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By Lore Bilbao

This past May, I set sail aboard the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas for a ten day trip, visiting four different islands.

The cruise experience itself is an unforgettable one. Some of the activities for the guests were: surfing, sky diving simulations, rock climbing and trapeze lessons, just to name a few. I made sure we did as much as we could.

Royal Caribbean Anthem of the SeaOur first stop was Bermuda. Being my second time here, we knew our plan of action was to relax on a beach nearby where our ship docked. A main attraction is Horseshoe Bay Beach, which is further inland. There you can climb the rocks to get a higher perspective of the island. Bermuda is known for their rum swizzle, a sweet tropical drink, which you can find at many places on the island. Another main attraction is Bermuda’s rum cake and glass blowing factory. It sounds like an odd combination, but being that they are both under one roof, many guests find themselves there, getting to witness the island’s traditions and purchasing souvenirs to bring home.

Before we knew it, our time was up in Bermuda and we were back on the ship. Next up was Saint Marteen’s, another beautiful island. Despite the overcast and showers we dealt with, we were eager to explore what the island had to offer. Initially, our plan was to snorkel, but since the waters were too rough we took the shopping route. There were so many stores on the island for souvenirs – even brand name shops.

Next, we spent half the day in Puerto Rico on the beach. There isn’t too much I can say about the island because we went straight to a club where we spent the day on the beach. It is crazy to think about how I was there a few months ago and now they are experiencing such devastation from hurricane Maria.

Haiti Dragons Flight Zip LiningThe last island, and probably my favorite, was Haiti. We visited Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee. There we found my most favorite activity of the trip, ziplining! It’s called the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line. The way this excursion worked was that the instructors initially brought you to a practice zipline. We were all instructed to sit upright with our hands on the bar as we coasted to the bottom of the zipline. After the trial run, we rode on a bus up to the top of the official Dragon’s Breath Zipline which just so happened to be the largest zipline over water. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking – the most picturesque scene I’ve witnessed. We put what we learned to the test, and literally sat back to enjoy the ride.

This trip overall was one I could not forget. Cruises are great; not only do you get the most for your money, but you have the opportunity to see a few different places in a short amount of time. For me, I like to spend money on experiences and creating memories as opposed to material objects. One quote I stumbled across that I like is, “Travel while you are young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be.” When we travel, we are reminded of our small role in this big, big, world.

By Terry Mullen, MBA

A single viral photo on Twitter of the Blue Lagoon gave me the epiphany of planning a trip to Iceland.

After a few months of planning and a little effort in convincing friends to accompany me on this journey, the wheels were in motion. I was lucky enough that our Business Development Executive, Jennifer Barrows, knew an acquaintance from Iceland that gave me plenty of helpful tips before setting out on our adventure. Six friends, two cars, and lots of PB&Js lead to one epic road trip. Strangely, the Blue Lagoon wasn’t even the best part.

The Views

Iceland views

TLC was wrong when they told us not to chase waterfalls. Of which, Iceland has plenty. By far the best way to explore Iceland is The Ring Road. Route 1, which is referred to as The Ring Road, goes around the entire island circling to about 828 miles. We saw the beautiful rainbow above as we were in the last leg of our trip through the western side of the island, heading back to the main city of Reykjavik.

Towards the end of spring, the sun is up almost 20 hours each day and even in those four hours of night, it was never truly “dark”.  The island itself is made from volcanic rock that looks like black lava that has hardened over many years. Most of the civilization resides in the southern part of the Ring Road which houses waterfalls off to the side that you can park your car and walk up to. While driving past all of the farmland, you can see herds of wild horses and goats moving up along the eastern side of the island as it becomes more of a dirt road roller coaster. Never knowing what beautiful site we may see next, we kept our cameras handy.

The Dos

Reykjavik Iceland

In addition to the large selection of waterfalls, all unique in their own way, there’s an abundance of things to do and see. Geysers that shoot boiling hot water up unexpectedly, the Harpa Museum, Jökulsárlón and Laugavegur, the main street in Reykjavik, are all hot spots. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is filled with marble like glaciers that never melt and you may even spot some otters. The street of Laugavegur has everything from shops to bars, and it even includes the famous Hallgrímskirkja Church where you can capture an amazing view of the city from the very top (pictured above).

