Expatriate Australians in Singapore find a cheaper investment option

I have reasons to believe that Australians aren’t as susceptible to scams as Canadians are. 

Maybe they’re smarter than we are. Or maybe they’ll just tell a con man where to go (with a beer in hand) while a Canadian politely asks the charlatan to come back when the owner of the house is home.  Then when he does come back, they hide behind the couch.  Unless the Canadian plays hockey.  Or watches a lot of hockey games.  Then it’s different.  Watch out con man.  OK—I won’t get into that.

The average Canadian is, to put it euphemistically, polite.  And the average Aussie, to use a euphemism again, is a tad more assertive.   I think that’s the reason that Vanguard  set up shop in Australia to sell low cost index funds, while the U.S. index company behemoth gave its northern neighbours a pass.  Canadians, after all, pay the highest mutual fund expenses in the world.    And they probably smile while paying them.  Don’t you wish everyone in Canada played hockey?

When a financial advisor tells a financially educated Aussie that he can pick winning mutual funds that will beat the markets, the Aussie likely asks, “How?”

And when the advisor tells the Aussie that he can name the next 5 year’s of Melbourne Cup winners by naming the past 15 winners, the salesperson had better pack his briefcase and head for the back of  the black stump.

It makes sense to the financially uneducated when an advisor says, “This fund has a really good track record.  We should buy it.”

If you want to practically ensure that you’ll do badly as an investor, pick funds with the best, past track records.  Whether you believe that stock picking is based on random luck (the efficient market theory) or whether you understand that a good performance record is a kiss of death (fresh excess money makes it unwieldy), the bottom line is this:

Nobody has a proven method for picking actively managed funds that can beat the indexes—ahead of time. 

Australians in Singapore can give the expensive, silly forecasting game a miss if they want to add wealth to their own portfolios, while scrimping on their charitable donations to the financial service industry.

Here are the steps they can take to beat the professionals at their own expensive game

  • Open a discount brokerage account at DBS Vickers, and tell them that you’d like the option to trade stocks from the Singapore, New York and Canadian stock markets.  Don’t worry.  You won’t have to become a stock trader.  This is just the supermarket you’ll be buying your indexes from.
  • When you make indexed purchases from this account (the products you’ll buy are actually called ETFs) you’ll need to do one of two things: 
    1. Transfer money to the account first
    2. OR set the account up so that any purchase request sends money directly from your regular DBS account, straight to DBS Vickers, to cover the purchase.
  • These are the ticker symbols you’ll need if you want a diversified account of indexes, much like the global couch potato portfolio: 
    • EWA = Australian Index
    • VT = Total World stock market index (including U.S, European, Emerging markets indexes)
    • ISHG = International Government Treasury Bond index (including an array of first world country government bonds)

But how much in each?

Long term, it’s better to be consistent, rather than trying to dance around, following market based news, and trying to figure out which index is going to do better over the short term.  Studies show this to generally be a loser’s game.  Establish your allocation, and stick to it.

Here’s a sample for a 40 year old investor:

30-40% of their money in the International Bond index (ISHG) with 50% of the portfolio in the Australian stock index (EWA) and the remaining portion in the world stock market index(VT).  If the Australian is eventually going to go back home, at some point, they may prefer to have the bulk of their money in Aussie dollars, which is why they may want to consider having a full 50% of their money in the Australian stock market index.

Making the purchases

You’ll need to figure out what price each of these indexes (ETFs) is trading at so you’ll know how much to buy when you place your order.

Going with ETFs, you’ll want to make sure that you’re investing at least $3000 at a time.  After all, it costs roughly $25 to make a single purchase, so it might as well be worthwhile.

If you were going to buy the Australian stock index (EWA) you want to look up the price here http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=ewa

So if the price of the Australian stock index is $25, and if you’re investing $3000, then you divide $3000 by $25 to see that you can buy 120 shares of the bond index.  Just to be safe, when placing your order, make it out for 110 shares, in case the price goes up the next day.  You need to have enough money for your purchase, and the price you pay could be higher or lower than what you see.  It will be based on the market price at the time your order goes through.

Your order entry will look like this:

1.  The market you’d be choosing is “U.S.”, as you can see by the first line.  It’s an Australian stock index, but you’ll be buying it from a U.S. supermarket.

2. You’d place an order to “buy” as you can see by the second line

3. The quantity is the number of shares you’re ordering

4. The symbol for the Australian stock index is EWA

5. And the order type is a “Market Order”

6. You’d then plug in your trading password and press submit.

Commissions for purchases and sales are roughly $25.  If you make a single purchase of $100,000, you could pay close to $100 for the purchase commission, but generally, purchases below $40,000 (approximately) tend to be about $25 per buy or sell.

If you’re investing every quarter or every month, make sure that it’s at least $3000 at a time, so you don’t pay DBS too much in commissions, relative to your purchases.

And while you’re making your purchases each month, allow your purchases to rebalance your portfolio back to the originally desired allocation.  For example, if your world index has underperformed the others, for that month, then buy the world index.  If your Aussie index has underperformed for that month, then buy that one.  By bolstering up the laggards, you’ll ensure that you invest, using Warren Buffett’s motto: 

 Be greedy when others are fearful. 

In lovely Aussie style, you’ll hammer the grubby hands of the financial service industry out of your piggy bank.

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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86 Responses

  1. I see you're targeting the different ex-patriate communities, Andrew. I laughed at the comparison between Aussies and Canadians. Maybe I should go learn to play some hockey.

