Archive for the ‘money’ Tag

Colombia’s New Hot Market: Barranquilla   2 comments

They call it creating a shared vision. From my experience organizational culture, personal biases, individual and organizational preparation and political motivations affect leadership’s ability to bring about change. The pace at which the world is moving these days has many businesses, organizations and governments dealing with how to manage and lead change. The attention given to strengthening leader’s abilities to motivate followers, guide organizations and systems is well deserved. Yet, in my experience too little is dedicated to connecting the people responsible for implementing changes to the success of making change happen. From Kotter to Drucker to Greenleaf and many more, much of the research on, and theories of, leading change focuses on leaders. I have wondered if the reason change theories and conversations are focused more on leadership is our culture’s inherent belief in, and value for, paternalism. Something the United States has in common with Latin America.

Colombia’s leadership has a vision for a country that will be the gateway to South America in commerce culture. Hundreds of billions of pesos (Colombian currency) and hundreds of millions of dollars (yes the United States is an active participant) are being spent to make this vision a reality. Airport renovations (Bogota); regional airports replacing smaller ones (Manizales/Pereira and Cartagena/Barranquilla/Santa Marta); new hotels (parts of Cartagena is starting to resemble Miami’s South Beach and the region’s most prominent hotel chain, Estellar, has built or will build seven new properties in the country); and scores of new roadways, bridges and homes are all making Colombia an investor’s paradise.

Barranquilla seems to be one of the cities at the forefront of this face lift. This coastal city, lying between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with seeming unlimited property for development, is undergoing one of the most massive make-overs that I have seen. Ocean view lots can be had for $20,000 to $40,000 with all services available. Nice apartments, condos and houses can be purchased for as little as $40,000, depending on where a person wants to live and the amount of space they require. Certainly, if a person wants to pay $200,000 or more for a top floor ocean or river view apartment/condo they can. And $250,000 or more can get a person a 3000 square foot house, with a pool.

Just in the northern part of the city more than thirty construction projects are happening. Large apartment buildings; housing tracks; new office buildings and a new hotel; and smaller apartment projects all can be counted within a three kilometer area. The growth, and amount of money being spent, is astounding to me. One can only imagine the services that will be/are needed. There are too few public laundries. Restaurants (folks here love to eat out) arealways in demand. As the population becomes more international (and it will) there will be more of a need for different types of cuisine. Clothes, electronics and other goods can be expensive here (especially if you buy them in the malls). But with the October (2011) signing of the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement the doors will open wide for cheaper US goods and products to appear on the shelves of Colombian stores. With thousands of new housing opportunities coming available one can only imagine the opportunities.

Now, here is the rub. At least to me! With all of the private investment the public dollars seem to follow slowly. And what seems to follow even more slowly are the cultural habits. I was thinking about buying property in Barranquilla. In my conversation with an attorney her rate quote surprised me. I needed someone to do a property valuation, contract review and be present at contract signing. I was told the fee for these services would be 2,500,000 pesos (about $1300). I laughed, and said I do not want to pay gringo prices, meaning they jack up the cost of things because they think you got money. So the fee was reduced to 2,000,000 pesos (a little over $1000). I later got quotes of 1,000,000 pesos (a little over $500) for the same work. The local drug store quoted me a price 50% higher than what I knew the prescription cost. After telling the guy what my doctor told me the price was, he lowered it. In the United States, we are used to prices for most services and goods being fairly the same. You may pay for a firm’s prestige but the work being done will also likely be different. We are used to being lured into buying things by promises of getting the lowest price available. Here, one has to get used to being charged for services according to what people think they can get. You negotiate taxi fares here before they take you someplace. To ask the price afterwards can lead to getting raked over the coals.

In this growing modern metropolitan area, take a walk down sidewalks and you will find uncovered holes. Some with four to six feet drops to what look like sewers or utilities. Homeowners are responsible for their property to the street. They can do what they want. Meaning sidewalks are uneven. Most Barranquilla streets have no way for managing the sometimes heavy rains. Arroyos, as they are called, means the water runs in the streets like a West Virginia river rapid; stopping traffic, causing accidents and making getting around horrible. Beautifully developed parks can be ill kept. And despite a city ordinance against them, horse carts on busy streets are a common sight.

