Expatriate Investing Without Flying To Singapore



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People working overseas are often left with a cesspool of investment options.

And most of them don’t realize how unfortunate most of those selections are.  They often get roped into paying high mutual fund costs.  Or worse, they get accosted by horrendous, costly commitments, thanks to salespeople representing firms like Zurich International and Friends Provident.

Through education, we can limit the exploitation, and ensure that people earn the investment results they deserve.

Overseas Americans can choose one of five options presented in this post.

Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Brits (along with any other non American nationality) can choose to invest in low cost exchange traded funds, as long as they can find a reasonably low cost brokerage.

Until recently, I presumed that if a non American expatriate wanted to open an investment account in Singapore, they would need to fly here to do so. 

Many expats working in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand did just that.  They opened accounts with DBS Vickers, and followed the instructions under one of my expat investing posts.

An expat named Harold explains:

If you reside outside of Singapore AND OUTSIDE OF CANADA you can set up a DBS Vickers account WITHOUT having to travel to Singapore if you get the signatures on your application (downloadable online) notarized.

As an Expat Canadian you have to request a special declaration form (just call them and they’ll send it to you by email) that confirms you are a permanent resident outside of Canada.

I spoke with them and they can accept telegraphic transfers from outside Singapore so I can electronically send money to DBS Vickers who will then credit my account with the appropriate funds. I suspect that it’s best to convert your funds (which ever currency you’re dealing with, in my case UAE dirhams) to the currency of the Stock Exchange you wish to trade in (CAD/USD/HK) before transferring so you don’t pay conversion charges twice.

Please open this link to read how an expat Canadian in Japan opened his DBS Vickers account without flying to Singapore.  

Cheers,

Andrew



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andrew hallam

andrew hallam

I'm a freelance finance writer, lucky enough to have been nominated as a finalist for two Canadian National Publishing Awards. I'm also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School, a book explaining how I became a millionaire on a teacher's salary, while still in my 30s. Working to empower people financially, I'm available to motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and index investing. I'm happy to comment on your questions, first, please read the Terms of Use.

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49 Responses

  1. Leonardo Pabroquez J says:

    Noted. Will follow this one!

  2. M says:

    me too. we live in china i was almost going to make that trip this winter break!

  3. Andre Ooi says:

    HI. I'm a big fan of yours and big fan of index investing. I believe your method totally makes sense.

    I'm Malaysian residing in Malaysia.

    Recently i've enquired about setting up trading account with DBS vickers.

    However i understand that singapore ETF is specified investment product (SIP). and that not everyone can buy. One needs to pass exam online etc.

    How did you do it?

    • Hafiz says:

      Hi Andre, I was wondering if CIMB or MAYBANK trading accounts will not be suitable for trading ETF's in Malaysia? All this time I was wondering why DBS vickers? Thanks

  4. yannick thevenot says:

    hi,

    i'm a french national, living in Thailand. I can confirm that DBS Vickers is ready to open an account for me without visiting Singapore, as long as i don't want to trade on Singaporean market. (in that case you need a local bank account which seems to require a visit to Singapore).

    In addition to what is said before, you can your signatures on your firms certified by your local DBS Vickers office. I confirmed that in Thailand they have an office with a person authorized to certify your signatures (it is advised to make an appointment before).

    I'll update this again once i have my account open.

    kind regards,

    Yannick

  5. Leonardo Pabroquez J says:

    Hi Andrew. Hi All!

    Which of these brokerage is better (in Singapore):

    DBS Vickers OR Standard Chartered

    Because from the other thread, you mentioned about Standard Chartered?

    Any of you guys here have tried these brokerages?

    Thanks a lot! More power to you Andrew! (reading now your "Nine Laws to Financial Freedom" pdf file)

    ———————————–

    Andrew Hallam says:

    August 31, 2012 at 5:29 am (UTC 8 )

    Reply

    Great stuff! I wish there were more options throughout SE Asia, but jmondejar is right. You’ll have to come to Singapore to do it. Give the Standard Chartered brokerage a close look. They charge less for smaller investment deposits.

    ———————————————

  6. Hafiz says:

    You are right. You can not trade ETFs online, only through phone.

  7. Chris says:

    Hi all,

    Is it possible to set up a brokerage account as mentioned here in Hong Kong instead of Singapore? I have bank accounts with Standard Chartered in HK already although I do not live there.

    Thanks for any advice.

    Cheers

  8. Hafiz says:

    Hi Andrew

    Trading Vanguard ETF’s is only a phone call away, can’t trade online.

