If you want to invest in real estate across borders, you need to be actively involved in running the business. Moneeka Sawyer’s guest today is Lauren Cohen, an international lawyer, realtor, and foreign investor expert. In this episode, Lauren explains that you need to make a substantial investment in a non-marginal business. Join in the conversation to discover more of Lauren’s top tips for investing across borders. If you want to use real estate as a tool for immigration, you can’t miss out on this episode. Tune in!
I am excited to welcome Lauren Cohen to the show. She is a Serial Entrepreneur, an International Lawyer, Realtor and Foreign Investor Expert. She is originally from Toronto and now in South Florida. Lauren is also a bestselling author and sought-after speaker. She launched her podcast, Investing Across Borders, in late 2020. Lauren and her turnkey team believe in overcoming obstacles and navigating global expansion for business owners and real estate investors while providing access to unique passive income solutions. Lauren’s overriding goal is to help clients navigate the path to invest, live, work and play across borders. Lauren’s superpower rests in paving a path to immigration visas through real estate investments. Ladies, I’m sure you can tell why Lauren is on the show. Lauren, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Moneeka. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for making the time for me.
It’s my pleasure. Ladies, I want to let you know that Lauren was booked for this show. We booked earlier in 2021. Since then, several of you ladies have heard her on other shows and gave me good reviews. I’m going into this interview with, “We’ve got somebody amazing on the show.” I’m super excited about that. I also want to tell you one other thing about Lauren. You guys know I’m all about systems. Systems equal bliss. I had all this system set up for my intake and scheduling. Lauren and I did it a little backward. We got the system.
I went online to put together the whole, “I want to be able to introduce her.” I put together a little script and I noticed that nothing was in the intake form. It was 8:00 or 9:00 PM here at California time so it was late in Lauren’s time. ￼I don’t start work until 10:00, so I’m like, “We have nothing.” There was a lot. I emailed her and I sent her something on LinkedIn. She happened to be online. Lauren did this thing. Anybody else that I would have talked to would have been like, “Can we reschedule?” I’m scheduling four months out. You ladies know that I pre-record. Lauren’s like, “Okay.” She got it all to me in ten minutes.
It’s a problem that I have. I’m over-responsive. I need to go to the twelve-step program for responsiveness.
The thing that I want to point out and one of the reasons that I’m excited to tell you a story, I know that it’s not sounding relevant. The way that we do anything is the way that we do everything. My focus is on bliss, pleasure, joy and relaxation. As a lawyer, it’s important that you are responsive. How many of us are freaked out about something? The things that we are dealing with lawyers are usually things we don’t know anything about. You want somebody who’s responsive, kind and generous. Lauren is all of those things. Thank you for making my process more blissful even though tech failed us.
When I received it, I’m like, “How did that possibly happen? That can’t happen. There’s no way I’m going to miss this because I know how long it took us to get here. I’m going to get this done quick.” Believe it or not, I’m studying for the mortgage exam because I don’t have enough licenses. I decided I need something else. The reason is that I have so many clients in need of mortgage opportunities. We are in the middle of studying and I get this, “I have to go and deal with this right now.” My boyfriend is like, “What’s going on?” I’m like, “Let me be.” My son’s like, “Mommy.” I’m like, “I’m going.” I got it done. Thank you.
If there is one thing that I do pride myself on, it’s exactly that. It’s not that I don’t get into panic mode because I was in a little bit of panic mode, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like somebody’s sick, but I get it done. That’s what 2021 is all about. I joined a mastermind called Get It Done in ‘21. The truth is it’s about that. In 2020, we had many challenges, obstacles and interferences in our lives. What is going on? Not that there’s no uncertainty now, but you have to focus on what you are grateful for every day and come out of each day thinking, “How can I impact people in a better way?”
One of the things that 2020 taught us is to be able to roll with the flow. It taught us about flexibility, resilience, caring about the things that are important to us, and focusing on those things because there are so little we felt we had control over. Those are the things we do have control over. How are we responding? Who are we caring about? How are we showing up?
I was thinking of the same words as you were saying them. It’s true. How you show up for one thing is how you show up for everything.
I honor you for your kindness to me.
Thank you for acknowledging that. I had spoken with a gentleman before from Canada. He said to me, “I am impressed with you. You’re this and this. We Canadians love you.” I said, “I am Canadian.” He’s like, “I love you even more now.”
