Financial Housekeeping for Moving Abroad

The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of selling of stuff, packing what's left, moving the packed things, saying "goodbye" to our awesome friends in Edmonton, and traveling. All this to say things have been busy.

We took a 10 day trip to visit our friends in Toronto. I've never been there before and it has a lot to offer. If you haven't been, go visit Niagara Falls (the Canadian side)! We also took in a Blue Jays game (where they stomped all over the Orioles), visited Barrie and the Flying Monkeys Brewery, and enjoyed the South Asia Festival.

While I admit Toronto is a cool city to visit, the traffic and sprawl are quite insane. Our friends were sharing prices for houses, semis, and condos in different areas of the city. My god, I don't know why anyone would ever buy there. It's a ticket to financial destruction! Not to mention poking your eyeballs out driving in endless gridlock traffic day-in and day-out. If you want to buy a house and enjoy your life with much shorter commutes, move to Calgary or Edmonton folks!

Currently we are in B.C. visiting family and friends on the west coast (where house prices and financial madness are no better than GTA). We go to B.C. twice a year on average, so this will be the less touristy part of our trip. In about a week we will be flying out of YVR en-route to Hanoi.

Daily Banking

Some of the things I've been working on between the traveling and busyness is arranging our banking accounts for our move. A few months ago I opened up a Tangerine account and shifted most of our banking to the orange folks. (I was with an Alberta credit union before.) Since Tangerine is all online and fees are low, we will be keeping this account when we are overseas.

I must say I've been very impressed with Tangerine—especially considering they are owned by a big bank (Scotia) and I otherwise try stay away from the oligarchs. Customer service over the phone has been great, the app is clean and a pleasure to use, and the process of setting up our bill payments and deposits is easy. If you are banking with the big guys and are paying monthly fees, you should seriously consider switching. If you do, a free way to say thanks to me is by using my Orange Key: 55884598S1. We will both get around $50 from Tangerine as a thank you. (You have to use the Orange Key in the sign-up process.) As an aside, thanks to everyone who used my Questrade referral code! It has paid several hundred dollars so far, helping cover the costs of webhosting this blog.

I've also opened up a Borderless account with Transferwise. This is another awesome application that will allow me to move money across linked accounts (including Tangerine) and change currencies for extremely low fees. I was hoping to get a Mastercard debit card from Transferwise sometime this year, but it seems they have quietly put that program on hold in Canada.

I anticipate my wife will be opening a local account in Vietnam for local spending (a portion of her salary is paid in Vietnamese dong). Whether or not we can move Vietnamese dong out of the country (via Transferwise), or another compatible currency like Euros or British pounds remains to be seen. I know there are problems with U.S. dollar transfers.

Investment Accounts

As I've mentioned in prior posts, my wife and I will become tax residents in Vietnam effective on the date we land in Hanoi. This is based on the Vietnam tax code and their tax agreement with Canada.

Our RRSPs look like they won't be a problem. We can continue to invest within our RRSP accounts (including Locked-in RRSPs/LIRAs) as we always have without any additional tax repercussions. Questrade allows full access for expats and non-residents. We won't make any new contributions to our RRSPs though; there won't be any income earned in Canada which we can deduct the contributions against. With no new contributions for a while, I don't need to worry about currency changes; in the coming weeks I will switch these over to U.S. dollar accounts.

Our pensions will be partly moved into LIRAs and partly paid out (the excess portion). Neither my wife nor I have received our pension packages yet, so I don't know what their impact will be on our new worth. However, I anticipate it will be relatively substantial and I will not be leaving the money in the pension plans.

The payout will be made to us as foreign residents so it will be subject to a flat 25 percent tax. This might seem high, but it is important to remember that we contributed in the 30.5 and 36 percent tax brackets. Even if we remained residents in Canada, the excess portion would be taxed as regular income less any RRSP contributions we made. It is highly likely that the payout would be taxed at rates higher than 25 percent.