But what is perhaps most to the contrary of the vision for Barranquilla are the habits of some of the people. Leaving the new PriceSmart, on a gorgeously designed newly constructed tree-lined thoroughfare, I walked past a family who had no concern for anything other than throwing their food containers out of their fashionable SUV to the ground. The next day, walking to the mall, I was surprised to see a young guy peeing against a wire fence on a busy street at about 5:30 p.m. It is no stretch to say that there are bad habits here. In fact, there can be little connection between the beauty of this coastal city and people’s sense of their responsibility to care for it. It is also a city where people remain concerned about their personal safety. While shooting some of the photos for this post I was warned by some youths that I was being watched by a couple of guys on motor cycles with intentions to rob me. Fearing being followed, their insistence caused me to take a taxi home. This was at 5:00 p.m. next to a very busy mall.

There is little that will stop Barranquilla from continuing to become a thriving international city in a gorgeous part of a gorgeous country. To live in Barranquilla now means coping with the growing pains of a culture whose habits are slow to change. The person who moves here now will simply have to suffer through a work in progress. Having the heart to do that will require faith, follow-ship and the ability to take a journey that neither the literature nor the systems available are prepared to help one figure out easily. My belief though is that the person who moves to Barranquilla now will be riding a wave of development that will ultimately yield lifestyle and financial rewards.

Posted December 21, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Why are so many baby boomers retiring to Central America?   3 comments

The following article, written by Tim Rogers, is republished from the TicoTimes.net (February 25,2011).  Though Colombia and other South American countries are mentioned in passing, they too offer great opportunities for retirees.   Actually the distance from the United States to Colombia’s coast, as well as cities like Medellin, are about the same as to Costa Rica and Panama.  I found the article a bit fluffy in places, informative and interesting.  Let me know what you think.  (The photo on the right shows the Cartagena skyline.)

PANAMA CITY – Bill Dorgan, a former management consultant with a bit of a wandering soul, gave up on his first attempt at retirement in Fort Lauderdale to move to Panama to seek new adventure.  And adventure he found.  “I drove out to Lake Gatun to visit the Embera Indians,” Dorgan recalls with a flicker in his eye. “They picked me up in a dugout canoe and took me across the lake to spend the day in their community, where I danced with bare-chested women. That was an adventure!”

Back in the capital city, Dorgan lives a more urbane lifestyle with his partner Raymond in a spacious and elegantly remodeled 12th-floor apartment overlooking the shimmering glass towers of Panama City’s oceanfront banking district.  Here he has found more modest adventure in daily tasks such as learning to speak Spanish, opening a bank account in a foreign country, making new friends and buying and remodeling an apartment.  Dorgan, like thousands of other North American retirees from his generation, has taken moving south for retirement to new latitudes.

A 2007 survey by New Global Initiatives, in conjunction with the Zogby International, found that more than 3 million U.S. citizens have decided to relocate outside of the United States, and another 17 million were considering making the move. The survey showed that Central America ranked second behind Europe among 55 to 69 year-olds who plan to retire abroad.

That was before the financial crisis hit like a tsunami at the end of the decade, wiping out millions of retirement funds and stock portfolios. Now Central America’s relatively low costs, adjusted property prices and promising economic recovery makes it an even more attractive destination for folks who need to make their retirement dollars stretch further than previously planned.  And within Central America, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have positioned themselves as the top three picks for retirement – each with its own unique set of pros and cons.

With 73 million U.S. baby boomers set to retire over the next 10 years, this region’s broad offering has something for almost everyone.  Ryan Piercy, head of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), says Central America is sitting pretty when it comes to attracting the baby boomers, whose retirement wave officially started in 2011.  “Central America and Latin America are going to receive at least 250,000 American retirees over the next 15 years. And of all the options in the region, the majority, in my opinion, will go to Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” Piercy told The Nica Times in an interview in his office in downtown San José, Costa Rica.

Piercy says that Mexico, once considered the preferred Latin American retirement destination for North Americans, has become too dangerous with all the drug violence – a similar plague afflicting Guatemala and, more recently, Honduras.  And while several South American options such as Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have become attractive, they are half a world away from the U.S. Cuba remains a Caribbean wildcard, but the baby boomer generation might have already come and gone by the time the communist island opens fully.

