The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing

I’m 30,000 words into my next book, The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing.

At roughly 75,000 words, it’s going to be the same size as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

It deals a lot with planning how much money expatriates will need, and gives very specific, step by step instructions (with big fat pictures and arrows) explaining how Americans, Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, Europeans, Canadians, South Americans and Chinese expats can open global accounts and manage them.

It also shows how to invest utilizing three separate indexing platforms: couch potato investing, fundamental indexing, and Harry Browne’s Permanent Portfolio strategy–with custom twists to serve different nationalities.

It profiles dozens of real expatriates as they explain their successes, goals and failures in the world of stock and real estate investing. There are roughly 250 million expats worldwide.

 I want to thank everyone who’s supporting this project with their personal stories, dreams, defeats and successes.

Your contributions are making this the most readable personal finance book in the world. Together, we’re going to help plenty of people.

Thanks! The book should hit stores (and Amazon) by September 2015.

If anyone can come up with a catchy subtitle, I’m all ears!





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 (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). 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. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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43 Responses

  1. Linx says:

    I am looking forward to your next book. I am not an expatriate presently but would love to get some ideas on how much I should be saving and allocation as I expect to live in a few countries outside my home country in the upcoming years.

    I have already started saving here but once I move, due to exchange rates, the amounts will be much less in comparison. I will more than likely move back to my home country for retirement but do envision quite a bit of travelling.

    Linx

    • Hi Linx,

      How much you need to save will depend on many factors. Let’s assume you will make $12,000 per year from the government (in 2013 dollars). Let’s then assume that you want $40,000 to live on, in today’s dollars. This means you would have a $28,000 annual shortfall, after old age security and Canada pension–or social security, if you’re an American. But you’ll need to consider inflation.

      Follow the tutorial here to get some idea of how much you should be putting away, now that you have these starting numbers (whatever they may happen to be for you) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM6vUdxzyuk

  2. Toby says:

    Fantastic work Andrew. I am looking forward to reading the book. Keep up the amazing work.
    Toby

  3. crystal says:

    Hi Andrew
    Really thanks for your previous reply. I have a concern now and would like to ask for your expert advice. I plan to buy a flat so i am now saving a sum of money for down payment. I can save up to 30000 hkd every month. Should i put all 30000 for investment every month and then take the sum of money 2years later for the flat or should i invest half of it and then leave the other half as free capital flow?
    thanks a lot!

    Crystal

    • Hi Crystal,

      There’s a rule of thumb suggesting that if you will need some money within the next five years, that money should not go into the stock market at all. Whether you save for the flat, then invest, or put half of your savings towards the flat and half towards long term investing (for your retirement) is up to you. If we could see the future, we could see which strategy would be better. But unfortunately, nobody has that key.

      Hope this helps a bit.

      Andrew

  4. Jeffro says:

    Good luck w/ the book, Andrew.

    As for book titles/subtitles:
    – Stocks and Vagabonds: The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing
    – The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: Nest Egging for Global Nomads
    – The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: Building Financial Abundance Abroad
    – The Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: Building a Nomadic Nest Egg

    Do I get a free copy hah hah…

    cheers

  5. Julie says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Looking forward to your next book. As an expat, I can say that it is challenging to start out in a new place, trying to understand the different systems i.e. tax, healthcare, driving on the right side of the road etc. Investing is no different. One just need to compare the difference between Canada (TFSA, RRSP, RESP) vs Singapore (CPF…what else?).

    Here are some suggestions:

    Title – The Global Investor: An Investing Guide for Expats

    Subtitles – You are smarter than you think you are; Friend or foe: the financial adviser; Make your money work as hard as you do;

    Cheers!

  6. Hani says:

    Hello Andrew,

    Really looking forward to reading your new book.

    In the meantime I decided to go ahead and invest in ETF’s.

    Vanguard low cost index funds are unfortunately unavailable in the Dubai (UAE) But I found an alternative with ETF’s.

    By opening a brokerage account with Citi bank I have access to the US stock market including ETF’s.

    I was thinking of the following portfolio:
    40% VTI
    30% VXUS
    30% BND or AGG (bond’s mid term)
    Rebalancing once or twice a year to keep the same ratio

    Charges:
    Citi bank commission: 0.3% buy or sell
    ETF commission: 0.065% buy or sell
    Custody Fee: 0.2% yearly

    Cheers,

    • Well done Hani!

