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Stick or Twist?

By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 6th June 2014

Stick or Twist? Or maybe both? Let me explain.

Thankfully, despite the ups and downs of the UK housing market and the £/€ exchange rate, there are still plenty of new expats arriving in France. It is noticeable though that quite a few of us are taking the decision to return to the UK. At first, this trend surprised me, but then I began to think about it in more detail.

I always have the same conversation with all my new clients. Where do you think you will be living in ten, twenty, or thirty years’ time? The most popular answer is here, in France. ‘Wild horses wouldn’t drag me back.’ ‘I’ve escaped from the concrete jungle, why would I want to go back?’ ‘ I only go back when I have to, to visit relatives. If they weren’t there, I’d never go back.’

That is of course the more entrenched end of the market. A lot of people will qualify their enthusiasm for being here by using the word ‘we’, and it is an important detail, conveying ‘I know where I want to be as long as my spouse/partner is with me, but I don’t know what will happen when that isn’t the case’. And just in the cause of balance, yes, I have met potential clients who said that they were here to try out the lifestyle, and if it didn’t suit, they would go straight back. That stance is however rare.

I then realised that time does, indeed, fly by. I’ve been talking to new expats for over eight years now, and we all get older. Some even wiser. Should I be surprised that some of my early clients have returned to the UK? Probably not. The reasons they give are interesting, and make a lot of sense. Illness and death are way up on the list of reasons to go ‘home’. Not your own death of course, but that of your partner. Widow(er)hood can be a lonely place. And we all know that the French health service is one of the best in the world, but it’s not English, is it? We might feel linguistically comfortable in a restaurant, a garage, or a supermarket, but when it comes to being interned in a foreign hospital with our internal organs at stake, it’s a different matter.

Divorce is another deal breaker, as is debt, but number three in my league table of reasons to be homesick is/are – grandchildren. A natural progression. We have children, they have children, and we feel a very strong emotional tie to those children. Being a thousand miles away doesn’t feel very good, and the pressure grows with them.

Where, you might ask, is this all leading? Am I reading a dissertation on the social demographics of Europe, or is this bloke supposed to be a financial adviser? Fair cop, let’s get back to finance. The reason I’ve been thinking about how and why some clients return to the UK is totally financial. I used to be a corporate foreign exchange dealer. An important part of that job was teaching clients how to avoid exchange rate risk, and how to eradicate it or at least manage it if they already had it. The problem with expats is what is avoiding risk and what is creating it?

If you relocate to France and it is your avowed intent never to leave these shores again, the only way to avoid F/X risk is to move all of your assets into Euro. At the other end of the scale, if you come to France for a three month holiday, you would be mad to change all your sterling into Euro, with the likelihood that you would change it all back again three months later. So where does this leave our undecided expat, who might live in Euroland for twenty years or more, but then return to the UK?

Stick or Twist?

Now my job starts to get a bit complicated. To give you the best advice on your investments and pension funds, I have to decide what your real expat profile is. Luckily for both me and my clients, the choice isn’t all black and white. There are shades of grey. You can indeed ‘stick and twist’ at the same time. I tend to take a different view of pension assets than I do to investment funds. One of the great selling points of transferring your pension fund outside of the UK is that you can invest it in Euros, but if there is even an outside chance that you will be spending your latter years in the UK, should you desert sterling? Don’t think I’m arguing against transferring your pension though. There are plenty of other benefits, and you can transfer and keep your fund in sterling.

Investment funds I see as being more flexible. I’ll take Assurance Vie as a given here. If you don’t know what it is, send me an email immediately. You don’t however have to make any full term commitment to either currency. You can in fact have both, and a number of clients are now taking that option. You can have as many assurance vie contracts as you like. This offers both flexibility of currency choice, and also of investment method.

To summarise then, my message is that it is important to get your investments into a tax efficient environment, but it is also important to decide what currency to be in at what time. I’d like to think that I’m in a good position to help you make those choices. If you have any questions on this, or any other subject, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Article by Spectrum IFA

The Spectrum IFA Group is committed to providing a professional financial advice to the expat community in Europe. The Spectrum IFA Group operates in a number of jurisdictions with 12 offices in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal with over 50 advisers.

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