A guide to saving as an expat

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Craig Holman.

I’d love to talk about pretty stuff all month long, but I’ve come to realise that there’s no point buying stuff if I can’t afford a home to store it in. So for this post, I’ve teamed up with financial planner for expats, Craig Holman. Craig is Financial Advisor at International Investment Management Group and in this interview he shares his expert opinion on private international and offshore pension plans for expats.

Private pension plans for expats, and saving for a retirement abroad

private pensions for expats

Firstly, when should you start retirement planning?

Start saving as early as possible. The impact of compounded interest on your investment over time is phenomenal. The earlier you start the less you need to save each month to reach your final goal.

It’s difficult to give an overview of how much you’ll need to be setting aside as retirement and pension planning is all down to individual goals and desires. We are all unique and we each have our own life goals.

Unfortunately however, too many expats don’t even like to start thinking about a private pension plan until it’s too late. You can start planning today – write down what you want to achieve in your retirement, then work out approximately what you think it will cost to live that lifestyle. From here you can start working out estimates in more depth.

There are online calculators to give you a rough idea of what you need to be saving each month to reach that goal. Alternatively, you can reach out to me for a free, no obligation consultation and we can take it from there.

Unfortunately, too many expats don’t think about a private pension plan until it’s too late. Start saving as early as possible.

pension planning as an expat family

How do expats save for retirement? Tell me about private pensions for expats. 

When looking for a private pension plan, look for a plan which is flexible and transferable. Also, ask if your employer will pay into a savings plan for you. Many international plans allow for employer contributions, so make the most of additional contributions if you can.

Expatriate contracts are generally short in duration, with expats frequently moving to another company or country. Therefore a pension plan for expats should be one that you can continue to pay into from wherever you work.

Taking into account exit costs and start up fees, it is very inefficient to start a savings plan in one country for two years, to then have to cash it in and start again somewhere else.

All of the savings plans that I arrange for my clients are extremely tax efficient and benefit from tax free growth in their chosen jurisdiction.

Tell me about offshore pension plans for expats. Are they worth it? Are they legal?!

Yes, offshore pension plans for expats are worth it and yes, most definitely, they are legal.

In terms of actual savings, as an expat you have the option to use offshore jurisdictions such as Guernsey, Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands. However, as with all pension plans for expats, you need to find the right plan to suit your goals and needs.

Personally, I think the view of offshore accounts as a preserve of the rich and the mafia is narrow minded. Back in 2014, a system called the Common Reporting Standards (CRS) was introduced. This new system went a long way to combating tax evasion around the world. It was set up so that countries around the globe would have a reporting standard to share information of account holders and to stop people from hiding money.

The offshore pension plans we set up for our clients are no different from pensions in the UK, however they allow more flexibility to plan efficiently for retirement when working overseas.

pension planning

What is the best expat life insurance? Any other tips for planning for the unknown?  

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

If you have children or there is one main breadwinner in the family, life insurance is especially important. Most life insurance policies taken out in your home country are void if you work as an expat, so you will need an international life insurance policy.

In terms of the best life insurance policy, again it depends on many variables: your income, your lifestyle, if there is one main breadwinner in the family or income is shared, how many dependents the insurance should cover and so on. It’s important to find a plan which will suit your lifestyle and will be flexible as your lifestyle changes (for example if you move country, have more children etc).

It is also vital to keep your will updated. As an expat you will potentially need more than one will, especially if you are planning to live in any country for a long period.

Speaking from a personal experience, I have a single expat woman client who was doing extremely well in her job and putting the best part of £4,000 every month towards her private pension plan. After being in her role for three years she married a local and they have two children. Now she is classed as a local, and on a local contract she is earning much less money and so unable to save anywhere near the same amount. The famous saying of, make hay while the sun shines is a favourite of mine.

A lot of people don’t like to even think of these type of things, but it’s just common sense. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

In your opinion, what is the best country to retire to?

As an expat, I would be headed towards Portugal because they have a favourable taxation system for expats, especially those in retirement. The lifestyle is easy going, the weather is fantastic, the people are friendly, it is safe, Lisbon airport enables you to travel anywhere in the world and the cost of living is not too expensive.

It’s no wonder that Portugal was crowned the best place to retire to in a global survey. I think Portugal is definitely the best country to retire to in Europe, and certainly the best option for anyone moving from the UK.

private pensions for expats

What is a good retirement income goal for expats?

