with Gregory Diehl
As most of my readers know, I’ve been living some variation of the “offshore” international lifestyle for the last ten years, since shortly after turning 18 and leaving my childhood home in San Diego to explore the planet. In addition to rapid travel and learning to work internationally, I started to plant strategic “flags” as I went, including common strategies like bank accounts, companies, residencies, and even multiple citizenships.
My sales background eventually put me in the position of working as a sales consultant for Andrew Henderson of Nomad Capitalist, which is one of the most popular offshore consultancies. The experience, which lasted more than a year in both remote and in-person positions, taught me an awful lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the offshore industry, including why it has the questionable reputation that it does. The less said about that experience, the better.
My point is, I’ve learned a lot both about the practical elements of living an international existence and how also this shady this industry can be.
In early 2016, I acquired my second passport after successfully proving my Armenian ancestry, which is no easy task in a country that had a genocide and mass emigration 100 years ago. It took a lot of research and documentation, but I was fortunate enough to have worked with highly competent Armenian legal council that made the questionable process much more manageable. I had no outside third-party help. I had to rely on my own judgment to assess the competence of the local legal council I hired. Out of 10 or so Armenian law firms in Yerevan I contacted, one seemed to be the clear winner. Most importantly, they seemed to understand that providing excellent service to me would be a valuable investment in their own reputation. That long-term view of things is essential for true professionalism.
How and Why I Hired Edmund John
I first met Edmund John (now going by Edmund Lowell for reasons I’ll leave it up to you to determine) at a digital nomad event in Chiang Mai, Thailand for members of an online community called the Dynamite Circle. At the time, I explained to him that as a result of the lifestyle I live and connections I have made, I am constantly being approached by people who need help figuring out how to internationalize their own lives. Edmund seemed friendly and knowledgeable, and we spoke several times at length about how we could possibly work together. I immediately felt comfortable enough with him to begin casually referring my friends and acquaintances to his company FlagTheory.com for help with their various incorporation and residency needs.
A short time later, I made the decision to return to my property in Ecuador and begin rooting my life in strategic parts of South America. After my recent success as a self-published author, Peru seemed like the ideal place to incorporate my new book publishing company, Identity Publications. I considered sourcing my own local legal council in Peru to complete this task, as I had done so earlier with my Armenian citizenship, but I remembered all the hours I had put into first finding the most trustworthy source and getting all my affairs in order. I knew it would be well worth whatever extra amount I might pay to have an experienced third party oversee the process for me. That way, I could just show up when I needed to, sign the right forms, pay my bill, and be on my way to incorporation and residency in Peru.
Of course, I turned to my friend Edmund John to take this burden off my shoulders. His price was quite reasonable as well: just $3,000 to oversee the process of incorporation and residency from start to finish. The quotes I had received from the Peruvian legal council I had reached out so far ranged from $2,000 to $3,000 anyway. I was eager to employ his services, and finally be able to recommend to others an honest and competent provider in an industry that is notoriously fraudulent.
I bought my ticket to Lima in early December 2016, informing Edmund John and his partner Terry Woltman (who I had also spoken with frequently on Skype about helping my various connections with their offshore goals) that I would be arriving on the 10th. I asked for a detailed outline of what I should expect when I arrived, including what documents I would need, how long the process would take, what each specific step in order would be, and when I would be free to leave Peru as I had other important events scheduled in Chile and other parts of the continent. I even let them know that I would be stopping briefly in the U.S. before arriving in Peru, so any documents I would need notarized or apostilled could be done while I was there. They gave me no specific requirements, even after I paid in full, so I naturally assumed nothing was required.
The First Trip to Lima, Peru
Upon arriving in Peru, I was bothered by the fact that several days had passed and they still had not given me any indication of how much longer I would need to remain in Lima. They kept saying they were waiting for the “local secretary” to send the requirements, but that it should not take much longer. To me, this was odd. If they had a program in place for incorporation in Peru, shouldn’t they already have at least a ballpark idea of how long the process would take and what documents I would need? Normally, I would take this as a sign that a provider did not know what they were doing and were only pretending to have a system in place, but because I trusted Edmund John I temporarily overlooked this error. This would prove to be a major flaw on my part.