  2. @Kevin@InvestItWisely

    Hey Kevin,

    Yeah, I think the average Aussie take a lot less "guff" than the average Canadian does. I'm giving weekly seminars in Singapore at the moment, on indexed investing. I wrote each post to help the respective nationalities represented at each session.

  3. Vic says:

    Hi – where or when are your classes held?

  4. @Vic

    Hi Vic,

    I'm doing a session at United World College in Singapore this week and probably next, but it's booked up. But here's an idea. If you are in Singapore, and if you're interested in getting a group of people together to learn how to create a portfolio of exchange traded index funds in Singapore, then I don't mind delivering a session. You'd have to find a venue for it though. Send me an email: investlikebuffett@gmail.com

  5. Murray Hill says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am a 52 year old Australian and note with interest your reply re Australian investors.I live in Australia,am not an expat.

    I am an ETF investor and already own ASX:STW , ASX:IVV and ASX:VAS.

    The international equities ETF and the bond fund ETF that you have recommended in the above posts are not available on the ASX.

    Could you recommend some applicable equivalent ETFs that are listed on the ASX,please?

    Ones that come to mind are

    IOO IVV and IAF. Vanguard also have VEU and VGB.

    Thanks for the terrific work that you do.

    Murray Hill

    Melbourne Australia

  6. Murray Hill says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am a 52 year old Australian and note with interest your reply re Australian investors.I live in Australia,am not an expat.

    I am an ETF investor and already own ASX:STW , ASX:IVV and ASX:VAS.

    The international equities ETF and the bond fund ETF that you have recommended in the above posts are not available on the ASX.

    Could you recommend some applicable equivalent ETFs that are listed on the ASX,please?

    Ones that come to mind are

    IOO IVV and IAF. Vanguard also have VEU and VGB.

    Thanks for the terrific work that you do.

    Murray Hill

    Melbourne Australia

  7. David says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I'm in the process of setting up an Index portfolio with DBS Vickers. I'm an Australian expat living in Singapore.

    Your website has been very useful for me to get started, so thanks for providing such a great resource!

    In terms of bond funds, I notice ISHG has done quite poorly over the past 5 years when compared to a fund like VBISX (or at least ISHG seems more volatile).

    Could you explain a bit about short-term vs long-term bonds and bond markets in general, to give some guidance on how to best select a bond index for my portfolio?



    • Hi David…great question!

      ISHG isn't currency hedged. It's priced in U.S. dollars, but represents foreign market bonds, in foreign currencies. As a result, it's going to be extremely volatile–something I wrote about in my last post for Assetbuilder. In low interest climates (such as the one we're in) short term bonds are safer. Consider this: if an index holds bonds maturing in 10-15 years, and the coupon interest rate is 2-3%, what happens when inflation occurs and global interest rates rise? If inflation increases by 4%, these bonds will all lose money after inflation: making 2-3% in interest is no good when inflation is higher.

      If you buy a short term bond index, new bonds (with higher interest yields) will be added when other bonds within the index mature…assuming an increase in global interest rates. In this case, you take lower risk and stand a greater chance of beating inflation going forward. In 1981, inflation and interest rates were higher than normal–the opposite of what we have today. Buying a bond then would have yielded you 13% or more. A bond index (if it existed then) would have yielded the same if it were comprised of long term bonds. Buying that kind of index (long bonds) would have been great then, understanding that inflation at such a rate (as well as interest rates) wouldn't likely be sustainable because they were at all-time highs. We have the opposite today. Welcome the volatility of ISHG. It's a short term bond index, so when inflation increases, so will its yield when the holdings are recycled. Also, enjoy its volatility as you rebalance your portfolio each year. Rebalance that thing, and you could do very very well.



      • David says:

        Thanks Andrew!

        After reading your article on Assetbuilder, I’m considering the following split of bonds in my portfolio:

        33% International Bond index (ISHG) or Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Inv (VBISX)
        33% Australian composite bonds index (IAF)
        33% Cash (TBC where bond market goes before buying more bonds)


        1) In the current bond environment, would you still recommend a mixed short/long bond index like IAF?
        2) How do you choose between short term bond indexes like ISHG and VBISX? VBISX has done better over the past 5 yrs, however past performance does not equal future performance. Does currency play a role?


        • Hi David,

          If you aren’t an American, you shouldn’t need U.S. bonds in your portfolio. I’m not American, so I don’t own them. The index funds you listed (the funds, not the ETFs) can only be purchased for Americans, via Vanguard USA.



  8. Brian says:


    Thanks for your last few comment and i have successfully open a broker account with DBS Vicker after nearly 1.5 month follow up…

    I realize that to purchase the Australian ETF i will need to buy it in USD currency, that means i will need to pay for additional currency charge to convert my AUD saving to USD in order to buy Austrlian ETF though US New York stock market… In order to trade the ETF with my AUD saving I would prefer to purchase ETF though Standard Chartered Bank as they provide direct access to Australia maket as per your introduction in the other topic, so in that case i will not expose myself in currency risk plus i can enjoy a lower brokerage fee with Standard Chartered if i am investing a small amount.

    Please let me know if this make sense to you…Thank you.

    Best regards,
    Brian from Malaysia but having major saving in AUD

    • It does make sense Brian, if you are buying in smaller sums. If you are able to open Standard Chartered brokerage in Singapore, as a resident of Malaysia, please let me know. I didn’t know that people could do that—hence my “pushing” of DBS Vickers: http://andrewhallam.com/2013/05/an-expat-canadian-in-japan-finds-a-way-to-invest/

      Please keep me posted.