Find a hot spring. The Blue Lagoon is luxurious, but if you’re not trying to spend all of your money, general entry to sit in this man-made lagoon is about $60+. Don’t get me wrong, it is breathtaking and I would definitely recommend it, but it comes with a cost. On the other hand, there are hot springs that you don’t have to pay for. Reykjadalur, a hot spring river that requires a 2.5 mile hike, is only 40 minutes from the main city. The manner the pathway runs along the river is quite the site to see.

Lastly, make your way to the Svörtuloft Lighthouse. It’s a bumpy ride, yet totally worth it. We were on the hunt to find puffins off the coast and were fortunate to spot a few while out on the ledge. Their multicolored beaks help them stand out among the other penguins. Don’t be alarmed if you see them listed on the menu at some restaurants. however. They are cute, but tasty.

The Foods

Icelanders generally complement their fermented shark with a side of Black Death. Definitely an acquired taste, the fermented shark that is. Black Death is a shot of Brennivín vodka. The consensus with our group was that this Icelandic vodka is smooth to the core and easy to take.

While in the city of Reykjavik, you can’t leave without getting a famous Icelandic hot dog better known as a pylsur. If you can, get it with Cool American Doritos (aka Cool Ranch), Icelandic sauce and cheese. Sounds crazy, but it is phenomenal. Do not get a hot dog from a convenience store, it may ruin your hot dog experience and Iceland certainly has the best I’ve ever had.

Most goods are imported onto the island so it was pricey to eat out, but the seafood is fresh and flavorsome. Langoustines, whale and reindeer are a few additional items available that are far from the American norm.

Closing Remarks

Bring a backpack and an open mind. Always have it packed with an extra pair of clothes and a bathing suit. I was so grateful to have my Withum backpack with me as some of our adventures were completely unexpected. If you don’t already have a good pair of hiking boots, buy some. Pack for the season and be prepared to be amazed.

Iceland

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This blog post is written by Federico Giordano, Tax Partner on Secondment from Marchionni & Partners – HLB Italy at Withum.

The HLB International Secondment is temporary work assignments arranged between HLB Member Firms that operate in two different countries.

Many people do not realize that it is possible to explore different career possibilities by temporarily changing roles within the HLB professional network. This is often known as “going on secondment” and is especially prevalent in Multi-National Enterprises (MNEs) where the management is adept at making the best use of the various skills and interests of their key staff.

In the past, Withum has informally sent and received staff among the HLB Member Firms throughout the world. A few years ago, Withum formalized a “Secondment Program” to temporary assign staff to HLB Member Firms to continue to provide its staff with many opportunities to elevate their skills and increase their wins.

What Do You Know about HLB International?

Formed in 1969, HLB International is a world-wide network of independent professional accounting firms and business advisors present in more than 130 countries worldwide. HLB International ranked 13th worldwide among the “Top 20 Networks 2016” published by AccountancyAge (latest combined revenue USD 1,910M) and 11th in Europe among the “2015 Regional Breakdown” published by the International Accounting Bulletin. Withum is an involved member of HLB International.

Why Go on Secondment?

There are various advantages to go on secondment – mainly to improve your career growth by developing your resume and doing networking between professionals of different generations and backgrounds. In addition, to improve your language skills if you decide to move on secondment to a foreign language-speaking country.

It is not about changing jobs completely in order to maximize this sort of opportunity. A secondment program offers professional staff who are content in their current role the chance to try something new in a foreign country, to improve their skills and experience in order to better interact with others.

This is exactly how I see the secondment experience at Withum. I am a tax partner at Marchionni & Partners in Pesaro, an Italian firm with a staff of 35 people, and I provide assistance on international tax matters both for companies and individuals. Staying within Marchionni & Partners is challenging, due to its small size I have to be a multitasking professional able to work individually and as a part of a team and, of course, able to engage and keep clients bringing business.

Moreover, I am a board member at HLB Italy in Milan, an alliance of Italian tax, accounting and legal firms. HLB Italy, with a staff of over 250, with more than 200 professionals and a combined revenue of around EUR 30 million, provides accounting, tax and legal services through its offices in Milan, Rome, Turin, Verona, Florence, Parma and Pesaro. Together with the other board members, we determine the strategic policies and professional standards for the HLB Italy Member Firms and establish the marketing strategies to meet the goals and objectives of the alliance.