On December 21, 19 days after I had informed them I was ready to begin the Peru incorporation process and 11 days after having arrived in Lima waiting further instructions, I was finally asked by FlagTheory.com’s associate Janice Lin to name additional shareholders for the publication company I wanted to set up, a vital step which had been omitted from the information I had been given up to this point. Suddenly, I needed to find at least one other person who wanted to participate in the incorporation with me. Again, why this information was kept from me until then was a mystery.
Fortunately, I was able to secure the passport, bank statement, and utility bill of my co-founder on short notice, as she was actually waiting for me to come join her in Santiago. I repeated to Flag Theory’s team once again that I wished to wrap things up and leave Peru as quickly as possible, as I had other business to attend to. I received no response. I reached out to both Edmund John and Terry Woltman individually on Skype to repeat this information, as we had conversed several times that way in the months before I became their paying client. Still nothing from either of them. Hmmmm.
A few days later, I concluded I was being a fool by allowing Flag Theory’s incompetence to hijack my time and drive up my living costs by waiting around in Lima for no reason. I booked an early morning flight to Santiago to meet with my girlfriend and co-founder who had been waiting for me the whole two and a half weeks I had been stuck to no avail in Lima. I had already missed important business meetings there and in Valdivia we had scheduled during that time, and now I had to make up for the losses. I still had no tangible progress in Peru after all this time. I knew that something was seriously wrong, but neither Edmund John, Terry Woltman, or Janice Lin were responding to my repeated messages. I began to entertain the idea that I had been ripped off or defrauded by FlagTheory.com, but in the meantime, I had other more important matters to take care of.
The Second Trip to Arequipa, Peru
On January 8, a full 17 days since the last time anyone from FlagTheory.com had contacted me, I sent all three of them another email, as my time in Chile was nearly done. I received a response the next day from Janice Lin explaining that the “local secretary” had been closed over the holidays, and that was why they had been silent for so long. Why they could not have emailed, Skyped, or phoned a single sentence telling me this so I would not have spent a month in Lima waiting around was never explained.
They all knew that I was waiting around for them to give me instructions on what to do next. I never even told them I had left Peru. For all they knew, I had spent a month sitting around in Lima for no reason. Their grossly unprofessional behavior astounded me, and I began to feel ashamed that I had ever referred friends and associates to work with them. However, I still held out hope for the possibility that things would be relatively straightforward from that point on, and I could at least walk away without any more wasted time or unnecessary expenses.
I was wrong.
Do you remember when I first hired Edmund John and his team and told them there would be a short window when I would be in the U.S. and could get any necessary documents apostilled and notarized? That’s important here.
Janice Lin then sent me Power of Attorney agreements to sign and be both apostilled and notarized in the country of origin of each shareholder (The U.S. in my case, and Ukraine in my partner’s case, which they mistakenly entered as Russia on the agreements, leading to further delays. Same difference though, right?). I asked them how they expected me to get the documents apostilled and notarized in Peru or Chile. Janice Lin’s response was that I would have to fly back to the U.S. to have it done. After all, it’s not their fault if their plans don’t always coincide with a client’s travel schedule.
I found that a bit odd, considering that from my point of view the whole reason hire a middleman like Edmund John was precisely to handle little logistical details like this for me. I guess not? There must have been some other reason I was missing.
When I expressed my extreme frustration and unwillingness to shell out another $1,000+ in roundtrip plane tickets, Edmund (who had been absent from the conversation since the time he received my payment) jumped back in to kindly inform me that I could get the documents notarized at the U.S. embassy in Santiago, and my Ukrainian partner could do the same at the Ukraine embassy. We received this information on our final day in the city and had just enough time to get it done, but the embassies could not provide us with apostilles.
Edmund John’s next solution was to have us come back to Peru, where we could apply for authorization to sign documents for a limited period of time, thus obviating the need for apostille. My partner and I then spent three weeks waiting in Arequipa for our public deed number to be processed by local authorities. It had been two months since I hired Edmund John and Terry Woltman. In addition to the $3,000 I paid them, I had now wracked up thousands of dollars in Peruvian living expenses in Lima and Arequipa following their instructions (or more often just waiting for instructions to be given). And still, I was no tangibly closer to actually having my publishing company incorporated or applying for residency in Peru.
