How AES International (in Dubai) Will Build You A Portfolio Of Index Funds


I get it!

Most investors don’t want to invest their own money.  They would much rather leave the task to somebody else. If it’s the right kind of firm, that could make sense.

If you’re a non-American, I recommend just five firms.  Why?  They build low cost portfolios of index funds. They’re backed by evidence, not commission hungry rhetoric. 




Annual Portfolio Management Fee

Minimum Required

Contact Information

AES International
(only use the Dubai office)




Index Fund Solutions

(Mark Ikels: Singapore)




Creveling & Creveling 
(Chad & Peggy: Thailand)




(Canadians only)

0.35% to 0.6%



Satis Asset Management 
(British only)


(drops after first million GBP)

500,000 GBP

+44 (0)20-3272-0120


The firm I want to focus on is AES International.

To date, they are the only fair investment firm that’s based in the Middle East.  They also require less money to open an account than most of the other top firms.  Currently, their account minimum size is $75,000 USD.  But CEO, Sam Instone, says the firm will soon be lowering that.

Mr. Instone was the leading expert who was profiled in the BBC Panorama documentary, Who Took My Pension?

He blew the top off the massive fees that are charged by most British pensions. Too many, he says, aren’t properly regulated. Unfortunately, these are the most common platforms that expats buy. Instead, they should invest in a diversified portfolio of index funds. 

AES International charges 1.2 percent to have such an account built and managed. 

If we add the hidden costs of the portfolios’ ETFs (known as tracker funds or index funds) the total annual costs come to less than 1.35 percent.

Most non-American expats pay three times as much.  What’s more, most can’t sell before a predetermined date. 

AES International explains their philosophy in a series of videos.  They’re brilliantly composed.

If you’re looking for an investment firm, I strongly recommend AES International. 

Whether you live in the Middle East, Europe or SouthEast Asia, you could use such a firm. 

I’ve waited a long time for such a group to emerge.  Expat investors have waited even longer.


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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38 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    How long is acceptable to wait for a company to reply? I wanted to get index funds(not available at Saxo). I was going to apply with td direct-but then read about AES- emailed them and got a reply next day, I then told them what I was looking for-after a few days got an email saying-leave it with me,i,ll send over a strategy shortly. That was 10days ago. Should I be concerned? I got very prompt service from Saxo- but don’t want to be unfair to another company. My instincts are telling me not to use them–but I would be interested to know the length of time a company should respond by.

    • Jen,

      The advisor may have slipped and knocked his or her head in the bathroom. Please contact them again. And keep me posted.


    • Jen,

      Just to add further, I highly recommend this firm, despite what your instincts say. If you invest with Saxo, you’ll be entirely on your own. You can’t get advice from them. They won’t build you a portfolio. You’ll have to purchase your own ETFs online. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want. With AES International, they will build a rebalance a portfolio for you. It’s a far easier process.


  2. Jen says:

    Hi Andrew

    I got a message now-they said they think the advisor went on leave. I just wanted them for passive index funds. I thought it was okay to go it alone for ETFs like your book said. Is Saxo more costly than AES then? I thought AES had higher fee of 1% which I felt was okay for the lump sums I wanted to put into index funds. But I thought Saxo costs were prob lower for my current ETF portfolio than AES. I know td direct is cheaper so am looking to swop my Saxo ETF portfolio to TDDirect. Yes-I listed my portfolio in pounds-so did not think about you had listed the costs in dollars. Tx for the help.

    • This is good to hear Jen.

      TD Direct International is actually cheaper than Saxo. It offers the same kind of DYI platform.

      AES International costs more than both. But based on statistical odds, you will perform better with them than if you take the route on your own. Most investors have a tough time managing their emotions. Most DIY index fund investors underperform a portfolio of stock and bond indexes by 2% or more each year….even though they own a portfolio of stock and bond index funds! Behaviour is huge. You might get an idea from this article. I talk about some products here that can only be purchased by Americans living in the U.S. But you’ll understand the behavioural premise. I mentioned much the same thing in my book.


