Smart Index Fund Investing in Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Expats who live in Dubai can build low cost portfolios of index funds. 

They could do it on their own, or they could hire a highly ethical and professional firm to build the portfolio for them. Below, you can see a list of DIY brokerages and advisors. Some of the advisory groups provide more thorough service than others. Some might insist that you conference with them at least once a quarter. 

However, they all build portfolios of low cost index funds.

Conveniently, one of the advisory firms is located in Dubai:  AES International.  




Annual Brokerage Fee

Commission Fee Per Trade

Interactive Brokers 

All nationalities.  But see possible U.S. estate tax question for non-American investors.


1 cent per share

Minimum $1 per trade

(likely the cheapest in the world)

TD Direct International

(no Americans)

95 Euros per year

14.95 Euros

*Differs based on markets and amounts invested


Saxo Capital Markets

(no Americans)


Similar to above


Index Fund Investment Advisors / Firms For Americans


Annual Portfolio Management Fee

Minimum Required

Index Fund Advisors

0.9% (for accounts below $500,000)


RW Investment Strategies

0.3% to 0.4%


Creveling & Creveling



Evanson Asset Management

0.4% to 0.5%




Index Fund Investment Advisors / Firms For Non-Americans


Annual Portfolio Management Fee

Minimum Required

AES International

(Based in Dubai)



Index Fund Solutions

(Marc Ikels Consulting)




(for Canadians only)

0.35% to 0.6%


Satis Asset Management

(British investors only)


(drops after first million GBP)

500,000 GBP



Andrew Hallam

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 (Wiley 2011) 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.

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30 Responses

  1. Mick says:

    Andrew, thanks for taking time out last night to bring some clarity to investing and shining the light on those who are duping us out of money with these FPI plans etc. Feeling rather stupid for being sucked into them this morning, but taking positive steps to get out now and hopefully recover the losses in doing so.
    I see TD International offers a multi-currency account which you elude to being another way of saving money in foreign currency trades (I think)…I note you use DBS…is there anything I should be aware of with the TD account or is it a perfectly good account? Thanks again.

    • Hi Mick,

      It’s a good account. All banks and brokerages take their commission spreads when converting currencies, of course. But you would be dealing with one of the better ones, for sure. Thanks for coming to the presentation. Please post any specific questions if they come up. I’ll do my best to answer them. Here’s the link to my book, which might help.


  2. Sharon Chang says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I bought both of your books. My husband and I are retired. We have ready cash to invest in index funds. Since the stock market is high, should we wait to create a diversified index portfolio (40% short-term government bond index; 30% total US stock index; 30% total International stock index or should we invest now. We have pensions and we are age 65. Should we put in initial lump sums in each fund and then automatic monthly investments? Our main concern is the market is high. Thank you. Sharon C

    • Hi Sharon,

      I understand your reservation. But the stock market usually rises (on average) 2 out of every 3 years. That means it’s regularly meeting new highs. It would be unfortunate if it didn’t!

      On a different note, Global markets are a bit lower now than they were in January 2014. So the markets aren’t at a peak. Their most recent peak was May 15, 2015. They are currently 8% cheaper today than they were then.

      Statistically speaking, it’s usually better to invest a lump sum all at once, if you have it. Just make sure the portfolio is properly diversified. If, psychologically, you would be negatively affected if the markets fell 10% or more, then you could lump the money in over a period of 6 quarters. But as mentioned, this is generally the less effective strategy. I’ve referenced this question and shown backtested data on this in the post that I wrote:


  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for this Andrew. I’m based in Hong Kong and will probably end up in Australia. Which of these IYO would be a good choice for me?



  4. Dorota says:

    Hi Andrew, thank you for visiting Dubai and for the talk. It was highly informative and I wish mire people could hear the message. For those, who live in Dubai – with some friends met through the Bogleheads forum we have started a Facebook page called Common Sense Personal Finance and Investing – the UAE Bogleheads Chapter where we discuss everything you talked about plus the Dubai-related specifics (including the high fee sharks) tax issues, mixed nationality marriage taxes and investment strategies etc. It’s difficult to get the message through so I hope that those who visit your blog will connect with us later as well – we find it a great way to share and exchange information and experience.

