Who can benefit from offshore investment?

Anyone can benefit from the returns to be gained from offshore investments. However, to benefit from the low individual taxation regimes available, the investor must also have residence offshore. Or, for a resident in a high-tax area, there must be an offshore structure which legally distances offshore gains from the onshore tax net.

This depends on the type of account or investment you wish to apply for. You can make regular deposits into an investment plan from just USD 500 a month, while lump sum investments in offshore funds can also be made from USD 30,000.

Different jurisdictions have different advantages. Depending on your agenda, you may find it useful to use a number of different jurisdictions in your offshore structure.

Using two or three jurisdictions in an average offshore structure is very common for substantial offshore investors – for example, they may have one for the corporations, one for the trust and one for the bank account. A three-level arrangement such as this allows your offshore structure to take advantage of the nest laws of each country and provides you with a maximum level of privacy.

A trust works by taking assets owned by the person establishing (‘settling’) the trust and putting them into the hands of a trustee. An offshore trust is simply one based in an offshore jurisdiction, with its profits not usually taxable in that location.

The trustee normally follows the wishes of the settler. Trusts, which are based in 600-year old English common law, have been in regular use for offshore asset protection for nearly 100 years. Unfortunately, the high-tax countries have therefore had plenty of time to defend themselves against trusts, and by now their usefulness has been severely compromised for the residents of many of these countries.

An APT is designed to accomplish a number of estate planning goals, before and after the death of the settler. These include planning for the preservation of his or her estate from a variety of risks which would threaten to dissolve the estate if one or more materialised. An APT is typically established in a jurisdiction other than the settler’s home country.

Regulation protects investors from their own ignorance or cupidity and guards against money-laundering – which has nothing to do with bona fide investors. It also tries to prevent investment managers from making risky decisions that could lead to loss for their clients. Regulators believe that people’s savings are so important that they must be given special protection.

As an expatriate, you really have your pick of the investment arena. A lot depends on the tax regime in your home country, but assuming you are going to be non-resident for the duration of your absence, then you are likely to be in an ideal position to take advantage of offshore financial services in a tax-efficient way. In addition, many high tax countries offer attractive investment opportunities and tax breaks for non-resident individuals and entities.

As an expat, you are advised to examine the possibility of opening an offshore bank account, in order to take advantage of the tax efficiency and relatively enhanced confidentiality that this provides. No tax is payable on interest arising from money held in an offshore bank account (unless the EU Savings Tax Directive applies), so even if you are just looking for somewhere to receive funds remitted from home, or have your salary paid into, this is worth considering.

There are various types of account available to suit your means and needs. These include instant access accounts with credit/debit card facilities, fixed term deposit accounts with tiered rates of interest, and fixed and variable rate accounts.

It would be ideal! Fund investment means that you can choose to invest in a particular class of asset without having to examine the characteristics of each one individually. If you choose to invest in an offshore mutual fund, the responsibility for the management, maintenance and administration is taken by the promoter, manager and custodian of the fund.

If you have substantial liquid net worth that you would like to protect during your expatriation and afterwards, then an offshore trust may be the way to go, along with offshore bank accounts. This type of structure is more used for asset protection purposes than for tax efficiency during your lifetime, as many high tax countries now have legislation designed to make offshore trusts at best tax neutral. However, the asset protection advantages, and the enhanced privacy afforded by an offshore trust, are useful features. Trusts are still effective as a defence against inheritance tax

An offshore trust basically works by transferring control of your assets away from you (the settlor) to a custodian or trustee who will manage the trust in the best interests of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. This can be you or any other person, group of people or entity that you specify. It is normal for trustees to operate the trust in accordance with the wishes of the settlor.

There are different types of trusts for different purposes, and you need professional assistance in selecting the right type in the right jurisdiction. If your home tax regime does not yet have anti-avoidance legislation, and you hope to gain tax benefits from setting up a trust, then you will probably use a discretionary trust. In this case, the trustees have full control over the disposition of the trust income and assets. You can still be named as a beneficiary, however, and the trustees will still follow your wishes.