In other parts of the world, Europe has become too expensive for many bargain hunters, and places such as the Philippines and Thailand, with their different time zones and cultural differences, might be “too foreign” for many U.S. retirees.

While (thankfully) not all baby boomers seeking warming weather will settle on Central America, if even a small percentage come it will have an enormous impact on small countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.  “If we get 100,000 new retirees in a small country like this, it would be huge,” Piercy said, noting that Costa Rica, despite its advanced “gringoification,” only has somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 North American residents at the moment.

Positive Press

In a recent U.S. News and World Report article on the “World’s Top Retirement Havens for 2011,” Nicaragua is now ranked the No. 1 foreign destination in the world in the “super affordable category,” while Panama is ranked No. 1 in the “moderately priced” category.  “Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It’s a super cheap place to live,” writes magazine author Kathleen Peddicord, who notes that Nicaragua’s post-bubble property prices have reached “more realistic and negotiable” levels while cost of living has remained “seriously low.”

Javier Chamorro, executive director of investment promotion agency ProNicaragua, notes that Nicaragua’s recent reforms to its Retirement and Pensioners’ Law gives the country some of the most competitive incentives in the region. However, he stressed, more import than the government incentives are “the conditions that the country offers in terms of quality of life and cost of life.”  Nicaragua’s cost of living, culture, citizen security and affordable private health care in Managua give the country a competitive edge, Chamorro said.

Further to the south, Panama is also on the rise. Literally.  “Panama City,” Peddicord writes, “has the best infrastructure in all of Central America, but it no longer qualifies as super-cheap.”  First-world glimmer, however, can also be deceiving.  Relocation expert Sandra Snyder, author of the retirement guide “Living in Panama,” describes her adoptive country as a “third-world country with a first-world façade.”  It’s a city with all the modern conveniences of a U.S. city, but without proper infrastructure, no urban planning and no zoning, she says.

From her balcony overlooking Panama Bay, Snyder surveys the skyline of metallic skeletons of new buildings under construction across the city, reaching upwards towards the sky like giant metallic plants competing for sun.  “If you look out the back window of my apartment, there are just as many buildings under construction there,” she said remorsefully. “Someday they are going to wall off the entire city.”

That’s the way it feels to Brandon Clogston, of Omaha, Nebraska.  After renting an apartment for two years while carefully scouting the real estate market in search for the perfect ocean-view pad, Clogston finally took the plunge and bought a beautiful 17th floor apartment unit overlooking the bay. But no sooner had he moved in when he discovered that the vacant lot next to his building was slated for a new high-rise that would soon block his newly acquired ocean view.

For those who have a tropical fix but less patience for a third-world adventure in their golden years, Costa Rica continues to be a perennial favorite. With a resilient reputation as a safe, secure and democratic country, Costa Rica (with views like the one to the left common) has been luring foreign expats for decades longer than Nicaragua and Panama, and now has a foreign community with deep roots and a palpable presence.  While Costa Rica’s real estate prices and cost of living are now higher than many places in the U.S., the country continues to attract a certain segment that is willing to pay more for brand-name recognition and premium offering – especially in health care.

Retiring Abroad is Common

What was once considered a gypsy lifestyle of uprooting and moving from one country to another has become increasingly common among baby boomers seeking an “active retirement.”  Not everyone who moves to Central America is hiding from the law or trying to escape personal demons. Lots of otherwise normal and socially adjusted people are also making the move these days, removing some of the negative stigma that was once attached to relocating to a “banana republic.”

The U.S., with its expensive health care, slumping real-estate market, nine-to-five blur and constant terror-alertness, has become a less-fun place to live for many people. And with the advances of broadband Internet, many expats have come to realize that the rest of world is not as big and mysterious a place as they once thought.

With the click of a mouse, people in Maine can instantly read about retirement benefits in Panama, or compare real estate prices in Costa Rica. And even blogs, online communities and e-mail groups, as recklessly misinformed as they often are, can also offer an overwhelming variety of first-person narrative information from folks who have already made the move.  As the World Wide Web expands to parts of the world without roads and running water, it has also become less important where people are in the world, as long as they have a Skype and e-mail account. As it becomes more commonplace to stay in touch and communicate with family over the Internet, it’s become less important if you live 30 miles apart or 3,000 miles apart.  This is especially true now that grandparents are more computer literate, even if they still peck at the keyboard like it’s their first time seeing one.