Lauren, could you tell us the high-level, two-minute version of your story? Let everybody get to know you a little bit and where you came from.
My story is a little unique. I don’t share it all the time, but I started sharing it more because your story is what dictates or drives you. I am originally from Canada. I moved here a long time ago. I have not been home in several months, but I’m not bitter, maybe a little bit bitter. I have not seen my mom, brother, nephews, niece, sister-in-law or anybody in several months. I came here with a dream. I was married at the time. I moved back to Canada and I came here again. It’s been an interesting ride.
In 2006, I got married. My then-husband was deported on the way back from our honeymoon. We went to Thailand on our honeymoon. I wasn’t in the immigration space to the extent I am now, that’s for sure. I didn’t realize that he was inadmissible. I didn’t realize that these things he had in his background and his history would stop him from being admissible. I was in the process of getting my green card. I had a lawyer who now is my partner. I had a lawyer that was doing everything. I never contemplated this problem. He was in the process of getting his visa.
We get married and we go on our honeymoon. We should not have left the country or maybe we should have because everything happens for a reason. We came back. They took him from me at Chicago O’Hare Airport. They expeditiously removed him. They put him in immigration jail and they deported him. Here I am with all this stuff from our honeymoon in Thailand. I’m like, “What am I going to do now?”
It goes to show you that you have to turn adversity into prosperity and you have to find the silver lining, which is the name of my nonprofit and the name of my book, Finding Your Silver Lining in the Business Immigration Process. There is always a silver lining. The silver lining of that was it was never meant to be that marriage. It pushed me into the immigration space. I knew that I had a calling to do something greater for people from all over the world migrating to the US and Canada because I’m licensed in both countries. I need more licenses.
You are an education junkie. I can relate to that.
I don’t like going to school, but I like learning, reading and getting licenses. Having a mortgage license and being a realtor is complimentary. That’s what happened. He was barred from entry to the US and I said, “I have to find a different path.” That’s what started me on my journey. My number one goal is to help people to invest, live, work and play across borders so that they can be anywhere in the world.
This all started with an idea in Israel that I had that people should not be stuck to where they live but should be able to be completely mobile. My home is in Florida. My heart is in Israel, but my family is in Canada. I usually can go anywhere and do business. That is what I created for myself and what I wanted to create for others and give them the path to come and immigrate to the US especially through real estate investing. Many people want to invest in real estate in the US and here is the whole other benefit of doing that.
When you help people with real estate stuff, you help them whether they are American citizens looking to invest internationally or if they are international citizens from somewhere else wanting to invest in the United States. Is that true?
Yes.Turn adversity into prosperity. Find the silver lining in everything. Click To Tweet
The other thing that you help people with is if they are international, they are somewhere else, and they want to come to the United States, they can do that through investing. Can you tell me a little bit about that piece, helping them get citizenship, to emigrate or whatever that looks like?
It’s extraordinarily complex and I’ll tell you why. Real estate investing, as a rule, is passive. Real estate investing to immigrate has to be active because to qualify for a visa, you need to be actively involved in running a business. The terminology is you have to make a substantial investment in a non-marginal business. I have created the ten steps to immigrate through real estate. It’s a step-by-step guide to take people from, “I want to invest in real estate in the US. How do I do it?” The first eight steps are for anybody that’s investing and the last two are for people that want to immigrate through that path.
I’ve been working with real estate investors for a decade and working with them to get their visas, but only over COVID, I connected all of these dots together to say, “There is a path. It’s not going to be your single-family home, a couple of units, of condos or flipping. That’s not going to work.” If you add flipping to the BRRRR method, holding properties, Airbnb, commercial, self-storage, mobile homes, you create a strategy that can potentially pave the path to immigrate.
I have a lot of international readers, but I don’t have a lot of people that talk about that stuff. I wonder if maybe we consider doing another show specifically about that for my international readers. I’m in 45 different countries. I want to tell you a cute story. Ladies, you haven’t heard this. Lauren, I hope you don’t mind that I tell you this, but this is funny. I went on a cruise to speak. I was talking about Choose Bliss on a cruise and we went to the Greek Islands, but we stopped in Spain. The first stop was in Barcelona.
