Building an Expat Investment Portfolio

Making your money work for you is the cornerstone of any retirement planning.

Investment planning can be quite a complicated subject, and indeed there are many financial advisers that seek to make things all the more complicated in order to discourage the laymen investor.

In reality, investment planning can be distilled down to some simple concepts and followed passively by anyone.
The core points to understand when setting up an Expat Investment Portfolio are:

Choosing a Broker

The first step to setting up an investment portfolio is choosing a broker.
The first important distinction to make here is that if you are a US citizen there are many US based brokers that are available to you. Non US citizens have fewer options available and the two seem to be, in my experience, mutually exclusive in so far as US brokerages only allow US Citizens to open accounts, and NON-US Brokerages only allow NON-US citizens to open an account.

For Expats, my research turned up 2 viable brokerages that have access to the main exchanges and allow NON-US citizens to open accounts.

The account opening process with SaxoBank was somewhat easier as all documents could be sent off via email.
As I recall, TD Direct, required me to send a notarized copy of my passport to their head office in Luxembourg, at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

I ultimately decided to open an account with SaxoBank, but I must say their customer service has been quite bad with unclear pricing on fees, account restrictions, and lack of clarity in communications.

For Non-US citizens, it would seem we are stuck with a slew of expensive and sub-par brokerages.

For all their failings, SaxoBank remain the only viable option that I would recommend… until a better broker comes along.

Points to look for in choosing an online broker are:

  • Access to wide range of markets
  • Range of products, including ETFs, Stocks, etc.
  • Low commission on trades
  • Minimum account balance below your investment level.

Understanding ETFs

ETFs are Exchange Traded Funds, as their name suggests they are Funds that are Traded on Public Exchanges.
What that means is you can buy and sell the funds exactly like you would buy and sell a stock.
This has numerous benefits, such as the increased liquidity of the funds meaning you can open and close positions quickly and easily and also has no “minimum investment” amount such as many mutual funds have.
The downsides the ETFs are that as an exchange traded product they come with the Buy-Sell spread which on low volume funds can be fairly wide. However for an investment window of anything more than a few weeks, this doesn’t pose much of an issue.

ETFs can be considered like a basket of underlying securities, traded as one item.
The underlying components of an ETF can be almost anything, including: Stocks, Bonds, Precious Metals, Real Estate, Mortgages, Commodities, etc.

This allows you to invest in a broad area such as “US tech” or “Developing Markets” and hold a well diversified basket of investments in your target investment.

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For most passive retail investors, ETFs are the holy grail that make up the bulk portion of an investment portfolio.

The ability to set up a well diversified portfolio of different investments with a low amount of capital means that a portfolio consisting of a range of ETFs can offer a substantial range of sector and geographical diversification, as well as tailoring your portfolio to your individual attitude to risk.

For example you may wish to hold a portfolio that tracks over 2,000 US stocks, alongside an ETF that tracks US Government Bonds, and Gold.

To establish such a portfolio with individual stocks, bonds, and commodities would mean making thousands of individual purchases and would require a substantial amount of capital to achieve.

ETFs allow you to buy in to a share of a collective investment in the same underlying assets, meaning you can essentially diversify an investment into thousands of individual stocks, from as little as a few dollars, depending on the traded price of the ETF.

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Understanding Passive Funds & Managed Funds

So now we understand that ETFs are essentially a basket of securities that trade in one fund, we need to understand who holds that basket and chooses what is held inside of it.

ETFs can be broken down into 2 distinct types:

  • Managed Funds
  • Passive Funds

Managed Funds
As the name suggests, managed funds are funds that are actively managed by investors.
That is to say, the underlying securities in an ETF are selected by an investment manager and the underlying securities may be sold, bought, or swapped, as the investment manger sees fit.

The benefits of managed funds are that you have a professional investment manager managing your funds and can, theoretically at least, manage your money in a smart way to deliver higher returns.

The negatives of managed funds is that they come with higher fees to cover the active management, and as such you need your investment manager to consistently “beat the market” with your investment in order to at least cover the management costs.
An actively managed fund is VERY dependent on the manager to constantly make the right investment choices.