Central America’s airline connectivity with the U.S. also makes it relatively easy for folks to head up north for the holidays, especially for people living in Costa Rica and Panama, both of which are regional airline hubs. Nicaragua offers fewer daily flights, but Managua’s Augusto Sandino International Airport is so remarkably efficient and easy that it makes up for it.

The airline connectivity also makes it easy for families to visit their grandparents in Central America. And for a 10-year-old kid, getting on an airplane to visit grandma and grandpa in their new and exotic jungle playground in Costa Rica is much cooler than getting in the car to go visit grandma and grandpa in their overly sterilized retirement community in Pittsburgh, where you’re not allowed to walk on the grass.

While Central America has its share of problems (anyone who uses the words “paradise” and “Central America” in the same sentence should be regarded with the same respect as e-mail spam), the entire world – if you haven’t noticed – has become a pretty dysfunctional place. With the future equally uncertain at virtually all latitudes, you may as well be somewhere that’s beautiful, tropical and friendly.  Then again, if you want to spend your retirement shoveling snow off your driveway, New England is lovely this time of year.  (The following photo of fishermen bringing in dinner, Cartagena, speaks for itself:-)

Posted November 16, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Three Questions That Will Determine: Will You Outlive Your Money?   Leave a comment

My friend Belle gave me a book entitled Younger Next Year, Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – until you are 80 and Beyond, by Crowley and Lodge. Resisting any suggestion by the gift that I am falling apart I accepted it and actually jumped right in to the read. As the title suggests, the book gives a glimpse of what it would take for a person to stave off what we typically refer to as aging. Actually they call it decaying – yuk! What I like is that they talk about the messages that we are conditioned to receive as humans on this planet. They propose that, because for the first time in our existence, we do not have to worry about dying prematurely (talking about the United States of America specifically).  Our sedentary lifestyles, overabundance and consumerism are leading to the rampant and rapid decay of our bodies. This means that the messages our muscles and brain are receiving are signaling that are actually communicating that there is no reason for them to be alert and active. These messages are advancing the aging process and our own mortality. They propose that we need to reprogram our bodies and mind to greater activity, which is a bit weird because this is exactly how I have felt for a while. Over the past five or six years I have felt that I was growing to be less alive, which is also weird because that is when I started coming to Latin America. Go figure! Perhaps the double-edged sword of privilege is on one hand unless we do something stupid – like run around with a loaded gun talking about how gansta we are; sleep with the neighbor’s wife, and get caught, or grow up in an impoverished neighborhood without the will/drive to leave, we pretty much have it made until we are in our 80’s or 90’s. The other side of privilege is that we may be killing ourselves with kindness, literally.

They say that everyone should plan for retirement. And they are probably right. It is just that my life has never occurred in a straight line. I have smelled the roses along the way. Lots of roses! For many reasons, including getting a master’s and doctorate degree, I did not get serious about a career or making retirement contributions until I was in my mid-thirties. I mean, I have always monitored my portfolio, making moves when I thought the market was either favorable or tanking. But I had no idea of what the results of my novice adventures would yield. Talking with my retirement advisor the other day was like opening a surprise package. We figured out that if I play my cards right then I can live the rest of my life with no worry about food, shelter and clothing. I could go out to dinner every now and then. And best of all I could take trips. WOW!!! You mean it. I mean, by no stretch of the imagination am I talking a six figure lifestyle. But any work I decide to take will add to my quality of life, not sustain it. A huge difference! And if I am not stupid, like driving 125 mph on a North Carolina highway, I could live well into my 80’s, 90’s or beyond. So, I have been asking myself lots of questions. Again, I probably should have done this long ago. But like I said, I ain’t that kind of guy.

