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Retiring to Spain - a place in the sun for your pension

Retiring to sun-drenched shores is a reality for many Britons today, with more than 1m currently receiving their state pension overseas.

Numbers are rising rapidly, with more than 70,000 taking their pension in Spain alone, compared to 26,700 a decade ago, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). However, to avoid an axe being taken to your pension pot, it is wise to give some thought to the financial implications before making the move. Setting up your finances carefully could save you considerable sums.

Benefits and pitfalls facing those who leave the UK for warmer climes

Watch the exchange rates

Currency fluctuations eating into a pension fund is a major concern for Britons abroad seeking a secure retirement income. As pension income is paid in sterling it will vary from month to month as exchange rates change. Tom McPhail of independent financial advisers (IFAs) Hargreaves Lansdown said: "This is a key issue. If you are lucky the currency movement could increase your spending power, but it could also go the wrong way, with catastrophic consequences."

Taking advantage of a currency exchange specialist  will minimise the damage by avoiding exorbitant exchange rates and transfer charges. High street banks charge up to £30 for a single transfer. A specialist exchange broker can allow you to fix an exchange rate for up to 24 months to guard against fluctuations.

Moving your pension fund abroad

While it is possible to transfer occupational and personal pensions abroad to remove the risk of exchange rate fluctuations, the issue is fraught with complications. Jonathan Spring-Rice of IFAs Towry Law said: "It is difficult and costly, with a lot of initial paperwork, so it is only applicable for those with large pension pots."

Kevin Williams, international tax manager at solicitors Thomas Eggar, added: "The decision to transfer your pension will be subject to the local tax rules, exchange rates and scheme protection.
Anyone considering doing so should seek local tax advice and be sure they are not going to return to the UK. "Generally you will not be allowed to move pension funds to which you no longer continue to make contributions. Therefore if you no longer work you will be forced to follow the UK rules and purchase an annuity."

Those thinking of transferring their pension scheme should seek the advice from the Pensions Advisory Service (OPAS) for exact criteria and countries authorised to receive UK transfers. Robert Brealey, pensions consultant at Siddalls IFAs, added: "UK law allows transfers, but only if the transferring scheme satisfies itself that the receiving scheme is a pension scheme as we understand it.

Tax on your income

Once you are non-resident in the UK for tax purposes, personal or occupational pension income will only be liable to tax in the country you are living in. This applies to countries with a double taxation treaty with the UK, and tax rates will vary depending on the country you are in. Most of the countries which are members of the European Union (EU) or the Commonwealth have such an agreement, but check before you go.

If you face a higher rate of tax in your new country, it makes sense to retain your UK residency and only pay tax in the UK under the double taxation agreement. Take care if you move abroad before taking your pension, as the ability to take 25pc of your pot as a tax-free lump sum is only available to UK residents.

State scheme

You are still entitled to your basic state pension when you retire abroad, as long as you have paid the requisite National Insurance Contributions over the years. However, your state pension will not be increased in line with inflation as in the UK once you start claiming it from non-EU countries. To have your state pension paid into a foreign bank account, simply inform your local authority.

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Article by Harriet Meyer