My husband and I are sitting at a cafe. We are talking, laughing. All of a sudden, I hear my voice walk by. David and I both look over and some guy is walking around with their iPhone listening to my podcast. I was like, “Oh my god.” We got off the cruise at Mykonos or something. We are sitting in a little cafe having some lunch and someone’s walking by with a phone. They are looking at the phone. They look up and they look over towards me in passing. All of a sudden, their eyes get wide. They look at their phone. They looked at me. They’re like, “Are you Moneeka Sawyer?” It’s in Greece. It was so much fun. It was twice in that one trip. We haven’t done a trip since then because of COVID. It’s exciting to see the impact that I’m making internationally. There is an audience on this show for you, Lauren. Maybe we can talk about that another time.
That’s what my webinar series is. You should come to my webinars. It’s how to immigrate through real estate. We walk through the whole process and I’d love to have you there. The thing is not everybody wants to immigrate. Who can blame them right now? There is a lot of upheaval in this country. COVID has not been managed so well. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to invest.
We have had other people. Francois Braine-Bonnaire came on. He also came on talking about how to get people into turnkey properties here so they can take advantage of the American real estate market even if they don’t want to live here. There are all different levels of people that want to immigrate, people that don’t, people that want something hands-off, and people that want a good write-off reason to come to the United States. There are all different kinds of reasons that international people would want to invest here.
The other thing that I want to focus on is about us Americans because this is a question that I haven’t covered at all. I have covered it once because I invested in Belize myself so that show aired about my process on that. We haven’t had anybody talk about Americans investing internationally. Let’s focus on that. Talk about some of the top tips for investing across borders.
The top tips are going to be the same no matter if you are coming into America or going out of America. At the end of the day, you need proper cross-border tax guidance. I don’t care who you are, where you live, how small your portfolio is, how little you have to invest, you need somebody to guide you on cross-border tax. If you do not have an expert that understands both countries and has some knowledge or understanding, is there a tax treaty with the US or is there not? How is your investment going to get treated in the US? For US taxpayers, we have to be cognizant and concerned about our investments overseas.
Let’s talk about Canada. It’s the easiest one. Lots of American investors have invested in Canada or do invest in Canada or now want to invest in Canada because suddenly it’s become that much more appealing. Maybe not Toronto because Toronto is a completely out-of-control market but other places. My business partner is in Calgary. We have lots of investors that are investing there because many of the properties are upside down. There is an opportunity to go in and find what is the equivalent of subject–tos in Canada or opportunities to wholesale properties.
If you don’t get that cross-border guidance and you end up making $100,000, do you want to give 50% or 70% of that to the IRS or whoever the revenue agency is or the tax authority? I don’t think so. I have a prospect. He has been talking to me since we started talking. He came to a summit that I did with my Calgary partner. I call them Empowered Women in Real Estate. You need to speak at that. We do allow men. He came to this and he set up a call with me after. He said, “I paid $100,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency.” I said, “Why? How did that happen?” He’s like, “Because I didn’t talk to a lawyer first.”
The number one thing that I’m going to tell anybody who is reading is don’t be afraid to talk to the lawyer and the accountant because fear is going to end up costing you so much more than you would pay to get the proper guidance in place. It so happens that I’m working with one of your members that I met through another podcast who’s investing in Spain. I have a client who’s developing properties in Honduras. I have clients that are investing in the UK, Canada, which’s an easy one for me and in Italy.
My real estate license is with a company that is in ten countries and soon to be over twenty. It’s an international exposure and approach. Not everybody can even contemplate what that looks like. That’s super important. When you are looking at investing across borders, use and abuse your professional team. Don’t try to do it haphazardly and say, “I’m going to buy a property in the Dominican or something.” I hope that answers your question.
There is a good point here that you made and I want to emphasize it. Don’t trip over dollars to save dimes. You want to make sure that you are paying a little bit upfront to save you a lot on the back end. It feels sometimes that there is all this upfront stuff. If you buy and sell something and you save yourself $100,000 or 50% in taxes, you only pay 20% or whatever. I don’t know what the numbers are like. I know that those deltas can be significant and you want to make sure that you minimize those taxes as much as you possibly can. The only person that is going to know how to help you is going to be a pro like Lauren. Is it easier to invest in the US or consider investing outside of the US?