First question, how do you want to live? Meaning what do you want your days, and nights, to be like? I have always wanted to cause organizations to be more responsive to human needs. This has not changed about me. In truth because I have spent too many years in places where group think and ego needs perpetuate disingenuous systems, I want even more to be a positive force in the lives of others. As it turns out Crowley and Lodge agree with me. They say having a purpose, an investment of one’s life force – my words, not theirs – is life-sustaining because a healthy purpose gives one more drive to live. I never saw myself playing golf or dominoes to pass the time away. That version of retirement was never my dream. It’s funny; I was looking forward to getting up late. I have always likes sleep. But now, when I get up past 7:30 a.m., I feel guilty. Bringing my book, High School Is Not Enough: Helping Students Take The Next Step In Their Lives, to publication is a priority. Afterwards I want to focus on a project that connects my passion for health and wellness to serving people. I also want my priorities to be aligned closer to family and increasing another’s opportunity for success. The biggest hurdle to this realization is that I am single. I freely admit that the absence of family, especially children or grandchildren, in my life is a big hole which my quest to fill has caused me a lot of pain. Unfortunately, baby’s mamma drama, put my relationship with my son in a place where he does not wish to talk with me.  I have also wanted to live outside of the United States.  When I said this to my friends, about five years ago, they laughed.  My decision to live in Latin America has been time coming since then.  These are  cultures that value family above most everything else.   And both Costa Rica and Colombia are countries where health and wellness a valued.  For me, being in these places is no accident.  But I have always been a person, for better and worse, to pursue my dreams.

Second question, what is important to you? Meaning, who are you and what values do you have that must be sustained. Living tranquilly is of utmost importance to me. My goal is to stop taking the blood pressure medication that my doctor said I needed. I have started taking a class that combines yoga and Chi Kung. The work life balance in these countries emphasizes health and wellness. Values I have had for a long time but could not achieve. Even though I like my space, my friendships are essential to my soul. When I started thinking about living outside of the country being close to the continental United States was important to me. Both Costa Rica and Colombia puts me less than three hours from Miami; five from Atlanta; about six to D.C. and just a little more to NYC.. Getting to my friends in Pittsburgh and my sisters in West Virginia is more of a hassle. Many of my friends are either in retirement mode or have the ability to travel which makes it easier to see them. I have too long denied myself opportunities to be fully creative and passionate about what I am doing with me time. Writing has given me an outlet for that part of me. Though it is not complete in its giving to me, it does allow me to wrestle with things, emotions and challenges. Being in a Latin culture allows me great opportunities to be passionate. I find the cultures vibrant and soul touching. Age has not the same consideration nor serves as the line of demarcation it does in the United States. There are few “old folks” homes, if any. You live with your family or close by them.  You hang out with family and friends.  Three generations were at the party (photo) my friend Mayra and her family had in their home.    That they invite me, and my friends, to join them is a blessing to me.  You are  as old as you feel in Latin America.  You dance until you cannot dance anymore.  I love that!  It is not just about life-sustaining, it is about living your life. I think both Crowley and Lodge would go along with that philosophy.

Third question, what life can you afford? I never really learned personal finance management. I grew-up poor. As my sister says, our idea of budgeting was when you had money you spent it. Since I came late to retirement planning being in a place that enables me to add income to my lifestyle, without working 12 to 14 hours a day, as I have, is really important to me. Costa Rica is saturated by North Americans and other foreigners who have put the level of living way past what many native Costa Ricans can afford. A two bedroom apartment in a nice upscale area in Costa Rica’s central valley, where the capital city of San Jose is located, comparable to a $600/month apartment in Barranquilla, can go from $1200 and up a month. You can buy a decent two to three bedroom house or apartment in Barranquilla for about $80,000 to $150,000 in a middle class neighborhood. In San Jose, Costa Rica that same house of apartment would cost $200,000 to $400,000 depending on the neighborhood. In Barranquilla you can hire a taxi for about $7 an hour to drive you around. In Costa Rica the price is more like $20/hr. Food costs are comparable in both places. I can get away with spending about $300/month for one. Because Barranquilla is markedly hotter than Costa Rica’s central valley, and I use the A/C a lot, my household costs can be about $300/month, including basic cable. In San Jose the cost would be about half that or $150/month, including basic cable. It is my entertainment expenses that are high. Excluding travel I can spend about $500/month just hanging out. An income of between $20,000 and $25,000/yr. would do me well in Barranquilla. In San Jose, I think I would need more like $30,000 to $35,000. In addition to a lower cost of living, many people describe Colombia as an emerging market. My analysis indicates that they are right, especially Barranquilla and the surrounding area where there are significant opportunities for business development and property investment.

