I have this friend–let’s call him Bob. Bob’s a great guy, but . . . well, you’ll see.
One day, Bob wanted to buy an old house. The place looked like it was in pretty good shape, but Bob wanted to make sure it was structurally sound.
So, he called his doctor to come over and take a look.
Bob said to his doctor: “You know whether a person is healthy, surely you can tell whether a house is healthy. When can you stop by?”
His doctor went to the golf course instead.
While inspecting the house himself, Bob fell and dislocated his shoulder. So, he called up his dentist: “You helped when my tooth popped out last year, surely you can also help when a shoulder pops out.”
His dentist hung up the phone.
To take his mind off the throbbing shoulder pain, Bob bought a big bucket of candy. Eating all that candy gave him a monstrous toothache.
So, of course he called up his architect: “The whole reason I got this toothache was because I was inspecting a house, so surely you can fix it, right?”
The architect hung up and blocked Bob’s number.
OK, so, of course none of the above really happened. And certainly no real person would really go about things the way Bob has.
Or would they?
I see people all the time trying to get US tax advice from an “offshore guru.” You know who I mean–people who sell advice on second passports, offshore bank accounts, and offshore structures, often with a heaping helping of radical politics, fear mongering, dubious economic predictions, stock market tips, etc.
US tax law is one of the most complicated bodies of law known to man. And the subset of those laws dealing with international matters is more complicated still.
Then, weaving the US tax consequences into a coherent and workable legal structure for your business takes the complication up another level.
It takes an experienced US tax attorney to help with US tax matters. An offshore guru is about as helpful with US tax as an architect would be with curing a toothache.
When an offshore guru says they set up a structure that “saved thousands of dollars in tax” for one of their clients—well, maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not.
An offshore guru isn’t qualified to make determinations like that—just like a doctor isn’t qualified to tell you whether a building is structurally sound.
And if a doctor does tell you a building is structurally sound, then that statement is meaningless. It doesn’t matter at all and gives you no real actionable information.
A doctor doesn’t have the education and years of experience necessary to make their opinion on this issue trustworthy and reliable. Having education and years of experience in a different field doesn’t change that.
The only difference is that the typical doctor realizes that and wouldn’t even try to express an opinion on whether a building a is structurally sound. An offshore guru trying to sell you something typically doesn’t have this same level of self-awareness and compunction.
The offshore guru’s client may have set up a structure that really does save US tax legally, or they may have just spent a whole ton of money for a one-way ticket to a US tax disaster.
It takes an experienced US tax attorney to tell the difference.
Want to know more? The Tax-Savvy Expat courses teach you everything you need to know about expat tax.