      Please spread your expertise among your friends. You now have a gift of knowledge that others would covet.

      Cheers,

      Andrew

    • Toby says:

      The portfolio is similar to mine. I have:

      VTI 30%
      VEA 30%
      BSV 40%

      I own VEA rather than VXUS because I wanted to avoid emerging makers. It’s a personal choice. If I was to change my mind on this I would probably buy VXUS because it is an excellent ETF.

      As to bonds, I am similar to you except mine are short and I prefer to keep them short term. My bonds held up well through the bond market sell off earlier this year because they are short term bonds. In the future I am going to change my bond portion of my portfolio to ISHG which has a more international flavour. After saying all that, BND or AGG are still excellent ETFs and if I was forced to own one of them I would not be too unhappy about it.

      Mostly I buy rather than sell and buy to rebalance. I just buy the laggard. That seems to do the trick. I will only think about selling to rebalance if the percentage weightings get too far out of line. It has not happened to me yet because I add money regularly to the lagging ETF which keeps it all roughly inline. I expect to rebalance perhaps every few years at the most. Costs matter a lot and I don’t want to get into trying to time the market. My account is with TD Direct International in Luxembourg. I want to minimise the fees.

      I would rather pay the fees you quoted above than the fees that you would pay through plans provided with oxygen bandits such as Zurich International Life or Friends Povident so well done on avoiding these companies and creating your own portfolio.

      Your portfolio looks great and you will do very well over the long term.

      All the best with your investing.

      Cheers,

      Toby

      • Shannon says:

        Hi Toby, and anyone else reading here that can answer my question,

        I am an ex-pat Canadian living in Asia and using TD International Luxembourg. However, when I send international remittances to TD Luxembourg, I am only allowed to send it in U.S. dollars, not Canadian dollars. TD Luxembourg charges 1% to convert the U.S. dollars to Canadian dollars. This 1% spread charge for converting to Canadian dollars, combined with the remittance fees are killing me.

        However, my bank will allow me to send Canadian dollars back to Canada as an international remittance.

        According to my calculations, if I make an international remittance to my Royal Bank Savings Account, in Canadian dollars, and then make a second international remittance from my Royal Bank account to the TD Luxembourg account, also in Canadian dollars, I save money! The Royal Bank charges $13 for a maximum limit of $2,500 which can be remitted every 24 hours.

        It seems that the 1% spread charge to convert from U.S. dollars to Canadian dollars is much more expensive than just keeping the international remittances in Canadian dollars, even though I’m doing a second international remittance from Canada to TD Luxembourg.

        My question is, will this draw unnecessary attention from the Canadian Government regarding any tax issues, etc.? If the money goes through Canada to get to TD Luxembourg, then will my ex-pat or non-residency status come into question in the eyes of the authorities?

        Thanks for any info anyone can provide me with regarding this, but those 1% exchange fees from U.S. to Canadian dollars shocked me when I found out how much I was paying. I’d like to avoid that if at all possible.

        Thanks
        Shannon

        • Shannon, do you have a Canadian dollar brokerage account with TD International? If you are buying ETFs domiciled on the Canadian market, then you are paying that 1% exchange rate twice: once to convert to USD, then another time to re-convert to CDN when you buy your ETFs off the Toronto Stock Exchange. I would call TD again to question this. If you have a Canadian dollar account with TD International, you should be able to send Canadian dollars.

          I’m even more curious at the fact that you live in Asia and get paid in Canadian dollars. Do you work for the Canadian embassy somewhere? How does that work?

          Cheers,
          Andrew

          • Shannon says:

            Andrew,

            Thank you for your reply. Just to clarify, I am paid in local currency, not Canadian dollars.

            However, my bank will not remit Canadian dollars to Luxembourg. They will only send U.S. Dollars or Euros. So that means converting my money twice if I send my monthly savings directly to Luxembourg – Once to U.S. dollars and then again to Canadian dollars after it arrives in Luxembourg. The spread in Luxembourg at TD is 1%.

            I’ve started to remit my money in Canadian dollars to Canada and then again from Canada to Luxembourg. Even though I have to make a second remittance, from Canada to Luxembourg, it seems that it is still cheaper than having to convert from US dollars to Canadian dollars. I guess either way we have to pay commissions but I’d like to pay as little as possible.

            I’m not sure if sending savings back regularly to my Canadian bank account will impact my non-residency status. I hope not. I usually send a remittance once a month, so fairly regularly.