Passive Funds
Passive funds are the opposite to active funds and have no direct management.
A passive fund tracks a selection of securities and does not have any active management to buy, sell, or swap the underlying securities.
A passive fund simply tracks the underlying securities with no attempt to manage the funds to produce higher gains or reduces losses.

The benefits of passive funds are the substantially lower fees owing to the lack of managerial oversight, and the fact that a passive fund will track the market almost exactly, without the risk of an investment manager trying to “beat the market”
That is to say, a passive fund that tracks the FTSE100 will perform as well as the FTSE100 over the same time period, no better, but no worse.
A passive fund has no dependence on any single investment manager and relies on the very diversified set of underlying securities, massively diversifying your risk.

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Understanding US Withholding Tax

This is where things start to get difficult.
For more detailed advice, you would be well advised to speak to an accredited tax consultant in your country of residence.
However there are some things to bear in mind.

The capital gains realized as a result of selling off a portion of your portfolio will typically be taxed under your local CGT rate.

Dividends will also, typically be taxed at your local income tax rate.

US Non-Resident Alien Withholding Tax

Something Important to bear in mind here is the US Non-Resident Alien Withholding Tax Obligation.
Any US domiciled fund or stock that pays out a dividend will fall under this and any dividend distribution will be subject to 30% withholding tax.

For example:

Steve owns 1,000 in “Example American Domiciled ETF”

The ETF pays out a dividend of $100.

Steve receives the $100 dividend -$30 in withholding tax applied by his brokerage.

The default rate of withholding tax is 30% but may well be lower in your country of residence if a tax treaty is in place.

However, this can be significantly mitigated by investing in funds that are domiciled in a country that has a US Tax Treaty in place, for example: Ireland.

Ireland has a US Tax Treaty in place that reduces the withholding tax on dividends from 30% to 15%. See IRS Documentation.

This is particularly important if you hold a fund that contains stocks from multiple countries.
A US Domiciled fund would suffer a 30% tax hit on the sum of the dividends paid out, regardless of the location of the underlying securities.

An Ireland domiciled fund that contains the same mix of securities would pay 15% withholding tax on the dividends of the US domiciled securities, but 0% on the non-US domiciled securities.

Imagine our scenario above in which Steve receives a $100 dividend.
The ETF contains 50% US stocks and 50% international stocks.
If the ETF is domiciled in the US then Steve will pay $30 in Withholding tax, and net $70 in dividends.

If the same fund were domiciled in Ireland, then the US stocks would take a 15% withholding tax, but the international stocks would pay 0%.
Assuming an even distribution of dividend sources, the Irish domiciled ETF would pay $7.50 in withholding tax ($50 x 15%) and net $92.50 in dividends.

As a non-resident US Alien, it makes a lot of sense to avoid investing directly into US domiciled funds that pay out dividends.
There are many funds that trade on the London Stock Exchange that are traded in USD and domiciled in Ireland.

Choosing Your Asset Allocation

Once you have got your head around the above, the fun part begins!
Now you have yourself set up with a brokerage account and have deposited your hard earned money, you are aware of the tax issues, and want to put together a portfolio that reflects your attitude to risk and financial plans.

For most passive investors, a “Lazy Portfolio” is a good way to go.

There are some great examples of lazy portfolios over at

But all typically follow the same basic premise:

  • Broad Stock Market Index Fund
  • Broad Bonds Fund

With optional additions of REITs, Precious Metals, Small Cap Funds, Emerging Market Funds, etc…

These Lazy Portfolios make use of passive index funds that track international stock markets and bonds.
Your individual asset allocation will depend on many things such as your personal attitude to risk, your age, and the size of your investable assets.

Stocks are typically more volatile than bonds and produce far higher returns in a bull market, but equally suffer more during a negative market.
As such, bonds are seen as a safety counterweight to your portfolio that are less risky, but produce lower returns than a stock allocation.

As a very, very, broad rule of thumb you should start out with taking your age as the percentage of your portfolio that should be in Bonds…
This advice comes from John Bogle who caveats it by saying it is “a crude starting point” which “[c]learly . . .must be adjusted to reflect an investor’s objectives, risk tolerance, and overall financial position”

For example, if you are 45 years old an have $500k in investable assets, that you do not wish to actively manage and have an investment time-frame of several years, you may look at something like a 60-40 split equities/bonds

If you are 25 years old and have $50k in investable assets, that you do not wish to actively manage and have an investment time-frame of several years, you may look at something like a 85-15 split equities/bonds.

