On July 4, 1997, David Jessup* woke up in Costa Rica — a U.S.
citizen, but no longer a U.S. resident. Why did he go? For the same
reason millions came to America in the first place — to find freedom.
Last week he talked about how
he came to leave. This week he tells, among other things, what it
was like adjusting to his newfound home.
Doug Porter mentions in his article about offshore living, “Tax Freedom
Now!” that mail, phone and other things we take for granted
can cause unexpected problems for a new expatriate. What was the biggest
problem of this sort that you encountered?
Ordinary paper mail took the longest to get to work well. Soon it
won’t be important at all.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
When you visit a foreign land, you do it because it’s different. If
you take the same attitude when you’re there long term, the cultural
adjustments aren’t a big deal.
The biggest issue may have been the language barrier. I didn’t speak
more than a couple of dozen words of Spanish. In places with large
American expatriate communities, so many people speak English it’s more
like a speed bump.
In Costa Rica there’s also a lack of concern for private property.
Squatters have a lot of official government support there, and there’s
more trash on the roadsides than the U.S. has had since the 1960s.
What were the two or three greatest benefits in making the
The strongest benefits were knowing that we were living our dreams,
and the loss of fear that my freedom was at serious risk specifically
because I was willing to take action to be free.
You mention using offshore banks. But in my research on the Net
I’ve found that offshore banks tend to require initial deposits of
$250,000 or more. Have I just stumbled upon the high-rollers’ banks, or
is this typical? Ditto with ATM cards — $50,000 or more in deposits
seems a common requirement! Have you found banks that’ll do this for a
There are very good banks that will accept initial account balances
well under $10,000. Look in the Caribbean, the Baltics, and Singapore.
You can find them all the way down to an initial deposit of $1000 for
your main account and $1500 for your secured Visa card.
Some of these banks almost hide. One of the best ones asks that their
information not be put on the Internet. They believe the most visible
offshore resources come under the most pressure.
One fairly recent change in the offshore world: Banks in the British
Commonwealth are no
longer very private. And Switzerland hasn’t been a good choice, in
my opinion, for many years.
If your income is not much above average and you don’t care about
privacy, you can just use U.S. banks. The IRS will say you have to pay
some taxes, but not much.
(Note: The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that taxes
its citizens while they’re living abroad. However, there’s a $72,000
threshold, below which the IRS doesn’t demand a share of your
What — if anything — do you say to people who criticize you for
“abandoning” the U.S.?
It almost never comes up. But the choice is simple.
You can fight for freedom, or live free.
I believe people have a right to choose their own way of life. Most
Americans have made their choice. As John Perry Barlow says, they
are “clamoring for shorter chains and smaller cages.”
I’m not willing to settle for familiar chains.
When you return to the U.S. (if you ever do), what strikes you as
the greatest contrast between your present life and your past life?
I haven’t been back. Let’s see, I can go where people screech that
they are free while eagerly building a police state, or enjoy a tropical
paradise with more freedom than I dreamed of. …
Anything else you want to add that might help potential ?migr?s
know what to expect in a new homeland?
The biggest surprise benefit is the sense of perspective you get
about the U.S. after just a few months away. The posturing of
politicians there seems even sillier, since it is far less likely to
affect you. You think much less about the old country, and much more
about the world.
There is a small downside: When you leave, you’ll lose credibility
with people who stay behind and still believe the propaganda. That seems
to be a major reason China lets some dissidents go.
After a while you realize the US isn’t the best or the worst place in
the world to live. It’s just somewhere in the middle of the pack, and
moving in the wrong direction. The U.S. seems worse to many of us who
grew up there because we were taught to expect much more than that
country now delivers. It’s not a very free place today, except
economically. Even in that area it’s not the best choice.
Don’t choose another country in hopes it will protect your liberty.
They can take freedom, but never give it. Choose a country by how little
they damage liberty.
Or choose no country at all.
*Pseudonym to protect privacy
Note: The linked article on the lack of privacy in British
Commonwealth banks is from the March 20, 1999 Economist. The link
may become obsolete when a new issue of the magazine goes online, but
the article should then be available in the magazine’s archives.
Otherwise check a back issue of the (gasp!) paper version of The