      • Brian says:


        My account opening experience with standard chartered bank ( stdcb ) was very bad, after several phone / email confirmation. I travel to Singapore from Malaysia and visit their branch office after been informed that as long as open a e-saver acccount with stdcb plus demonstrate essential documentation ( 3 month pay slip + 3 month bank statement ) i shall be able to open a trading account without any problem.

        However what happened to me when i arrive Singapore stdcb i was told that i am not qualified to open the trading account as i am not a permanent resident in singapore or holding a valid working visa here…i am pretty frustrated as i was travelling all the way here to found out that i am being rejected….( btw i file a complaination to their branch manager due to their misleading information result the waste of my time and air ticket..)

        As stdcb do not accept my account opening, I call up my friend living in Singapore and he suggest me to open the account with Phillip Security, as they do provide direct access to Australia stock market, i visit Phillip Security HQ in City Hall and based on my status as a foreigner ( non singapore PR ) they do allow me to open the trading account with them. Phillip security charge 0.8% brokerage fee (plus GST on local brokerage fee), they also charge for foregin share custody fee (S$2.14 per counter per month, however if you trade more then 4 time a month this could be waive).

        I understood the charge is a bit high with Phillip security, however as a foreign investor I found only Phillip Security that provide me direct access to Australia stock market ( DBS doesn’t provide trading platform in Australia stock market ), as a Malaysia citizen that holding major saving in AUD currency , i guess Phillip Security provide me the best option to trade off ETF directly in Australia market without facing any currency risk.

        Hope my experience sharing will be helpful for other foreign investor like me.

  9. Murray Hill says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am an Australian investor, living in Melbourne, and will probably spend the rest of my life living here.
    I am well invested in Index ETFs but I am struggling with how much I should allocate to international indexes.
    I understand that I should have a bias to Australian equity investments as I will be using Australian Dollars to pay my bills.
    We already own ASX:VTS ASX:IVV and ASX:VEU, but I am wondering what percentage of our portfolio they should be.

    Thanks for your great work.
    Murray Hill

    • Hi Murray,

      You could split your equity portion between the Aussie market and the world. Such a portfolio could look like this:

      30% Bonds
      35% Australian equity index
      35% Global index

      I’ve just used the bond allocation as an example, of course.

      If there’s no global ETF available, split this portion between the U.S. (which comprises 45% of global capitalization) and a developed world index for the rest. If you want emerging markets, you could go a bit lighter on the developed world index, and add a sliver of emerging. Never let the emerging markets comprise more than 5-10% of your equity holdings. It only comprises that much of the global market anyway.


    • Barry says:

      ASX:IVV has had a good run as an S&P 500 Compared to Streetracks 200 ASX:STW or Vanguards 300 ASX:VAS


  10. Ian says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I have recently found your site and have been finding it very useful – and your book also.

    I’m an Australian living in Japan and likely to be here quite a while. So I’m thinking of splitting my stock index allocation between Aussie, International and Japan ( not actually sure what index products are available for Japan though ).

    So just wondering whether its best to go with ETFs as described in this thread – or use the Vanguard Australia Index products ? I saw on another thread that their management fees were quite high – relatively to their US entity. However I see on the Vanguard AU site, they are prominently advertising a fee reduction as follows :

    Vanguard® Australian Shares Index Fund 0.18% ( down from 0.34% )
    Vanguard® International Shares Index Fund 0.18% ( down from 0.36% )



    • Hi Ian,

      If you would like to pay Australian taxes, open the account with Vanguard Australia. If not, open an account with TD International, based in Luxembourg, and build portfolios of low cost ETFs.



    • Barry says:

      And ETF’s

      Vanguard® Australian Shares Index VAS S&P/ASX 300 Index 0.15%
      Vanguard® US Total Market Shares Index VTS US Total Market Index 0.05%
      Vanguard® All-World ex-US Shares Index VEU All-World ex-US Index 0.15%
      Vanguard® Australian Government Bond Index VGB UBS Government Bond Index 0.20%

  11. Andy says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I will be in Singapore in two weeks. I have already been in contact with DBSV and they have told me via email that I won’t have issues opening a bank and trading account with them. Fingers crossed.

    I’m a 34 Australian international teacher, living in SE Asia, getting paid in 100% USD. I have about US$10,000 to start investing with. At this stage I don’t have any plans to get off the international teaching circuit and go back to teaching in Australia. I don’t have any financial commitments in Australia and rarely need to transfer any money back there.

    Once my DBSV trading account is open what would be the best options for me with buy DBSV? Also, should I keep everything in USD?

    From reading your book and article should I go with:

    35% – ISHG
    50% – EWA
    15% – VT


    • This breakdown would work well Andy. In one sense, your purchases would be made in USD, but keep in mind that it would be fully diversified across various global currencies once the ETFs are purchased. The prices will be listed in USD, but affected by global currency swings. Based on your home country bias with this portfolio, you would have a much stronger link to the Aussie dollar than any other. Good luck with the silly multiple choice test you’ll have to take to open the account. You’ll take it online. And if you fail, you can always do it again. It’s a hoop, and a pain in the butt, but once you sort it out you’ll be on your way.



      • Andy says:

        Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for the response.

        Given that I potentially don’t intend to return to Australia would it be a better option for me to have a bias more toward VT and less in EWA, or should I keep that Australia bias despite my intentions to possibly not to return Australia on a permanent basis?


  12. Andy says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks again for the response.

    I’m in SG and went into DBSV yesterday and set up both a bank account and investment account. Now waiting on the approval of the investment account, they said it could take 7 days. So far no mention of having to take the test.

    Given that I potentially don’t intend to return to Australia and may work and retire overseas, would it be a better option for me to have a bias more toward VT and less in EWA, or should I keep that Australia bias despite my current intentions to possibly not to return Australia on a permanent basis?