Many ETFs cover international stock markets, holding each at market weight, allowing you to invest in a single ETF but enjoy international diversification.

A personal favourite of mine would have to be VWRD from Vanguard UK.
This is a Global market ETF, domiciled in Ireland, denominated in USD, with a low expense ratio.
The fund has holdings of 48.2% US Market and 51.8% International making it very well internationally diversified.

This makes it a good replacement for VTI+VXUS that are some of the favourite picks for US lazy portfolio investors.

For a broad bonds fund, a good bet would be IUAG from iShares
A US Bonds fund, domiciled in Ireland, with a low expense ratio.

A very simple, hands off passive portfolio could be built from these two funds alone.
Once you are happy with your stocks/bonds allocation, simply split your portfolio accordingly and buy VWRD + IUAG and simply check in every few months to re-balance your portfolio accordingly! The annual expense rate of the total portfolio is 0.25% and over the previous 12 months, at an 80/20 split, would have returned in the region of 13.5% ROI.

Ofcourse, you may wish to build a more complex portfolio to include exposure to other areas such as Real Estate, Precious Metals, Commodities, etc, but as a starting point you could do far worse than starting with the simple 2 fund portfolio above.

As always, you should ensure you do thorough due diligence on any fund before you invest!


  1. Darien

    11th February 2015 2:23 pm, Reply

    Hi Dan,

    I trust that you are well. I’m another statistic. Living in Dubai, conned into buying a Friends Provident 25 year plan. Read Andrew Hallam’s book, surrendered FP at great cost and have just opened a Saxo account.

    Thought I’d just drop you a line to see how you are getting on with your portfolio.

    Warm regards,

    • Dan Clarke

      13th February 2015 2:30 am, Reply

      Hi Darien,

      Thanks for the message.
      The ILAS scumbags really need to be dealt with in the UAE…

      Anyway, I’m doing well.
      Portfolio is ticking over nicely, still holding VWRD as the main position.
      The equities have been a fairly turbulent what with Greece and Ukraine and all… but my REIT (IDWP) has had an amazing run, it’s up about 12% in the past 4 months or so.
      Portfolio is currently around 5%-6% which is on the lower end of what I was shooting for but the figures are skewed as I continually add to the account, which reduces the calculated returns.
      When back-testing my portfolio over the past 12 months, it looks to be in the range of 7%-11%, but the tail end of 2014 and early 2015 have been a bit of a drag on the performance.

      Hope you are enjoying the blog.

      Look forward to hearing from you again if you have any questions or just want to trade war stories 🙂


      • Darien

        26th February 2015 8:06 am, Reply

        Hi Dan,

        Much thanks for coming back to me. It’s always good to chat someone who is a little further down the road.
        I’ve put cash in my Saxo account and am about to buy my funds. I’m going with a Coach Potato with a Fundamental twist on my home stock exchange.

        Something popped into my head last night and I can’t seem to find any definitive answer on the net.
        I opened my Saxo account through their Danish branch. I was told that it made no difference and that I could be serviced from either branch.

        Is this true? Where did you transfer your cash to?

        Warm regards,

        • Dan Clarke

          26th February 2015 9:14 am, Reply

          Hi Darien.

          That’s right, the Danish HQ is the office that I deal with (though technically their call centre in Cyrpus).

          In order to have your account held/served from the MENA office you need a minimum account balance of $500,000 USD, but in any case it is really academic as you manage your account through the website 🙂

          As to where do I wire the money to?
          I have always moved money into my offshore USD account using currency exchange companies (post coming soon, but email me if you want help on this before then).

          I just wire transferred USD from my USD account to my Saxo Acc via the IBAN number.
          The account is in Denmark, but it doesn’t make any difference, really, aside from the added protection of having your account covered by EU laws/regulations.
          From a tax point of view, you are liable for taxation based on your residency, which in the UAE is 0%.

          I think the only benefit of having an account with the MENA office is you get a personal banker that comes to see you (and likely tries to sell you shit you don’t want/need).