    Aside from this inconvenience, what are the other benefits of opening DBS Vickers account in Singapore? Here the brokerage fees are 0.60% (or min US$25), bank charges RM20, and stamp duty 0.1%(max RM 200). What are the fees and commissions at DBS Vickers? Are they cheaper?

    Secondly, are there any associated withholding taxes, such as dividend tax or capital gain tax for having Vanguard ETF’s for non US/Canadian citizens?

    Many thanks in advance.

    • Hi Hafiz,

      The trading costs are DBS Vickers are 0.35% for U.S. ETFs and 0.55% for Canadian ETFs.

      You want just want to invest where you are.

      There's one other very interesting component to fees, however, that I need (at some point) to do some research on for a comprehensive blog post. It relates to bid/ask currency spreads. Standard Chartered bank, in Singapore for example, charges a pittance in commissions for purchases. But when you convert money from Singapore dollars to U.S. dollars (this happens automatically when you purchase a U.S. ETF) the exchange rate spread is quite wide. So the question is…which brokerage is actually cheaper, DBS or Standard Chartered? When I have some time, I will find out. And this might be of interest to you as well. You could research your own bank and put it side by side with DBS Vickers,

      Cheers,

      Andrew

      • Hafiz says:

        Hi Andrew.

        It is much easier mow to make some comparison.

        My second questions is if there are any associated withholding taxes, such as dividend tax or capital gain tax for having Vanguard ETF’s for non US/Canadian citizens?

        Many thanks in advance.

  9. albert says:

    Hi,

    Im interested to know how it's possible to set up a DBS Vickers brokerage account without being present in Singapore.

    I'm an Indonesian citizen & resident, and I have just got confirmation from DBS Vickers Singapore that I would have to be present when opening the account. I'd need to open a regular savings account (in SGD), and at the same time open the brokerage account with DBS Vickers.

    Can anyone confirm that we can open an account without being present in singapore?

  10. albert says:

    I have contacted dbsvickers in sgp and they told me that i should be present in singapore to open an account.

    I have told them and i have read in an online forum thats its possible to open th account

    From outside sg, but they said its impossible.

    Can anyone let me know how you were able to do so?

    Cheers

    • Definitely call them back Albert. You will likely end up with a different representative. Check through the comments above for some specifics you can give them. It can be done! Others before you (as you'll read above) have been told "no" until they pressed the issue and/or spoke to a more knowledgeable rep.

  11. As a Malaysian residing in Singapore, you may not need to take the exam if you plan to buy ETFs off the New York Stock Exchange, via DBS Vickers. Have you called DBS to ask them?

  12. PJ says:

    Is DB Vickers still a good option in comparison to other trading houses considering the recent posts regarding their increase in costs

    • Hi PJ

      The true costs would be determined by figuring out the currency spreads. I haven't done that comparison yet, so I'm not sure. Currency conversion spread costs dwarf commissions, so the answer (as to the cheapest brokerage) isn't evident when simply comparing commissions. I have been busy doing research for my regular magazine/newspaper columns. But when I have breathing room, I will be tackling this question.

      If you are living outside of Singapore, however, DBS Vickers (I believe) is the only option available to you, so far.

      Cheers,

      Andrew

  13. Drew Davis says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am a Canadian teacher currently working in Malaysia. I saw your presentation at ISKL last year and read in your book that Vanguard was planning on expanding to Canada.

    As Vanguard now has online ETFs available in Canada, I thought there would be less fees in me sending my money from Malaysia to my bank account in Canada and purchasing the funds from Vanguard rather than going through DBS Vickers in Singapore. (Vanguard's fees seem to be 0.15 compared with 0.3 to 0.55 with DBS Vickers) Am I missing something obvious before I set this up?

    Thanks in advance.

    Drew

  14. Hafiz says:

    Hi Andrew. Just heard about “commission free etfs”. There are several online brokers offering this. Any comments? If they are really “commission free”, then why DBS Vickers make a better choice. Many thanks,Hafiz

  15. Hafiz says:

    Hi Andrew. Just heard about “commission free etfs”. There are several online brokers offering this, like Ameritrade. Are there any hidden fees? If they are really “commission free”, then why DBS Vickers make a better choice? Many thanks, Hafiz

    • I know that Vanguard won't charge for its own ETFs, but you need to be American to use the Vanguard brokerage. There are other providers doing similar things in Canada. But Singaporean brokerages are far behind their western counterparts. Brokerages are far more expensive in this part of the world. And when commissions in Singapore are low, you can bet that the exchange rate conversions make up the difference.