  3. Dubai Investor says:

    Hello, Andrew. Interesting read, but also incomplete. I’m not sure where you got your figures, but having recently spoken to AES I can confirm that their suggested plan, a mix of equities and fixed income funds, incurs an annual fee of 2% in addition to 3% of all monies invested as an upfront fee.

    • Dubai Investor,

      Thanks for keeping me on my toes. After reading your comment, I contacted the CEO of AES International. It sounds like somebody may have given you the wrong information. If you add custody and the fund managers’ charges then depending on the amount you invest it could be as high as 1.86%. But the AES element of this won’t ever be higher than 1.25%. By selecting just the lowest cost ETFs, you should get total charges down to about 1.4%. If you want a full financial planning service where your wider circumstances are analyzed and a detailed report/plan is produced then this will create an initial charge (up to a maximum of 3% depending on asset size). But this is entirely your choice. A 3% upfront initial charge is less damaging than an extra 0.25% ongoing charge over time. I’ve recently put together a blog post (to be published soon) that explains how all fees are not created equal. As an alternative, you can DIY with AES International and just get the platform for 0.35% pa. I have asked for a link to a PDF of their Tariff of Fees and Charges which I will post on here so people can pick and choose what fits them best.

      The cheapest option of all will still be TD Direct International, if you are completely happy to go it alone.

      For those that want advice from a regulated advice firm an interesting article which will allow you to benchmark costs of regulated advice (as opposed to sole investment) is here:


  4. James says:

    Hi Andrew,

    In February, I adopted the PP strategy outlined in your last book and must thank you most sincerely for liberating us from the stress of expat retirement planning!

    Prior to finding you, I researched a few financial advisory firms…one of them being the AES branch in London, and after quite some contact, I (obviously) decided not to use them. Your recommendation here is quite specific for the Dubai office, and I’m just curious as to what your opinion is of the London office (if you have one).

    Thanks and congratulations again for your fantastic book, seriously, this should be compulsory reading for all expats.


    • James,

      As an expat, I am much more comfortable with the Dubai office. There are no capital gains taxes in Dubai.
      Also, I know for sure that they only build portfolios of index funds. The London office? I’m not so sure.


  5. Robert says:

    Hello Andrew, I am no investing genius and had taken substantial losses on my meagre savings by investing with the wrong business and into the wrong things via an adviser in Malaysia. AES provided a written X-ray service which showed the total costs I had paid and those that were still being paid by me. They actually directed me to your books and told me the different options I had which you outline. I could have tried myself but I am more comfortable letting someone else sort things out. My report shows the total cost of everything combined is 1.86% pa which is a fraction of what I was paying before. I am happy to have transparency, a better overall structure to my finances and someone I trust on hand to speak to when I want to. More importantly, my investments are now going up instead of down and I’ll never make the same mistakes again with an offshore salesperson…

  6. Jen says:

    Hi Andrew–just a flow up to my post where I asked how long I should wait for help. Since then AES has been fantastic–and lots of advice re opening an international bank account because I am now feeling stuck with no credit card or a debit card that works online!! (Have resigned from job in Middle East and working my notice).They don’t flog or push,just answer questions. No trying to force me to use the platform until I would be ready and very upfront about charges. I thought others might like to know that AES after an initial hiccup has been very helpful with no smarmy false talk.

  7. Cat says:

    Hi Andrew – Great read. I really enjoy your blog. I’ve got a question for you. Five years ago I took out a 15-year managed savings plan. By and large it has performed okay, but now the advisor who sold it to me originally has left and my policy has been entrusted to a guy who has about a nanosecond of experience. It has lost 20% in the last year alone. I’m really not happy about how it is being managed by the current advisor, but I don’t feel I can complain as he has pointed out that there is no benefit for the company to continue managing my policy because they got their commission once the first 18 months was up (nice!). He made out like they were actually doing me a favour! With a policy such as this is it worth taking it to somewhere like AES? It’s a relatively small investment (it will perhaps be worth 150k at maturity) so is it cost effective to pay a percentage of the policy net worth? And in your experience, do they generally do a good job of managing these things?