It depends on what your goals are. Investing in the US in real estate is not a super heavily regulated industry. There are rules and opportunities. Each state has a different approach, opportunities and markets. For most, the US market is the biggest opportunity that presents the most volume, potential listings, properties and upside. Coming into the US is easier than going outside of the US.
We invested in Belize because we are prepping for retirement. What are some good reasons to invest outside of the US if you are an American citizen?
There could be tax advantages. It can be a tax haven. It can be an opportunity to move your money outside of the US legally and be able to have that nest egg built in a foreign country. You never know what’s going to happen here as we have seen in the past. That gives you an opportunity to have somewhere else to go. It’s all about a strategy and a lot of people forget that important part. If you don’t have a strategy, whether you are investing in the US or outside the US, you are going to fail. It’s like with everything we do. If you don’t have systems, you are going to fail. If you don’t have a strategy, you are going to fail. You have to create a strategy and work with a professional team to implement that strategy.
Talk to me about building that strategy. What are some of the first steps to building that international strategy?
We are going to first look at what you are doing in real estate, see where you want to invest, and how you want to invest? Do you want to have joint venture partners? Are you using your own money? Are you using other people’s money? What corporate structure do you have in the US? Do you have contacts and connections in that subject country, that new country? How does that all look? How was your professional team going to stack up? What types of properties do you want? What are your goals with those properties?Protect your assets as you're expanding your business. Click To Tweet
Do you want a property that you can go to a part of the time and Airbnb the rest of the time? How does that look? Bringing in those tax advisers, figuring out how you’re doing asset protection as well, looking at asset protection solutions and opportunities. You have to protect your assets as you’re expanding your business no matter if it’s in real estate or anything. Those are some of the steps that we would go through in analyzing how to make this all happen and execute it.
What is the number one risk in not setting up that structure before you start?
It’s twofold. The first is that you could be shut down legally. You could be precluded from visiting your properties or investments because you didn’t put the structure in place and you could be stopped at the border, whichever border that might be. The other thing is this huge potential tax consequence of not setting up your structure properly from the get-go, which could shut you down anyway because of numbers.
In extra, we are going to talk about 1031 exchanges and doing that over borders. I’m excited about that. Could you tell us a little bit about what we’re going to talk about?
I’m assuming that your audience knows what 1031 is.
Yes, they have heard about it.
I don’t have to explain what 1031 is. 1031 is awesome because it allows investors and property owners to transfer property no matter where they are from. What we forget is, this is especially true for Canadians, the exchange will be disregarded for tax purposes oftentimes when they go back to their home country. They may be legally allowed to do it here in the US, no matter where they are from. The impact could be negative when they go back to their home country if they take the money out of the US.
We are going to be talking a little bit more about the intricacies around that. I’m excited about that extra because we have never talked about this stuff. Before we move into our three rapid-fire questions, could you tell everybody how they can reach you?
I am easy to reach. Please find me on LinkedIn. I will tell you that you need to find me with my Canadian presence because that’s super important. There’s a little confusion about that.￼ On Facebook, it’s LaurenESQ. Everything is LaurenESQ. I’m launching my podcast website, it’s LaurenESQ.com. That’s my brand. I’ve been using that email address forever and a day. That’s the best way to find me on Facebook. On Instagram it’s @Lauren_Cohen_ESQ. On Twitter, it’s @eCouncilInc, which is the name of my company. I’m on Clubhouse. You can find me on that new crazy thing. I hear that Elon Musk shut the platform down because you’re only allowed 5,000 people and he had 5,000 people in the first room he set up. I can understand that. I would be interested too but I was asleep.
You can always email me directly. On top of the free gift, I also am offering a free consultation to anybody that would like to talk about US investment, cross-border investing, expanding out of the US, and bringing your business into the US. It’s bit.ly/lacexplore. Moneeka makes easy URLs. I would be happy to set up a call, please reference that you met me here. I will be happy to set up that time with you.
You have a free gift for the ladies. Tell us a little bit about that. The link for this one is BlissfulInvestor.com/laurenesq.
When you said that, I was like, “LaurenESQ, that works for me.”
I love that because I know that most of our links to reach our guests start with BlissfulInvestor.com.
You are good at branding. It’s excellent. I am taking a few lessons from you. I already adopted one of your lessons on signing up for the podcast, so I hope it’s okay.
Tell us about your free gift.