  16. Stephen Maine says:

    Hi,

    I have recently set up an account with TD Waterhouse based in Belgium. I would like to begin index investing but am concerned that the indexes I want ( UK FTSE and S and P 500) are at their highs. Is this a sensible time to put a large investment into these? Also some of the ETF's are listed as Acc or Inc ( accumulation or income) does it matter which one you buy?

    One last question, you have mentioned before US withholding tax if shares bought on the US exchange, wouldn't it be better then to buy the same share on the UK exchange?

    Thanks

    Steve

    • Hi Stephen,

      If the expense ratios are low enough for those UK based ETFs, and the with-holding tax is minimal, then you could do that. But I have a feeling that you would have to pay capital gains taxes. If you’re British, living in the UK, there’s no way around that. But if you are a non American expat, you may consider investing where there are no capital gains taxes. An account based in Singapore would work.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

  17. JP says:

    Hi Andrew and all,

    I’m a Canadian teacher living in Cambodia. I really enjoyed ‘Millionaire Teacher’ and I want to get into Index investing as soon as possible!

    Does anyone have any experience with investing from Cambodia?

    From reading various blog posts here I’m still a little confused about the best option for Canadian expats to open a trading account. It seems like DBS Vickers is the only option for expat Canadians not living in Singapore or Hong Kong. However, I read in a different post about DBSV raising their Trading Commissions…does that mean they are no longer a good choice? Do their higher fees make it cost prohibitive to use their services?

    Many thank for all your help,

    JP

    • They are still an excellent choice JP. I use them myself, and I recommend that you follow this thread to see how you can open such an account here in Singapore.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

  18. Alain says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Transferring money for first time to my DBS online account, very excited. I have started studying which ETF and bonds I will buy. I am a Canadian expat. My question to you is: you are saying that you are investing in canadian ETF and bonds because of eventually you will be going back to live in Canada. So I guess you want to access the money in canadian dollars and not having to convert it from USD for example. But if, as are my plans, I will be outside of canada for another 10 years, why should I pay taxes on all the dividend from canadian investments during all those years? Why not just get US and international ETF and bonds? So that’s my interrogation. Why buy something that you have to pay taxes on dividends in canada. As much as you like low cost investments, I hate paying taxes!

  19. Gayathri says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am so glad I came by your website. I am an Indian national living in Doha now. Before that I lived in the US. I am looking for options to invest my money as in the middle east you are not paid a pension or do you get a retirement benefit. While in the US my retirement money is in a Schwab account and is invested in ETFs. Unfortunately, as I am not a US resident, I can't add to that pool. Do you know if an Indian expat can invest in DBS Vickers?

    Any ideas or information will be much appreciated.

    Thanks.

    Gaya

    • I'm glad you found the website too Gaya. Yes, an Indian expat can invest with DBS Vickers as easily as a Canadian (or any other non American) can.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Cheers,

      Andrew

  20. JP says:

    Hi Andrew and all,

    I've followed this thread and have tried to open up a DBS Vickers account without making the trip to Singapore but haven't had much luck. Apparently you can open the DBS Vickers account if you already have a regular bank account in Singapore (and I do not – and can't seem to open one without making the trip).

    I just came across HWANGDBS, which seems like an associated company of DBS & DBS Vickers. Does anyone know anything about this company, ie. whether or not they are legitimate and can be used as a brokerage?

    I live in Cambodia and they have a branch here, so it would be easier for me to use them rather than through DBS Vickers in Singapore.

    Thanks for all your help,

    JP

  21. JP says:

    Hi again,

    After several back and forths, I was able to open up a DBS Vickers account without going to Singapore after all. I had the forms signed and stamped at the DBSV in Bangkok.

    Now I’m a bit confused about the process of transferring funds into the account to get it started. I called them up and they said that I have to send in via Remittance to their HSBC bank account in New York, then email them my name and DBSV account #, then they’ll credit my account. Does this seem right? It seems weird to me that I can’t just TT money into my own account.

    Please advise.

    Thanks.

  22. Pamela says:

    Hi there,

    Just finished reading Millionaire teacher too and keen to start index investing. Great book – thanks.

    Similar to previous questions, I’m an UK ex-pat living in Vietnam – we are likely to go back to the UK in 2/3 years though for good. Would I be best to go with the DBS Vickers account in Singapore, or UK Vanguard account or another UK based platform?

