The Lifelong Expat


So you’re a lifer? Congratulations! For some people expat life is so good, they never intend to go home. Also of course, many people make their lives in their country of choice: they have a home, family, kids in school, perhaps a business, things that they never plan to leave behind to “return home”.

So, sticking with Japan as our example, how should you adjust your planning if you are staying here for life? Many of the basics do not change, but everything will have more of a Japan focus. We will look at each of these in more detail later but here is a summary of things to consider for now:

  • Protection – this is of course the first place to start. See the protection review here for the basics. This probably means taking care of some of your insurance needs with a Japanese insurance policy, which of course means policy documents and explanations in Japanese. It’s worth looking around for a local insurance agent you can communicate well with, and exploring hospitalisation insurance, income protection, and life insurance if you need it. You will find that Japanese policies come with all kinds of add ons, fixed rate guarantees, and other bells and whistles. Start by looking for the simplest policies that cover your particular requirements, and beware of over-paying for things you don’t need.
  • Buying a home – owning versus renting becomes a bit of a no-brainer if you are going to be in Japan forever. You will likely find that you end up with more space for a lower monthly cost if you own your own home. Ultra low mortgage rates are, of course, an attractive factor. Whether you buy a house or an apartment is down to your own preference, but we will look at the pros and cons of each later.
  • Retirement planning – if you work in Japan you will already be paying into the Japan national pension. Once a year it is worth reviewing how this is going and what your pension is likely to be. If you are paying into the national pension scheme, you are also eligible to start a Japanese 401k, which is a self managed pension. This offers significant tax savings over time and is worth considering.
  • Savings – another tax efficient way to save is NISA, which is based on the UK ISA. NISA is relatively new and, although it does have its drawbacks, dividends and capital gains are tax free. Once you have exhausted ways to save that carry a tax benefit, you should look at opening a local brokerage account. This is a great way to invest in stocks and low cost ETFs.
  • Investment property – from one room apartments to whole buildings, there are excellent opportunities for property investment in Japan.
  • Lastly, consider if you have other base currencies? Keep in mind that if you are planning to send your kids to university overseas, for example, you should save for that need in the currency you will be spending in. Also, for general investment purposes, remember that Japan only accounts for around 8% of world stock market capitalisation. Investing too narrowly in Japan concentrates your risk in one area, and you also miss out on the opportunity to diversify into world markets.

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