One of the main issues being an expatriate is finding a good investment platform and company that accepts your business, independently of where you plan to move next. Once thing I can tell about expatriates is that they rarely know if they’ll choose to stay in the same country next year or not.
Many brokers refuse business from people outside of their countries, and as such are closed to expatriates. Moving abroad (or back to your home country) can mean having to close your investment account, which can have huge tax and personal consequences (I’ve experienced it first hand). Many expatriates end up on sub-par investment platforms because good alternatives are hard to find.
Andrew Hallam’s book The Global expatriate’s guide to investing answers the call for many expatriates. It’s a great resource for those of us who move a lot, or happen to work in a foreign country for an unknown amount of time.
The Global Expatriate’s guide to investing is basically split in 3 main parts:
The first third of the book covers basics on why everyone should invest in low-cost ETFs or funds, rather than try to beat the market, or go with expensive managed funds (or the expatriate’s version of it, as the book states it: expensive, inflexible offshore pensions.)
In that first part, most of the details shouldn’t be new to people who have been following this blog or other personal finance blogs: you want to minimize your costs by going with low cost ETFs. The part about offshore pensions however is not something that typical finance blogs talk about, because these impact only expatriates. The book is worth it if only for that whole explanation. To quote the author: “these expensive, inflexible platforms have spread like pandemics among global expats”. The book goes into enough details that you should know how to recognize those when they show their face after a cold call. Again, the book is worth it for expatriates, if only for this section.
That first section also answers interesting questions such as how much fees is “too much” to manage your portfolio. The numbers from the book, and how they are explained, give you a good baseline of when to run away when you see the fees involved with a given investment platform.
The second third of the book goes into details on what portfolio you can build for yourself. That part I found was very close, here again, to the bogleheads philosophy: Hallam describes in details the Couch Potato portfolio, the Permanent Portfolio, and Fundamental Indexing. You can easily find details online for free on these different strategies, but Andrew Hallam explains them in a very easy to understand way.
The last part of the book is probably going to be the most interesting to most expatriates: Andrew Hallam dives in details on specific Offshore brokers that accept international clients, reviews their fees and limitations. That part also answers interesting questions that I did not think about until I read the book, such as “Do non-Americans have to pay US estate taxes upon death if they own US Index shares?”, or “Should you be concerned about currency risks?”. Lots of great stuff here.
Still in the last part of the book, The Expatriate’s guide to investing goes into specific for all expatriates out there: There’s a Chapter for American expats, one for Canadian expats, British expats, Australian, New Zealand expats, South African expats, European, and lastly Asian expats.
Interestingly, although this is probably the most interesting part of the book, it’s also the one where one feel they might not be getting “all” their bang for their bucks: of the last hundred pages of the book, you’ll only be interested in the chapter that matches your own situation.
I also found that last part to be slightly confusing to me. I’m a European expat with no intent in the short term to go back to Europe. It sounds that in that kind of situation, one might prefer to invest in the country they intend to stay in, but that’s never obviously stated in the book. Yes, if you want to live your whole life in Japan, maybe you need to look into Japanese specific investment platforms, and not think too much about “what happens if I decide to/have to go back”…
Andrew Hallam’s book is a gem for expatriates like me. It is essential that expatriates take their retirement and savings seriously, as they are the most at risk of never ever seeing any social security benefits.
I strongly recommend Andrew Hallam’s book if you’re an expat looking for investment solutions. At the time of this writing, the book has a stellar 4.9 out of 5 stars average rating on Amazon.
Note: the Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. If you order through my links on Amazon, you don’t pay anything extra but I get a small commission. Independently of that, the review on this site and the recommendation are genuine.