  2. Dez

    15th February 2015 8:58 am, Reply

    Hi Dan, Great website and very useful information. Im glad I found it. Ive been looking into doing a similar thing to what you have been doing and also was looking into saxo bank but it seems like they are a complex bunch with such confusing details on there site as to what you actually pay for using there service. It seems like from what I can ascertain they charge custody fees of 0.12% pa, a currency conversion fee (confusing as to exactly how much), commissions for stock trades (depending on what stock exchange used), inactivity fee of US$ 100 if you don’t trade at least once every 6 months, and an exit fee per stock transferred (fro 25-50 Eur). You have been using their platform for a while now I think, so I would be interested to find out if this is this what you have found and is it not as bad as it seems or do they also have hidden fees? It kind of makes something which should be so simple pretty complicated which is a shame. Great site though and thanks for the info. Do you have a discussion forum too on here?

    • Dan Clarke

      16th February 2015 2:28 am, Reply

      Hi Dez,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I agree that the Saxo charign structure is complicated.
      It was much worse a year ago when their website was all outdated… I really took them to task over it.

      Custody Fees

      The custody fees are new, and really shitty IMO.
      You are correct in saying that they are 0.12% p.a, OR €60 whichever is the greater.
      Which basically means anything above €50,000 is charged at 0.12%.
      If you held the minimum balance of $10,000USD (Currently ~€8766.93) then the custody charge comes out at close to 0.7%

      I would really like to say “If there is a custody fee then don’t worry about it, put the securities in my name and post me the relevant paperwork”
      I think if you fought tooth and nail you could perhaps get this fee waived, if you were enough of a bastard about it.

      Currency Exchange Fees
      All banks screw customers on foreign exchange fees, I would strongly advise to hold a USD account offshore and convert your local currency to USD first, then deposit the USD to your account in Saxo.
      This is more cost efficient in my experience.

      This is where Saxo make their money.
      The commissions suck, but they are currently the lowest I can find 🙁

      Closing costs
      This is what really got me…
      I didn’t know about this until I had made a few trades.

      Not only do Saxo take a commission on the opening of the trades, but when you want to sell the positions and close the trades there is also a fee.
      This is usually around the same as the commission, $15 or so.
      But I can’t see this advertised on their website anywhere and when I spoke with them on the phone I was told “It was assumed you knew this”

      Dormant Account Fee
      This hits you if you make no trades for 6 months and is $100 as you pointed out.
      Simple enough to make sure that you make a trade every 6 months.
      in 6 months you will should probably have received a few $$ in dividends as a minimum, Rather than take the $100 inactivity hit it would make sense to reinvest those and take a $30 hit on commissions (opening and closing fees).

      Saxo got hammered when the Swiss National Bank abandoned it’s currency peg to the Euro and lost north of $100 million when customers with leveraged positions went very deep into the red.

      There were reports of some customers being hit with negative balances of $500,000 or more.

      I would not be surprised to see Saxo try and hike fees even further now to cover this.

      The main advice I have is to study your statements and ruthlessly hit them when you find any discrepancies.

      I have had them manually adjust my account to credit me with $8 when they screwed up something in my account, and others I know that trade with Saxo have also chased them to get their accounts credited following accounting and charging errors.

      With regards to a discussion forum, it’s not something we have but I can easily add one.

      For now we use the subreddit for discussions:

      Best regards!


  3. Dez

    22nd March 2015 8:48 am, Reply

    Hi Dan, Thanks for the comments and info. Much appreciated. I was away for a few weeks and have just got back to the site again to see updates. I still am looking into the Saxo option but also looking at other options at the moment still. Very interesting stuff you post about Saxo and I hate it when you only learn things once you sign up..its a pity they (and others) cant just be open and clear upfront to avoid the unnecessary frustrations and fights, a real pity..

    I appreciate the comments and will keep looking more into this as well as learn and refine more in terms of my plans for investing..the bogglehead way 🙂


  4. Pranav V. Patel

    1st June 2015 7:41 pm, Reply

    Dear Dan and other members of the blog,

    I happened to stumble upon your site as I was researching how residents of UAE invest in the US markets. The reason I was doing this is because of expanding our client base and as a Senior Financial Consultant here at Dawson James, I believe business has now become global.