    Should I have a spread more like your advise for NZ investors, but change the percentages to reflect my current age (34 years old so 35% bonds/65% stocks) and change ENZL to EWA:

    Sample for a 40-50 year old who is unsure of where they want to retire
    30% New Zealand Stock Market Index (ENZL)
    30% Total World Stock Market Index (VT)
    20% International Government Bond Index (ISHG)
    20% U.S. Short Term Government Bond Index (SHY)

    Something like:
    30% – EWA
    35% Total World Stock Market Index (VT)
    20% International Government Bond Index (ISHG)
    15% U.S. Short Term Government Bond Index (SHY)

    What would your advise be?


  13. Mandanna Daemi says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I was wondering if I could ask you a question about bonds.

    I’m a teacher at UWC who came to see you speak last year and followed your advice to invest in 30% Bonds, 35% Australian equity index, 35% Global index.

    Since June 2013, my portfolio is up just over 2%. The only thing that concerns me are my IAF UBS Composite Bonds which have been in the red ever since I bought them and which are currently down by 1.47%.

    Is IAF a volatile bond like ISHG? Have I made a poor choice in buying this particular bond or are all bonds volatile in general?

    Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.



    Hi Andrew,

    My Wife and I were recommended your book. THANK GOD!
    We were horrible with personal finance and were very close to investing with a “wealth management” company here in Singapore.

    Just a quick question:

    We both are looking to dive into the strategy you mention throughout your book but we are not sure the best way to go about it as i am less risk averse and my wife just doesn’t trust the markets but believes in your strategy. She also keeps mentioning to me that the bond etfs dont look great, and i cant seem to convince her otherwise.

    1) Should we invest together into one account which is made up of more bonds? or separate accounts?
    2) If i was to invest personally i would probably do the following

    35% VUN. (Which i understand is similar to VTI but just on a Canadian exchange)
    35% VXUS (To give me exposure to international markets)
    30% ISHG (my bond coverage, I am 31 yrs old.)

    I am British, but have no plans to move back, and my wife (31yrs old) is Australian and its more possible we will move back to Aus. I don’t fancy investing in EWA, I’m not sure why, i think the Australian mkt revolves too much around financial institutions??

    3) What are some possible low volatility ETFs you can suggest for my wife?

    We are looking to start with abt $60,000 and continue contributing a monthly figure. (but done / rebalanced quarterly).
    So we are pretty nervous on how to get started.

    Appreciate any tips or guidance you can offer.
    And please keep up the blog it’s excellent!!!


  15. Russell H says:

    Hi A
    Great W/S at WAB Tnx. I went home afterwards and checked my Australian industry pension fund (to which I still contribute annually – no off-shore pension fund for me!) and it gained 12.3% last year! I have a Managed Mutual Fund also in Australia (was Aviva but now bought by MLC) with no long-term commitment and they’ve done far worse in the same period. My next job is to remove my money from them and build an Aussie-based Vanguard Portfolio. Where do I find Australian stock market performances over the last 5-7 years? Ammo for my Mutual fund managers … 🙂

  16. Russell,

    Measured in Australian dollars, the Aussie stock index gained 13.81 % during the past year and 34.72% (overall) over the past three years. But you don’t need this kind of data to get out of managed funds. You won’t convince your advisor that it’s a good thing to do, no matter what. http://www.morningstar.com.au/ETFs/NewsAndQuotes/VAS So just go ahead and do it.


  17. Martin says:

    Hi all,

    I’m an Aussie long-term resident of Singapore, married to a Malaysian & with kids, not sure about returning ‘home’ (this is home now). I’ve been through the wringer with various self-interested ‘advisers’ and lost money in the process. In a way I consider myself fortunate as it (hopefully) put a stop to further mistakes, and also led me to Andrew’s book (which I enjoyed greatly).

    Would welcome some views on my situation:

    1) I have a property here against which I’ve borrowed; will use that as deposit (alongside Aussie bank money) for some investment properties. Nothing too flash, modest places with capital appreciation potential. None of my own money required upfront, all bank’s. Some FX exposure but arguably a good thing to have spread.

    2) Given bad experiences with ‘advisers’ I unwound a bunch of stuff & now have a fair whack of cash sitting in the bank. Most obvious would be to apply the methodologies outlined in Andrew’s book (and, to be realistic, I’m pretty much a passive investor without the time/inclination to be tweaking regularly). However…

    3) Thanks to the aforementioned cash & other assets, if I wished I could become a client of one of those private banks domiciled in a European principality. They charge 1% on entry into anything & take 0.3% of total portfolio annually. They offer an ‘open platform’ (a term that fills me with suspicion) and can (they say) get one into (and presumably out of, with profit) pretty much anything one wishes. Friends have had good experiences & made money.

    My gut says skip it but I want to be open to possibilities/views. If I (just) qualify as a private wealth management client should I be taking advantage of it? Thanks.

    • Martin,

      Why pay the extra fees and risk that the wealth manager might do knuckleheaded things with your money? You could simply put together a portfolio of 2 or 3 ETFs. If you don’t want to rebalance, then don’t. This approach, because of the low fees, would likely be a far more profitable option than going with a private wealth manager.


      • Martin says:

        Thanks, appreciated. Are you able to give guidance re. what the “portfolio of 2 or 3 ETFs” would contain, specifically? Though I am an Australian, I do not have an specific need/desire to over-index on that market (i.e. for emotional reasons) though I do welcome currency diversification. I have about SGD$750K available.