I’m probably going to have to renew this free gift because many people have downloaded it. It’s popular. It’s called Eight Steps to Successful Real Estate Investment Across Borders. It’s the guide that will help you and it’s free for all of your readers. It’s a $47 value. It’s going to help you to think about the different elements that we have talked about here and a little bit more.
When you go on there, BlissfulInvestor.com/laurenesq, you will see that it’s $47. You get a special code for my ladies so you get it for free. It is our REI4FREE. Thank you so much for that. I know that there are going to be a lot of people interested in that.
It’s a pleasure to serve you, guys. I love working with real estate investors. It took me a while to find my calling. One thing I will tell any of you that haven’t figured all of it out yet, don’t worry. You will figure it out.
Thank you so much for that. Are you ready for three rapid-fire questions?
Lauren, tell us a super tip on getting started investing in real estate.
Get a coach, that’s a super tip. Don’t do it alone. Whatever you do, work with a coach or somebody that has done that or somebody that can guide you. You don’t want to invest haphazardly and you need a strategy.
What is one strategy for being successful in investing in real estate?
Staying focused and staying in your lane. My four favorite words are, “Stay in your lane.” Don’t try to play realtor, lawyer or accountant. Get people on your team that can do those things because that’s how you’re going to make money in real estate. They are going to guide you, help you do due diligence, analyze the price perspective investments, deal analysis, for example.
What is one daily practice, Lauren, that you would say contributes to your success?
I work out. I have the COVID–20. There is no question. I cannot survive without some type of workout every single day, whether it’s a power walk, a workout, watching kickboxing or working out on my ski machine upstairs or something. You have to get your endorphins going because we are all stuck at home. I’m lucky that I’m in Florida. We are not all that lucky.
Lauren, thank you so much for everything you have shared.
It’s my pleasure.
Ladies, we have more coming in extra. We’re going to be talking about 1031 exchanges across borders, so stay tuned for that if you’re already subscribed. If you’re not subscribed but would like to be, go to RealEstateInvestingForWomenExtra.com and you get the first seven days for free. You can check this out as much as you like for the first seven days, and you can decide one way or the other if you love it or not. For those of you who are leaving us now, thank you so much for joining Lauren and me in this portion of the show. I look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, remember, goals without action are dreams. Get out there, take action and create the life your heart deeply desires. I will see you soon.
Lauren A. Cohen, international speaker, #1 bestselling author and immigration and business strategist, is an attorney licensed in both the U.S. (TN) and Canada (ON). As an active AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) member, Lauren boasts a stellar track record of success. She was also recently recognized as one of 2017’s “Super Lawyers” by Attorney-at-Law Magazine.
Although her role at e-Council does not involve practicing law, Lauren has first-hand knowledge of the visa process, having herself immigrated from Canada, and later becoming an American citizen in 2012. The overriding goal in all of her business endeavors is to help her clients achieve their version of the American Dream. Developing sound strategies designed to sustain long-term growth is a cornerstone of the e-Council Inc. brand.
After spending several years working as corporate counsel in various industries while delving into the field of immigration law, Lauren decided to combine her legal knowledge and business acumen. The result is e-Council Inc., a company offering concierge turnkey business immigration services ranging from professional Business Plans to comprehensive project coordination for all types of business visas, with a special focus on EB-5 solutions for direct investment and regional center cases. Lauren and her team help businesses raise capital, assist franchises seeking additional franchisees particularly in the form of foreign investors, and work with foreign investors seeking access to the U.S. markets.
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Moneeka Sawyer is often described as one of the most blissful people you will ever meet. She has been investing in Real Estate for over 20 years, so has been through all the different cycles of the market. Still, she has turned $10,000 into over $5,000,000, working only 5-10 hours per MONTH with very little stress.
While building her multi-million dollar business, she has traveled to over 55 countries, dances every single day, supports causes that are important to her, and spends lots of time with her husband of over 20 years.
She is the international best-selling author of the multiple award-winning books “Choose Bliss: The Power and Practice of Joy and Contentment” and “Real Estate Investing for Women: Expert Conversations to Increase Wealth and Happiness the Blissful Way.”
Moneeka has been featured on stages including Carnegie Hall and Nasdaq, radio, podcasts such as Achieve Your Goals with Hal Elrod, and TV stations including ABC, CBS, FOX, and the CW, impacting over 150 million people.