    I was planning on advertising on local newspapers and media about prospective investors for the US markets and was doing my initial due diligence before reading the above informative write.

    I would like to invite you to view my firms website: Our clearing house is Sterne Agee and Leach, over a 100 year old clearing firm and we deal with not only US clients but also foreign qualified investors as well. We specialize in Investment banking deals for our qualified investors as well as equities, options trading, a 1-2 margin account, Annuities ( fixed 7% return ) and various private placement, secondary offerings and IPO’s.

    If you would require more detailed information about our firm and myself please feel free to contact me on and we can schedule a time to speak over the phone or on a webinar.

    The account opening process is not as hectic and takes less than 24 hours to have you set up.
    All documents and fee structures will be provided to you backed up in black and white.

    Please get in touch via email or on my direct line on 1-954-830-9708 for a brief introduction to better understand the process.

    Take Care and have a wonderful day,

    Pranav V. Patel

  5. Jd

    2nd July 2015 4:02 am, Reply

    Hi Dan! Great site, thanks for all the info. Iam a non-citizen alien and have been researching about ireland domiciledg etfs. Whats your opinion on Interactive Brokers, it has been suggested for this matter.


  6. Stephan

    6th August 2015 9:41 am, Reply

    Hi Dan, firstly – thanks a lot for putting all this info out there. I started by googling a zurich 25 year plan and reading your warnings on Reddit and then ended up here! I’m very grateful.

    I’d like to ask you about SaxoTrader. I have opened a demo account and for some reason I cannot find a single non US domiciled Vanguard ETF – for example, the one you mention VWRD doesn’t appear.

    Have you noticed this? How are you buying these ETFs?

    Any other tips you have around SaxoTrader?


  7. PM99

    8th November 2015 10:38 am, Reply

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for this blog, there is some useful information in here. I live in Dubai and have been looking for an investment platform which allow me to make regular savings and at the same time invest in global stocks/ bonds/ funds, etc. I spoke to quite a few investment/ financial advisors and everyone offered only insurance wrapped plans which do come with high commissions. I then bumped into Andrew Hallam’s blog about investing in ETFs and couch potato portfolios and have since read his book and am interested to invest in ETFs. For an expat living in Dubai, I found that I can use TD Direct International, Saxobank and Swissquote. They all charge different levels of fees but am inclined towards Swissquote as they are working out to be cheaper in my case. Swissquote refer to themselves as a online bank but they appear to be more of a brokerage firm (atleast in UAE). I just wish to know if you have any experience with Swissquote (their main website in but in UAE they have Their expat account has no minimum deposit requirement, USD 25 min commission on each trade and 0.0375% as quarterly AMC fee (min of USD 15).
    I can maintain a multi-currency (USD, CHF, Euro) account with them which will be domiciled in Switzerland. I wish to know whats the best way to transfer money from a UAE bank account (in AED) to a multicurrency account in Europe. Can a multi-currency account accept deposits in any currency or only in the base currency? Also some brokerages have a requirement that they accept incoming transfers only from bank accounts held in the same name (and not transfers done through exchange), but if I have to use my bank, then I would be charged much higher service fee and currency spread for money transfer. Is there any way around this? I do not have a offshore bank account which I can use as an intermediary.

    • Dan Clarke

      16th November 2015 2:59 pm, Reply

      Hey, thanks for the comment.

      I’ve no real dealings with SwissQuote tbh, but from my time there I recall them not being that competitive.
      I’m with SaxoBank, but since they got fucked over on the Swiss Franc devaluation they have upped their fees and are not as attractive any more.

      Sorry I cant be of any more help.

      Best regards,

  8. DS

    7th December 2015 12:32 pm, Reply

    Hi Dan,

    I just want to say thanks a lot for making this website/blog and educating us peasants about it. I happened to stumble across it yesterday, and I read through most of your posts and the Expat Investment book by Hallam.

    I contacted Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore about opening a trading account, and in the documentation/agreement they sent over, it stated that “All Stocks with the exception of SGX stocks will be subjected to 0.12% Custody Fee p.a. (monthly minimum of 5 SGD).” Article that confirms it:

    Do you also pay this fee? Does that mean if, say, your portfolio is worth $250k you would be charged about $30k annually!? This is not chump change by any measure!


