Carrie McKeegan grew up in New York, went to graduate school in Barcelona and then moved to London for her career. When she and her husband started thinking about having their first child they realized their lives of working 10 to 12 hour days and traveling on the weekends would not be as feasible with a kiddo. Instead of foregoing travel until their family was older they decided to create a business and a life that would allow them to work and live from wherever they wanted. They picked a business regarding something they had always personally struggled with – expat taxes.
Today their business, which they have run from Bali, Rio, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, is a wild success AND they have added another member to their family.
Here is a bit of their story.
After you decide to leave London and start a business doing taxes for expats, then what happened?
We went traveling through South America for a bit. We went to Rio and Uruguay. We did not know for sure if we would go back to London or not. We were trying to build a business that was viable enough to set down roots. I was on maternity leave at the time we were traveling. After a brief time back in London we decided to take the plunge since we were enjoying the business so much and it was doing so well and then we decided to go to Bali.
How was traveling through Rio and Uruguay with a newborn baby?
We enjoyed traveling with our son, but there are definitely more logistical challenges than traveling without kids. We usually travel really light, but with kids, you need quite a bit more stuff. We also end up bringing pretty much everything we need with us rather than trying to buy things on the road, since some baby products are much more difficult to find outside of the US or UK.
How do visas work with living in Bali?
We had a business visa which allowed us to pursue business opportunities within Bali if we chose. We did not end up choosing anything in Bali, but we did have a visa to do so if we chose. We had to leave Indonesia every 90 days with our visa. It was a relatively straight forward process.
What were the fees with a visa in Bali?
They were approximately 300 US dollars per person. The visas were expensive relative to the cost of that lifestyle.
How did you build your business?
My husband and I had done a MBA program in Barcelona. We have complimentary skill sets. He has a strong finance background, whereas my background is in marketing. When we set up the business, we managed it as if it were a big company. We put together a business plan and a launch plan and timelines. Neither of us have tax specific backgrounds so we hired accountants to work with us. It was very important to us that we had great accountants on our team.
What are the main marketing channels you use?
We have tried everything. What we find is the best way to bring in customers is to establish ourselves as experts and provide free content online to educate people on what their obligations are. What we find is that people then come to us when they need our services. We show people for free what we are doing and that our accountants are really high quality and easy to work with.
With that said, it sounds like SEO must be very important to your business, is that the case?
Yes. We write a lot on the subject of taxes, and that content needs to be easily “find-able” by search engines in order to reach our customers and potential customers.
Are there any SEO tactics that you find particularly helpful?
We believe in writing well researched, easy to understand articles, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself. I don’t believe there are any true shortcuts in SEO. It’s all about making the information you put out on the Internet useful and high quality.
What are the things that US expats don’t know about their taxes?
Oddly, the biggest one is that they have to pay their taxes. We get a lot of people that come to us absolutely panicked because they have lived out of the US and have not paid their taxes.
There are certain tax laws that actually benefit US expats, correct?
In the vast majority of the cases if you are paying taxes to another government you do not have to pay taxes in the US. If you are in the UAE or another country that does not tax people you have up to about 90,000 US dollars that you can earn without being taxed. There are some pretty good advantages to people who live outside of the US. In all cases, however, you have to file taxes, you just may not end up owing money.
What are the additional challenges you run up against in running a business with a location independent lifestyle?
It was a challenge figuring out how to manage people virtually at first, but over time that has become a really big advantage in that we can select the best and brightest from people all over the world.
One of the things you said in your email which I thought was most surprising is that you just had a baby in Argentina.
Yes my first son was born in London and my second son was born in Argentina.
What are the additional challenges of having kids involved with a location independent lifestyle?
I think the big thing is that people quickly filter places out based on quality of healthcare and schools. A lot of people go for homeschooling. Our two year old loves being around other kids, so going to a school environment is really good for him. When we were living in Bali and we decided to get pregnant for the second time we were just not in the right place for the kind of healthcare we wanted for a baby.
What are the costs of healthcare and schooling in a place like Argentina?
We have a healthcare insurance plan that covers us anywhere in the world except for the US and Canada. If we were actually to pay out for healthcare in Argentina it really inexpensive. I think having a baby here was 3000 to 4000 US dollars total and we did not have to pay for that as all of it was paid for by our insurance.
What health insurance company do you use?
We use Integra Global and I think it costs 5000 US dollars a year for all of us.
Do you have a plan for when the kids get older and need to be in a school?
We do not have a firm plan but we are cognizant that we will need to live in places for a few years at a time as the kids get older. The problem with this lifestyle is there are not a lot of parents doing it so there are not a lot of examples out there. It is kind of a learn as you go.
Do you have advice for parents who are thinking about doing this with their family?
A lot of people worry about traveling with their kids. Kids are pretty flexible and adaptable and if you are doing this with them all the time this becomes their version of normal. My son kind of goes into a place and makes friends. With kids you get to know the culture probably better than you would without them.
With all of the places you have lived do you have any sense as to which of these places would be the easiest place for a non-citizen to get a job?
Probably the UK would be the easiest. Bali, Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay would be challenging if you are not from those countries.
In the places you have lived which was the least expensive?
Bali was very inexpensive but probably not as inexpensive as you would think. If you want to have the same standard of living you have in the US you will pay a bit more. Eating out there is very reasonable. Brazil is the most expensive by far.
What is the cost of living in Brazil?
It is more expensive than say New York or London. A lot of it has to do with the currency conversion. I think in the coming years Brazil might become more affordable. Housing is expensive, eating out is expensive, but I think that this is a point in time thing and it will eventually be adjusted.
How did language work with all of these places?
In Indonesia a lot of people speak English so language was not a problem. In Argentina not a lot of people speak English so knowing Spanish is important. I grew up in Mexico City so I speak Spanish.
How does the visa process work in Argentina?
We have what is called a Certificado de Domicillo which technically means we are domiciled here, but we are on a visa that is a tourist visa so it is kind of a weird hybrid of the two. With a tourist visa and the Certificado de Domicillo we can rent a place for six months and buy a car.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking for more of a location independent lifestyle?
I think it is easier for someone who wants to start up a business and run it from wherever they are in the world than it is for someone who wants to try and find work wherever they go. But it kind of depends on what you want to do. One of the things that was important to us is that we did want to have a professional business and we did not want to have odd jobs here and there.
Is the expat tax service your only revenue stream?
It is our only revenue stream. We have looked at other businesses, but this has been so successful that we have not had the time to focus on other projects.
Do you have any idea what is next?
We are looking at Nicargua, going back to Brazil or Buenos Aires. It is a hard decision and it is impossible to try and figure out everything about a place before you go.