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I want to retire abroad, where do I start and how do I create my retirement plan?

Retiring abroad is a dream for so many people, but the complexities around retiring abroad are much greater than retiring in your home country. This article looks at the key decisions you will need to make and should help you create a retirement plan

Written on 12 January 2024

People start to dream of their perfect retirement relatively early in life. However, as life progresses plans will change and for people who dream about living abroad, the possibilities and options may change dramatically depending on local and international factors.

For example, in 2010, the prospect of retiring to Spain, France or Cyprus for British expats was relatively straightforward. However, since Brexit new complexities were introduced for those already retired within the EU and for those dreaming of such a retirement.

That said, the core principles of retiring abroad have remained relatively constant and the decision-making process has not changed. This article has been written from the perspective of British retirees looking to retire outside of the UK, however the general concepts and considerations will apply no matter what your nationality.

Is it a good idea to retire overseas?

The first question you should be asking is whether it’s a good idea to retire overseas. This is going to boil down to several considerations including financial, health, quality of life and general feasibility – and there is no one clear and obvious answer for anybody.

To decide whether it’s a good idea to retire abroad you should begin by creating a checklist of the things you want from your retirement, the things you definitely don’t want – and then establish whether your home country can offer you the retirement you are looking for.

Once you’ve established whether retiring abroad is a better alternative, you will need to decide where which will begin with taking breaks and holidays to potential destinations.

Just remember that no holiday will replicate what it’s like to live somewhere else, although you can make it as similar as possible by avoiding hotels, renting an apartment, and trying to be self-sufficient for a more substantial period of time.

Choosing where to retire – what kind of lifestyle do you want?

Knowing your lifestyle requirements and the costs associated with it are vital, understanding how the current cost of living requirements are likely to mean that any passive income is unlikely to increase as rapidly as the costs.

Holiday experiences are not lived experiences. Just because somewhere is amazing to spend a few days or weeks, you’re not truly experiencing the cultural or lifestyle elements. This is a key factor and narrowing it down to a short list will enable you to work out the pros and cons, for example tax other wealth management considerations.

Is it still possible for British people to retire in Europe post Brexit?

Yes, very much so. However, the requirements for obtaining a visa are more stringent than for someone of working age where there will be more options (such as digital nomad visas).

Often it will come down to the ability of someone to prove they are financially self-sufficient and have some capital (eg if applying for a Golden Visas which may require an investment) – but every country will have their own rules and you should investigate fully.

Applying for a visa in one EU country isn’t quite the same as being an EU citizen. While you will get access to other EU countries through Schengen, there will be specific rules to follow as your Visa will relate to the specific country and therefore you will have to follow their Visa rules.

Also worth remembering that GBP is still significantly down compared to pre-2016 and the original vote which means that retiring abroad is financially more expensive for British people, even if that feels more normalised – it’s also meant that GBP has been more volatile and prone to major de-valuations which weren’t felt quite as often pre-2016 – all of which means that UK derived income has been known to be devalued overnight

Are there any countries that are easier to emigrate too, and any that are particularly hard?

Traditional popular European retirement destinations, such as France, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece all have retirement visa options (or something akin) which enable people to obtain visas on the basis of them receiving passive income – although they will be forbidden to work in most cases.

Some countries, such as Germany, tend to be harder as they will have no specific visa for retiring, so you will likely need to be able to move before retirement on a working visa and then apply for further visa’s once your residence status has been settled for several years.

In almost all cases, if your only form of income is the UK State Pension this may just qualify for some visas, however, even if it is possible, the State Pension alone is unlikely to be enough to live comfortably in most countries.

Healthcare

Ensure any health considerations are covered – not all countries have NHS type services, so there may be a price to pay to ensure you’re able to receive healthcare. Many countries will require someone to have private health insurance as part of visa conditions.

Most countries will have good quality healthcare systems, whether private or state funded, however you should research to check that any pre-existing conditions and potential health services meet your personal requirements and are at least as good as healthcare you would receive in the UK.

Wealth and financial considerations

Currency and foreign exchange complications

Ensure your finances meet any cost of living with room to spare, especially if income is received in a different currency and must be converted, it would need to withstand significant short- and long-term shifts in currency.

