May 25

The Best Index Fund Portfolio For Non-US Investors (2020)

14  comments

Opinions and analysis of the best index fund portfolio are typically geared towards US investors. For Non-US investors, fret not! There are plenty of viable choices that I’ll cover below. If you understand diversification and passive investing, then index funds will be something that you’ll really like. Index funds form the core of what I think is the best investment strategy for Singaporeans.

I hear a lot of references to Warren Buffett whenever I look at investment methodologies and techniques, e.g. “Follow how Buffett Invests” or “This is what Buffett would have done”, but it’s never what Buffett has specifically said so himself. Except for this:

“There are a few investment managers, of course, who are very good – though in the short run, it’s difficult to determine whether a great record is due to luck or talent. Most advisors, however, are far better at generating high fees than they are at generating high returns. In truth, their core competence is salesmanship. Rather than listen to their siren songs, investors – large and small – should instead read Jack Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.”

– Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, 2014 Annual Shareholder Letter, page 19.

For those interested, the book can be found on Amazon: The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns.

Best Index Fund Portfolio: Buying the Whole Market

The premise is simple: instead of picking individual stocks, just buy the entire stock market. There’s nothing more efficient and optimised than a low-cost Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF). For US investors, the US has plenty of US-domiciled ETFs that are great. For non-US investors, buying ETFs domiciled in the US has several disadvantages that make it a pretty lousy deal:

  1. Dividends are taxed. For Singaporeans, it’s going to be 30%.
  2. If you own a total of more than USD60,000 of US assets (stocks, ETFs, properties, etc), you’ll face an estate tax. For Singaporeans, it’ll be a fixed sum PLUS around 18% to 35% of your assets. Just as a fun piece of trivia: if you are a US national, your limit is not USD60,000, but around USD5,000,000.

Here’s a snapshot of 2012’s gift and estate tax rates for foreign nationals in the US:

Best Index Fund Portfolio: us foreign foreigner gift estate tax rates

From: US Taxation of Foreign Nationals

How To Start With The Best Index Fund Portfolio

You’re going to be wanting a portfolio of index funds, or otherwise known as a lazy portfolio. Make no mistake though, it’s not a bad thing to be lazy in this case. What you’re going to get is something that is easy, cheap, quick to implement, and more profitable than most other things that you can invest in.

There is an entire encyclopedia of information about the various portfolios that you can use that you’ll be able to find on Google, but I like things simple – so I’m keeping it to as little funds as necessary.

For non-US investors, ETFs on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) are typically domiciled in Luxembourg or Ireland, and are attractive because:

  1. No capital gains tax
  2. No dividend withholding tax for you (however, dividends will still be taxed at source, and is between the UK and wherever the fund’s component lie.)
  3. High estate/inheritance tax limit (currently £325,000)
  4. No stamp duty

What is the Best Index Fund Portfolio?

I was previously buying VWRD, until I started questioning the efficiency of collecting dividends. I didn’t like the fact that VWRD issued dividends, because I would have to figure out what to do with the dividends. Typically, I’d need to hold on to them for a while until I was next ready to buy more of VWRD. If you think about it, that meant I’d have to incur a commission when I used the dividends to buy more of VWRD, and very possibly had to incur a dividends tax at the source too.

If you like receiving dividends (VWRD has around 2+% dividend yield a year), VWRD is great. However, I have discovered that iShares has an ETF, the iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF (IWDA), that is benchmarked on the MSCI World Index, and more importantly, accumulates instead of distributing its dividends. This means that if IWDA were to be giving a 1 cent dividend, it would automatically be accumulated into the ETF, raising its price by 1 cent instead. As a long-term investor, I found this to be very appealing.

The only drawback is that IWDA does not contain any emerging markets, which VWRD has. To complete IWDA, you’ll need another ETF, the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets IMI USD (EIMI). Both IWDA and EIMI trade on the LSE, and in USD.

VWRD has ~9.3% exposure to emerging markets, so to mimic that, one can potentially buy IWDA and EIMI in that ratio.

Start With The Best Index Fund Portfolio Today

This is going to be assuming that you’re a Non-USA person. In which case, one should go for ETFs on the LSE because of the tax savings. VWRD is preferred by people who’d like to receive dividend payouts, or IWDA + EIMI for dividends automatically reinvested.


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  1. Although it is specified in the link, I think it’s best to clarify that the “Estate Tax” is only applicable for “DECEASED non-residents”.

  2. Hey Alvin,

    Thanks for sharing. I’m just wondering what’s the proportion of your investment allocation for the 2 funds, IWDA and EIMI. Is it 50%/50%?

  3. Hey Alvin,

    Appreciate your effort in writing up such a detailed post, would u consider it to be cheaper if you would to be investing yearly (buying more lots) in VWRD than in to IShare? As VWRD have 2 x lower Mgmt fees as compared to IWDA.

    Hope to hear from you 🙂

    Cheers

  4. Hey Alvin,

    It looks like IWDA and EIMI are listed as Swiss and Netherlands ETFs on Interactive Brokers, even though they are domiciled in Ireland. Do you know if the commission IB charges you is based on UK rates or Swiss/Netherlands rates? Thanks so much!

  5. Hey Alvin,

    Great post! I’m just learning the ropes of investment and have a question – I notice that most of the items on your portfolio here are ETFs instead of index funds. Is there a reason for this?

  6. Thanks for the article. What’s your opinion on VWRA? It ticks all the important boxes: has low expense ratio (just 0.22%), includes both developed and emerging markets, is accumulating, and is Ireland-domiciled.

    1. hey JA, VWRA launched pretty recently! But yeah, VWRA should work great too. It’s like VWRD except it accumulates, and looks to be a good alternative to the IWRA+EIMI combination. The only thing is that VWRA doesn’t seem to have small caps, but that’s not that significant IMHO.

    1. SWRD is new. One might also consider it, but the differences in TER are small. Looking at that, I would personally choose the larger fund. This looks like a case where the end result really won’t differ that much between the two funds and might swing either way.

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