            Thanks.
            Shannon

      • TD International Blocks Online ETF Trades says:

        Toby,

        Have you been blocked from buying ETFs online using your TD International Luxembourg brokerage account? I’m curious, because I have had to ask for them to allow me to purchase Vanguard ETFs. For reasons I do not understand, they block the purchase of online ETF shares.

        I posted, accidentally, in one of Andrew’s Canadian Ex-Pat posts at the top of his main page. Andrew, if you wish, you can move or delete my post. I thought it would be more appropriate to post my question about TD International here. My mistake.

        Thanks!
        Shannon

        • TD International Blocks Online ETF Trades says:

          Hello,

          I’m still being blocked from purchasing ETFs on the Toronto Stock Exchange through TD International Luxembourg, so I’ll ask again here I guess – has anyone else had this problem and, if so, how did you get around it?

          I e-mailed TD and they unblocked a purchase I made for VSB after a couple of e-mails to them explaining my problem and making the request that they unblock it.

          However, I am still being blocked from purchasing ETFs with TD International. Is it just me, or have others experienced the same problems?

          Thanks for any info.

          shannon

    • Aneesh says:

      Hi Hani,

      I am an expat living in UAE as well and I have also read Andrew’s book which has given me much needed clarity on investing.

      I have been researching for the last couple months ways to invest in either low cost index mutual funds or ETF’s but could not find any worth while information until I came across your post! so Thank You for the useful information!

      I will also plan to open a brokerage account with Citi Bank and was wondering if dollar cost averaging would be a wise scenario based on the charges that you outlined?
      Maybe invest around 1000 – 2000 USD per month and rebalance after a year?

      Maybe Andrew can give his opinion as well?

      Thanks,
      Aneesh

      • hani says:

        Hi Aneesh,

        Glad to hear that you were fortunate enough to read Andrew’s book.

        I opened my brokerage account with Citi end of November 2013 and have been adding moneys every month since December 2013 until now. I add money monthly usually beginning of the month after my paycheck…

        I will probably DCA for one year and stop there.
        I feel that 0.365% buy or sell on ETF and the 0.2% custody fee (yearly but quarterly charged) are not that much compared to all these actively managed funds with 3% and more…

        Planning to rebalance once a year by either adding new money or selling the outperforming etf’s and buy the lagging ones.

        If you feel that the fees are too high then you can also check Saxo bank or TD international.

        Check as well the link below it will give you a nice explanation on DCA versus Lump sum

        http://canadiancouchpotato.com/2013/05/31/does-dollar-cost-averaging-work/

        Cheers and good luck….

    • Steve says:

      Hani we’d love to see you at Andrew’s talk in Dubai this Tuesday. See the latest blog post for details. Thanks Steve

  7. Hani says:

    @Andrew
    Thanks for your reply. Bought as well a couple of your books to gift some of my friends and family back home for Xmas.

    @Toby
    Thanks a lot for your detailed answer.
    I will start with a lump sum of10000usd and add the same for a couple of month
    As suggested I will rebalance to keep the same ratio by buying instead of selling.
    The only problem I see with Citi brokerage is finding the ETf’s as you have to search by ISIN code instead of the ticker symbol
    which is much easier.

    Cheers,
    Hani

  8. Gaya says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I just bought your Millionaire Teacher book and I can’t wait to read it. I have heard really wonderful things about it. I am a novice in investing but want to learn the ropes of the game. I can’t wait for your new book. Can you please give a few pointers for an Indian expat? I have lived in the US for considerable years but now reside in Qatar. I have invested my 401k in Charles Schwab before moving out of the US but I can’t decide if I should open an international account with them or with TD Direct. Your input will be much appreciated.

    Another question I can’t seem to find a clear answer – Do we have to pay a commision every time we buy an ETF. Say I buy 3 ETFs for $1000 and the spread is 30%, 40% and 30%. The next month if I add $300, $400 and $300 to each of the ETFs, will I have to pay a commission?

    Thanks,
    Gaya

  9. Mathew says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Can’t wait for the next book. The Millionaire Teacher is my guide to investing and I look forward to reading about the experiences of others like me. If you might want any added examples – I am based in Singapore and more than happy to share my thoughts.

    In terms of subtitles – I was thinking about the following:

    – Index investing: The best things in life are (nearly) free
    Or alternatively
    – Financial advisers: There’s no such thing as “free” financial advice

    Also
    – Your money: Nobody cares more about it than you do
    – Taking control of your money. Step one: admitting you made a mistake
    – It’s never too late to start investing wisely

    Keep us posted on your progress!

