Flag Theory and the Financial Benefits of Crossing Borders — By Jennifer Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America

Flag Theory and the Financial Benefits of Crossing Borders — By Jennifer Shipp

Today we went to INM to re-up on our temporary residency permit in Mexico. I try not to get nervous for these tramites, but it makes me tense. There are lots of reasons why. One reason is because it’s important. Another is because it has to do with the government and thus I’m powerless to fight against whatever happens to me, John, or Lydian. But I think more than anything, one of the things that makes me tense has to do with the fact that often, we’re missing things in our little packet that must be absolutely, impeccably perfect, it may take 1 or 2 more days of my life to correct these minor errors. One tiny, uncrossed ‘t’ or undotted ‘i’ means another three-hour drive, round-trip, from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende. And this process already requires no less than 2 or possibly 3 trips to complete it in entirety.

Last year, we got a Mexican temporary residency permit for 1 year. The completion of the process became official on Halloween when we crossed the border. Initially, it wasn’t easy to navigate and there certainly were no guarantees. John put together the gigantic files of information that we needed for the permit and then, when we crossed the border on our way north into the states for our Halloween event last year, we stopped in Laredo to complete the first part of the process. After the festival, we stopped in Laredo again to complete it. It was important that we do the border crossing “just so” in order to avoid having to start the process all over again. A border crossing agent who isn’t paying attention could check the wrong box. That’s all it would have taken for us to have to make another trip back to Laredo to navigate the process anew.

This year, we had to go back to INM in San Miguel de Allende to re-apply for our temporary residency cards (which are Mexican green cards, essentially), but this time, we’ll hopefully have permission to stay in Mexico for 3 years instead of just 1 year. After we get through these next three years, we can apply for permanent residency and then, after that, we can try to get citizenship and a second passport if we decide that’s what we want to do.

A second passport has certain advantages. For example, Mexican citizens with legitimate Mexican passports can travel to countries that aren’t accessible or safe for U.S. citizens. It would be easier for us to visit Russia or Iran, for example, as Mexican citizens than it would as U.S. citizens. The visa requirements differ and, as long as we speak Spanish in public while we’re in those countries and people don’t identify us readily as Americans, we wouldn’t have the same safety or harassment issues that American travelers to those countries might experience.

But what’s the point of going through all that? I mean, who wants to travel to Russia or Iran anyways (HINT: we do). There’s a small group of people out there traveling in the world who are working with concepts like Flag Theory, where people are Citizens of the Planet and they go where the governments treat them the best. So a given person might have citizenship in several different countries, but have a business in one, their domicile in another, and their tax home in yet another. If you’ve never thought about this sort of thing, maybe you should. It’s kind of a mind-blowing thought, after all.

Here in Mexico, people struggle with the same problems that afflict most Americans up north. They struggle to make enough money to pay the bills after they pay for basics like health insurance and taxes. Financial transactions are different here. Most transactions are done in cash, for example. But overall, things are very similar. And, in fact, I can see that if we were to get citizenship in Mexico and renounce our citizenship in the United States, that we could potentially struggle with some issues similar to those that weigh everyone else down.

There’s a rhetoric out there right now about globalization and how bad it is for everyone in the states. I’ve given the idea of globalization a lot of thought, particularly over the past year and until recently, I really hadn’t weighed in, as far as strong opinions pro or against globalization were concerned. Is it good or is it bad? I wasn’t sure. I knew that it was good for me. Working online changed our lives. But what about living and working in another country? Is it good or bad for people to be moving across borders?

When we first moved to Guanajuato, I felt strongly that I didn’t want to disrupt the economy here the way that the economy has been hijacked in San Miguel de Allende and I still stand behind these sentiments overall. But over the past year, as we’ve worked with albañiles who are used to being underpaid and overworked, I have to say that the status quo isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be anywhere in the world. And disruption…change can be good. And further, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about money and jobs, it’s that crossing borders is one of the only ways to get ahead in the world financially unless you happen to be in the top 1% already.