Finally, a Full Outline of the Peru Process
On January 31, after repeated badgering, I received the following outline of the remainder of the process from Janice Lin:
“1. First we need to complete incorporation of the company.
- You can enter the country on a business visa, so you will be allowed to sign agreements. If not, you may request a special authorisation after your arrival in Peru to sign agreements before the immigration authority.
- After obtaining the special authorization, you must sign the labor agreement.
- The labor agreement must be filed for authorization before the Ministry of Labor.
- When the agreement is approved by the Ministry of Labor, we will apply for the work visa.
- The local office will arrange appointments before Interpol and the FBI, as the immigration authority requires a clean criminal record in order to grant the visa.
- Once this process is completed, we will apply for the Foreigner’s card so you have a valid identification document before the Peruvian authorities.
This whole process can take between 45 or 60 business days. You will not be considered as an employee until steps 1 to 7 are completed.”
This was the information I had repeatedly asked for back in early December when we began working together, so that I could plan my travels appropriately. They had just now supplied it to me, presumably because they either did not know the appropriate information to give me (because they had never worked in Peru before), or they wanted to wait until they had secured my payment and were willing to tell me whatever was necessary to do so. I asked again, repeatedly, for either Edmund, Terry, or Janice to call me briefly as I was having trouble understanding things from their confusing and contradictory instructions what to do next. Despite our long history of exchanging messages and Skype calls back when it was in Flag Theory’s financial interest to do so, my requests were now all ignored.
Retroactively Requiring a College Degree
On February 8, now more than two months since I hired Edmund John, I received the following new information from his associate Janice Lin:
“The next time you’ll have to be in Peru is when we begin the visa process. As mentioned, you will have to enter the country on a business visa so you’ll be allowed to sign agreements. If not, you may request a special authorisation after your arrival in Peru to sign agreements before the immigration authority.
You will have to bring with you a certified and apostilled copy of your university diploma, which is required by the Ministry of Labor for the approval of your employment agreement (please refer to item 9 on the status checklist previously sent to you). Certification should be made by the university that issued the diploma. The certified copy must then be apostilled in the country where the certification was made. If the country where the document was issued is not a member state of the Apostille Convention, the diploma must be certified, notarised and then legalised by the Peruvian consulate in that country.
Please note that without a university diploma, the Ministry of Labor may not approve the employment agreement on which the worker visa is based. An alternative would be work certificates from previous employers as to your experience, expertise and performance, which would justify your hiring in the Peruvian company. However, these work certificates may be harder to come by than a certified copy of the university diploma. Let me know if you have any issues.”
What? Now suddenly I need a university diploma or certifications from previous employers? Wasn’t Edmund John fully aware that I was a self-employed author entrepreneur? Didn’t he know I had been traveling since 18 and never attended university or hardly ever had a conventional job? Hadn’t our many conversations over the past year and membership in the Dynamite Circle digital nomad community made that clear? Why hadn’t I been given these requirements months ago before I paid him and started the process? Again, two obvious answers presented themselves. Either Edmund John’s team did not know the requirements, or they intentionally omitted them to secure my payment.
Edmund John’s proposed solution was to have my former client, his industry competition, Andrew Henderson of Nomad Capitalist, create a certificate praising my competency in the domain of publishing books and educational materials, a task which I never performed in my role as a sales consultant for him. So now I was being told to inconvenience other people I no longer maintained contact with to lie, or at least be highly misleading, about our work history so they could scramble together enough of a case to finish the job I hired them for under the guise that they were experienced in what they were doing. No thanks.
My Theory about Edmund John and FlagTheory.com
I could go on about the additional weeks I waited for easy answers to simple questions, but I think by now you probably get the point. Here’s what I think happened, based on my own behind-the-scenes perspective on how third party providers in the offshore industry typically operate.
Edmund John established a name for himself as an expert in all things offshore. He plays off the ignorance of people who have never lived in another country and are scared of trying to navigate legal processes on their own or finding their own local legal council. He promises to be able to do just about anything and everything a client could require. As soon as he secures their payment, he begins searching for legal council to fulfill what he promised and explain the actual legal requirements which he had been unaware of up until this point (beyond whatever a brief look at a government website could tell him).
