Gail Tatiana Tellez

Came from
Costa Rica
Current position
AML Compliance Officer

Starting out as a French teacher in her home country of Costa Rica, Gail decided to reskill and pursue her interest in IT.  After commencing her IT career at Hewlett Packard, she took a position in Western Union, where she rose up the ranks. Beginning as an AML Compliance Specialist responsible for onboarding at Western Union in Costa Rica, she is now AML Compliance Officer at the company’s European headquarters in Vilnius. 

It’s very safe. We don’t have the same level of security in Costa Rica. Here, I can walk around at 3am and nothing happens to me. At home, I can’t do that because someone might rob you.

What brought you to Lithuania? 

As part of my job at Western Union in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to travel to many countries. And I fell in love with Europe. When I arrived there for the first time I was like: I love Europe! The castles, the history, the nature. This is where I want to live.

And after living in France for some time as part of my job, I knew I wanted to come back. So when I saw this position in Lithuania, I thought: “why not?” It’s Europe and I love it. 

It also helped that I had two friends from Costa Rica who were already in Vilnius. I asked them if it was a good place or not, and they told me so many good things about the country. For example, it’s very safe. We don’t have the same level of security in Costa Rica. Here, I can walk around at 3am and nothing happens to me. At home I can’t do that because someone might rob you. It’s just not as safe.

I suppose it was a bit of a coincidence that I had two friends here, but it’s worked out well. One is actually a childhood friend who I grew up with, and he was living in Austria but decided to move to Lithuania. And the other was a colleague of mine from Western Union in Costa Rica who moved here two years before me. I suppose Lithuania is just becoming more attractive to international workers like us that are looking for fun careers in Europe. 

How was the relocation experience? 

Western Union’s HR helped me a lot. They sent me all the documents I needed and also links to apartments. As I’ve said, my friend was also here so he helped me find an apartment as well. Mostly though it was the HR department at WU who took care of everything. Before I arrived they organised and sent me a working permit, so when I arrived at the airport and they asked me the reason for traveling, I was able to show my permit.

And the process of getting a residence permit at the migration office was also easy enough. I had to go and present my documents, but WU had already helped me prepare them. It was quite quick, less than two months. The only hassle was opening a bank account, because they won’t give you one until you have a residence permit. You can fix that, but it takes some work, so I’d recommend that people coming here are prepared for that.  

How well are you settling in? 

Very well. There is the language, but because I’m a language teacher I know the process of learning a language and I can do it myself. I just need someone to correct my pronunciation. It’s easy to be lazy with the language because in Vilnius almost everyone speaks English. But I know I need to do it, so I will. We also have lessons at Western Union, so that’s very good. 

There are some things that remind me of home – I’m talking about food. There is this pastry with a meat filling called kibinai. It’s like the empanada you get in Costa Rica. I really like them. There’s also some African stores where I can buy things that we cook with back home, like plantain. I was surprised they had them, as when I lived in France, I couldn’t find these kinds of shops.  As you can tell, I love cooking!  

It’s also easy to fit in here at Western Union as we have quite an international team.  

So, you have an international team?

Yes, at least in my department. We have people from Costa Rica, from Spain, Italy, Serbia, Romania, France, Rwanda, Egypt – so many different countries.  We also have this monthly newsletter that we make inside our team. Every month someone puts together a kind of cultural lesson about where they’re from. It could be about the food, or history, something like that. And we have activities and get-togethers where we make eachother food. 

I’d have to say in general, though, the environment at Western Union is very similar to the one I experienced in Costa Rica. We are very focused on doing our tasks and that’s the priority. 

When I first arrived I did notice that the local Lithuanians seemed a bit shy. We Latinos are not shy at all, you know, we are loud.  We like to hug and give people a kiss on the cheek to say hi. So at the beginning, my Lithuanian colleagues were like: “what is that? We don’t hug people we don’t know.” But now it’s funny because every time they see me at the office it’s like – okay, give me a hug. So, now they are learning my culture!

Does that international flavour also apply to your job?

Definitely. I am an AML Compliance Officer. WU is a company dealing in money transfers so we need to verify there is no money laundering or fraud in the services.  

Every year or every quarter some locations or agencies are selected that we need to audit. We then need to start monitoring all that location’s transactions to look for suspicious partners. Once we’ve done this monitoring, we plan an appointment with a compliance delegate from this location and do a visit. Then during our meeting, we’ll educate them on what they’re not doing and what they should do. This work takes us to all the destinations we cover. As I speak French, I go to France, and, of course, I also speak Spanish. I have other colleagues who speak Portuguese, German, or Polish. This job lets you travel, and it’s also fun and challenging, and you get to meet lots of people. 

What about life in Lithuania? Do you have anything you’d like to share?

There are a lot of things, but two come to mind. 

The buses and public transport are great. In Costa Rica you just have to go to the bus stop, wait and have faith that the bus will arrive. And when a bus does come, there are no stops. You need to sit near the driver and tell him when you want to get off. The first week I was here I asked my friend how transportation works and he told me about this application Trafi. And I felt so lucky! It’s so nice that there is this app that tells you when the bus is coming, and you can even buy and use tickets through it. And it’s cool because it’s a Lithuanian company that invented it.  There are lots of services that are online here, like taxes and healthcare. It makes it easy to do stuff.

But the best thing about living in Lithuania is the nature.  

Here, even though I’m in the city I can just walk a little bit and be amongst lots of trees. It’s like being in the forest, like somewhere in the woods, there are so many trees. In Costa Rica, you have big cities with no trees at all. So you need to go to the mountains to see trees, to feel this environment of the forest. Here you can walk two blocks and see so many trees. I love that. I remember when I first moved here it was like it’s so good because I feel like I live in the countryside but at the same time in the city.

The interview was conducted in May 2023.