  18. Chris Martin says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am a 40yr old living in Melbourne Australia. Have read both your books and am SUPER excited about the relative simplicity and wisdom in your investment advice.

    Unfortunately I have recently lost my wife to cancer and am now a single father to a 2 and 6 yr old.

    Fortunately I have around $800k from payouts to invest.

    I have numerous thoughts on what to do with the money, all of them based on investing in Vanguard index funds. I was wondering if you could offer some insight into the following:

    1. I want to invest around $50k each for the kids and the rest for me. What strategy would you suggest here? (eg. all in one or 3 separate accounts?)
    2. Assuming the above, how would I go about creating a tax effective income stream from my investments?

    Thanks for any insight / advice.


    • Hi Chris,

      I’m sorry to hear about your wife. Unfortunately, the question you ask is one that you should ask an Australian tax accountant. He or she would be an expert on your country’s tax laws.


  19. Andrew Hough says:

    Is DBS the only option? The writers on [https://the-international-investor.com/brokers/ocbc-securities] say that OCBC and Phillips Securities are the two best options for international investors. Any thoughts?

  20. James says:

    We are Australians living in Singapore and want to start a couch potato portfolio. Congratulations on writing an excellent and most informative book for expat investing. Thank you for sharing your insight and experience. If I understand your book correctly we should avoid purchasing any ETFs on the US stock exchanges (to avoid estate tax). Correct?

    Does it make any difference on which exchange we purchase the ETFs through – the Australian Stock Exchange, Toronto Stock Exchange or London Stock Exchange?

    For example: We could purchase one of the following US Stock indexes (weighted to 20% of our total portfolio)

    – Vanguard US Total Market Share Index ETF (VTS) on the Australian Stock Exchange (cost 0.05% p.a.)
    – Vanguard S&P 500 Index ETF (VFV) on the Toronto Stock Exchange (cost 0.08% p.a.)
    – Vanguard S&P 500 UCITS ETF (VUSA) on the London Stock Exchange (cost 0.07% p.a.)

    If I understand your book correctly, since we are purchasing these funds from Singapore, we will not pay any capital gains tax (so long as we continue to live in Singapore) and the fund manager in each country will deduct withholding tax from the return of the dividend payments.

    We would probably buy all of the ETFs for the couch potato portfolio through the same stock exchange. Do you agree?

    Is there anything I am overlooking with respect to choosing which exchange to purchase the ETFs? (hidden tax requirements or eligibility to use these exchanges?)

    (If I open an account with Saxo Group I think I will have access to all of these stock exchanges, for DBS Vickers, I would only have access to Toronto and London stock exchanges).

    • Hi James,

      Yes, avoid U.S. domiciled ETFs at all costs. For simplicity, you could certainly choose one exchange to deal with. But if you can’t find the perfect ETF for you (if, for some reason, your platform doesn’t offer it on that exchange) you could mix exchanges. For example, you could have an ETF from the London exchange and another from Toronto.


  21. Ben says:

    Andrew, just wanted to say that I have been lurking on your website the last couple of days. An Aussie fresh off the boat in Singapore, I got hit up by a financial advisory firm. Thought I’d take a look at what they were offering and almost got talked into locking myself away with them for a minimum of 8 years (if you move earlier, there are penalties). That rang alarm bells, then I read through their statement of advice a little more closely and worked out I would be forking out approximately 4% per annum for the privelege of investing in a grab bag of mutuals.

    I did some googling, read a number of articles on investing for the noob and then stumbled across your website, which confirmed everything I had been reading about index funds and then went on to provide some really useful practical advice on how to go about it in Singapore. I’ve now downloaded the forms for DBS Vickers (I am already with DBS, so that is easy) and am about to commence setting it all up.

    Just wanted to say a massive THANK YOU for what you are doing! I may have got there in the end (who knows?) but not without a lot of difficulty.

    I really can’t thank you enough. You are a fantastic resource and deserve all the praise you get.

  22. Avi says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I agree with your book about passive investing via ETFs.
    I am a dual citizen Australian British living in Singapore. It is easy to get information about expenses, and relative size of major diversified ETF (US market, Global, Australia, UK, Bonds, European etc). However the one stumbling block I have is to know from which exchange should I buy the ETF to take into account tax considerations. I am better to buy Ireland domiciled UK exchange funds, Singapore ETF, Australian ETFs. I note you discourage US ETFs due to Estate Tax. Is there any Tax considerations however which should lead non American expats living in Singapore to choose UK listed ones (mostly domiciled in Ireland) vs Australian listed ones vs Singaporean listed ons ? thanks

  23. Tim says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for the informative and interactive website, which I’ve just come across. Looking forward to reading your book now.
    I’m an Australian residing in Singapore, and intent to live overseas for the foreseeable future, be that in Singapore or elsewhere. I intend to open a DBSV account to purchase international ETFs.
    However, I’m not sure which exchange to best purchase them from. If I’m not mistaken, the three ETFs mentioned in your article (EWA, VT and ISHG) are listed on US markets.
    I also noticed that in reply to James (23 August 2015) you recommended avoiding US domiciled ETFs at all costs. My circumstances seems to be similar to James’, so I’m wondering if there’s something particular to these circumstances which mean the above ETFs aren’t ideal, or if there’s some difference in the meaning between the ETF being US domiciled and listed on a US exchange which I misunderstand? If no difference then I’d probably purchase from the US exchanges.
    Thanks again.

  24. Alfred says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I have bought and read your book. Thanks for sharing.

    I am a Singaporean who is interested in looking at Australian counters. Do you know if there are any Witholding tax on dividends if I were to purchase these Australian counters that pay dividends?


