Do you already have a financial plan put together by a professional adviser or planner back in Europe or the US before you came to live overseas? If you do, then you are well ahead of the game.Great news. Now check up on him.
Those expats who already have a comprehensive strategy for meeting all of your life goals – particularly retirement and tuition – then you’re in better shape than most.
It still may be appropriate, however, to meet with someone who is familiar with your new situation. As an expat, there are some things that you can now that you can’t do from back home – and vice versa. It’s important to know your options – and your responsibilities.
Three broad areas to consider for overseas-based expats who rely on a US or European-based financial planner:
1)Is your plan still appropriate for your situation?
- Living overseas
- isn’t a vacation for you – it’s hard work. Make sure that your money is working hard as well. Many expats come here for a short-term assignment and then end ups staying for years. Have there been any big changes in your lifestyle, career or household while you’ve been away? One of the biggest challenges to meeting your financial goals is that they tend to be moving targets. If you are working with a planner who lives back home, make sure you are in regular contact with him via e-mail and make sure you schedule a time to sit down with him at least twice a year.
2) You are here – your planner is there.
- The person who set up your plan – be he an
- , an insurance broker or an accountant – is far away and in a different time zone. It’s probably not a big deal if all you want to do is check on your account balances every few months – but if you want to do anything involving signatures, applications, check-ups or payments, the distance can make your life significantly more complicated. Give yourself plenty of lead time, and make sure that your insurance companies and banks back home accept the documents and paperwork that you supply. (This is especially important for check-ups, taxes, medical certifications and other matters that require some sort of approval or standard). Chinese contracts and official documents are only legal in Mandarin. Western institutions rarely accept anything but their own local language(s). Someone’s got to figure out how to reconcile the two sets of demands – and it will probably end up being you.
3) This is not USA.
- US and European IFAs (independent financial advisors) should be well versed in the fundamentals of your situation, and thoroughly trained in all the instruments that they think you should buy. But western IFAs tend to be pretty clueless when it comes to overseas. Issues like health insurance & hospitals, wire transfers & banks, taxes and offshore investing can go over their heads quickly. You may also end up missing out on offshore tax havens and international investment targets that your advisors back home just aren’t familiar with. US IFAs are notorious for their domestic investment focus.
How can you tell if your plan is still intact – and that your professional staff is giving you the best advice? First, you can measure your plans performance against major benchmarks to make sure your returns are strong. But you should also pay attention to how good a job you are doing of continuing to drive your financial plan while you’re living here. If you haven’t made any contributions or adjustments in 18 months, then your planner back home is neglecting your interests. And finally, how much time (and/or stress) are you devoting to relatively simple issues like fund transfers or insurance issues?
Some households are better off maintaining the plans they began at home – but if your situation has changed significantly since you’ve come overseas, then you should consider augmenting your team of advisors with someone who specializes in offshore-based expats.