I love my job at Marchionni & Partners, but I believe that the move to Withum gave me a unique opportunity to learn about the different working practices, organizational structures and cultures. My secondment is for a period of three months, and is providing me an enormous challenge, both personally and professionally. The “Withum Way” is great and I believe I will gain an important cultural background which might be very important in establishing professional relationships.

A secondment program is a fantastic way to meet people in other areas of practice and with other types of jobs, and find out what they do and what is important to them. It is not easy to stay abroad, out of the familiar surroundings, without support of the close relatives and friends, but an international experience will give you a much more rounded experience so I can recommend it with confidence.

I would like to thank Withum for making my secondment a reality!

This week’s blog post is written by Withum’s International Services Group member, Phyllis Tsai.

Withum’s International Services Team recently welcomed one of our HLB International network firms from China, Baicheng Tax Consulting Services.

Beicheng has been operating as a professional tax service company since 2003. They mainly service large-scale companies and corporations in China. They are based in Shanghai and have braches in Beijing and Shandong Province. All of Baicheng’s five directors (plus one translator) came to visit Withum’s Princeton office to gain an understanding of the U.S. tax system and an introduction to Withum’s culture and various services we provide to our clients. Throughout this meeting, Baicheng also gave Withum some insight of the Chinese tax system and culture relating to marketing.

HLB baicheng

Since most of our visitors do not speak or understand English, May Du (senior tax accountant in Withum’s Princeton office) and I practiced our Chinese skills to try to translate Withum’s, culture, various industry and service niches, and social media involvement, etc. into Chinese terms our visitors would understand. Withum’s attendants also used this opportunity to practice correct business card exchange etiquette in China. The following are some points we learned from meeting our HLB friends:

  • China does not have many social media tools as we do for Baicheng to market their services. They do not have access to Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook. They have limited access to LinkedIn.
  • They have limited internet access so it is difficult for them to download HLB training materials or provide their clients training online. Therefore, they hold many conferences to provide the training to their employees and tax updates to their clients.
  • China does not have individual tax returns currently. Chinese withhold taxes from their paychecks in lieu of filing tax returns (although this policy will change soon).
  • Less than 10% of companies hire accounting firms to prepare corporation tax returns.
  • China revised their transfer pricing rules recently which would be more in line with OECD rules (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).
  • Some of Baicheng’s clients would like to invest abroad since Chinese government has been encouraging companies and individuals to do so.

During early 2016, it was reported by news media that due to China’s “Go Global” strategy, Chinese companies have invested more money in foreign locations in the first ten weeks of 2016, compared to all of 2015. Chinese companies invested $110 billion until mid-April 2016, compared to $108 billion in 2015.

Craig-Walker-e1464790868125This Where in the World blog post is written by Craig Walker, Senior Tax Manager with Hawson’s Chartered Accountants.

From the argument over selling bendy bananas to the threat of an emergency budget, the EU referendum campaign has undoubtedly had its share of the headlines over the past couple of months.

The biggest headline now though is of course that the UK has voted to leave the EU.

So what happens next? Will the Brexit vote result in a complete overhaul of UK tax as we know it?

The purpose of this blog post is to briefly explore some of the potential tax implications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. It is important to stress that the impact of Brexit on UK taxes is extremely difficult to predict at this stage, since many questions remain unanswered.

VAT

The EU has certainly had a significant influence on the UK tax system, perhaps most notably with regard to VAT. VAT is essentially an EU driven tax and leaving the EU could result in significant changes to this area of tax.

Whilst the UK may no longer be obliged to have a VAT system once post-exit terms have been agreed, it is fairly safe to assume that VAT will not be abolished given its contribution to the Treasury.

The UK will, however be free to decide which goods or services are eligible for reduced rates or exemptions. Freedom from strict EU VAT rules could, for example, allow the government to remove the 5% VAT charge on domestic fuel that is currently required by the EU – a change proposed by the Vote Leave campaign during the referendum.