The result is that he and his team act as an unnecessary middleman between the client and local legal council, just relaying information as they receive it and having no additional authority or expertise. The whole operation, if it is successful at all in the end, is patched together with duct tape and string, greatly increasing time delays, costs, and stresses on behalf of the client – all so that Edmund John and his team can skim their cut off the top.
Again, this is just a theory. But it’s an informed one.
Now what really puzzles me is exactly how Edmund John thought he stood to benefit by trying to pull this with me, as he knows I am someone who has extensive work and lifestyle experience in this domain. I share many connections with his potential target market, and (for God’s sake) I even wrote a book about maintaining a positive brand reputation by keeping clients happy. Whatever he thought he was gaining from my $3,000 payment would quickly be overshadowed by the reputational harm he might face from leaving me a dissatisfied client.
My Advice to Anyone Pursuing Offshore Services
This entire industry is wrought with con artists and sketchy salesmen. While some of them are ultimately capable of delivering what they promise, they will likely have to do so at an enormous markup from the actual costs you would pay if you handled the process yourself. And as you can see from my experience with Edmund John, their “help” might actually cause more harm than good. I guess that is the price I pay for thinking someone based in Singapore would be the right person to handle a complex process on the ground in Peru.
That brings me to my final point. Always, always, always work with local sources yourself. You need to be dealing with someone who knows the intricate ins and outs of the jurisdiction you are working with. The reason I was successful in getting my second passport in Armenia last year was because I used good judgment in hiring a team of lawyers who knew how the local system worked there and could acquire everything I would need to make my unique case work.
Incidentally, while I was still on good terms with Edmund John and FlagTheory.com (months before I hired him), I actually connected him with the lawyer I had had such a good experience with in Armenia, in case they saw an opportunity to work together. After this whole Peru fiasco, I reached out to the Armenian lawyer again to ask if he had ever ended up working with Edmund John, as I was curious to see if my horrendous experience was an isolated incident or not. The Armenian lawyer told me they had immediately decided not to work with Edmund John, as he had tried to coax them into doing things that were illegal in Armenia. I wish I could say that I was surprised at this point.
(Update: on March 28, Flag Theory’s email newsletter was sent out promoting their services for setting up companies in both Armenia and Peru. In light of my recent experiences and the word of my lawyers in Armenia, readers should be extremely cautious of such claims.)
Look, I really don’t want to create the impression that it’s all bad guys in the offshore world, or that anyone should be scared of taking steps to move themselves away from their home country. You just need to be extremely diligent about who you trust here. At the absolute very least, you should speak to someone who has worked successfully with the person you want to hire, and in a manner similar to how you plan to hire them. By some accounts, Edmund John has given some quality advice to people who have hired him as an offshore consultant, yet my experience shows he clearly did not know what he was doing, at least when it came to Peru. Being competent in one domain does not necessarily make you competent in another related one. Of course, I’ve since also heard from several others who have had similar negative experiences with Edmund and FlagTheory.com, so it pays to check around.
(Related: Listen to my podcast interview with Bobby Casey of Global Wealth Protection on fraud and reputation in the offshore services industry: https://gregorydiehl.net/ucwg-017-personal-brand-lie-bobby-casey-global-wealth-protection/)
I think the era of the “omni-expert” (people who posture themselves as the ultimate go-to authority on any given broad domain) is quickly going to fade away. Individual specialists are rising up to take their places. Ironically, the only thing many of the so-called experts are truly any good at is branding themselves as experts. I am going to make the offer to any of my readers right now that if you are ever considering working with an offshore service provider or plant any flags, feel free to reach out and ask my opinion first (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). I may have worked with them, or odds are that I will at least know someone who has. We all need to watch each others’ backs and take this industry back from the fraudsters and imposters who portray themselves as leaders.
And if you want to learn more about what the last ten years of living this lifestyle and working in this industry have taught me, I encourage you to read my travel memoir published on Amazon, Travel As Transformation. If you are concerned about your own tax situation as an American expatriate living or working abroad, I encourage you to read U.S. Taxes For Worldly Americans by my friend Olivier Wagner (an accountant who specializes in this area). Each of us has more freedom today than ever before to live and work anywhere we want, and we owe it to ourselves to use it.
Gregory V. Diehl