  25. Ross says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am interested in purchasing a global REIT ETF however the blackrock/vanguard ETFs are listed on US exchanges.

    I cannot seem to find an equivalent which is non-US traded.

    Any suggestions?

  26. Kelly Wilson says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am an Aussie expat who set up a brokerage account with DBS Vickers a few years ago based on the knowledge I gained from your books and website. I have been extremely happy with the performance of my index funds!

    However, I am repatriating back to the land down under and have to close my DBS Vickers account. I want to set up a brokerage account when I return to Oz and contacted Vanguard Australia about opening an account. They told me I can’t open an account with them to purchase ETFs, but that I must open an account with a stockbroker in order to do so.

    Do you have any low cost brokers in Aus that you recommend? (I’m not able to check Millionaire Teacher as the book is in Aus with my dad!)



    • Martin says:

      Hi Kelly,
      Out of interest: why must you close your DBS Vickers account now that you are repatriating?

    • Josh says:

      Hi, I don’t think you need to close your DBSV account. Maybe if you can provide more details, we can understand the circumstance and provide an opinion.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Yes, when you repatriate to Australia, you will have to close your account with DBS Vickers,
      Once you’re in Australia, you could buy Vanguard’s Life Strategy funds instead of using ETFs.
      Vanguard Australia offers five LifeStrategy funds. They rebalance each of them once a year. The investment costs (as a percentage of the overall assets) decreases as each account grows.
      Each of Vanguard’s Life Strategy funds cost 0.9 percent per year for the first $50,000 invested; 0.6 percent for the next $50,000 and 0.35 percent for balances above $100,000. That’s higher than the costs of your ETFs. But there’s an added bonus. Dividends are reinvested for free. There are no commissions to buy. You could likely set up automatic deposits. What’s more, because you won’t have to think about portfolio allocation, you might actually outperform the funds that you own. I explain how that works here: https://assetbuilder.com/knowledge-center/articles/how-to-take-less-risk-and-earn-better-investment-returns


      • Jono says:

        Hi Andrew,

        I used to work in Singapore for a couple of years and while I was there (2010 to 2014) I get introduce to your blog and even met you in person (in one of the investing fair). I attend one of your talks in that Invest fair and got into investing right away. I opened a standard chartered trading account and start buying Vanguard ETFs ( I also bought STI ETF and A35 to gain exposure to Singapore shares & Bond Funds). Now that I’m in Australia for good, I still have my SCB trading account active in Singapore and I still get dividends from my 6 figure portfolio. I just signed a W8BEN form and change my address to my current address here in Australia recently. I can still see my portfolio of Vanguard ETFs (VTI, VEA, BND) but I haven’t been re-investing dividends yet for I’m still conflicted whether to keep this account or sell all my ETFs and then bring the proceeds here in Australia and re-invest it again using Vanguard funds instead of Vanguard ETFs. What are the pros and cons? Also, why did you advise Josh (the post above) to close his account with DBS Vickers?

        What will you do if your in my shoes? You previously bought Vanguard ETFs using DBS vickers, did you sell your whole portfolio when you left Singapore or you’re still keeping it? All of my ETFs gained money except for my Bonds ETFs since I bought most of them at it’s peak in 2011.

        Thanks Andrew in advance. I really value your opinion on this.

        • Hi Jono,

          If you are now living in Australia, it’s best that you transfer those assets to Australia so (going forward) they can be legally taxed.


          • Jono says:

            Thanks Andrew! That’s the confirmation I need. I will now sell all my portfolio (irrespective of the loses in my Bond Funds), wire transfer the proceeds here in Australia (how I wish there’s a cheaper way of transferring my money from SG to AU), then buy Vanguard index funds.

            Thanks again for answering my question so quickly.

  27. Daisy says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I have been looking for the knowledge you are imparting for ages. I’ve just ordered your Global Expatriates book and am looking forward to reading it. I’m a Canadian living in Australia and will most likely be staying here until I retire (currently only in my twenties but have a huge appetite to start investing). Do you have any recommendations for the best low-cost brokerage firms in Australia?

  28. Andrew says:

    Hi Andrew,

    A few years ago I tried to open a Vanguard account in Australia and was told I couldn’t because I was a non-resident. Recently, I contacted them again, even though I am still living overseas, to ask again. Their response was different this time. See below:

    We offer Retail Managed Funds (minimum investment of $5,000) and Wholesale Managed Funds (minimum investment of $500,000) and ETFs ($500 minimum).
    Additional requirements to invest in Vanguard’s Australian suite of Funds include the following:
    · PDS and Application forms must be signed in Australia;
    · Individual investors require an Australian residential address;
    · Individual investors require an Australian domiciled bank account; and
    · All documents to be certified in Australia (or at an Australian consulate).

    If you meet the above requirements, you will be eligible to invest in Vanguard Australia Managed Funds.

    So, I then wrote back to them, even including a snip of the email from a few years ago where they told me as a citizen, but non-resident, I absolutely cannot open an account. They replied with:

    Thank you for your reply.

    As long as you can meet the requirements outlined in Nikhil’s email, you should not have a problem opening an account directly with Vanguard.

    So it seems they have had a policy change at some point and so long as one can meet the criteria an account can be opened even as a non-resident.

    I’m not sure though what the tax implications would be though for non-residents, but I thought I would share for others reading this post and these comments.

    • Thanks Andrew,

      But why would you want to take the possible, taxable risk, when it’s guaranteed that you won’t have to pay capital gains taxes with an offshore account?



      • Andrew says:

        Very true.

        An account that I don’t have to rebalance myself or any of that stuff is tempting.

        I will stick with my Saxo Singapore account though.