Yes, I am getting older. Thankfully, I have never felt like I am decaying. A friend told me the other day that I looked like I was getting younger. I think it was my new glasses. But perhaps Crowley and Lodge are right. I had just returned from Costa Rica having had a ball hanging out with people I love; dancing with people I had just met; and sharing moments of caring with people who I hardly knew. I have never really let my age define who I am. The messages that I am sending to my body is that say there is more to come: get ready; stay in shape; we are making life happen in places where life happens every day. I just hope I have enough money to last until I run out of energy. Something tells me, and hopefully, my bank account needs to be in it for the long haul

Posted November 9, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Baby Boomers Redefining Retirement   1 comment

Last year I met a guy in one of my favorite hotel bars in San Jose, Costa Rica. The year before he had retired to Costa Rica. A little older than me, perhaps in his mid 60’s he and his wife had spent a good part of their later work years saving and planning their dream retirement, a golf course community in beautiful Costa Rica was the way they decided that they would spend their years after a life of work and raising their family. As I listened to his story I wandered why he sounded so sad. And what was he doing in San Jose, a about a three hour drive from his home. And then he said it. The most horrible thing, his wife had died. And he was alone in this retirement community that was their dream. Now he was faced with some decisions. Some very difficult decisions!

Costa Rica and Panama, principally in Latin America, have spent millions and developed great incentives for people to move there in their retirement. Both countries have stable governments and economies. The dollar is accepted in both countries. In Panama retirees pay no tax on foreign income earned. Foreigners can buy property in both countries with the same rights and protections as citizens. Panama has a retirement incentive program. Both countries offer access to their world class health care and in both countries English is spoken widely. Panama offers exemptions from import duties, construction materials and equipment, income, real estate taxes, etc. Both countries offer great telecommunications systems with access to the internet readily available.

I am a baby boomer. In fact, I will turn 61 this Saturday, July 30, the day I leave for Cartagena and then on to Barranquilla to find an apartment. It is estimated that a baby boomer, a person born between 1946 and 1964, turns 60 every eight seconds in the United States. With the potential of 70 to 80 baby boomer retirees over the next decade many other countries, like Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay also have seen that attracting some of these potential retirees may be great for them and their economies. In February, 2011, the Tico Times published an article, entitled “Why are so many baby boomers retiring in Central America?” In the article Ryan Piercy, head of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), stated “Central America and Latin America are going to receive at least 250,000 American retirees over the next 15 years. And of all the options in the region, the majority, in my opinion, will go to Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.”

With the United States Congress still undecided about the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, It is probably not coincidental that on July 20, 2011 USA TODAY carrier a twenty page supplement on Colombia. No one should underestimate the country’s interest in strengthening economic ties with the United States. The insert goes to great links to move Colombia to the forefront of the minds of north American’s as a safe, stable, thriving economy ready to receive visitors and residents from all over the world. And I for one (yes, shameless self-interest) am hoping that they like other Latin and South American countries catch the fever and begin to offer incentive for retirees to more there. Already two of their banks, Banco de Bogota and BanColombia, are able to receive social security checks by direct deposit.

What is true for me is also true for many of my fellow baby boomer. We are not the buy a piece of property on the golf course types. Bridge every Thursday, a planned movie once a week, dinner at the club house, and endless golf – on the same course – is not appealing. A generation or more certainly thought so. The economic downturn notwithstanding, many of us still have more discretionary money after 60 than the generation before us. But we have no intention of not working or doing something that either makes money or contributes to the greater good. We want our lives to continue to be healthy. We want diversity. We want to be active. We want to learn and explore.

My own goals are to buy some property to renovation and rent. I will tutor one or two students in subjects they are having difficulty with, for free. I plan to conduct several tours a year with a focus on linking African Americans to the cultures of both Costa Rica and Colombia. I may teach some. And of course, I will write and travel. So maybe it is not retirement that I am doing. Maybe I am just changing my life. Perhaps we should coin a new term for baby boomers. We baby boomers are not retiring. We are in “re-creation”.

