My friend Michael who lives in Japan asked me to write VPN poker because he keeps getting asked about this topic and he’s getting tired of answering the same question over and over. Michael is an American who relocated overseas pre-UIGEA for school and work and much like myself he knows all too well how difficult it is to establish yourself overseas.
When I moved from the US to Gibraltar I was using Neteller for most of my payment processing. When the US cut off Neteller I was still allowed to play poker on non US-facing sites but getting Neteller to accept the fact that I had actually relocated outside of the US and wasn’t just trying to scam them was a month long mission. I had to make multiple long-distance phone calls, provide utility bills, and provide a sperm sample just to get them to believe I was no longer a resident of the US (okay, the sperm sample is a lie but it felt like they were intruding way beyond the scope of a mere eWallet).
I remember my friend Michael expressing similar problems to me when he moved to Japan. He had to jump through so many hoops that he felt like a trained circus performer.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to trick the system but if you want to appear to be outside of the United States you’re probably going to have to actually live outside of the US.
Getting a VPN and an overseas bank account are not enough and even the part about getting an overseas bank account isn’t easy. The US is infamous around the world for their strict banking regulations and money laundering laws so most banks that want to stay on the US’s good side don’t even want to deal with Americans.
The quality of your banking relationship often will be based largely on your legal status in the country. For instance, I could not simply open up a bank accounts with well known international banks in Gibraltar or Malta. I had to show proof of employment, a work permit, a residency permit, a letter of introduction from my employer, and a utility bill.
[contentadL]However, in Thailand it was a totally different story. In theory you’re not supposed to be able to open up a bank account unless you have a work permit. But TIT (This is Thailand) which means you can walk into a bank and they might refuse to open an account for you on Monday and go in the next day to the same exact branch and they’ll open up an account with nothing more than your passport.
I’ve heard similar stories about the Philippines and and a few other SEA countries. One person will tell you that they had to show a mountain of paperwork and another person will report that all they had to do was give their hotel as their home address.
I’ve also heard that in Spain you can get an account as tourist. From what I understand it’s mostly with smaller banks.
I have heard that some Hong Kong banks will open up banks for US residents if you go to their US branch and have the US branch verify all of your paperwork (i.e. signing documents, etc) and everything can be handled via fax between the two branches.
There are also options for banks in the Caribbean, Switzerland, and other countries that are well known for catering to people who prefer their banking to kept private but it’s very hit and miss for US citizens and usually they won’t touch you unless you’re going to be putting on deposit enough to make it worth their while ($10,000 would be an absolute minimum).
The general rule though is that you’re going to have to get legal residence somewhere in order to open a bank account. That means moving out of the US and having the legal right to live in the country.
So how do you get a visa to become a long-term resident in another country? The most obvious is obtaining employment in another country. For US citizens that’s easier said than done. I can’t go through all of the reasons as that would be another post in itself but for the most part the rest of the world either produces people with similar educational backgrounds which means they already have citizens who can perform the work or nobody would pay you a competitive salary.
For instance, if I were an IT guy and I went to the UK seeking employment in the IT sector, they probably already have tons of people with similar educational and work experience backgrounds already in the UK so it would be hard for any company that wants to hire you to make the case to the government that you possess a special skill set that they were unable to find locally.
Now, let’s say you decide to come to Thailand where you think you’re IT skills put you on a different footing since they don’t have technical schools that are comprable to US IT schools. Great, you might find opportunities but they may not hire you because you don’t speak Thai and even if they do hire you they’re only going to pay you what they would pay a Thai which might only be 30,000 baht ($1000) per month and not the $5,000 – $10,000 you might be expecting for that same skill set back home.
The only job skill Americans inherently have that can not be done by the local population in many countries is teaching English. Korea, China, Thailand, and many other countries around the world pay a premium for English teachers who speak English as their native language. Granted, here in Thailand premium means that you probably start off working at about 30,000 baht per month ($1,000) with an upside of maybe making 100,000 baht per month if you can get a nice cushy private school job after getting a few years experience under your belt.
So living overseas on a work permit is difficult. What other options are available? You could study overseas. I take Thai lessons and have an education visa. The school costs me less than $1,000 a year.
I think you can find something to study in nearly every country that would be covered under a educational visa. Cooking, Buddhism, martial arts, or whatever. I’ve seen educational visas given for just about everything.
That’s probably the best route for many people to go.
Another option is to set up a front company and give yourself a work permit. I’m not suggesting that you do anything shady or illegal but why can’t you open an internet cafe where you want to live, employ yourself, and hire someone to mind the till while you sit in the back room playing poker all day?
I said something about VPN’s didn’t I? Oh yeah, right there in the subject. All of stuff above is why just getting a VPN connection probably won’t work. You’re going to need to establish residence somewhere in order to have all of the proper banking relationships and prove that you live outside of the US. For instance, what happens if you try to do a cashout for a large amount and they ask for proof of residence and request a utility bill? If you opened up a dodgy bank account on a tourist visa that’s going to be next to impossible to provide.
You could get around it by subletting an apartment or something and trying to have the bills in your name but then again you could run into problems getting the utilities in your name since you don’t have a legal right to be living in the country. For instance, here in Thailand it was more difficult for me to get cable television than it was a bank account. I had to show my passport, my visa, have the landlord send a letter telling them that I was legally renting the apartment, etc.
I’ve heard of people suggesting that you get something simple like a post paid mobile phone but here in Thailand I’ve had difficulty getting one. Here was my last conversation with the AIS rep.
Me: I want to get on a post-paid plan
Rep: Need work permit.
Me: I’m on a educational visa. I can’t work in Thailand but I can live here.
Rep: Sorry, cannot.
Me: I have a 1 year visa. I live here, I have a bank account here, I have a Thai driver’s license.
Rep: Okay, I think we can do.
Me: Great, so what papers do you need from me?
Rep: Work permit.
The other thing about VPN’ing your way out of the US is that it has a huge potential to set off alarms at the poker sites. I know both Stars and Tilt (as well as Party) have very comprehensive checks in place that flag suspicious activity. This is mostly for catching collusion, fraud, and money laundering but the VPN solution could put you in their crosshairs just as easily.
Let’s say you get a VPN service that makes it look like you’re in Canada. You’re playing on Stars and your VPN connection gets dropped for whatever reason and after a few seconds it reconnects and you’re back playing from a Canadian IP address again. Well, you bought the Canada package so that means you might have started your session with an IP address that’s associated with Vancouver and reconnected a few seconds later from an IP address associated with Montreal. Unless you’ve found a way to break the laws of physics travelling 2295 miles in just a few seconds is impossible and this could set off a flag that you’re masking your IP address which is usually done by people trying to do something funny on the site so the security department gets a notice to review your account, freeze any cashouts, and seek further clarification.
Busted. Now you’re back to square one again.
One way around that would be to purchase a dedicated Windows server in the country you plan on pretending to be in and installing the poker software on that computer and then remote desktopping into the server and playing from there. You would always have the same IP address but I’m not sure how laggy it might be trying to 24 table over a remote desktop connection.
Like I said, there are ways to get around all of the individual hurdles but they all come at a price and a risk. If you really want to play on Stars and Tilt (or Party or any other non-US site) your best bet is to leave the country. The whole reason you’re in the mess you’re in is because you chose to make something your profession which the US government had explicitly stated it felt was illegal. Why continue to skirt the laws when you could go completely legit?
Plus after a year or two when (hopefully) there’s legalized and regulated poker in the US you can come and clean up on some of the old grinders who have been letting their skills get rusty 🙂