  29. dahlia says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’m an Australian expat living with my American husband in Jordan. I recently purchased and read your book ‘The Global Expatriates Guide to Investing’, which I found eye-opening. I am keen on implementing the couch-potato portfolio through Vanguard Australia’s index funds since all our savings are in Australia in AUD. Following the advice in your book, I would split between:
    33% Australian Index Shares
    33% International Index Shares
    33% Bonds

    I am unsure as to whether I should invest in Vanguard’s Australian Government Bonds or Vanguard’s Diversified Bond Index (which comprise 40% Australian and 60% international hedged into AUD). Would you have any recommendations? At this stage, we’re fairly young (32) and unsure if we will ever be returning to Australia.

    Thanks in advance

    • Dahlia,

      As an expat, you won’t be able to open a new account with Vanguard Australia or with an Australian-based brokerage. That’s a good thing. Such an account would be taxed. By following the portfolio models in my book for Australian expats (opening an account with an offshore brokerage) you’ll be able to invest virtually tax-free. That’s a much better deal!


  30. J.P. says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I have a quick question. If I was to decide on 1/3 each of Aus index, Global index, Aus bonds, where does my store of cash come into the picture that I draw upon to live off?

    I have heard that 2 years of all expenses should be available in cash and this is what you draw on to live off.
    But I did not see in your book or from the lots of articles I have read by you how this is replenished?

    Also, would you consider this cash in the fixed interest account to be part of the bond proportion of the portfolio or is it considered external to the portfolio?

    Thanks in advance, and thanks for the fantastic book.


    • Hi JP,

      I’m assuming you’re asking about a time after you have finished working, correct? Once you are retired, you withdraw 4% of your portfolio at the beginning of the year. You keep this liquid in a savings account, so you can access this cash during the year. The following year, you do the same thing, but allow for a slightly higher increase to cover the rising cost of living….and so on, with each passing year.


      • J.P. says:

        Thanks Andrew,

        Yes I mean when after retiring.

        So I guess you would consider that one year of living expenses as totally separate to your portfolio for calculating the ratios?

        And you just take this out of the asset class that is over valued, the opposite to the one you would choose when adding funds, so as to keep the same ratio.

        I have heard 2 or even 3 years of living expenses in fixed interest accounts so that you can avoid having to withdraw from your stocks if there is a stock market crash. But maybe this is not necessary if you have 1/3 of your assets in bonds as during a stock market crash you would take it from the bonds since that is the one that has over performed and you would not be forced to sell your stocks when they are undervalued?

  31. James says:

    Hi Andrew

    I’m a 30-something Aussie living in Singapore, investing in Vanguard ETFs on the Australian Stock Exchange. My current plan is to have a mix of Australian and International stocks which I will balance over time (like you suggested).

    I will eventually move back to Australia so I’m wondering if there is any reason I should invest in Singapore when I can continue using Australian dollars and have a single portfolio back home (rather than having a separate Australian and Singaporean portfolio building up over time)?


    • Hi James,

      If you open an account in Australia while you living in Singapore, you will have to pay capital gains taxes. Repatriate the money when you repatriate. Until then, leave it in Singapore so it can grow, capital gains free.


      • James says:

        Thanks Andrew.

        My account was already opened in Australia (through a bank) years before leaving the country, so does this make a difference to your comment above? I have enlisted in the ETFs dividend reinvestment program, so would I still be taxed on that?

        If I do open a Singapore account and begin accumulating ETFs, when I repatriate is it best to pull everything out of Singapore and add to my Australian funds?


        • James,

          Unless your account is a superannuation or other tax deferred plan, you will pay capital gains taxes on that money. Don’t add to it.


          • J.P. says:

            I believe this is incorrect.

            The Australian Tax Office (ATO) says that if you are a non-resident for tax purposes (there is a test you need to fulfill for this), then during the period you are a non-resident:

            1. You pay no CGT on either Australian or international shares.
            You owe CGT on profits earned until the date you leave and from the day you return. Any CG in between is tax free. You are free to either pay the CGT owed upon leaving (and if held more than 12 months, you get the 50% CGT discount) or you can keep holding and pay CGT when you eventually sell, but once you are a non-resident, you no longer get the 50% CGT discount.
            The reason for not charging CGT to non-residents is that it clearly discourages non-residents from investing in Australia, which does nothing good for the Australian economy.

            2. On international shares you pay no withholding tax on dividends above what that country has taken out (search “conduit foreign income”) as it is seen as money just passing through Australia from one foreign entity to anther.

            3. On Australian shares you lose the 30% franking credit that residents get back, and on unfranked shares your broker by law is required to take out 30% withholding tax.

            I spoke to an expat specialist account about this, but I would still suggest anyone in Australia should speak to their own Australian accountant to confirm.

            Neither dividends or capital gains go on an Australian tax return.
            Note that property is entirely different to this and is taxed in ever way they possibly can.

          • James says:

            Thank you!

          • David Hood says:

            Further to J.P’s accurate correction, the mentioned use of ‘a superannuation or other tax deferred plan’ would actually needlessly render your investments subject to ongoing CGT even whilst non-resident, as Aussie Super schemes are taxed as they grow (15% rate generally), regardless of the member’s residence. Aussie Super is not tax deferred, but is in fact taxed until retirement and tax relieved during retirement.

