Archive for May, 2015

This past January I was fortunate to take part in another amazing volunteer opportunity – this time back to Africa! I was part of a 15-member team from my church that ventured across the pond to serve those in need in Niger. The weeks leading up to this trip were filled with tons of excitement as I prepared for yet another African adventure, nervousness due to timing of visas and yellow fever shots (which apparently are a rare commodity in this country), and laughter (a lot of laughter actually) at the amount of times I was asked if I would return home with Ebola. While it comes as no surprise to me, some of you might be shocked to learn that I did indeed go to and come home from West Africa without Ebola!

nigerOur team spent two weeks in Niger: one week in Niamey which is the capital of the country and another week in Galmi which is a town about six hours (ten hours in a van) outside of the capital. Our first week was spent serving the needs of a local hospital in Galmi, but before that we took a mini road trip from Niamey to Galmi, and quite frankly I loved every second of it! There is no better way to see a country than a good old-fashioned road trip! This six hour ride quickly escalated into a near ten hour ride, but it was not without excitement. We passed through more than 50 villages, got gas on the side of the road from a man carrying a jerrycan, saw hundreds of wild camels roaming free, witnessed the ever-so-popular means of transportation – a donkey pulling a wagon, almost hit a cow in the middle of the road, and had a real interesting encounter with two elderly African women and a man with a machete when we stopped to use the restroom (not to imply that there was an actual restroom). Not to mention, we were the main attraction in every village that we passed through. I mostly try not to put on my americano costume when I travel abroad, but sometimes the blonde hair and blue eyes make blending in a somewhat difficult task! Did I also mention that we drove on one road for the entire trip?

One of the members of our church, Deb, is a full-time missionary/occupational therapist at the hospital in Galmi (galmi.org) and has single-handedly developed an entire therapy unit and has made strides in advancing the care within the emergency burn unit in the hospital – all in a couple of years’ time might I add! As the hospital is mostly led by a team of international volunteer doctors, our team was there for the week to simply lend a hand with whatever tasks needed completing.

As we arrived on the hospital compound, I was overtaken by the serenity and peacefulness of the sights, the sounds, the gentleness and humility of the local workers, and just the overall ambiance. Simply put, I was overwhelmed at how at home I felt in this tiny little community in the middle of nowhere in Africa. As we were now on Deb’s soil, she made sure we jumped right into the African lifestyle and prepared for us some delicious homemade African cuisine during our stay. Our first night at the hospital compound we discussed the various ways that our team could serve the hospital and also those that keep the hospital running. Our main objectives were a few organizational projects and simple encouragement. Life can be very difficult financially and also emotionally draining at times for missionaries, and organization of records often comes secondary to patient care, especially in a region where sanitation is not always a primary concern. So those were our primary tasks, and with that we concluded our first night at the hospital.

As we headed to our rooms that night I heard, “Hey Kath, hang on a second. We have something for you to do.” Deb called me over and explained that they had a special project for me to help out with. In my head I’m thinking, “I’m probably not anymore organized or organizing ‘capable’ than anyone else on this trip. I wonder what this is about?” To my surprise, the hospital was asking for help with their accounting! I never in a MILLION years imagined this would be an opportunity on this trip, and boy am I ever so grateful that it was! I spent the entire next day helping the finance manager of the hospital reconcile cash, post entries, close out a few months in preparation for year-end close, and also discussing internal controls. I learned about Nigerien payroll, how the Nigerien social security system functions, got hands-on experience with their accounting software, and most importantly was able to fill a vital need for the hospital. My heart was overjoyed by and through this experience, and it was just unexpectedly perfect at the way it all fell in place together. And as a result, this nerdy accountant had the biggest cheesy smile glued to her face for the days following.

There were a lot of mixed emotions at the sight of the hospital. There was happiness as we learned about all of the improvements that they have been making on a continual basis. However, I was heartbroken as we walked through the ICU and learned that there were only so many oxygen masks to go around and if someone needed it more than you, simply put, you could be out of luck. This hospital is one of the best hospitals in the entire country of Niger with incredibly skilled doctors, and the realization that they are limited to the resources around them is a tough pill to swallow, especially knowing that there is a television in probably 95% of the hospital rooms in America. I’ve had a few hospital visits in my day, but this was by far the toughest.

Carl CamelAnother highlight of this trip is the day I got to ride a camel, in the desert, in Africa. I had the pleasure of riding the best camel ever. His name is Carl and he is awesome. This was without fail, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! Carl is also the most photogenic camel I’ve ever met — #selfiegamestrong.

