🐧 10 international money hacks you need to know

Automation, 2 FX fee hacks, virtual mailbox, visa-free travel, 3 foreign tax savings
June 11, 2023

All that I wish I knew when I first moved abroad.

Today in 10 minutes or less, you’ll learn:

  • 🤖 Automating cross-border investing
  • 🌐 Two currency exchange fee hacks
  • 📱Virtual mailbox and phone numbers
  • 🛂 Visa-free travel via APEC Card
  • 🚀 Foreign taxes on public equity & ESOP

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⚡10 must-know international money hacks

For 4+ years, I have been living abroad as a tech professional.

I have spent 100+ hours researching and testing how to earn, save, and invest while overseas.

Here are 10 of my favorite tactics:

🤖 1. Automate your cross-border savings, investing, and bill payments

I’m a huge fan of “set and forget” systems. Most expats I know are like me — busy with work, travel, and family. By automating your money, you reduce decision overload, avoid late penalties, and invest more without relying on self-control.

How:

  • Setup scheduled transfers in money transfer apps like Wise or Revolut
  • Go here to see an in-depth guide (and my exact personal setup)

💳 2. Get a debit card with unlimited ATM fee rebates and/or no foreign transaction fees

If you travel abroad frequently, foreign transaction fees can really add up. 😥

For example, I recently paid (VND) for dinner in Vietnam using my DBS debit card (SGD), resulting in a ~2% foreign transaction fee. (DBS charges up to a 3.25% foreign transaction fee.)

How:

  • For US persons: Schwab Investor Checking offers free ATM withdrawals, no foreign transaction fees, and no account fees
  • For Singapore residents: Youtrip and Instarem Amaze both offer no foreign transaction fees (caveat: I haven’t tested these, DM me if you have!)

📈 3. Track your net worth using a Net Worth Tracker

Whatever your money goals are, the first step is getting a clear, complete picture of your financial health — net worth, income, and expenses.

Most tools are not designed for expats who have (1) non-US accounts (2) multiple currencies and (3) shared finances with a partner.

How:

  • Make a copy of the Expat Money Review Template. Fill it out. (use this as a guide)
  • Setup a monthly check-in (with your partner) to review. Make it a habit to discuss your life vision and how you’re tracking towards it.

💱4. If you need to convert currencies, find the most affordable exchange rates on Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers has hands-down the best exchange rate I’ve seen (lower cost than Wise/Revolut).

It’s basically a USD $2 flat fee at the current exchange rate (no markups) up to $100,000.

How:

  • Log into the web client portal to link your local and overseas bank accounts. You can deposit and withdraw different currencies to different bank accounts (eg I setup USD & SGD bank accounts).
  • Go to Portfolio > Cash Report > Convert Currency. Here’s a quick video tutorial.

🏦 5. Spread your assets across multiple bank accounts to avoid getting your funds stuck

Despite the recent Silicon Valley Bank debacle, diversifying bank accounts has been top of mind for expats for ages.

A horror story: My Australian friend had gotten funds stuck at different UK & HK banks without explanation (possibly due to large transaction sizes & crypto)

To get his funds back, he endured an admin nightmare. Heaps of paperwork, 6 months processing time, and fly to the bank branch where he opened his account to withdraw the funds.

📬 6. Get a virtual mailbox and phone number to avoid getting locked out of accounts

Imagine you’re traveling overseas. You’re about to make a payment, but then your credit card company sends an OTP to your OLD phone number to confirm payment. Crap!

Don’t get locked out of your accounts & payments. And receiving new debit/credit cards, PINs, and passwords. All because you no longer have a valid local address/phone number. (this expat got his Wells Fargo account shut down)

How:

  • Get a virtual mailbox service (Stable in US) or use a trusted friend or family member’s local address
  • Buy a virtual phone number (Google Voice in US) or use a friend’s phone number

🛂 7. Skip immigration queues and and travel visa-free with an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC)

The ABTC is a magic card for business travelers from one of 19 APEC countries.

Benefits:

  1. Visa-free entry for most member countries
  2. Designated express lane at immigration
  3. Longer stays for up to 90 days
  4. Valid for up to 5 years

How:

  • Find your country here and apply using my consolidated ABTC instructions (13 APEC countries available) 💫

💼 8. Negotiate non-obvious parts of your compensation package like currency and employment model

Before taking an overseas job, consider your salary currency and whether to be a full-time employee or an independent contractor.

How:

  • Choose currency based on your geography-based spending rules. If you’re American in SG and you want to invest 50% of your income in the US → one option: ask for 50% of your paycheck in SGD for expenses and get the rest in USD for investments.
  • Run gross/net income numbers for independent contractor vs FTE (ask HR for calculator). In some countries, I’ve seen people earn higher net income as an independent contractor, even accounting for their self-employment taxes.

💸 9. Watch out for foreign taxes on your Public Equity

If you invest in stocks, check where your stocks/ETFs are domiciled and how your dividends will be treated.

Examples:

  • Non-Americans investing in US stocks/ETFs are subject to US dividend (30% withholding tax) & estate taxes (up to 40% on amounts over $60k)
  • Singapore-based investors with dividend-paying stocks pay a 30% foreign dividend tax

How:

  • Choose non-US domiciled ETFs to avoid US dividend & estate taxes. E.g. funds domiciled in Europe / Ireland will (search for ”UCITS” in their fund name).
  • Search for “Accumulating” in fund names to avoid paying foreign dividend taxes. For example, VWRA reinvests all the dividends back into the fund (reflecting higher fund price). Accumulating funds are better than dividend-paying alternatives for investors in countries that tax foreign dividends.

🚀 10. Watch out for foreign taxes on your Stock Options

Check which entity is issuing your equity and where it’s domicile, since you’ll likely be subject to that country’s tax policies.

Example - Singapore exit tax on stock options: Expats should be prepared for the Deemed exercise rule. When you cease employment in Singapore as a foreigner, you may still be required to pay taxes on unvested/unexercised ESOPs.

How:

  • Identify the domicile of the entity that issued your equity. Research this country’s treatment of stock options, eg how they assess Fair Market Value, stock exercise, and “exit tax.”
  • Calculate the estimated foreign taxes on your stock options (and possibly consulting with an accountant/lawyer)

⭐ BONUS: Take advantage of tax benefits for foreigners, like favorable investment accounts and deductions

Examples:

  • Supplemental Retirement Scheme (Singapore). Foreigners are eligible for this unique retirement account. Up to SGD $35,700 annually. Benefits include tax deferrals, investments compounding tax-free, and upon retirement getting 50% of withdrawals tax-free.
  • Preferential Tax Scheme (Netherlands). Foreigners can be exempt from Dutch income taxes for up to 30% of their salary for 5 years.
  • Income tax exemptions (Israel). Exemptions on foreign-sourced income and capital gains, “approved specialists” receive lower income tax rate for 3-8 years.

🌐 Beyond your borders

🇪🇪 Estonia is #4 on the top 10 countries where it’s easy to settle in for expats. Check out the full list (CNBC)

🇺🇸 United States SEC starts lawsuit against Coinbase and Binance (Straits). In February, Kraken settled with the SEC for $30M and agreed to shut down its US staking services (Reuters)

🇺🇾 Urugay rolls out new 180-day digital nomad visa, where tech services seem to be exempt from taxes (Euronews)


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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, a website and newsletter on building wealth for global professionals. Over the last 10 years, he's been a product leader, product manager, consultant and coach at companies like Dropbox, Xendit, and growth-stage startups across the US, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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