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Doing Business Abroad: Do Your Homework

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This week’s story in the Willamette Week about the Oregonian incarcerated in a Mexican jail reminded me of the questions we get from people who want to do business, live, work, or invest in other countries. They search for information as if the enterprise would be no different from moving to another U.S. state.

Keep in mind that we in the law library business hear the stories about deals gone bad, so maybe we’re more cautious than most, but the caution really is not misplaced. A lot of people think doing business abroad is like doing business here, just in another language, but with the same sort of document recording systems, the same court systems, and the same legal protections. It’s not.

So, if you plan to make an investment or conduct other business in another country, do your homework. I’d probably begin my research with a strategy that looks something like this:

1) Run a search in Google (or Dogpile, which I prefer for some searches, or your search engine of choice). Using words like “doing business [name of country]” or “property rights [name of country]” brings up a lot of possibilities, though be sure to check out the bona fides of any person or company named, and that may mean contacting your state’s Attorney General’s office, Better Business Bureau, or an attorney. You might also want to restrict one of your searches to dot gov sites, which will get you to official government web sites, such as those at the State Department or your own state’s economic development web pages.

2) I’d also contact the Oregon State Bar, the [name of country] Embassy (usually lots of information on their web sites), the [name of country] Consulate, and the local Chamber of Commerce, if you are planning to do business abroad.

3) If you want to research the country’s laws, I like to start with the Library of Congress Guide to Law Online. Whatever investing youdo in a foreign country, and however many advisors you have, there’s no substitute for learning yourself as much as you can of the law of the land.

4) Talk to people who know what can go wrong. These include lawyers, accountants, tax professionals who have experience working in the country that interests you.

These online and people searches will lead you to additional resources, and referral possibilities may also show up from these, so keep good notes on what books you have consulted (don’t forget your local library), what web sites you have visited, and names of the people you have talked to (and what they said).

Librarians tend to do a lot of this sort of research before we travel to another country, even if just for a 2-week tourist visit, so don’t expect any sympathy from us if you don’t want to do your homework when you are planning to invest, buy property, or live in another country. This isn’t to say unforeseen things can’t go wrong; after all, s**** happens. But you can at least minimize the risks and prepare contingency plans.

Happy Trails!

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