Coronavirus and Financial Matters: What Expats must Consider

Covid-19 has had a seismic impact on just about every aspect of life, and expats have borne a disproportionate amount of that impact. With some parts of the world imposing draconian lockdowns, and travel restrictions being put in place just about everywhere, it’s more difficult than ever to fare well overseas.

For some, the problems have been acute. British pilots working for Emirates last year found themselves without jobs, and a significant tax bill to pay having returned to the UK from the tax-optimised Middle East. Of course, not every financial problem for expats will be quite this acute — but just about everyone is at some risk of being blindsided by what remains a constantly shifting situation.

What about my non-residence tax status?

Last year, HMRC announced that it would not seek to tax income earned between the date that you would have left the UK, had you been able to, and the date that you actually did. There are a few other strings attached; however, those in-between days will need to have been taxed in the home country, and the taxpayer in question will need to have left the UK as soon as reasonably possible.

There’s significant variation from country to country when it comes to the length of time you need to stay to be classed as a resident. If you have the right connections in the UK, you might conceivably become a resident in a matter of weeks; in the US, on the other hand, your activities over a three-year period will be used to judge where you’ve been residing.

Under the Statutory Residence Test, non-residents of the UK are obliged to start paying UK tax between 16 and 183 days into their stay in the country. The exact period will depend on your personal ties to the country. Remember that the UK is a special case — unlike most other countries, its financial year runs from April to April, rather than using a calendar year. This disparity has the potential to strand foreigners in the UK, or UK residents elsewhere.

What about my pension?

The situation with the virus might have prompted you to consider a change in your retirement plans. You might have a private pension in place to allow for this, or you might be reliant on the state pension in the UK.

Your UK state pension is based on the amount you’ve contributed via National Insurance. You’ll need to have at least 10 years of contributions to be eligible for the pension — but you can contribute the time you’ve spend abroad towards this total, provided you’ve spent that time in a qualifying country. These include every country in the EEA, Switzerland, and Gibraltar, as well as certain other nations with which the UK has an agreement. You can view the full list here.

If you’ve paid enough, you can claim via the International Pension Centre. The rules mean that you can’t claim a pension in multiple countries, even if you reside in different places at different times of the year. The coronavirus crisis, along with Brexit, has put severe pressure the pension centre, and so those looking to make a claim are advised to get their ducks in a row well ahead of time.

Insurance

Expats benefit from a wide range of insurance products targeted toward specific sorts of risk. Over the past year, the most obvious form of risk might seem like it would be the policyholder contracting the virus. But there are more diffuse, secondary effects that your insurance may or may not cover. You might have suffered a loss of earning ability brought about by local lockdowns, or a loss of mobility that’s come about as a result of travel restrictions.

The cost of cancelled trips, for example, might not be covered by your insurer, even if treatment for actual coronavirus is. It’s worth shopping around for a form of insurance that’s appropriate for your circumstances. You can check out our comprehensive guide to the differences between UK and expat health insurance here.

Do I need a Financial Adviser?

If you’re living and working abroad, then your financial affairs might be especially complicated. This applies doubly if you’re working in multiple territories where the travel rules are constantly changing. If you’re unsure of how to proceed then seeking out a financial adviser will be the way to go. Doing so may help you to avoid unforeseen costs — but it might also provide you with the peace of mind that you need during what could be a stressful time.

Fraud

Coronavirus has created a significant new market for fraudsters, who will pose as a trusted institution like the Exchequer, a charity, or a bank. If you’re an expat then you’ll likely spend more time dealing with these organisations, and your affairs are likely to be that little more complex. This, along with the associated uncertainty, puts you at statistically higher risk of being targeted by a scam artist.

Fake apps, fake websites and fake investment opportunities are among the tactics highlighted by Europol. You might also find yourself on the receiving end of a phone call, where the fraudster might claim that a fraud has already taken place and that urgent action is needed to remedy the problem. Never provide personal information to a caller of this kind, no matter how plausible they might appear to be.

Exchange Rates

The disruption caused by the pandemic has hurt currency markets. Among the most obvious of these has been the volatility in the exchange rate. In the early stages of the pandemic, sterling plunged to £1.08 against the Euro — and there have been similar peaks and troughs in the months since then. For expats receiving money from UK investments, or the sale of assets like property, this matters a great deal.

For this reason, it’s important to shop around for the most favourable exchange rate available. This will help you avoid the fees charged by banks. You might also look for a specialist organisation that will hold on to your money until the exchange rate becomes favourable. If you’re regularly taking payment in multiple currencies then the effort of bringing someone in to handle the process can often yield worthwhile dividends.

Where are your priorities?

As noted on these pages recently, the pandemic has caused a shift in attitudes among expats — and financial considerations are increasingly taking a back seat to other concerns. According to a study by Ipsos MRBI, more than half of expats consider health and wellbeing as more important than before the pandemic. These findings were reflected by surveys elsewhere.

A desire to be closer to friends and family might well prompt you to relocate closer to home, especially if you’ve been out of contact with them for more than a year, and it may be that you’re willing to sacrifice financial opportunities in order to make it happen.

Decisions of this sort are made more complicated by the fact that the future is uncertain. It’s difficult to know the extent to which life will have returned to normal over the coming month, and it’s important not to rush into decisions whose consequences may be lasting. Fortunately, guidance is available through ExpatRoute.

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