Last updateFri, 22 Mar 2019 1pm

Financial author’s advice – and life – are a breath of air for expats

As retired high school teacher and financial writer Andrew Hallam and his American wife Pele relax near their camper van parked at Lakeside, it seems a good moment for general reflection. 

pg9“I’m actually not in Mexico to promote my books. I consider it more of a hiding spot!” he quipped.

Clearly, things can get hectic for Hallam, author of “The Millionaire Teacher” and “Millionaire Expat—How to Build Wealth Living Overseas” and a person who has been described as a millionaire on a middle class salary. (In 2014 at the age of 44, he retired from his full time teaching job.) Hallam gave 90 educational talks around the world last year, he explains, and since the couple arrived in Ajijic in February for a lengthy breather during their road trip from British Colombia to Argentina, they have jetted off for speaking gigs in Amsterdam, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, mainland China and Switzerland – and come back to Ajijic – before continuing their drive south.

Yet, even though the Hallams are no strangers to the charms of globe trotting, Andrew (with significant organizational assistance from Pele) maintains his feet firmly on the path of the teacher.  

“Education is the enemy of exploitation,” he says, quoting an aphorism apropos for someone who has been an educator much of his life. 

Starting from a career as a high school English and personal finance teacher in Canada, he morphed into a financial education writer and in 2011 published “The Millionaire Teacher,” thus combining both his areas of expertise. The short book (184 pages), perhaps best described as a get-satisfaction rather than a get-rich book, was ranked number one by Amazon in personal finance and number 12 overall. 

Hallam continued in this vein with “Millionaire Expat,” which is more focused on the financial exploitation of expats, partly based on his experience in Singapore, where he taught for 12 years in a high school with an U.S. curriculum. During this period, he also got to know British, Canadian, American and Australian expat teachers in other prosperous countries, such as the United Arab Emirates. These teachers, earning good salaries yet not required to pay tax based in their country of residence and at the same time unable to participate in their home countries’ retirement systems, become patsies, says the millionaire teacher, for some of “the world’s worst financial products.” 

Working expats in Mexico are also the beneficiaries of Hallam’s mission against investment practices unfavorable to them. Like expats in richer countries, they must also rely on themselves for retirement. In addition, Hallam pointed out, Americans face the additional hurdle of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), whose name suggests it targets “fat cats” but which blocks all American expats from investing “in a way that Warren Buffet would approve.”

“Most of these expat investors are paying too high fees” on investments they already have. “But how can they find low-fee products with the FATCA blockade in force?” Hallam adds that specific solutions are detailed in his book, from the general (low-cost index funds) to specific brokers and advisors who work with expat clients. (He did not balk at naming two of them here: Interactive Brokers and Mark Zoril.)

All this suggests that, despite Hallam’s apparent immersion in the financial system, his books are not averse to taking on sacred cows, such as investing in mutual funds, keeping up with the latest iPhone and even unfettered capitalism. “Did you know that David Swensen, the manager of the Yale Endowment Fund, said that mutual funds’ systematic exploitation of individual investors requires government action?” he points out. 

Likewise dispelling any suspicions of fat-cat-ism, Hallam notes that he is not tied financially to people or products he recommends and, even more remarkably, frequently shares much of his financial savvy for free. 

“I refused to take money for my talks for years. I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ who pretends to help people, but has a hidden motive, like books or services to sell, or a speaker’s fee to earn.

“Often I don’t bring books with me, or don’t even mention my books. A pure capitalist would call me a fool.”

Typically, he speaks to crowded auditoriums, he said. 

Recently, “my wife, who comes with me, has asked me to start charging for the talks. Requests to speak keep coming in, almost weekly.”

Although Hallam gave local talks in 2014 at the American School of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala Society, on this trip to Lakeside no talks have been scheduled. 

“We stopped here because we’re visiting friends and it’s such a nice, active community. I love the writers group, the hiking club and the yoga group, for example.”

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