            There is one legislative/tax reason to invest outside of Australia, and it can be done in a manner that would not break Mr Hallam’s cardinal rules on avoiding oversized charges, product lock-ins and commissions. Investing via a non-Australian insurance bond, and keeping that bond once returning to Australia, would under current legislation enable you to enjoy completely tax free capital gains from year 10 of the bond onwards (see, for example, https://www.ato.gov.au/misc/downloads/pdf/qc55409.pdf). Whilst this law remains in place, this would be the most tax efficient approach given your plans to return to Australia in the future, particularly if you return to Australia as a higher rate taxpayer. Clearly the costs of implementing the strategy have to be weighed against the potential tax benefits however.

            * Full Disclosure – I am a Singapore-based financial adviser, though am one who uses the Hallam-approved Dimensional Fund Advisers, low fee, approach

  32. Martin says:

    I am Australian but have been living in Singapore for >18 years. Due to a death in the family I now have a lump-sum to invest. I currently have it sitting in my Australian bank account but need to make some decisions about what to do with it. It seems the AUD will stay flat vs. the SGD so bringing the funds here isn’t particularly attractive. But it seems I can’t simply do as I want – put it in VAS and leave it as a legacy for my kids.

    It seems one can’t open an Australian brokerage account when not domiciled in Australia – correct? I don’t have a postal or residential address there, and won’t necessarily return (though it’s a possibility e.g. retirement). If I read the comments above right, a self-managed super fund is one option, but has CGT exposure. A SMSF may also not be appropriate for legacy-planning, and may entail administrative overhead/expense. Discretionary trusts are another possibility but again require admin and also are very illiquid. Aussie property is another option but I have some already.

    If anyone has experience with this type of situation I’d appreciate hearing from you, thanks. Based on current trajectory, bring the funds up to Singapore is starting to seem the best way. Or perhaps property, though the lending environment for offshore borrowers has tightened. My kids are young, so I’d be parking the funds for ~20 years.

    • J.P. says:

      It seems one can’t open an Australian brokerage account when not domiciled in Australia – correct?

      Why not?
      Some brokers such as Commsec are only open to residents. Others such as IB (Interactive Brokers) are available to non-residents. With IB you can buy from many stock markets around the world including ASX, LSE, and others. Mark Zoril as mentioned in Andrews books and on this site, helped me out with setting up an IB account and made the whole thing very straight forward.

      But it seems I can’t simply do as I want – put it in VAS and leave it as a legacy for my kids.

      Again, why not?
      Sign up to a broker that is available to non-residents and offers purchasing on the ASX.

      I would be asking why you would want VAS though. The Australian makes up 2% of the worlds markets so it lacks diversification. Half of the index being made up of only 2 sectors, finance and mining, and if either of those go down, it will bring the rest of it with it. If you are not going back to live there, it doesn’t make any sense to me to buy VAS. The one benefit of VAS is that if you are a resident you get tax credits, but as a non-resident you don’t get this. If you already have Australian property there you are already hedged into the Australian currency in a big way anyway.
      Any reason for wanting VAS instead of just getting an all-world ETF?

      • Martin says:

        Good tip here on IB, thanks – in the process of opening an account. If they do indeed allow me to use Australia-based money to trade on ASX from Singapore, winner. And yes, good point on merits of all-world vs. VAS. Cheers.

  33. Luke D says:

    I’m an 30yr old International Teacher from Australian currently living in Singapore and I’ve just finished reading your Millionaire Expat book. Couldn’t be more thankful to you for breaking down what was always such a daunting idea of personal finance. My one question before I embark on my own portfolio was just about the discrepancy between what you’ve listed in your book as recommendations and what you’ve listed on this page. The ETF’s you’ve recommended are different and I was wondering if there was a reason behind that and if one had been updated more recently which one that would be…your book or this page?

    • Hi Luke,

      This is a very old article. The ETFs that I listed in it are U.S. domiciled. As you read my book, you’ll see why it’s not a good idea to have U.S. listed products. Look up estate taxes in the back of the book.


  34. LJ says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am new to investing in Singapore as an Australian expat and I have just orderd your book (still in the mail) and finding your blog very very useful.

    A question when buying the mix of ETFs for Aus shares, Aus Bonds and international shares – is there any difference/benefits for tax etc if I was to buy the ETFs on the ASX through DBS Vickers or If I bought the Aus ETF and International ETF on say the London or NY stock exchange through DBS Vickers (understand need to buy the bonds on the ASX anyway)?

    Also have been reading your thoughts on the offshore bonds with great interest Understand the higher fees and lock period is not great compared to direct investing in ETFs but are there scenarios when the offshore bonds could make sense? We are thinking of returning to Aus in 8 to 9 years and then ideally hold the investment for a ‘reasonable’ period of time after we return. Given Australia has high tax on dividends and capital gains, I am wondering if there could be benefits if have a certain amount invested and hold for a certain amount of time after returning to Aus


  35. LJ says:

    Thanks Andrew and for the quick response. Your insights into investing is unbeatable and is advice that has the expats best interest in mind. Can’t wait to read the book!

    Just to clarify whether buying the ETF, the main point is that I don’t buy it using a local broker (Eg CommSec) and buy it using an international broker (eg DBS Vickers)?

    The all in one fund is exactly what I was looking for.

    Thanks and much appreciated,

  36. Insfired says:

    Hi Andrew, what would you recommend for someone who lives in the Philippines and would like to get US and international fund exposure? I was thinking of opening an internaxx account but not sure which exchange to buy from (hk, sg, cad, uk), excluding the US due to estate tax issue you mentioned? Thanks in advance!

  37. Sue says:

    Hi Andrew, can you share the information from https://www.internaxx.com/expat-investor/smart-investing/how-australians-and-canadians-can-invest-jedi-knights Unfortunately this link no longer seems to be working. It looks like you are recommending an all in one fund that might be exactly what I am looking for.


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