Financial Advisors” in foreign countries that often target Expats. Due to U.S. tax regulations, most investments held in overseas institutions are subject to intensive reporting, especially “pooled investments” which usually includes mutual funds, insurance products and non-U.S. pension plans, and may not be tax advantageous. As a result of these U.S, regulations, many U.S. investment firms are turning away U.S. citizens and closing the accounts of U.S. citizens living overseas. If you are an active investor and would like to continue investing while living overseas, it is best to seek the guidance of an investment professional who works with U.S. Expats like Thun Financial Advisors or Creveling Wealth Management and stick to investing in ETFs and individual stocks and bonds.
5. Health Insurance – this is a non-negotiable. You need health insurance in your home and host country and some countries are now requiring proof of health insurance before entering the country. Most plans under the U.S. Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) do not provide international coverage except in case of emergencies. Ensure your coverage also includes repatriation of remains and medical evacuation. Some popular providers are World Nomads, Allianz Travel Insurance, Medjet Assist and Global Rescue.
6. Credit –Your credit score does not travel with you and currently there is no global credit score, so getting credit in a foreign country is a challenge. Also, foreign credit cards are not reported to U.S. creditors. If you don’t use your U.S. credit cards, you may return to the U.S, and find that your credit report has turned into a “thin file” due to lack of activity and your credit score has taken a hit. Make sure you obtain your free credit report annually using www.annualcreditreport.com. If you want to avoid fees associated with using your credit card overseas call your current bank and see if they offer a credit card with no international transaction fees, or check NerdWallet.com or creditcards.com. Also, note that in many countries like the Middle East, not repaying your debts can land you in jail and many countries are now tying debt repayment to immigration.
What advice would you give a person considering owning/operating a business abroad?
Research, Research. Work for a local company in the type of business you are interested in owning/operating. Speak to expat entrepreneurs in the country who have succeeded and failed. Know the laws and of course you can never have enough resources – not just money but also a network you can tap into. 2/3 of the countries in the world still do business based on relationships.
What three things you would advise anyone considering moving abroad?
- Have an open mind. It’s not supposed to be like home. That’s the point. Be open to broadening your horizons and doing things you haven’t done before.
- Always have a Plan B. Sometimes that is Bye-Bye. Don’t be afraid to pivot if you realize something is not for you and you are unhappy.
- Make sure you allot time and resources for taking care of your health – mental, physical, and emotional. Living overseas you are assaulted daily with foreign food, foreign language, different and new work and living environments. It can all wear you down and take a toll on your mind and body.
What continuing education opportunities are there for expats where you reside?
In China, there are several. Especially in Shanghai, the schools are quickly becoming top tier. It was great to see lots of people from all over the world coming to study at the local universities. Many of my local executive students had studied at CEIBS, and many US universities like NYU have opened local campuses.
What are your thoughts of the current political climate?
As a Globalist, I am trying to remain positive. However, it’s unfortunate to see so many people afraid of that very word – Globalization. Which is inevitable. We all need to learn to co-exist. I am concerned about the current changes regarding travel and immigration, unfortunately I think we will see a domino effect with some restrictions from other countries, which is unfortunate.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned abroad?
That people everywhere just want the same simple things in life – A decent wage, food, shelter, and access to a better life, especially for the generations that will come after them.
For more information about Lisa, reach out to her at the below social media sites. Tell her GR sent you!