    • DS

      7th December 2015 12:58 pm, Reply


      Just realised that I made a calculation error and the actual fees annually would be $30 on a $250k portfolio. Sounds much more reasonable now.

      Do you have to pay one as well? Also have you read Hallam’s book? What are your thoughts about fundamental indexes? They seem to have higher expense ratios, but they seem to give a bit higher returns. I haven’t found any USD denominated fundamental indexes trading on, say, LSE compared to the normal-weighed indexes trading on LSE (by, say, Vanguard).

      • Dan Clarke

        9th December 2015 1:02 pm, Reply

        Hi, DS,
        Thanks for the feedback!

        Yes, I pa the custody fees, etc.
        My portfolio is currently all index funds that are domiciled in Ireland and traded on the LSE.
        The biggest single position is in VWRD.L – Vanguard all world index 🙂

  9. james

    1st March 2016 12:54 am, Reply

    Hello Dan. I am a Canadian/UK citizen with residency in Japan. I have been a resident of Japan for 20 years (my visa in held in my Canadian passport). I used to hold offshore accounts with HSBC in Isle of Man and with Internaxx (which became TD) while being a resident in Japan. However I was forced to close HSBC when they increased their minimum stake requirement of 60000GBP. I didnt have the funds at that time. Also, Internaxx forced me to close my account in 2013 after Japanese government introduced new banking policies. I am now looking for new offshore bank/broker. Can you recommend one or two for me to research that continue to accept Japanese resident expats?

  10. Sas

    18th March 2016 3:01 am, Reply

    Hi Dan,

    I’m living in middle east and looking to invest in ETF’s but still trying to get a complete understanding of what to look for and a user friendly online platform.

    I’ve stumbled onto OneTradeX based in Camen Islands and was wondering if anyone has researched or made use of their services?

    They seem fairly good and will provide a demo account to try out first before you commit.

    Any thoughts on the OneTradeX Caymen Island option?

    • Dan Clarke

      15th April 2016 4:57 am, Reply

      Hi Sas,

      Interesting find.

      From my point of view it looks as though they are a smaller/newer trading platform.
      Whislt your money should be protected from any insolvency etc. if it is in investment products such as ETfs, I would probably feel safer going with a more established broker.

      If you do go with them, let us know how you get on.

  11. TM

    13th April 2016 6:19 am, Reply

    Dan ,

    Great Post. Had a quick clarification. I am a newbie expat & recently moved to Dubai.
    Assuming I open a brokerage acc with Saxo , can I transfer funds to this account without an offshore USD account. i.e I would withdraw AED from my local bank account & transfer it to Saxo via any exchange house like UAEExch in Dubai?
    Secondly, am assuming I can transfer funds from the saxo account to my local (aed) bank account via wire transfer ? Is that correct ?
    I understand with the Shariah law it makes sense to have an offshore USD acc, but just wanted to know if its possible to build my portfolio without it as well.


    • Dan Clarke

      15th April 2016 5:01 am, Reply

      Hi Tausif.

      You are correct, you can transfer too and from a local AED account without the need for a USD offshore acc.

      The USD offshore account is useful for other reasons, but not a requirement 🙂


  12. Mark

    18th April 2016 10:08 pm, Reply

    Hi dan,

    Love the blog, I am based in the UAE and looking at options to open an online brokerage account. I have asked interactive brokers and they will open it, the account will be in US. They seem to be most competitive, do you have any experience with them and would you see any risks having the account in the US?


  13. Mark

    18th April 2016 10:23 pm, Reply

    Hi dan,

    trying to research putting together a passive investment portfolio. I am based in UAE and originally from Ireland and will return to Ireland in the next few years. Have you shared your fund allocation do you just hold VWRD and IUAG or do you split your funds further? Has it been working well for you?

    As I will try hold them for the long term I know there are various tax implications when I return home so I am trying to figure it out also is it better to hold US domiciled funds or Irish?


  14. TM

    1st May 2016 8:06 am, Reply

    Dan – Hope you are well. Needed further advise from you.