Unfortunately Vietnam doesn't recognize TFSAs as being tax free. I'm not sure if or when we would return to Canada as residents, so at the end of the month I will be moving money out of our TFSAs and into our regular investment account. This means we will be shifting more money from investing in Dual Momentum towards trend investing.

I'm looking forward to this move as it will play a key part in improving our overall capital efficiency. In our regular investment account I would love to get to 90 percent bonds (mostly short-term). I'm not precisely sure how this will look as I'm trying to find the best ways to allocate capital with tools like options and futures. But I do believe it will be doable while being tax efficient.

Taxes

In order to legally leave Canada, we will be paying a sizeable tax bill. All of our assets will be deemed disposed on the day we leave and taxed at their current fair value. This means some capital gains taxes will be owing. But I suppose that's the price to pay for moving to a much lower tax jurisdiction where our taxes should be much lower going forward. Pay now, save a lot more later.

As mentioned above, we'll also be paying taxes on pension payouts. This would happen inevitably with quitting our jobs, but the costs will add up nonetheless. With RRSPs, time will be on our side. We can keep them indefinitely and let them grow, or withdraw them at a 25 percent tax at any time once we are out of Canada. For now I'll keep them in place, mindful that any gains are effectively subject to a 25 percent tax while I make up my mind.

Taxes in Vietnam will be much lower than in Canada. Particularly on investment income and returns. Using UCITS funds (mainly listed in London), we can buy bond funds and have a low 15 percent withholding tax on interest income while also eliminating estate tax exposure. In Vietnam our tax rate on the interest income will be just 5 percent. The only other investment tax we need to worry about is effectively a sell-side transaction tax of 0.1 percent on equities and publicly traded instruments.

Comments & Questions

All comments are moderated before being posted for public viewing. Please don't send in multiple comments if yours doesn't appear right away. It can take up to 24 hours before comments are posted.

Comments containing links or "trolling" will not be posted. Comments with profane language or those which reveal personal information will be edited by moderator.

A Base for Taking Risks

On my blog I talk a lot about investing in the stock markets and assuming risk in exchange for positive returns over time. In this world, things can feel advanced and overwhelming very quickly. Particularly for newer readers.

While it is fun to explore the deep dives of investment strategies and better ways to invest, sometimes we forget about the basics. A base for investing—being in a position where we can take risks.

I often get emails from newer investors who will ask questions about the various investing styles I explore. (And some that I don't.) Is Dual Momentum a good choice for them? Should they stick with static index investing instead? Is adding leverage to a portfolio too aggressive for them?

While I enjoy the interaction, it is always difficult to answer these emails. I'm not a professional financial advisor and don't hold myself out to be one. I'm a regular guy who is interested in the markets, is moderately well read when it comes to investing, have experienced some decent success, and am continuously learning myself.

But more importantly, everyone's personal situation is different. A retiree who needs stability and tax-friendly income requires a different portfolio from my own. Someone who is starting out but has a shaky job and a lot of debt is also in a much different category of responsible risk taking.

Speaking from personal experience, my ability to invest carefully with appropriate risk and the right mental mindset was advanced when my personal financial situation stabilized. It is very tough to invest properly when cash is low, money is tight, and debt is high.

When I had little money and a big mortgage, I was tempted to go for home runs, treating investing little different from a lottery ticket. The problem is these big wins rarely happen. In the worst cases the more likely large losses can scare a person away from the markets forever.

Very few people get rich with 5x, 10x, or 100x baggers on risky forms of investing (penny stocks, cryptocurrencies, options, etc.). Even fewer stay rich.

Sticky wealth is wealth amassed carefully and methodically over a long time with a lot of hard work.

A Firm Foundation

Like everything else in life, investing begins with a firm foundation. Before taking on risk and putting money into the markets, have everything else in your financial world tightened up.

Pay off debt. Debt is a major financial risk factor today. Way too many people carry enormous debt loads that bog them down. Deep down, most regret the choices that led them into debt. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to buckle up and do everything in your power to pay off debts. Take a second job, work overtime, live with mom and dad or in a low-cost roommate situation, spend nothing, sacrifice, do whatever it takes.