  8. Tricia says:

    Hi Andrew, I am shocked by this article. I wrote you about AES in 2015 and this is what you said to me last year. I quote verbatim from your email : As for the firm you mentioned. This fee of 0.85% would be reasonable under 3 mandatory conditions:

    1. You can sell at anytime, without any penalty
    2. The funds they select are low cost indexes only, costing no more than 0.2% per year.
    3. And…heck, that $750 annual fee is a freaking killer. It’s tough for me to say this is a good product at all….just based on that bit of nastiness. Think about it. If your portfolio value were $50,000, and you paid 0.85% as a management fee and $750 for an annual fee, that puts your annual charges at 2.35%. And that’s before adding in fund costs. If the funds are actively managed, you’ll pay another 1.75%. That’s 4% per year for accounts valued at $50,000.

    • Tricia,

      Their commitment to a fully index fund portfolio came after you wrote to me. If you have $75K, the costs for AES would be less than 1.5% per year. It’s still much cheaper to DIY. But if you want a full service financial planning brokerage, and you have less than $500,000 to invest, this appears to be the cheapest. When you wrote to me about them, they had no mention of index funds on their white list of funds. Their commitment to a fully index fund portfolio came after you wrote to me.


  9. David BAL says:

    Hi Andrew, I just called AES and they propose Index account fully managed by Blackrock in UK for an annual fee of 1.75% all included. AES is not managing anything but let Blackrock doing it. Is it a good product? No penalties apparently if the money is taken back and the fund sold…



    • Hi David,

      This portfolio would be miles better than the typical Middle East sold offshore pension. It would be completely hands free. There are no penalties to sell early.

      If you use such a platform, it wouldn’t take any time out of your typical year. AES International and BlackRock would look after everything for a total cost of 1.75 percent per year.


      If you don’t mind sending the money to a brokerage in Luxembourg, you could build much the same kind of portfolio (no fees to buy, no fees to sell, no penalty for withdrawals after the first 6 months) with TD’s Index Mutual Funds. Total fees would be far lower than with the AES option. It would cost you about 0.5 percent per year. That’s less than one third the cost. As a result, if you have a bit of discipline and 60 minutes a year to rebalance, it would almost certainly outperform the previous option. I wrote about those funds here:

      Having said that, you would be responsible for making the purchases and rebalancing the portfolio once a year. You would be responsible for wiring your money to Luxembourg.

      Could you go cheaper still? Yes. You could use TD Direct International to build a portfolio of ETFs. You would pay commissions to buy and a small annual platform charge. But overall, a portfolio of ETFs would be the cheapest of the lot. Including all expenses, it would cost less than 0.3 percent per year.

      If you would like to see how you could do this, I’ve described it in my book.

      You have to ask yourself one question:
      Do you want a completely hands free approach?

      If the answer is yes, go with the AES International option.


  10. David BAL says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks a lot for your answer! Actually I contacted TD in Luxembourg because I found their online plateform very attractive and moreover their fees are much lower than AES. I thought that with a little bit of learning I could manage my fund/ETF myself…

    The bad news is that I am living in Vietnam and TD informed they can’t open a multi currency account because they have no presence in this country! I don’t know what to do now. I could start doing something with AES first and later on open an account in Luxembourg when my situation change. At the moment my wife is not in Vietnam (she is in France) so perhaps she can still open an account under her name…



    • David,

      There is also the option of opening an account with DBS Vickers. They have a branch in Vietnam. I spoke at South Saigon International School earlier this year. Many of their teachers have opened such an account and built global ETFs that trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange.


      • David BAL says:

        Hi Andrew,

        Super. I will check it out. Having some savings in Singapore as well and a salary paid in Vietnam it might make sense to look at DBS vickers. Are they competitive in term of fees? I seems like it’s the case when I look on their website but there may be hidden charges…



  11. Nigel Wilson says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Q: Worst case scenario ?

    Hypothetically speaking – I`m British and have “permanent resident” status in the Philippines. I`d like to open an account with TD Luxembourg but they do not accept Philippines residents. If I joined but claimed UK residency (as have a UK address), what is the worst that could happen?