    Recently came across your post on Bogleheads – & was wondering what does your portfolio consist now ?
    I am still in the which broker dilemma (saxo vs IB) & was looking to go with a lazy portfolio approach –
    1) VWRD – 70%
    2) iUAG – 30% (both of which is mentioned in your post above).
    Not looking for any domestic exposure to my home country since I already invest locally in India.
    Do you think this is over simplification or would you have any suggestions ?

    P.S :- Any plans of visiting Dubai ? Please feel free to let me know if you game to catch up.

  15. Rudy SMT

    10th June 2016 2:33 pm, Reply

    I’ve detailed my exact portfolio in Hong Kong using Boom Brokerage.

    They are excellent, easy to use and competitive in prices. I visit their HQ in Hong Kong personally, very helpful and professional. The office is amazing.

    Dan, you might want to move HK with your investments.

  16. Anthony Ussher

    12th July 2016 12:42 pm, Reply

    Excellent and very informative site – I have used Saxo for my low activity stock trading account since being kicked out of TD Internaxx in 2014 – I am resident in Lebanon and TD withdrew their services there for some reason best known to themselves. I wish I had a business good enough to be able to kick out good customers.
    Since coming to Saxo, I have been very pleased with their service, the functionalities offered by their website (of which I use probably about 1%) and their responsiveness whenever I ran into problems. As you say, my only complaint is the high custody fee imposed after their Swiss debacle. Their trading fees are quite low, I would have preferred them to recoup their losses there but of course, people focus on trading fees much more than the small print fees like Custody so you can understand their marketing thinking.
    In any case, Saxo are great to deal with and in a different league compared to the insurance wrapped “products” being touted by so many scumbags in this region. I would recommend Saxo to any expat looking to manage their own funds (whether actively or passively). You could also look at their Managed Strategies for something more actively managed and aggressive if that fits your style.
    Many thanks for the site.

  17. Guru

    17th December 2016 1:14 pm, Reply

    Hello from Abu Dhabi,
    I just like to mention that you should check on Interactive Brokers. Forget Saxo or the others. IB charge just 1$ per trade (US) or 5 $/EUR if you buy/sell LSE-ETFs. Monthly fee is 10USD but waived if you have 100k in total (accounts + stocks/ETFs). Currency exchange is super-cheap and you have a multi-currency account anyway. There is nothing better than IB. I have two accounts with them -> one private and the other one is owned by my Ajman Offshore company.
    For Bonds you can go to a local UAE bank – I use FGB. The offer good local bonds with leverage, fair fees and no taxes on returns 😉

  18. GGS

    26th May 2017 3:30 pm, Reply

    Hey Dan. Very interesting post. This is a bit late but I also have a Saxo account and starting to fund it. What kind of stop loss and take profit do you utilize? This is the part I am a bit lost on at the moment.

    • Dan Clarke

      6th September 2017 3:42 am, Reply

      I do not use stop losses or take profits, these are typically used on more volatile investments such as forex 🙂

  19. Milan

    30th September 2017 9:13 pm, Reply

    Hi Dan,

    Great post and a fantastic blog. Wish I came across this a 9 months ago, when I signed up to De Vere peddled Zurich Vista 2 year plan.. somehow trying to get out of it.. I guess I will have to bite the bullet and lose the 6k USD that I have already put in. Any ideas how best to mininise loss?

    Also starting a lazy investment portfolio. Is Saxo still more competitive than internaxx (old TD investing). Considering the custody charge, is it still the best out there?

    • Dan Clarke

      24th October 2017 5:52 pm, Reply

      Hi, Milan

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’ve found Saxo to still be the best of a bad bunch, unfortunately.

      Best regards,


  20. Awol Geordie

    5th December 2017 3:26 pm, Reply

    I’m a Geordie working in Thailand and I’ve just started with Saxo (Singapore) thanks to you. They’re easy to open an account with, have good customer service and the online user interface is easy. The 0.12% (min 5 Euro) custody fees suck but the buying commissions are reasonable. I wire funds from my Thai bank to HSBC in Singers for 1.1k thb a pop. Make sure to make a transaction every 6 months to avoid the $100usd inactivity fee.