  5. Anthony Roper says:

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks so much for taking time to see us in the desert! 2 years ago I was ‘this’ close to locking myself into a Zurich investment vehicle here in Dubai when I came across your site and it completely educated me to stay clear of the thing. Sales rep was very persistent (and we all know why) but with your help I dodged a bullet there.

    Was going to come and thank you personally after the talk but you’d already given a lot of your time and there was a queue of wellwishers. So this note will have to do!

    So I saved money by virtue of NOT investing with Zurich but financial fear/apathy means I’ve been continue to save into a normal bank account and losing out due to the low interest /inflation combo.

    Your spending time going through things with us has really lit the fire in me again (so thanks again) .

    I will definitely be putting the systems in place as it was another level to be in that crowd and get deeper detail and hear all the questions of others in the same boat. I really hope you get to do that more often so others can benefit too!

    Saxo operate in Dubai but I’m hearing a lot about Swiss Quote – ( Do you see any pitfalls by going with them?

    Really appreciate how you have helped me and others,
    All the best,

  6. Lumkile says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I attended you talk at the Change Initiative in Dubai, and would like to thank you for sharing such valuable knowledge. It gave me a clearer understanding of my current situation.

    My wife and I are South African expats living in Dubai, and got roped into Friend’s Provident through PIC here in Dubai in 2012, and without really knowing how the whole thing worked, figured it was a tool that would allow us to save towards our retirement.

    I was introduced to your book by a colleague of mine and have found it helpful to make a better plan going forward. We’re afraid of losing the the money we’ve invested so far and at the moment would prefer to chose the funds ourselves according to the recommendations you made in your article ‘Make the best of a bad situation’. We’ve got a total of 9 units (one of which is Vanguard US 500 Stock Index Fund) they’ve got our money in and I wanted to find out how to go about re-allocating our investment to the 3 units (e.g. Vanguard US 500 Stock Index, Templeton Global, Melon Global) you recommend. I told them its a lot and their response was that its a diversified portfolio exposed to different sectors, healthcare and property etc…

    They are currently trying to convince us to switch one of our funds to Investec Global Strategic Equity A Acc GBP.

    We figure if we can cross the 5 year threshold with Friends Provident we wont lose as much from an early withdrawal.

    Thank you again for your time.

    Kind regards,

    • Lumkile,

      If you have quoted your advisor correctly, he knows nothing about diversification. The key to diversification has little to do with economic sectors. It has to do with something much broader than that. For example, imagine a portfolio comprised of the S&P 500. Anyone trying to tell you that it’s a diversified portfolio is looking far too narrowly at this. For example, the S&P 500 contains exposure to mining stocks, health care stocks, timber companies, tech companies, restaurants, retail stocks, property stocks (REITs). You name the sector, it’s in the S&P 500. But the S&P 500 does not have broad exposure to British stocks, European stocks, Asian Pacific stocks or Emerging market stocks. Nor does it have exposure to bonds. Can you see where I’m going with this? Despite the fact that the model comprises just three funds, it’s more diversified than what you currently own (with 9 funds). That one global stock fund has exposure to the world.


    • Lumkile,

      I should probably add one more thing. Selling 5 years from now won’t lessen the loss that you will ultimately take with this company. That loss could be literal or it could be a result of opportunity cost. Yes, you will pay less in penalties. But you will also pay more in opportunity cost. Do the math on this to see for yourself. Do you remember that slide I showed you? Your money, if it stays with this firm, will underperform (say) my portfolio by about 4% per year. Over 5 years, that means you will underperform my money by about 21.6% overall (remember that money compounds). Psychologically, taking the hit will hurt. But mathematically, it almost always works out to be more beneficial to take the investment hit and bail.

  7. toony says:

    Very familiar with PIC/DeVere and the despicable techniques they employ on expats – with encouragement, full support and backing behind the scene by DeVere management AND the Insurance company too!

