International Business For Fun and Profit

““If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.””  Henry David Thoreau

You develop your business in the good old USA. Everything is going well. You are profitable and the business is growing.

But you aren’’t satisfied. You have this old fantasy about going overseas. You imagine yourself in exotic lands, staying in luxury hotels, meeting fascinating people. “Maybe I could do a little business overseas,” you think.

“Watch out,” the experts tell you. “The world is a scary place. Every culture has its hidden rules. Make the wrong gesture, and all your well-made plans will go kaput.”

ETR’s advice?

Listen to those critics – then ignore them. If it works in America, it will probably work overseas. Adjustments will be necessary, but fewer than you might think.

Picture This . . .

You’’re a consultant with ties to the publishing and direct-marketing industries. You have access to a database of more than 400,000 investors who are interested in international real estate.

You want to expand your business overseas, so you throw a dart on the map and take yourself to Panama City. You are amazed at how big and beautiful all the buildings are. This is not the third-world capital you imagined. Your hotel, the International Miramar, soars 36 stories above the bay. For $59, you have a two-bedroom suite on the 39th floor. The rooms are elegant. The bathroom is marble. A terry-cloth robe hangs on the door. And you have a panoramic view of the bay.

The next day, you have a meeting with GR, an expatriate living in a free zone adjacent to the canal. GR spends his days managing a website (, which features streams of information about traveling to, living in, investing in, and escaping to foreign destinations.

GR invites you to sit on his porch and smoke an Arturo Fuentes Opus One, a cigar as good as it is rare. Leaning backward, you look down onto the golf courses (the only remaining active vestige of the American military base that was there during the canal days) and talk about everything from Descartes to the drug money that built Panama City.

You create the outline of a deal that might be worth fifty grand or five million. It’’s almost good not to know.

And It Gets Better And Better.

The next day, you fly to David and travel to the shore. There, a local family has turned its beachfront rice plantation into a five-star resort. You make a deal with them that will bring you profits and –as “glicken” a few prime lots for yourself.

Next, you are in the mountain village of Bouquette, where you meet TS, an American inventor who – like you – got bit by the offshore bug and has now located his business to Central America. He has a high-tech factory in Costa Rica that employs more than 200 people, a beautiful family, and a mountain valley of his own that is as remote and beautiful as Gulls Gulch.

He has opened a coffee shop, two restaurants, and a museum for the pre-Columbian artifacts he is digging up on his property. You tour the valley on horseback (riding Spanish stallions from his stable), and he tells you of his vision. He is reserving that ridge for single-family estates, those flat areas beside the stream for condominium apartments, those hills for little ranches, and that bluff for a health center and general store.

He is sponsoring a paint-your-store contest in town for the shopkeepers. It’’s costing him paint plus $800 in prizes. The idea? In two weeks, the entire town will be colorful and freshly painted – and that will give his prospective buyers a very good feeling about investing in this bucolic corner of the world.

That night, you are the guest of honor at a reception held in one of his restaurants. You meet some of the wealthiest families in Panama, including plantation owners and luxury-car franchisers. They talk about friends of theirs whose names you have read about in the newspaper. “Noriega was such a nice boy,” one nice-looking lady tells you, “but I couldn’’t get him to stop pestering me. He was always asking me for dates. I don’’t know what happened to him after he took office. He wasn’’t the same person I knew.”

The next morning, the sun is bright on the valley. The coffee plants that cover the hills are so green you can’’t believe they are crops. You have coffee with TS and come to terms on several interesting deals. He volunteers to house your staff free in his headquarters. He is happy to invest alongside you in the beach project. He seems to like you. You like him. Life is good. Everything is possible.

What do you do now? What will you do when you develop your retirement business? If you like the idea of having an overseas office, there’’s a good chance you can get one.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]