It all depends on the individual. I have clients who are happy to retire on £30,000 a year and I have other clients who are looking for £150,000 a year. For a realistic idea of how much you will need:

  1. Write down your current monthly spending. Really think about all your outgoing costs – utilities, groceries, eating out, travel etc. Take a look over your bank account statements for a clearer picture.
  2. Ask yourself if you think that amount will suit you in retirement or if you would want more. Will you be going out, travelling and eating out more or less, do you think? Perhaps you will need to upgrade your health insurance plan? Will you be living in a country with a lower or higher cost of living? Will you be contributing towards the education of your children? Consider all the variables.
  3. Multiply that figure by 12 (for an idea of your annual outgoings) and then multiply that final figure by 20 or 25 (for a 20 / 25 year plan).

This will give you a good indication of how much you will need to retire. Unfortunately this sum is probably going to be a lot more than most you were expecting, but don’t be put off. The sooner you start planning, the better.

Tell me about tax haven countries such as UAE, Nigeria & Saudi Arabia. Are they worth it? 

From my experience of living abroad, I think it depends.

I think the lifestyle in the UAE can be rather extravagant. You can easily get caught up in the glitz and glamour. It is great being able to live tax free, but the cost of living usually balances everything out. Having said this, the UAE are definitely making relocation there more appealing to expats. The UAE recently relaxed their laws on living in retirement and owning a business.

As for Nigeria, I think the crime and traffic are a definite downside, but it’s also a very exciting country to live in.

However moving to a country based on its tax regime alone is short sighted. My clients are based all over the globe and I keep hearing from them that it is less about where they live, but the friends living there with them.

Again, its all down to personal preference. I think some countries are more suited to some people than others. It all comes down to personal preference.

Who cares about tax free money if you are miserable? I look after my clients’ wealth so they can feel safe and enjoy life. Life is too short to be miserable.

expat family

Can I get my pension if I live abroad? Can (and should) I pay into a state pension from abroad? 

It all depends on the individual. One thing is for certain – you cannot cash in your state pension before you move. For example, the UK state pension requires you pay in a minimum of 10 years before you are entitled to anything. To receive maximum payment you have to pay in for a minimum of 35 years.

My advice would be to find out how much you are currently entitled to and then work out how much it will cost to make up the deficit. For those paying into a state pension in the UK, you can do all this here.

Nationality status and taxation : do dual citizens pay tax in both countries?

This depends. The USA is one of the worst in the world in terms of taxation, for example. As a US national, you will get taxed both on your worldwide income and assets back in the US, wherever you live.

However, citizenship and taxation is a very particular subject. I always refer my clients to a specialist so my clients can feel confident in these very important life decisions.

I advise speaking to a citizenship professional and also to an international tax adviser; the implications of renouncing or attaining a dual citizenship can be catastrophic to investment portfolios.


Are there any alternatives to private pension plan for expats?

There are plenty of options for expatriates and that is why having a good pension plan is so important.

As mentioned, it is important to really think about what you want to achieve in terms of your finances. You need to focus on your end goal, and work out how you will get there.

Some of my clients centre on property investments as they have delivered well for them. Meanwhile other clients won’t have property in their portfolio due to liquidity and lack of diversification. It depends on the individual and their goal.

Also, never forget that all investments can go up and down, so having a diverse portfolio is vital for achieving your goal.

Is it best to rent or buy as an expat? 

Firstly, it depends on your employer. A lot of expat contracts come with living allowances included, and the employer will pay towards rental costs.

Secondly, it depends on the country you are working in. You’ll need to live for a while in a country to get a feel for whether you’d like to settle down and retire there. A lot of countries might be great for working in, but they might not be the sort of place you’d want to retire to.

On the other side of the coin, if you are living and working in Portugal and can afford to buy then great, because rent is throwing money away.

There are lots of different things to take into account with buying a property. Most importantly – if you needed to move to a new country, would you have to sell up immediately or could you wait until the market was in your favour? Could you wait out any potential bureaucratic challenges? Selling or renting out a home can reap financial rewards, but it can also be stressful and time consuming.

tips private pensions for expats (3)

10 tips for getting the most out of your expat pension plan & saving for retirement

  1. Don’t put off the planning, start today.
  2. Calculate, don’t guess an estimate.
  3. Start saving as early as possible.
  4. Consider an offshore pension plan.
  5. Look for a flexible and transferable pension plan.
  6. If you can, save extra for a rainy day. Hope for the best, save for the worst.
  7. Choose which country you will retire to based on your lifestyle, not just finances.
  8. Check and update your will.
  9. Consider an international life insurance plan.
  10. Check if your employer will contribute to your expat private pension scheme.


To discuss your pension plan with Craig directly, contact him by email or LinkedIn.

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Craig Holman. It is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. You should speak directly with a qualified financial advisor before making any financial decisions. The Expater is not responsible for the consequences of investments.

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