    The salesmen are no longer afraid to blatantly lie and mis-sell the product in order to get a sale. They exploiting the loop-holes and weak financial regulation in the UAE and Isle of Man, knowing they won’t be prosecuted and ppl have no recourse at all.

    Lumkile, they want you in the Investec Global Strat fund due to:
    – 5% front load to PIC/DeVere (agent gets 2% cut – ie 40% of the front load bonus as trailing commission every time you buy or switch into the product)
    – 1.98% ER!!! which they get 0.5-1.0% as kick back.
    – bad spread too for buying/selling

    I know Andrew hints at it but often reluctant to say it directly but I can!
    Basically, the plans are designed to make you stay with it as long as possible so they can legally steal as much money from you as possible via bleeding you dry from fees. Once ppl catch on what’s happening, they switch to using fear – ie playing on ppl’s fear of losing all the money you have invested so far! Will encourage you to continue otherwise lose all your initial units as penalties.

    Whatever you have put in as ‘initial units’ are never your units BUT THEIRS! The ‘initial units’ are actually just the upfront fees you GIVE them for starting the account! Whether you leave after 1 day or see out the entire 25 years – they will take it in one form or another!

    The longer they can keep you going, the more cream they get to lick. While it’s true that you lose ‘less’ initial units by staying longer, every dollar you get back for the initial unit, they will take *5x the amount from your accumulation units!

    If you can see through all the smoke and mirrors and actually analyse the engine of the FPI product, you will see that there’s actually no optimal time to get out to minimise your early withdraw loss. Visualise it as a decay fuction.

    What this mean for everyone asking the same question of Andrew – to mimimise your loss, the best time to get out was yesterday, they second best time to get out is today and the third best time to get out is tomorrow.

    Every extra day you stay, you actually double your losses – once from them bleeding fees from you and second for missing out on remaining funds investing and earning money!

    Get out, don’t look back and thank your lucky starts you found out now and not 5, 10, 20 years down the track!

    • Toony,

      Your quote here is the best I’ve ever seen:

      “To mimimise your loss, the best time to get out was yesterday, they second best time to get out is today and the third best time to get out is tomorrow.”

      Thanks for keeping people so informed.


    • Dubai_expat says:

      Great post. Good advice. Thousands of current expats in UAE are getting burned badly by these products. My previous “FA” opening states this product only breaks even after 10 years of investment. And he admits it’s all about commission not the clients interests (he has changed firms and talks openly about DeVere Group and PIC Middle East here in Dubai).

      As I side not, I surrended my entire investment with DeVere Group Zurich Vista product (over 45,000 USD) got not 1USD of my investment payments back.

  8. Mel says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I live in Dubai and bought all your books which, I really enjoyed reading and am trying my best to apply what I have learnt. Could you please let me know your thoughts about whole life insurance policies? What would you recommend to expatriates living in UAE or abroad. Is taking out a whole life policy with Zurich something you would consider doing ? If not what would be the best alternatives?
    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Mel,

      That whole life policy is a 30 foot crocodile in waiting. Don’t take the apple that’s perched on its head. Buy term insurance only. Never buy whole life insurance.


      • toony says:

        Is there any chance you could do a very brief article warning people about the pitfalls of “whole life” insurance vs “term” insurance. This product is perhaps more missold to unsuspecting people in the UAE than ILAS from FPI/Zurich/etc.

        Sales in ILAS in Hong Kong has drastically reduced with the new requirements, as the insurance salesmen rush to flog “whole life” product in its place!

        A conversation I had with an employee from DeVere late last year – DeVere anticipate a crack down on ILAS in near future so have trained staff how to hard sell “whole life” (as the new investment product) when this occurs! At the moment, they are trying the double barrel approach to all their ‘mark’ – selling both ILAS and “whole life” at the same time.

        A DeVere salesman tried to sell me general life insurance last month. The slight-of-hand switch to “whole life” in the middle of discussion was soooo smooth and sneaky that it took me 5 mins to realise what he did (and I was even watching out for it too!) The blatant misselling and (I personally call straight-out-fraud) would make your blood boil – 1000s of people are believing they are buying term insurance and never realise they were ‘bait and switch’ into signing up for ‘whole life’ until they need to claim. This usually occur well after the salesman had vanished into the night (with their large commission).