    Mathew

  10. Paduraru says:

    Andrew,

    This is fantastic content I found on this blog. Can’t wait to have your book.
    What life insurance plans do you recommend? (if you recommend any).

    Thanks for all the effort to keep this running!

  11. Rachel Ilan Simpson says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Thanks for writing on this topic! I’m a Canadian living in Germany, and it sounds like it will be exactly what I need.

    Is there a way to get notified when the book comes out?

    • Hi Rachel,

      I’m excited about offering this book, and I’m incredibly surprised that nobody has written about investing for expats. It should have been written decades ago. If you sign up for my nine rules of wealth (it’s free) which you can see on the right side of my home page, you’ll receive notification once the book is ready.

      Thanks for the encouragement. Writing a book like this takes oodles of time. It’s nice to know that somebody wants to read it!

      Cheers,

      Andrew

      • Rachel says:

        It’s a great idea, I’m already looking forward to reading it. I moved to Germany 2 years ago, and have been struggling ever since to find information about the “new rules.” It will be great to read something in english:)

        Thanks for the tip- I’ll sign up now!

  12. Carlos says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I found this website browsing about brokerage firms who accept nonresidents, and now I’m curious about your books.

    Question: I’m thinking about opening an account with TD International as a nonresident (I’m a resident of Portugal right now), but before I do, are these firms safe to put our money into?
    The reason I ask is because there are a lot of horror stories about the US brokerage firms that accept nonresidents, like Ameritrade, Etrade, etc. People claiming to have lost their principal (and their profit) when the firm all of a sudden say there’s an identity problem with the account holder, or they stop doing business with certain countries, etc. And many say they were never notified; that they logged on and their account was closed or restricted.

    I’m thinking of investing a larger amount of money in stocks long term. Is it safe to put my money in firms like TD International, Saxo, or vickers?

    Thank you in advance!

  13. Alice says:

    Hello, Andrew!

    Hope your new book will have a bit on Switzerland. I’m an international teacher here and new to the investment scene. A few of the reasons I chose the school I work at was access to a pension plan that resembles the one I contributed to in Canada with employer matching my contribution and the amounts going up considerably as I age. In fact, the Swiss pension system for employed teachers reminds me of Canada with an equivalent to the CPP and an employer pension plan. As in Canada, there is also an optional RRSP type of contribution for retirement calld the 3A “Third pillar” which can be deducted from income taxes much like in Canada.

    I have been here for a couple of years now and am in love with the country. I also really like working at my school and living in the community here. I would like to stay here at least until I retire and, if I can afford it, I’d love to retire here, or in a neighbouring country.

    I’m wondering your thoughts on what my next wise financial step would be. Should I (a) invest the maximum in the Swiss 3A optional pension plan, (b) invest in EFT’s or (c) do a combination of both.

    I’m new to investing and have never dealt with EFT’s and am not even sure what, if anything, is available like that in Switzerland. Your comments would be most welcome! Keep at it with the book. You will be helping to educate so many globally mobile individuals and families.

  14. Sean says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I think you should include a chapter on repatriation strategies for those who have invested in ETFs as expats. This is a hot topic for many!

    • You’re right Sean, but it would also be a task that would take an entire book, based on all the different tax regulations for each specific country. What’s best is a “seek an accountant from your home country once you…” piece of advice.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

      • Sean says:

        Agreed, Andrew. However, some general guidelines beyond “seek an accountant from your home country…” may be in order. For example, before an expat begins investing in ETFs, perhaps they should consider whether it is most prudent to buy an accumulating ETF rather than a dividend-paying ETF.

        It might also be prudent, in some cases, for expats to sell their ETFs before repatriating, because if they repatriate and sell later, they may incur capital gains on the whole thing! Of course, there are several possibly negative consequences to selling – but that has to be weighed against being charged up to 40% in tax when selling an ETF once repatriated.

        I just think that after reading this site, expats may decide that ETFs are the way to go and give little consideration to the potentially messy consequences after repatriating. Certainly it’s not your job to comprehensively explain the minutae of tax implications for various countries — but your book could benefit from a high-level discussion on *some* of the things that expats may need to consider before buying ETFs AND before repatriating.

        Any updates on when your book will be available on Amazon? Looking forward to it.