    There aren’t many options for someone in my shoes as I can no longer prove a UK address to open accounts back in Blighty. Vanguard’s VTI ETF will hopefully perform satisfactorily over the next decade after all this effort. Cheers.

    • Dan Clarke

      7th December 2017 6:13 am, Reply

      That’s awesome, glad to hear it worked out for you.

      If you’re transferring THB to USD or GBP frequently though, there is almost certainly a better way to do that.
      Would you like me to connect you with the foreign exchange transfer company I use?

  21. Alan

    15th December 2017 6:09 pm, Reply

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for the post. I have a question regarding the Tax implications.
    I opened an account with Boom (Hong Kong Based Broker). I would like to invest in Vanguard S&P 500 via Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This one is domiciled in Hong Kong. Does this mean that 30% tax rule would apply?

    • Dan Clarke

      21st December 2017 11:16 am, Reply

      Hi, Alan.

      The domicile of the broker doesn’t matter, it is the domicile of the fund you invest in.

      If you invest in a fund that is domiciled in HK then you will get hit with 30% withholding tax on the US Equities in the fund, but 0% on the non-US equities.

      It would be better to invest in an Ireland domiciled funds to bring this down to 15% on US Equities and 0% on non-US Equities.

      What is the fund you are looking to invest in? I can double check for you.

      • Kelvin

        1st February 2018 1:27 pm, Reply

        Hi Dan,

        So I have been keen into investing from HK too (living in China). I have a follow up question regarding the same topic (tax implications investing in US funds)

        Same ETF as Alan mentioned Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (3140 HK). He maybe didn’t make it clear but this ETF is provided by Vanguard HK, traded in the HKSE in HKD, so does this ETF is considered HK domiciled (inception in HK, traded in HKSE in HKD) or is it still considered an US domiciled ETF because it’s tracking the S&P 500, an US index, therefore no matter where the ETF or fund is created as long as it’s managing US stocks portfolio it will be hit by US income tax regulation.

        Thanks in advance

        • Dan Clarke

          5th September 2018 6:47 am, Reply

          To the best of my knowledge, this is a HK domiciled fund.

          There appears to be no tax treaty in place between the US and HK and as such US dividends would be taxable at 30%.

          This makes the fund less efficient on a dividend yielding perspective than the Irish domiciled funds.

  22. Julian

    5th February 2018 3:46 pm, Reply


    Great info and simple to digest opposite to all the jargon, fees structures, acronyms and product descriptions in the finance industry. Good job!

    I see the post is from a couple of years back, so I’m not sure how much is out of date. As well, I’m looking for some light and guidance on the topic. I live in Dubai and I’m a non US citizen, actually Colombian and I’m planning to start working with ETFs.

    1. Is Saxo still your preferred choice or are there any other brokers worth looking at?
    2. Does the broker provide a list of all ETFs or do you have a good link or source to become familiar with the array of ETFs, their performance and the stocks/bonds/ they follow?
    3. How often do you reckon one must change the ETFs portfolio?
    4. Is it better to have a monthly/quarterly injection into the ETFs or a big lump sum deposit?
    5. For non-US citizens nor US-residents, what advantages bring to have an off-shore account (given the fact of being in a tax-free environment of Dubai)?
    6. I travel often abroad and bank fees for currency exchange are exorbitant. What advise do you have there?

    Thanks a lot for the guidance!

  23. ezikiel

    21st June 2018 10:48 am, Reply

    Hi Dan, Thanks for the really useful article. I am about to start investing with Saxo as a UK expat living in the middle east and I was wondering – does it make any difference for me to choose a non-UK domiciled fund? as i won’t be paying tax.

    thanks so much for your efforts

  24. Burak Uysal

    8th November 2018 1:23 am, Reply

    Hi Dan,
    Very useful blog thank you for sharing info with us. I am also trading with Saxo. After a lot of personal research I decided to invest in NYSE:EMD CEF which is USD based Emerging Market Debt Fund. Currently paying %9 dividend and trading price is 52 week low. Only problem I found is the witholding tax on dividend that is %30. I saw Saxo bank has a partnership with Global Tax firm to claim tax refunds. I am a resident in UAE and want to invest in USA based stuff without paying witholding tax. Any ideas?

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