Stay tuned for part 2!!

By Kathy Sikora, CPA | 609.520.1188 | ksikora@withum.com

Read Full Post »

Business-CardIt has been several years since I last went back to Taiwan to visit my relatives. During my recent trip there, I felt more like a “foreigner” than before. I observed many differences between the Taiwanese and American culture etiquette. For example, during a so called, “family banquet,” where I did not know 95% of the people, I had an opportunity to reacquaint with one of my cousins whom I had not seen since he was in elementary school. I asked for his business card so we can keep in touch in the future. He presented me his business card with both hands and a slight bow. While he bowed to me, he also spoke a short phrase which meant to please provide him feedback to help him improve. I was intrigued since I saw this done during the business environment, but not during a social event. In addition, since we are closely related cousins, I did not realize that this etiquette also applied to us. After a long conversation with my cousin, the following are what I found out about the business card exchange etiquette in Taiwan, which is very similar to Japan:

  • When presenting your business card, you hold the card with both hands. Make sure you hold the card facing your contact so he/she can read it.
  • A small quick bow to show your respect.
  • It is best to stand up when exchanging cards.
  • Exchange cards one-on-one, so don’t distribute your cards like dealing cards in a casino.
  • Don’t put your cards in a stack on a table and offer others to take your cards.
  • When receiving a business card, take the time to read the card in front of your contact. Don’t just shove the card into your pocket, especially NOT into your back trouser pocket.

And yes, in any event, regardless social or business, always bow back if someone bows to you to express their thanks. Don’t just nod and say, “you are welcome,” thinking you did good.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact your WithumSmith+Brown professional, a member of WS+B’s International Services Group or email us at international@withum.com.

By Phyllis Tsai, CPA, MBA, CGMA | 609.520.1188 | ptsai@withum.com

Read Full Post »

Import-ExportForeign-Trade Zones (FTZs) are designed to generate economic growth and development in the United States by encouraging firms to site and expand their U.S. operations within the zones. Rules related to FTZs are designed to put U.S. manufacturers on equal footing with foreign competitors through special rules related to tariffs and excise taxes.

FTZs are secure areas where foreign and domestic goods can be moved in and out. They are generally located in or near U.S. ports of entry. FTZs are authorized by the Foreign-Trade Zones Board and are supervised by U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

A robust set of activities are permitted within FTZ including the processing, assembly and manufacturing of goods and the storage and exhibition of merchandise. FTZs are operated by qualified public and private corporations. As the zones are seen as providing a public good, they are run as a public utility and the rates charged for services within the zones are regulated and publicly available.

While activities within FTZ are subject to local, state and federal laws, special rules related to tariffs and other ad valorem taxes apply. These rules allow importers to defer the payment of duties and take advantage of inverted tariffs and they allow exporters to accelerate their drawback of duties previously paid on goods imported into the U.S. as well as federal excise taxes related to those goods.

Foreign merchandise, brought directly into FTZs by importers, is not subject to duty or excise taxes upon entry.. The importer is free to process, assemble or manufacture goods using the foreign merchandise that they have imported. They can then choose to pay duty based on the rate applicable to the merchandise that they imported or to the finished product they produced within the FTZ. Furthermore, the payment of duty and excise tax is deferred until the finished products leave the FTZ and enter territory under CBP jurisdiction for domestic consumption. If exported from the FTZ, the finished products exit the zone duty and excise tax free.

Another benefit afforded to importers pertains to quotas. If a quota for a particular type of merchandise has been filled, an importer may bring the merchandise into a FTZ and hold it there until the quota opens or is removed. Except for certain textile products, the importer may also use the merchandise subject to the quota to produce another product that is not subject to the quota. Merchandise entering a FTZ can remain within the zone indefinitely without paying duty or excise taxes, but will be subject to storage charges. However, merchandise that is prohibited from being imported into the U.S. is also prohibited from entering FTZs.

Domestic merchandise brought into a FTZ for export can be considered as having been exported. Consequently, upon admission of the goods, exporters can submit their drawback filings in order to accelerate the process of recouping prior duties paid on imported inputs and can also initiate the process of securing excise tax rebates.

If you have any questions regarding FTZs, please contact your WithumSmith+Brown professional, a member of WS+B’s International Services Group or email us at international@withum.com.

By Richard Ingunza | 212.751.9100 | ringunza@withum.com

Read Full Post »