It’s not about getting a good degree.

It’s not about being really smart.

It’s not about saving for retirement or investing your money “wisely” (whatever the fuck that means).

It’s about globalization…globalizing yourself. If you want to free yourself from all the bullshit that the government requires from your pocketbook, if you want to see the true value of the goods/services that you offer, start a business in a foreign country or work with clients abroad. Why? Because some weird stuff happens when you cross borders. Conversion rates, changes in supply and demand, and funky tax laws make border crossings economically compelling.

I always tell young people who are interested in world travel that debt is the antithesis of travel. If you want to travel, don’t go in debt. What that means is that if you’re in school and you’re getting loans to go to school, Stop. Right. Now. If what you want is to travel and globalize yourself, then do that. It’s valuable. More valuable than a degree (as long as you don’t spend all your travel time in foreign countries at the bar, drunk). Pay for your schooling outright. If that means you have to take time off to complete a coveted degree in order to save for tuition do that. But a smart young adult who wants to travel and become educated at the same time should seek out cheap tuition and go to college abroad. Because exchange programs through U.S. universities are exhorbitantly over-priced. One semester abroad on a program that’s orchestrated by a U.S. university costs more than the entire program of education through a Master’s level degree here in Guanajuato. If Lydian went to the University of Guanajuato, her tuition would be about $2000 USD per year if she signed up in person, in Mexico. She could have gone to a university in Nebraska or Colorado and ended up in Guanajuato on an exchange program paying $25-50,000 USD for her semester abroad, but what 18 to 22 year old American kid has a flying chance in hell of paying that off before they turn 40 years old+?

Again, I return to Flag Theory and the idea of crossing borders. For people who don’t want to leave the U.S. because travel doesn’t interest them, working online is essentially the same thing as crossing a border at least at the time of this writing. If you work with clients in Sweden or Canada or Israel, the exchange rate is in your favor. You can charge more for a number of different services. If you own a business, offering your services abroad can change the financial structure of your dealings in some really positive ways. If you’re a student, the same concepts apply. It pays to do some research and even spend a little money traveling to find a good school where you could learn the language quickly and get a degree along with some amazing overseas experiences.

So, I have to return to the question I posed earlier about whether crossing borders is a good thing or a bad thing. And in order to answer it, I have to look closely at government across the globe. Government—it’s one of those “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” sorts of affairs. I think government is beneficial in some respects, but that as a whole it’s oppressive all over the world. I haven’t seen a government yet that wasn’t oppressive. I’m not advocating for anarchy here because I don’t believe that anarchy is a real thing. I don’t think anarchy is possible over a sustained period of time because humans organize themselves into hierarchical units quickly. Back before government, there were tribes, after all. Getting humans to organize into positive hierarchies where the people at the top are thoughtful, kind, and considerate individuals is a rare event. So I guess, my overall thought has to do with thoughtfully using the systems that exist in the world to one’s advantage. This is the smart way to go, in my opinion. I think that globalization is what we’re evolving toward and it might end up being a negative thing as most human things end up in that basket eventually. But when it happens that the whole world has “globalized” and there’s a global government, humans will come up with other creative ways to buck the system and continue to evolve. Maybe we’ll have colonized Mars by then and Earth-stuff will all be old hat, who knows?

In the meantime, young people who want to do better than the rest of their peers should consider world travel as opposed to a static university curriculum as a way to learn about what interests them and what they want to do with their lives. Adults who want to escape from living paycheck to paycheck should consider a line of work in a field that’s in demand globally and then moving to a country where they could benefit from exchange rates. Everyone, everywhere needs to avoid debt if at all possible. I know it’s hard, but debt keeps people tethered down.

I’m not an expert on Flag Theory, but crossing borders myself and watching other people cross borders in order to reap economic benefits has been thought-provoking over the years. And these are thoughts I would’ve wanted to consider years ago had I stumbled across them by accident on my way from here to there…

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