Even if no amendments are made to VAT law in the UK, there could be changes in how HMRC applies VAT legislation because interpretations of the VAT rules would no longer be bound by decisions made by the European Court of Justice.

It is unclear at this stage how the VAT treatment of the UK’s trade with the EU will be affected – this will depend on the terms the UK is able to negotiate post-exit. It may be that trade could continue in much the same way as before if the UK is able to obtain access to the single market, or alternatively UK exporters may be subject to EU import VAT and Customs duties.

The Brexit is likely to create winners and losers for both businesses and consumers.

Emergency Budget

During the lead up to the EU referendum, the Chancellor warned that an emergency budget would be necessary to plug a potential revenue gap in public finances following a vote to leave. An emergency budget could of course bring significant changes to the UK tax system and possible tax rises.

The Chancellor has previously spoken about a 2% rise in the basic tax rate (currently 20%) and a 3% rise in the higher rate (currently 40%). He also indicated that the rate of Inheritance Tax might rise by 5% (currently 40%).

However, there is also an expectation that the government’s focus will be on delivering an upbeat message on the UK economy, in an attempt to calm the markets and boost the UK’s attractiveness as a place for doing business. Therefore, instead of making any immediate tax rises, the government may perhaps look to extend the period of austerity beyond 2020.

Business owners would certainly welcome clear timeframes and roadmaps for future UK tax legislation to help them through what will undoubtedly be a period of certainty.

Other Taxes

A total overhaul of UK taxes is unlikely to happen because of Brexit alone. A large proportion of the UK’s taxes are entirely domestic in nature, and the Brexit by itself won’t directly change any of these.

There may be small changes to the Gift Aid rules, which could affect UK taxpayers who wish to donate to EU-based charities. At present, UK taxpayers can make donations to EU charities and benefit from UK Gift Aid tax relief, however this approach could be changed post exit.

It will be interesting to see how the UK’s existing commitment to international tax agreements will be affected, both in terms of corporate tax and increased transparency.

In Summary

The UK tax system will probably remain largely unchanged following Brexit. The most significant changes are predicted to revolve about VAT, but most of these changes are expected to be gradually implemented and will emerge over time, as the UK negotiates post-exit terms. We will keep you updated.

The real, practical tax implications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will vary from business to business.

Nicole-DeRosaThis week’s blog post is written by Withum’s International Services Group member, Nicole DeRosa.

Who says taxes are logical? Even Albert Einstein agrees that “the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” While maybe not the easiest to understand, most taxes and tax exemptions are usually logical… except the few legitimate ones we found below.

china_round_icon_256China – Chopsticks Tax

In 2006, China introduced a 5% tax on disposable wooden chopsticks in an effort to preserve its vanishing forests. Annual production of disposable wooden chopsticks in China exceeds 45 billion pairs, which is equivalent to about 25 million trees – that is a lot of wood!

denmark_round_icon_256Denmark – Fart Tax

Yes, you read that correctly – the fart tax. In 2009, proposals to tax the flatulence of cows and other livestock was quite the hot topic in Denmark. Livestock contribute 18% of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

united_states_of_america_round_icon_256United States – Tanning Tax

Much to the dismay of Jersey Shore’s Snooki, the Tanning Tax was passed in 2010 to help pay for healthcare reform and was meant to deter customers from using indoor tanning salons. The 10% tax was justified by evidence that tanning can lead to skin cancer.

mexico_round_icon_256_1Mexico – Obesity Tax

Aiming to curb unhealthy consumption habits, in 2013 Mexican lawmakers approved an 8% sales tax on high-calorie foods such as potato chips, sweets, and cereal. The controversial tax reform also targeted sugary drinks, increasing the price of sodas by one peso, approximately seven cents. Mexico isn’t the only country that has implemented such a tax. Denmark introduced a fat tax at one point on items that contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. California has implemented the first of this tax in the United States, effective January 1, 2015 called the Measure D Soda Tax which imposes a tax of one cent per ounce on the distributors of specified sugar-sweetened beverages. That’s not too sweet if you think about it!

irelandIreland – Artist Tax Exemption

Starving artists might never go hungry if they reside in Ireland! According the Taxes Consolidation Act of 1997, income earned by writers, composers, visual artists, and sculptors from the sale of their works is exempt from tax in certain circumstances.