Of course you can! Increasing globalisation and advances in encryption techniques have meant that many offshore banks offer online banking services, which are ideally suited to expatriates. There is also an increasing number of exchanges and online brokers that allow you to manage your portfolio wherever you are in the world.

Onshore banking is subject to the tax and foreign exchange rules of the country in which the account is held. Depending on the size of your savings, and the tax regime of your onshore jurisdiction, the price you pay is likely to be fairly high if your savings are ‘considerable’. Therefore, if you are interested in reducing your tax exposure, and with relatively higher confidentiality levels, it would make sense to examine the possibilities available to you offshore.

However, it is worth noting that some countries, for example the USA, tax world-wide income whatever your expatriation status. In this case, you will need to ascertain the position held by the country from which you are expatriating or have expatriated before making a decision.

Not if you are sensible. It is always better to regard offers and institutions which seem too good to be true with suspicion, as they generally are! You should begin your research with well-established institutions to give you a frame of reference regarding industry standards, and regard with scepticism interest rates or benefits which seem exceptional. Also, check the reputation of the bank with which you are planning to deal, by speaking to other people and checking media sources.

An investment fund is a pool of money contributed by a small or large number of subscribers, unit-holders or shareholders, which is invested and administered on their behalf. They share the proceeds (or losses) in proportion to their subscriptions after deduction of costs.

A mutual fund is an investment fund divided into units which are equivalent to shares. These can be bought from and sold back to the manager of the fund, but are not traded as such. The value of the fund’s net asset value per unit is calculated frequently. Many countries have favourable tax regimes for mutual funds, as these encourage saving.

An offshore investment fund is one which is based in an offshore jurisdiction, although the term is often used, perhaps incorrectly, to describe a fund which is based outside a particular high-tax country. An offshore investment fund cannot be marketed in some important high-tax countries unless its local supervisory and regulatory regime is recognized by those countries as being up to their standards. Broadly speaking, this means that if you see an offshore fund being marketed in a high-tax country, its investment behaviour is probably quite constrained, and this may limit its ability to achieve high returns for investors.

Three distinct functions exist. The promoter is the person or company who established the fund and markets it; the manager is the person or company who runs it from day to day and the custodian is the person or company who holds the investment assets on behalf of the subscribers. In some jurisdictions, these functions have to be exercised by separate bodies, but in many, two or more can be combined. All three functions are rewarded with fees, usually based on the value of the fund, but sometimes they are success-based.

Offshore funds come in many varieties, even more than onshore funds (those in high-tax countries) which are often limited by local regulation to offer less volatile types of investment. There are offshore bond funds, equity funds, sectoral funds, emerging-market funds, money-market funds, hedge funds, property funds, income funds, capital funds and many more.

Governments in high-tax countries apply a variety of techniques to encourage saving towards retirement. Sometimes, contributions into pension plans are tax-free, sometimes investment gains within pension funds are wholly or partly tax-free and sometimes the proceeds of pension plans are wholly or partly tax-free. Nowhere are all three true simultaneously, but two are sometimes available.

Onshore pensions usually bundle insurable benefits such as payments on death or disability together with pension fund contributions for tax reasons. Offshore, there is no point in doing this, and pension investment means simply building up a secure, tax-efficient fund which can be distributed when and where you want it in future.

Buying deferred annuities is another way of achieving a pension goal. This is obviously very secure, but the rates of return assumed by the annuity purchase are unlikely to be attractive to the average offshore investor. Insurable benefits can be bought separately wherever they are cheapest.

An annuity is a series of annual or monthly payments offered by an insurance company in exchange for payment of a capital sum. A deferred annuity commences on a pre-determined date in the future, but the rate at which it is purchased is outlined at the beginning of the contract. Therefore, a lump sum can be applied during a person’s working life to purchase a fixed annuity on retirement, however interest rates change in the meantime.