    I think the benefit of doing it in Sing is to avoid the Cap Gains taxes, but since we are going back in 2/3 years, I guess we can’t get around that long-term, so better to start out in the UK?

    Thanks for your advice,

    Pamela

    PS. Also – can anyone recommend a reputable UK-based independent financial advisor, that charges by hourly rates rather than by commission?

    • Hi Pamela,

      Perhaps the best option for you might be a UK firm. Have you considered the HSBC tracker (index) funds? They’re very cheap, and you could build a portfolio much as I suggested in my book without a financial advisor.

  23. Pamela says:

    Thanks for quick reply Andrew.

    I’ve just had a look at the HSBC tracker funds. Thanks for the tip.

    Looking at these against the UK Vanguard funds, I think Vanguard is still winning for the fees. e.g. 0.1% for the Vanguard FTSE 100 ETF – versus 0.25% for the HSBC FTSE 100 Index fund. I also don’t see an HSBC UK Government Bond Index Fund.

    Any reason not to go with Vanguard?

    I notice Vanguard offers ETFs and Index funds – which seem pretty similar. What’s the difference?

    Thanks again,

    Pamela

    • Hi Pamela,

      Vanguard’s funds sell through an advisor in the UK. To my knowledge, you can’t buy them directly. The advisor then usually earns an account wrap fee that he or she charges. Going with exchange traded funds will ensure that you have much lower costs overall, buy you would have to buy the ETFs off the stock exchange. As such, you would need a brokerage account. That’s not a big deal; I do it myself. But it does tend to be less flexible and you have to pay a small commission to buy and sell. It is, however, the cheapest option.
      Buying the tracker funds should be hassle free–but yes, the expense ratios are higher with HSBC (but still very reasonable). They do have a bond index as well. It might not say “bond” when you look it up. It might say something like “gilt”. I was confused by that at first (considering that I’m not based in the UK) as I looked on behalf of someone who lived in England.

      I hope this helps.

      Andrew

  24. Pamela McGill says:

    Thanks again Andrew – I really appreciate you taking the time to reply on the specifics – it helps so much. Hey – if you are ever in HCM, dinner’s on me! :-) Are you still teaching in Singapore?

    You are quite right the bond fund is called the “HSBC UK Gilt Index Fund”…

    So what I need to do now is to set up a brokerage account / online trading platform account to get started. I found quite a helpful article on this ‘step’ of the journey:

    http://monevator.com/how-to-buy-index-trackers/

    Is there anything else to look out for when picking the online (execution only) broker or fund supermarket? 1) Fees, 2) Make sure it offers the funds I want to buy, 3) Decent online platform so I can see what I’m doing. What would happen if the broker went out of business?

    Thanks again,

    Pamela

  25. Kelly says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I am a Canadian/Australian residing in the UAE and plan to open a DBS Vickers account in Singapore. I’m hoping to do it without having to fly there. Do I need to open a bank account with them, or just the brokerage account? And will they accept money transfers from any foreign bank? I am grateful for any advice you might have.

    And Harold, if you’re reading this, I would love to know how you went!

    Thanks!

      • Kelly says:

        Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for that, I had read that article before :)

        I called DBS Vickers earlier today and the man I spoke to told me I needed to come to Singapore since they need a face to face meeting to open an account. I told him about Jon and that he opened an account late last year without coming to Singapore. The rep told me there had been some recent changes to their policies and that I couldn’t open an account without being there.

        So I called back again just now and spoke to a different rep. He helped me answer the few questions about the the application form I had, but he was unable to tell me whether I could open an account from overseas. He told me to call back during the day and to speak to the account opening people. He said there were 2 main questions I needed to ask: 1) whether I need a local bank account and 2) whether my nationalities (Canadian/Australian) are allowed to open accounts. Which I’m pretty sure we know the answer to those questions!

        Anyway, I will call back again tomorrow and try my luck with another rep!

        Thanks for your help :)

        Kelly

  26. Kelly says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for that, I had read that article before :)

    I called DBS Vickers earlier today and the man I spoke to told me I needed to come to Singapore since they need a face to face meeting to open an account. I told him about Jon and that he opened an account late last year without coming to Singapore. The rep told me there had been some recent changes to their policies and that I couldn’t open an account without being there.

    So I called back again just now and spoke to a different rep. He helped me answer the few questions about the the application form I had, but he was unable to tell me whether I could open an account from overseas. He told me to call back during the day and to speak to the account opening people. He said there were 2 main questions I needed to ask: 1) whether I need a local bank account and 2) whether my nationalities (Canadian/Australian) are allowed to open accounts. Which I’m pretty sure we know the answer to those questions!

