Changes to the UK's pension rules could have more impact on expats retiring abroad than they expect, but there are still plenty of options available for those looking to spend their retirement overseas.
New rules coming into force next April will prevent those with pensions in unfunded public schemes, such as the military, police, NHS workers and teachers, from transferring their pension overseas. It means that anyone with savings in one of these schemes – known as defined benefit (DB) schemes – will find themselves at the mercy of exchange rates when it comes to how much they will receive from their pension.
Those looking to retire overseas still have time before April to move their pension to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (Qrops) if they wish to do so. But whether to move your pension or not is a tough decision, as the security of a DB scheme is so appealing. This is why the Treasury is insisting that UK-regulated advisers under the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regime are the only ones that should be giving advice on these transfers.
Nigel Green, founder and chief executive of deVere Group, which holds FCA authorisation in the UK, said: "We champion the revised Qrops guidelines that insist that a client's tax position and risk appetite, among other factors, are fully assessed; and that schemes that are substantially underfunded will have the right to refuse transfers.
"By only having those who are FCA-licensed deliver advice, it offers an enhanced layer of protection for consumers and it will, inevitably, drive up the quality of advice and push wider industry standards higher."
Other types of pension are unaffected, so if you are in a defined contribution scheme, personal pension or self-invested personal pension (Sipp) for example, you are free to transfer your pension to a Qrops as normal.
Another rule change to UK pensions from April allows you to take your entire pension pot as a lump sum. The first 25pc will remain tax free and the remainder will be taxed at your marginal rate. This move was expected to limit the appeal of Qrops for expats, but recent speculation that the higher rate tax relief on pension contributions could be cut could boost them even further.
Mr Green said: "Should the higher-rate tax relief be cut, I suspect it will be the straw that broke the camel's back for many individuals with British pensions who will then look to transfer them out of the UK and into a HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) recognised Qrops in a secure, tax efficient jurisdiction – out of reach of the British taxman."
Qrops have obvious tax benefits, especially if you transfer them to a lower tax environment, and they ensure your pension is paid in the currency of the country you live in, which removes currency risk. Exchange rate fluctuations are a real concern for those retiring abroad on a fixed pension amount. If the exchange rate moves in your favour, then you will have more to spend, but a move against you can have a serious impact on your spending power.
Since July last year, the pound has strengthened against the euro by around 10pc, according to research from Prudential. This, coupled with the slight rise in the state pension value from £110.15 to £113.10 per week, means eurozone pensioners had seen their state pension income rise by €661.24 to €7,344.44 per annum by July this year. But as if to prove the point about quick currency fluctuations, the pound weakened from €1.26 to €1.24 from September 4 to September 10 over concerns about the result of the Scottish referendum.
Many expats will already have UK pension savings, and if you want to retire abroad then starting to think about how you will deal with these is a wise move. Being able to take your entire pension in one go may seem like a good idea, but it could be detrimental, especially if doing so would put you into a higher tax bracket for that particular year.
It is important to take advice before moving your pension, as the tax rules vary substantially for different countries, and it is best to talk to a specialist.
If you want to add to your pension savings, then simply investing offshore is one of the ways you can do this. It gives you the freedom to decide how you want to deal with that investment when you need it. If you do not pay tax where you currently reside, then you are effectively getting tax relief on any contributions you make. But if you are a Crown employee or their spouse living or working overseas, you do still have the option of contributing to a UK pension and getting tax relief.
Those in this position can also save into an individual savings account (Isa). Unlike a pension, an Isa does not tie your money up until you reach age 55. You get tax relief on the investment growth and can still put the money into a pension at a later date.
Whether you have access to UK pension savings or not, if you do decide to move your pension overseas or invest outside of the UK, then be careful where you choose as HMRC is considering plans to make it a criminal offence to evade offshore tax, and moving your money to a non-disclosure jurisdiction could prioritise you for criminal investigation.
Rachael Griffin, head of technical marketing at Old Mutual Wealth, said: "Taking the bull by the horns and disclosing assets doesn't have to be that painful. With professional advice, investors can still make their assets efficient from a tax and reporting perspective." Cranfield Group operate the UK Pension Transfers website that provides in-depth information on UK Pension Transfers and provides a form to request a free transfer report.