    One concern is UK Gov claiming tax at a future date as I joined under the pretense of a UK residency.

    Thoughts on this hypothetical situation ?

    Am aware of Saxo etc in Singapore.

    Cheers for the good work you do.


    • David BAL says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Apparently it’s not legal to trade on TD if you are resident in Philippines. I have the same issue in Vietnam…


    • John says:

      TD has sold its Direct Investing International in Luxembourg to Interactive Investor. Maybe the new policy will allow for Philippine residents to open an account with the new Interactive Investor brokerage in Luxembourg. You should ask them. Failing that, just use your UK address. They’ll ask you to provide proof of a UK address and legal residency, etc., probably.

  12. Catherine says:

    Hi Andrew
    Thank you so much for writing Millionaire Teacher. My eyes have been opened to a whole new world. I’m in the early stage of my investment journey and have a quick question. I’m Canadian, living in the UK (also a British citizen). Ideally I’d have a diversified stock portfolio made up of UK, world and Canadian stocks + bonds. There are plenty of options for me (including Vanguard) for UK, US and world stocks + bonds – but I can’t figure out how to invest in the Canadian stock market. Do you have any tips or can you direct me anywhere? Thanks so much!

  13. Murray says:

    Hi Andrew

    Are you aware that AES in Dubai have lowered the minimum amount needed to open an index account to 45,000 Dirhams?

    This now looks like an incredibly good option for those of us without $75000 lying around!

    Just thought I’d share.


    • Thanks Murray,

      It comes with internal and external costs that are about 1/3rd of the typical offshore pension. Total costs are 1.75% per year for AES’s lower entry platform. Regulatory fees (that AES can’t control) get priced into the total fees.


    • Jen says:

      Hi Murray-just wondering if you are the South African Murray who wrote on here before and we exchanged some comments? If you are just wanted to say -if you were planning to retire in SA that is–look at Satrix. Their ETF platform costs are very low–and u can even invest with a monthly debit order for a small amt. They also automatically reinvest dividends for you. There current ETFs are all local-but they shortly will gave international ETFs. I use them and am happy (but I also use the Saxo platform–and for variety I am also going to open an index account with AES for $10,000.).

  14. Luxembourger says:

    Why is AES’ Dubai branch no longer showing on the Chartered company register? It was there last time I checked, but gone now.

  15. Andy says:

    I have just spoken to an adviser firm that can set up a regular platform plan for 1,000 USD per month for me. The platform is 0.3% pa and the average cost of the indexed funds is around 0.27%. The firm charges 1% pa to manage this, I am not confident enough to manage myself.
    I can also place a lump of cash into this to start it off with 10,000 USD and there is no charge at all for the investment fund lump. All of it goes in.
    All in, it looks like an advised service for 1.57% all inclusive. The difference is that the adviser firm manages the choice of index funds and I have direct contact.

    Does that seem a good deal? It does to me, compared to what is offered above.

    • Mark Zoril says:

      Sorry Andy, but those fees are absurd if I am understanding them correctly! $1000 a month??? Is this in addition to the ongoing fees? This can’t be correct. 1.57% on an ongoing basis for managing index funds is an incredibly steep price, year in and year out. Depending upon where you are located and your nationality, you can use brokerages like TD Direct, Interactive Brokers, Saxo, etc… and save tens of thousands throughout your lifetime. What is the firm you are speaking with?

      • Phil says:

        Think he means the amount invested is 1,000 a month.

        If he manages it himself, looks like 0.57% for a platform of indexed funds. One firm that is heavily promoted on here charges 1.25% to manage and has higher combined platform and fund fees.

        Horses for courses, a confident investor can go it alone and save advice fees.

  16. Bob Jones says:

    Hi Andrew, have you got any insight into fee only managers in Hong Kong?

    I have come across a couple (but only based on internet searches) and their rates are around 1% of assets managed. The ones I have come across are Simmonds Financial and Private Capital.


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