Tips for American expats from a financial advisor who helps clients move abroad

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If you’ve dreamt of working or retiring abroad, you may be tempted by the possibility of cheaper housing or healthcare. But there are some things to consider before making the jump.

Jude Boudreaux, partner and senior financial planner with The Planning Center in New Orleans, works with several expat clients and said the “modern economy” has made living abroad more feasible for some Americans since the pandemic.

“There are a certain number of people who can work remotely and permanently,” which has opened the doors to living abroad, said Boudreaux, who is a certified financial planner and a member of CNBC’s Financial Advisor Council

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While a work permit for a local job can be challenging in some parts of Europe, moving abroad may be easier for Americans who are “self-sustaining” with remote work flexibility, Boudreaux explained. 

As for retirees, he has worked with clients on “both sides of the political ledger” seeking more choices and flexibility in their golden years, depending on shifts in the U.S. political environment. 

Roughly 9 million U.S. citizens were living abroad in 2020, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of State. 

For clients weighing the move, he often suggests spending a month in their chosen location first.

“It’s different to navigate the grocery store and health care treatments in a foreign language if you’re not super proficient,” he said.

Here are some other key things to consider.

Income reporting requirements add complexity

One of the key things prospective American expats need to consider is the yearly tax filing requirements, Boudreaux said.

While living abroad, you must pay annual U.S. income taxes on worldwide earnings, including your salary, business profits, investment income and more.

With measures like the foreign income exclusion and tax credit, you’ll avoid double taxation. But there’s still the added time and expense of filing income taxes in two countries. 

A lot of times we’ll find people or banks that just won’t deal with U.S. citizens because they don’t want to have to deal with the reporting requirements.
Jude Boudreaux

Some financial institutions ‘won’t deal with U.S. citizens’

Some expats also must report foreign accounts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury annually via the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBAR. The rule applies to expats with foreign accounts with a total value exceeding $10,000 at any point throughout the year.

“A lot of times, we’ll find people or banks that just won’t deal with U.S. citizens because they don’t want to have to deal with the reporting requirements,” Boudreaux said.

The yearly tax reporting requirements have even led some expats to consider renouncing their U.S. citizenship, according to a 2022 survey from Greenback Expat Tax Services.

The exchange rate is ‘always a concern’

Another possible concern is the possible change in your purchasing power when converting money between countries. “The exchange rate is certainly always a concern,” Boudreaux said.

While there are some investment options to help manage that exposure, “most of the time, it’s just kind of a risk that people carry,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s worse.”

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