For example, between January 2023 and January 2024, you could buy as many as $1.31 USD, or as little as $1.18 USD with just £1 GBP. If you had a regular income of £5,000 arising in the UK, this would mean that if you needed to spend in USD, the dollars available would vary between having $6,550 at the peak and $5,900.

This highlights the potential volatility within a year, but if you extend that period from January 2014 to January 2024, the most USD you could buy would be around $1.70 USD (July 2014) and the least $1.07 USD (Oct 2022).

The difference here is huge because if you retired in 2014 thinking that your income would be just about sufficient to live the life you wanted while living in the US, the change in value would be $8,500 to $5,350 – which could ultimately be disastrous, and that’s before taking inflation into account.

The message here is really quite simple – if your income is exposed to fluctuations in exchange rates, you need to ensure you have envisaged the worst-case scenarios, and work with wealth managers and currency specialists to mitigate any major exchange rate fluctuations, some of which may be long lasting.

The UK State Pension

If you are eligible for a UK State Pension and you would be reliant on it as part of your income, it is important that you understand how it might increase with inflation, but more importantly, that if you live in certain countries, it will not grow at all once you start claiming it.

This is because the State Pension does not increase in all countries. For example, in some common retirement destinations for British expats, such as Canada and Australia, once you begin drawing a state pension, it will be fixed at this rate forever. While there is a campaign to unfreeze the pension, but as yet there is no legislation to change this.

Private Pensions

Current levels of financial uncertainty could decrease the value of any private pensions, similarly the cost-of-living crisis has meant that inflation has been rising around the world faster than investments or savings which has decreased the value of money and investments held. With uncertainty of the war in Ukraine, conflict in the middle east, energy prices changing and continued political uncertainty over the next 12-18 months, there doesn’t appear to be any certainty around inflation.

However, the forecast for 2024 and beyond is optimistic that inflation will settle back to reasonable levels in most countries, but one this is certain, things aren’t about to get cheaper.

Investments

Not all investments are available to non-residents (for example ISAs) and other investments are taxed differently in different countries so it’s important to get advice and guidance as to the best options.

It’s therefore vital to get financial advice ahead of any plans for moving abroad and especially retirement plans as even the most carefully prepared plans have been affected by global events over the past 8-10 years. 

There may also be other investment products which are more tax efficient in that country, but this can be a long term commitment when moving away from things like ISAs and traditional UK based investment vehicles.

Inheritance tax and estate planning

If you are retiring abroad, it’s highlight likely that you will end up dying abroad. Therefore, you need to remember that UK Inheritance tax is something that British expats must still face as it is linked to your domicile not your residence status. If you move abroad to somewhere with no inheritance tax, you’ll likely still have to pay IHT in the UK – unless you have taken action to protect your wealth.

Similarly, you should check whether your UK Will will be legally accepted in your retirement destination or seek to create a new Will on your arrival. You should never simply leave it to chance that your estate will be managed as per your wishes in another country (this also applies in the UK if you haven’t written a legally binding Will).

Tax considerations

Every country has different tax rules around income and the how different types of income are taxed. When you retire, typically your income might be derived from sources in different jurisdictions (for example, UK private pensions, investments and maybe even rental income) which will also be subject to tax rules in the country where the income arises.

In addition, you may also be taxed on any potential capital gains (selling a rental property or cashing in investments) in one or more jurisdiction.

It’s essential to understand all the tax rules in each jurisdiction you are exposed to and therefore your potential tax liability before you move. In doing so, your wealth manager or a financial advisor may be able to suggest different options which could minimise your overall tax liabilities. But you may need to act on the advice before you move.

There may also be other tax considerations, so checking any double tax treaties to ensure you’re not going to be taxed twice on any investments or pension income.

Bank accounts

Some banks, particularly Barclays, have historically threatened and proceeded with the closure of expats UK bank accounts with little notice. This has been historically due to the regulations and costs associated with the banks maintaining clients abroad and the alternative accounts will generally have minimum savings amounts.

It’s important to check with your bank whether keeping your UK account open will be feasible in the short and long term – in any case, you will need to inform them of your intention to move abroad.

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