Never invest if you are carrying credit card debt or have personal loan or an unsecured line of credit balance. Paying these debts off aggressively can provide you with a guaranteed after tax return of 7 to 25 percent. It can also save you a huge amount of stress.

That said, a modest mortgage is okay to carry while investing. Your interest rates are likely to be low and the payments should not be overwhelming.

Cut expenses. Having low living expenses can provide substantial peace of mind. It is also likely to simplify your life. While a million websites will moan about spending on lattes and avocado, the best places to save money are the big expenses.

Downsizing your house, going down to one (or none) fuel efficient vehicle, getting rid of pricey toys like motorbikes or ATVs, selling the vacation cabin or time-share, and taking modest vacations are perfect ways to live better and save money. Way too many people have no money but think it is normal to live like millionaires. It's not.

Earn a decent income. It doesn't need to be a huge six figure take. In Canada I peg the healthy number at C$70,000 gross per year. In the U.S. this could be closer to $50,000. That's only a bit above average for a full-time skilled worker. In some areas of the country it will need to be higher, in others the number can be lower.

Many younger people follow the herds into Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, LA, NYC, or Seattle. For most a much better bet is a city like Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, or Phoenix. Or the hundreds of very livable smaller cities with low cost-of-living. You would be amazed how location can drastically improve your odds of building wealth and financial independence.

Save money. This is a big one and is the culmination of the prior three points. You should be in a situation where your monthly income consistently exceeds your monthly expenses. Nothing is worse for your portfolio than being in a situation where you put in a dollar and pull out 50 cents two weeks later.

This includes investing for financial independence but pulling money out to "invest" in a kitchen upgrade or "invest" in more reliable car. Investing is for the long-term. It should be kept completely separate from saving for a larger purchase, even if that purchase adds a bit of value to your home.

Build a cash cushion. I like to maintain a decent cash balance in our chequing account. Depending on the time of month, when income comes in and expenses go out, our chequing account will bounce from around $3,000 to $7,000. This provides a nice cushion to cover any spending needs without worrying about overdraft or credit card balances.

We use credit cards for most daily spending to defer the bill for up to a month and a half. Free short-term loans, free purchase protection, and free travel rewards are awesome! But I make sure I can pay it off in full every month.

I'm not a big fan of maintaining large emergency funds because odds are you will never need to use them if you manage your finances properly. Instead, get a personal line of credit set up at your bank. Don't use it unless you are in a financial emergency. Save and invest the rest of your money so it is working for you, not the bank.

Risk and Investing

When most people think about risk and investing, they focus on how risky their investments are. They might even dwell on the risk of losing money when investing—a virtual guarantee at some point in everyone's investing journey.

I prefer to look at the entire picture of risk. This includes investing but it adds in your personal situation (which in many ways is more important). A commissioned real estate salesperson is in a much riskier situation than a power lineman at the utility company. Even if the sales lady drives a BMW and wears nice clothes (or maybe because of that).

A shaky relationship with one very spendy partner is much riskier than a stable partnership of two frugal individuals. A family with a large house and a large mortgage is much more fragile than a family that rents a smaller house or rowhouse.

These ideas extend to a multitude of other factors: high debt compared with no debt, dual versus single income families, old versus young, kids or no kids, level of flexibility in pursuing the best work opportunities, renting or owning, biking and the occasional Uber versus multiple vehicles. The list goes on.

A young, dual income, no debt, apartment renting, no child, biking couple has the capability of taking on high leverage in their portfolio while still being lower risk overall. Flip the situation and invest in GICs and you are still setting yourself up for a major financial wipeout.

Set yourself up for success in your personal situation. Then let the markets do the rest of the work.

Comments & Questions

All comments are moderated before being posted for public viewing. Please don't send in multiple comments if yours doesn't appear right away. It can take up to 24 hours before comments are posted.

Comments containing links or "trolling" will not be posted. Comments with profane language or those which reveal personal information will be edited by moderator.