Posted July 28, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Does Your Bank Support Your International travel?   2 comments

Like many people, I am learning, I do not travel with wads of cash bulging out of my pockets. And like many people, I have not brought a traveler’s check in eons. I travel with my bank card and my American Express card. I use ATM’s, regardless of where I travel. I am addicted to them. I try to never get more than $200 and carry no more than $50, leaving the rest in my hotel room safe or hidden someplace in my apartment. This leads to the crux of this story; how does your bank support your travel or your living outside of your home country?

On my most recent trip to Costa Rica, I lost my ATM card. You can imagine with what I have just said about my banking habits how disastrous that was for me. I had four days left and forty dollars in my pocket. After calling Bank of America to cancel my card, I engaged in a series of discussions with the bank’s customer service agents that led to the following questions that I hope will help you should you travel abroad and need your bank.

Do you need to tell your bank that you are out of the country before leaving? I learned, the hard way, that the answer to this question for me is yes. I once had my ATM/bank card frozen because Bank of America did not know that I was using the card outside of the country. Fortunately, I had some cash (I never let myself travel without my emergency $100 bill) so the awkward situation was avoided. By the way, I never use my bank card to pay a bill. I am too afraid of someone copying my info and accessing my checking account. I only use it at an ATM. I charge with AMEX, who has the best costumer protection service in the universe as far as I am concerned. Anyway, I learned from that situation to let them know if I am going out of the country and using ATMs.

How is your bank at problem solving when you are out of the country? If you do not have SKYPE or some other low cost international telephone service; or your bank does not have a toll free number or an international number or accept collect calls; it could cost a small fortune to work your way through the myriad of people and offices to revolve your problem. When I lost my bank card, I talked to five people. Or was it seven? The time it took was amazing, not to mention the fact that the information I eventually received was wrong. Which led to me tweeting the following, “Lost debit card in foreign country. Bank of America can’t give access to my money w/o taking app. for a 19% interest rate cash advance. Loco!” Little did I know, Bank of America representatives, picked up the message and tweeted me back. They asked how they could help. I was impressed. So the question to be asked is; how would you communicate with your bank if something happened and you were in a foreign country? The Bank of America representative that intervened in my situation encouraged me to tweet whatever problems I had. I guess big brother is watching! I was glad.

If you lost your card how long would it take to get a replacement? Bank of America customer services reps assured me, rushed with FedEx, that I would have a replacement card delivered to my hotel in Costa Rica in four days. That was wrong. They quoted me the time it takes to have a card delivered within the United States. International, it is generally six days. It would have been great to have known this up-front. Then I could have planned my spending better. Also, with Bank of America, the people that issue the cards are a contractor. They do as they are told. This is important to know because they are useless in problem solving and providing information. After asking, their customer service representative in replacement card services assured me that my pin number was not being changed. Wrong! It was changed. They send the new password within a few days of sending out the card. Meaning that if the new card took six days to get to me the password would take at least another two days. I would be in the States when it arrived. Meaning getting the replacement card by FedEx in a rush was basically useless.

Does your bank provide you with emergency access to your cash? I learned that Bank of America does not. They best they can do is give their customers access to a cash advance on their credit card, fortunately I have one, at 19% interest starting on the date of the advance. And they must update your credit information first before even considering giving the cash advance.

What are the fees for using ATMs out of country? First you have to know the rate of exchange that your bank is giving to know if their exchange rates are competitive with that of the local bank. This will tell you how much your bank is charging you for selling you the local currency. Bank of America also charges, outside of their Global ATM Alliance (consisting of seven countries/banks), an International Transaction Fee. This fee is assessed when I use my check card for purchases in foreign currency or in US dollars with a foreign merchant. This fee is also assessed when I use my check card to get foreign currency from an ATM. The International Transaction Fee is a percentage of the U.S. dollar amount of each purchase or ATM withdrawal. Additionally, they charge an ATM usage fee. This fee is charged for using an ATM without a Bank of America’s logo for withdrawals, transfers, or balance inquiries. And then there are also the fees I am being charged by the local ATM bank/operator or network.

As you can see I am paying for the convenience of not carrying a lot of cash.  But for me the peace of mind is well worth it, as is the convenience. The keys are: knowing upfront what my bank can do; factoring the costs for using ATM’s into my budget; and being prepared when problems arise.

Posted June 28, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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