        • Hi Sean, unfortunately, these factors would be the same whether they bought ETFs or actively managed funds, or their own stocks. They’re much the same, as instruments. Best to consider an accountant’s view on repatriation, I think, rather than list all the things to possibly watch out for, which may apply to Brazilians, not to Argentines, apply to Greeks, but not the Swiss. At some point, a writer has to realise where the individual has a better foothold and dig up information that will most certainly apply to their personal circumstances based on country specific guidelines with help from a professional. I have done so for my home country with an accountant. And I imagine doing so the same way for yours would be just as easy. Trying to detail something for everyone would surely lose me the respect of the world’s international accountants because every individual will have different circumstances, depending on other assets, forms of income and tax regulations. If you would like me to give you the name and number of someone who may be able to help you professionally, I could do that, if you tell me what your nationality is.

          Cheers,
          Andrew

        • Hi Sean,

          After reflecting on what you have said, I have to agree that you are 100% right.

          But I also don’t want to add a half-baked job on a repatriation chapter (I have already exceeded my word limit and the book is tight).

          That said, thanks to you, we can do even better. In the conclusion, I’ll add a line or two about repatriating. Then I’ll put a link/address to my blog and build it properly with reasonably detailed information for a variety of different nationalities and circumstances, as well as international accountant names (pertaining to different nationalities) and contact numbers. It will be much like my book’s 23rd chapter. Only, it will be online.

          So thank you Sean. The book and the resources will be significantly improved thanks to your contribution. Incidentally, the manuscript is complete and the book will be available in airports, bookstores and on Amazon in November.

          Cheers,
          Andrew

          • Sean says:

            That’s great news on all scores, Andrew! Happy to help. You’re doing a stellar job here.

  15. Sean says:

    Thanks Andrew — I take your point. I am Irish and I live in the UAE. Like a lot of expats, I have no idea where I’ll ultimately end up, but I am investigating several possible scenarios, including repatriating to Ireland some day.

  16. Mohamed says:

    Hi Andrew, every one,
    I am following the interesting discussions in the blog for the last couple of days, and I have finally decided to open an account and give it a try…my question would be which broker you would recommend, Interactive brokers or Saxo Bank…I am based on Dubai, with Egyptian nationality…hope you give some hints until your book is available 😉
    All the Best,

    • Vig says:

      Mohamed, I have an account with Saxo in Singapore. I don’t know anything about Interactive Brokers. Anyway I will say this about Saxo:

      – Customer service, so far, is excellent!

      – Paperwork to set up the account was rather exhausting, because I’m living in a “non-sanctioned” country where corruption is endemic. Therefore Saxo took many precautions before they’d let me open the account. I am not sure if one’s citizenship (the country that issued your passport) also affects whether you can even open an account with Saxo.

      – Their website platform that you use to buy ETFs is NOT user-friendly in the least. It’s actually quite confusing especially if you are a beginner to investing.

      – Saxo has an “inactivity fee” of USD100 that is charged after 6 months of account inactivity.

      – Commissions vary depending on which market you’re buying from. They have a link on their site, under the “Stocks” heading, called “Commissions”.
      Hope that helps!

  17. Mohamed says:

    Thanks Vig,I am sharing my thoughts on both as well, I got my accounts opened one with Saxo and one with IB, (not funded) yet and it was a smooth for both…wanted to check the platforms and process…my concerns now are related to the below points and whether it really makes sense to go with them :-

    – SAXO Customer Sevice I feel they are better

    – the commissions difference in both, SAXO 15 USD min Vs. IB 1 USD… on US exchange related transactions and also almost double what IB will charge in Europe exchanges

    – inactivity fees as you mentioned for SAXO as you mentioned is 100USD/6month VS. IB is 10 USD (I assumen I won’t generate 30USD of commissions to have it waved ) so most likely I pay it…

    – IB will handle the Withholding TAX and according to a treaty between US and Egypt I will be entitled for 15% (when I relocate back to Egypt in future) on the Other hand SAXO didn’t even ask me to fill the W8-BEN Form !!! and I will pay the full 30% withholding tax , if I want to reclaim it I have to get in touch with a company called GlobeTax and they will take 20% off what they will reclaim…

    -Platform for IB I feel more intuitive but also a learning curve will be needed…

    so hard to decide actually 😀 specially If I would like to regular purchases of small amounts every month…

    Cheers…Mohamed

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