        If anyone complains about being misslead, it’s becomes a fun game of tennis between DeVere and the insurance company until people give up!

        • Thanks Tony,

          Those products are like fraternal twins. If you could document your experience, would you be interested in doing a guest post? I’ve only accepted a guest post once before. But you’ve been in the trench and seen the monster’s mouth. Readers would love to hear the story.


  9. John Dawson says:

    Hi Andrew, I read your books Millionaire Teacher and just now Global Expat’s Guide to Investing…both great reads, thank you! However, I am now thinking I have not done the best thing: I started a regular investment (after reading Millionaire Teacher) account though Hargreaves Lansdown (UK) with four Vanguard Index Funds (US/ UK/Emerging/Developed). HL required that I had a UK residence, which I have, but I am living in Dubai so I guess I am exposed to CG tax? What should I do?! Any help much appreciated…

  10. Hi John,

    Having money offshore, while you live offshore, is a wonderful thing. You could always stop contributing to your account in the UK. Now that you live abroad, you are likely earning more money and paying for less in expenses. Build a portfolio of ETFs with TD Direct International (they have since lowered their fees) or, if you want an advisory firm to do it for you, add any fresh savings you have to AES International, based in Dubai.


  11. Paul S says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Just finished your Millionaire Teacher book and about to open an account with TD Direct, I’m a UK citizen who’s resident in Dubai. I was wondering if you can help with a couple of questions or point me in the right direction?

    1 – Capital Gains in the UK, I’m guessing I’m not eligible as these are foreign earnings while a UAE resident?

    2 – I wanted to open an joint account with my wife who fills a self assessment for the flat we rent back home, would she need to declare this? Especially if part of my portfolio is a UK Bond?

    Many thanks

  12. Paul says:

    As a Canadian expat, I find that it is much simpler to invest in ETFs back home in Canada. Large Canadian banks allow you to trade ETFs even as a nonresident (with proper nonresident tax withholdings) and it is so easy nowadays to transfer money back home using TransferWise.

  13. Wasi says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’ve been your big fun and read your books. I’m stationed in Qatar and I want to start my retirement plan. I’ve contacted AES International and they offered their index fund plan with 1.75% cost. I know that you said that the charges shouldn’t exceed 1.25%.. I’m planning to retire in UK and I’m 28 years old. I’m just thinking what would be the best option for me. I’m just not sure where to start?
    I would really appreciate your help

    • Dubai_expat says:

      Same situation. 1.75% sounds quite high until you compare this to the likes of Zurich Vista etc who will charge up to 9%, certainly in the early investment years, for under performing products. I’ll be interested in the replies to your question.

    • Jen says:

      Wasi why not try what Andrew says in his books and do it yourself-using Saxo or TD Direct-u r only 28 and will be able to build up a great nest egg doing it yourself! If u do use AES the I suppose the 1.75% is not as bad as many places – but if u get advice from them etc it’s even higher I think.

  14. Dubai_expat says:

    Another great article. Quick point – are far as my research takes me, these firms are licensed and regulated to sell insurance products (here in Dubai anyway). Typically you get life insurance sold with these investment products…. is this their smokescreen for selling us unlicensed unregulated investments?

  15. Dubai - Steve says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Following your advice i pulled out of an FP policy after 24 months. Lost $17K; painful for a while but now over it and convinced index is the way forward.

    I opened an account with TD. My question is considering the commission charges for each trade, is it better to do monthly purchases of ETF’s (once salary comes through), or hold on for a few months and limit it to say 3-4 transactions a year only?

    Appreciate all your support.

    • Hi Steve,

      That depends on how much you are investing. I like to make sure I’m spending less than 1% of my deposited amount on commissions and transaction fees. For example, assume you are investing $5000 per month. Assume commissions come to $35 a trade and transfer fees add another $35. In this case, you would be paying more than 1% in fees to make your purchases. If these were your fees, you would want to invest no less than $7000 at a time to ensure that your costs came under 1%.


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