🐧 How expats from 6 countries invest in multiple countries

PLUS: portfolio strategy, decision frameworks, SEA tech news
March 5, 2023

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

  • 🌎 Expat multi-country investing report
  • 💎 Their portfolio strategy, challenges, & tips
  • 🏋️ Frameworks like sweat-adjusted returns
  • 🗞️ Must-know Southeast Asia tech news

🌎 Expat multi-country investing report

Let’s face it. The financial world is not designed for expats.

Have you ever moved abroad and wondered, “Is it worth the hassle for me to invest in my new country?”

If you’re one of the more seasoned expats in Money Abroad, you may have said “yes” a few times and accumulated assets across 2-5 countries.

Managing cross-border assets is a giant operational headache — ie dealing with taxes, compliance/risk, and estate planning 🤯

In this post, I deep dive into how expats living in 6 countries invest in multiple countries: their asset allocations, challenges, tips, plus two actionable frameworks.

🤔 Who took the survey

  • 12 expats living across 6 countries: Singapore, US, UK, Australia, Netherlands, Taiwan
  • Originally from US, Singapore, Spain, Vietnam, Germany, Norway, Fiji, Australia, India, Japan
  • ~60% lived in their new country for 2-5 years
  • 2/3 who reported their income made $10k+ USD / month

🧠 What strategies they used

Top 3 multi-country asset allocation strategies:

(1) Minimize tax & compliance burden

  • Almost all of it is compliance/ease: As a US citizen you are taxed globally, investing outside of the US seems very annoying in that you have to still report investment income, but you no longer get convenient 1099's to track capital gains, dividends, interest, etc. Also, moving existing savings across borders seems a bit daunting: will I trigger limits, hit some kind of friction/restrictions in the new country. I am trying to see if stocks can also be directly transferred via ACATS so no liquidation has to happen, just direct transfer. ”
  • “It seems important to have some assets in the new country especially if you plan to live for a while there. As a consultant and accepting US clients, generally easier to have US financial institutions. Taiwan's banks are rather backward when it comes to a lot of ease of use.”
  • “[I follow local] tax regulations but may shift assets back to Singapore above a certain threshold”

(2) Double down on familiar markets

  • “focusing on assets in my home country first”
  • “Maximise global diversification, but with a focus on a market I know well (home)”
  • “opportunistic, proximity helps, seeing strengths in each country”

(3) Double down on new markets

  • Less time required: “Most of the assets in the new country, properties and pension funds in home country and other countries - easiest to manage with minimal time investment”
  • More opportunity: “Not enough opportunity / lack of exposure in home country therefore by default I have been investing in home and other countries.”

💎 How their portfolio breaks down

Asset allocation between home country and rest of world

On average, these expats split their assets between their home country and new country:

  • 40% Home country
  • 45% New country
  • 15% Other countries

If you double click into home country though, you’ll see two spikes on the ends or bi-modal distribution. Expats either invest little (0-30%) or a lot (80-100%) in their home country:

Top 3 assets invested in new country

  1. Stocks
  2. Cash/risk-free & crypto (tied)
  3. Real estate

50% opened up 1+ retirement accounts in their new country

  • Mandatory for some resident countries (Australia, Netherlands)
  • Optional for others

25% want to open up a retirement account, but none are available for expats

🔥 Challenges they faced

Top 3 multi-country investing challenges shared by expats:

(1) Taxes and platform fees

  • “understanding the tax process”
  • “Legal Language and understanding of taxation boundaries”
  • “Fees across platforms”

(2) Time-consuming and stressful

  • “Dealing with the worries and logistics of keeping the accounts open, managing mail in the US, deciding when and how to move money around, dealing with retirement and potential solo 401k.”
  • “time consuming”
  • “Tough to manage”

(3) Lack of market knowledge

  • “Don't have a deep knowledge and understanding about the market”
  • “Hard to track existing and new opportunities in home country investments”
  • “Management and local info”

Tips for other expats

Top 2 multi-country investing tips shared by expats:

(1) Invest in less time-consuming assets

  • “depending on income, get an advisor, invest in things you can manage”

(2) Factor in tax & compliance costs

  • “Really, every single permutation of short/long-term, US or non-US citizen, destination country, married/kids/etc. will seem to affect things [taxes] a lot.”
  • “diversify wisely, keep in mind different tax legislations”
  • “Taxation may have some implication on your net returns”

💡Decision-making frameworks

🏋️ #1 Sweat-adjusted returns

I try to consider returns net of the cost of my time investment when deciding whether or not to invest in a new country:

Sweat-adjusted return = Risk-adjusted return - Cost of time investment (”sweat equity”)

Note: this formula is not mathematically precise. I show it for illustration purposes.

Here’s a few questions I ask:

  1. What actions do I expect to spend on managing the asset? (eg for tax, compliance, risk purposes)
  2. What actions would I need to take to move my asset out of the country or liquidate when I’m no longer in the country?


Two years ago, I invested a few thousand SGD into a Singapore-based REIT, which triggered a US compliance reporting requirement (PFIC). These PFIC filings can takes time and hundreds of dollars to work with an accountant to file. Hence, negative sweat-adjusted returns.

🏡 #2 Home country bias vs home court advantage

Each expat will have their own financial goals and needs. In light of your goals, which approach do you resonate with more?

  1. Diversify away from your “home country bias”. You want to avoid the risks of your home country (financial market / GDP decline) and FOMO of other fast-growing markets.
  2. Double down on your home court advantage. Investing in what you know and feels familiar due to living there for many years.


Currently, my portfolio is heavily weighted towards my home country (US) because I lived there for 20+ years. Over the long-run, I want to increase my non-US asset holdings — particularly in countries I end up living in — to diversify my risk exposure across different markets.

🌐 Beyond your borders

Get smart on the latest in SEA tech. 😎 How? Meet our friends at BackScoop, a daily newsletter that helps you stay on top of the must-know news about Southeast Asian startups.

Unlike your typical tech news... BackScoop is fun, easy-to-digest, and tells you all you need to know in 5 minutes.

Join thousands of leading founders, investors and operators in SEA reading BackScoop every morning. Subscribe for free here!

If you liked this post, you'll LOVE my newsletter

Every week, get a free actionable strategy to help you build wealth overseas:

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.

Continue reading

🐧 17 life lessons I learned at 33

🐧 17 life lessons I learned at 33

INSIDE: Living on 3 continents; career, health, relationships, and personal growth lessons
🐧  Sales 101 for Side Hustlers (Part 2)
Start a Business

🐧 Sales 101 for Side Hustlers (Part 2)

INSIDE: Objection Handling 101, how to respond to "It's too expensive", "I need to think about it", and more
🐧  Sales 101 for Side Hustlers (Part 1)
Start a Business

🐧 Sales 101 for Side Hustlers (Part 1)

INSIDE: Anatomy of the Sale, Qualification 101, Discovery Calls 101


Enter keywords and click search.