    Anyway, I will call back again tomorrow and try my luck with another rep!

    Thanks for your help :)

    Kelly

  27. Greg says:

    Hi Andrew, nice blog I’ve found it quite helpful and I am also looking to open a DBS trading account.

    Unfortunately it does seem that DBS have changed their policy on account opening for foregners.

    After a few email exchanges I recieved this response from DBS.

    ‘ There was a recent review for account opening and we require customers to
    open a DBS/POSB bank account before the trading account can be setup. We do
    not accept verifications from notary public or embassy now. Upon opening of
    a trading account, customers can still transfer fund from a foreign bank
    account. There is no change to this process at the moment. ‘

    So it looks like I will need to visit Singapore to open an bank acount before I can open a trading account. I am not sure if there are upfront or ongoing charges related to having a DBS bank account. Or if I can close it soon after opening the online trading account since I don’t see what use a DBS account would be to me. It seems yo can still transfer funds directly to the trading account, so presumably the bank account is mostly useless.

    • Hi Greg,

      Consider TD International, based in Luxembourg. You’ll be able to set it up from afar and (unlike Singapore) won’t have to take a test before opening the account. Like Singapore, you won’t have to pay capital gains if holding periods are 6 months or longer.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

      • Kelly says:

        Hi Greg and Andrew,

        I experienced a similar thing when dealing with DBS Vickers. I live in Dubai and flew down to Singapore a few weeks ago to open the accounts with them. I had 2 options as far as the bank account went: A SGD account which required a minimum of $SGD5000 to avoid paying the $2 monthly fee. Or a multicurrency account which required a minimum of $3000 to avoid the $7.50 monthly fee. I opted for the multicurrency account because I felt it was better to invest the extra $2000! As for your question as to whether you can close your bank account after opening the trading account, I’m not sure Greg.

        However, I have not yet transferred any money into the accounts. Up until earlier this week, I was waiting to receive some DBS documents in the mail. I now have them, but am wondering whether I would be better off to open a TD account instead? What do you think Andrew? Would it be wise to have accounts with both DBS Vickers and TD? Or just choose one or the other? I believe TD offers direct access to the Australian market, whereas DBS doesn’t. So would that make TD a better option for me? (Since I may return to Australia one day).

        Thanks,
        Kelly

  28. Tim Gascoigne says:

    Hi Andrew and anyone else reading
    I am a Canadian living and teaching in KL Malaysia. I am ready to fly over to Singapore soon to open an account with DBS Vickers but am concerned about it. There seem to be posts about their costs now? Is this still a viable brokerage to go with?

    Does anyone know of something I can do in Malaysia rather than Singapore? Is there a low cost brokerage where I can purchase on international markets with a bank in Malaysia?

    Many thanks
    tim

    • Mark says:

      @Tim You could try Saxo Bank which has an office in Singapore. They actually came to Jakarta (where I am living) and I signed a few forms and it was open within a few days. I bet they go to KL as well. All ETF index funds are available through them and although there are brokerages with cheaper commission charges, it isn’t too bad (17.50 per trade).

  29. JT says:

    Hi Andrew!

    My portfolio is vested in several stocks in Singapore. In an attempt to diversify my portfolio, I got interested in ETFs and I came across your blog through Drizzt over at Investment Moats.

    I read several of your articles and I thank you for sharing the knowledge. However, I have a question about taxes that I did not manage to get a clear answer from after looking through several sources. For VT that you mentioned, are you currently paying 30% of taxes on the dividends you receive since it is bought from the US market?

    Thanks in advance!

    JT

  30. Connor says:

    Andrew – you’re the guy I need to talk to!

    I’m 24 and currently live and work in Malaysia. I read as much as I can about investing and want to start as soon as possible. I have around 10,000 GBP saved and know it is no use sitting in the bank. I’m sold on the idea of tracker or index funds. Especially one following the S&P500.

    I used to work for a company who provided investment platforms to IFAs so I know all about their sneaky ways and how they can only get to market through one of the life insurance companies or a PPB – i.e. Generali, Friend’s Provident etc. Basically a sure fire way to bleed money from people. Anyway I need a legitimate account as I want to start investing properly. Would you recommend flying to Singapore to open with DBS? It’s a 45 minute flight for me and to have a trading account you need to have some sort of banking relationship with them, so I presume that’s the first step? Any help/info would be greatly appreciated!

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