Personal Finance

Four tips to prepare your finances for retirement abroad

Key Points
  • Leaving the U.S. can open the door to a more affordable retirement.
  • Holding foreign accounts? You might be subject to tax reporting requirements. 
  • Understand your host country's tax system before you settle down overseas.
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Your dream of exploring a foreign country doesn't have to end when your paychecks do.

More U.S. retirees are choosing to pack their bags and settle down internationally — and for some, that means stretching their retirement dollars.

Leaving the U.S. can open the door to a more affordable retirement in an exciting new spot.

But before you make the move, here are some tips to make sure you're financially prepared.

1. Open two bank accounts

A couple looks out onto the city palace and historic center in distance Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
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Expatriates often have trouble opening local bank accounts because of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, according to David McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services.

Under the law, single taxpayers living within the U.S. and holding foreign financial assets of more than $50,000 on the last day of the tax year must report those funds on Form 8938.

Single filers residing abroad must also file this form if they have more than $200,000 of foreign financial assets by the end of the year.

Those reporting thresholds are doubled for married taxpayers who file jointly.

FATCA also requires foreign banks to notify the U.S. government about American citizens who open accounts with them.

"This is a lot of work and a lot of expense for foreign banks to build and run this reporting system, which only affects a small handful of folks," McKeegan said.

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As a result, many banks may choose not to open accounts for U.S. citizens.

Something else to consider: If you have $10,000 or more in a foreign bank account, there's yet more paperwork. You'll be required to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts with the Treasury Department.

Instead, consider having two U.S. bank accounts that permit fee-free ATM withdrawals overseas, said McKeegan.

"The reason you want two is in case one ATM card is compromised or expires, and you need to access your cash," he said.

2. Check tax treaties

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan at sunrise, famous temple on the lake, Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia.
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American citizens residing abroad are still subject to the same rules for filing income, estate and gift tax returns, as well as paying taxes.

Depending on how long you reside in a foreign nation and the local tax rules applicable there, you might also be subject to tax obligations in your host country, McKeegan said.

Before you move to your new home abroad, speak with a tax advisor about the specific country you're headed to.

They can help you review tax treaties in that country and find where you should be paying tax on retirement income.

Keep detailed records of any taxes you're paying in foreign countries to ensure you're not paying taxes twice.

3. Be wary of foreign investing

A couple shops in a market in Bangkok, Thailand.
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Don't invest your money (beyond perhaps buying a home) in foreign countries just because you're moving abroad.

At the very least, understand how local financial advisors are registered there, as well as whether a reliable financial watchdog agency is functioning in that country.

"Investments may not be regulated, so it's easy to lose your money to fraud or high fees," McKeegan said.

4. Track your dates

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More and more retirees in the U.S. are turning to side gigs.

If you're planning to continue earning extra cash during your retirement abroad, you might be eligible for the foreign earned income exclusion.

This allows you to exclude up to $105,900 (in 2019) of your self-employment income or foreign source wages from U.S. federal tax income tax.

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Bear in mind that pension and annuity payments, including Social Security benefits, do not qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion.

McKeegan suggests tracking your days abroad so you know when you can take advantage of the exclusion. Generally, you must be physically present in a foreign country for 330 full days during the 12-month period to be eligible.

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Key Points
  • Preparing for retirement looks for different for baby boomers than it does millenials.
  • A new report from the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, titled "Reimagining Retirement," offers tips on how the different generations can be able to comfortably exit the workforce.