What happens to my pension if I move abroad?

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Fact Checked.
Updated on
July 16, 2022

In a nutshell

If you move abroad, we have some good news for you. You can take an income from your pension wherever you live. Hooray! Just be aware that not every pension provider will be happy to pay your pension into an overseas bank account.

Nutty

Keen to trade in the wet and grey of the UK for somewhere a bit sunnier (or simply more exciting)?! Go you! But what does it mean for your pension?

Don’t worry, you can still get paid your pension if you move abroad. Hooray! However, exactly how that works will depend on what kind of pension you have. 

What happens to my pension if I move abroad?

Here, we’ll look at what happens to your personal pension, workplace pension and State pension if you move abroad (and don’t worry, we’ll explain what each of those are here too!). Here’s the lowdown.

What happens to my personal pension if I move abroad?

A personal pension is a pension that you set up and pay into yourself, rather than one that’s set up by your employer. A popular personal pension provider is PensionBee.

Personal / Private pension

The good news is that you can still access your personal pension funds if you live abroad and you’ve reached the age where you’re allowed to start taking money out of your pension (at the moment, that age is 55 but it’s rising to 57 in 2028). 

The bad news is that not all pension providers will be happy to pay your pension funds into an overseas bank account (your pension provider is the company you got your pension from). And those that do will often ask you to pay extra fees. Doh!

This means you have 3 options:

  1. Get paid into your overseas bank account. On the off chance that your pension provider is happy to pay your pension funds into an overseas bank account, remember to watch out for those extra charges. Also bear in mind that the amount you get paid might vary depending on the exchange rate (the current value of the local currency compared to pounds sterling).
  1. Get paid into a UK bank account. If your pension provider doesn’t want to send your pension funds to an overseas bank account (or they charge a lot to do so), you could ask them to pay into a UK bank account instead. You can then withdraw the funds in the UK or transfer them to an account in the country you live in. Just remember that you might end up getting a slightly different amount at the end of it, thanks to the exchange rate to convert the money.
  1. Transfer your pension to another country. You could transfer your pension to a pension scheme in your new country. If you want to do this, you should use a Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme, or ROPS (a scheme that meets important criteria), which you can find using the GOV.UK website. However, we’d also recommend using a financial advisor (a professional who can help make sure you make the right decision), as moving your pension to another country can be complicated. It can also come with costs and may change the amount you get paid when you retire. You can use Unbiased¹ to find the right financial advisor for you.

What happens to my workplace pension if I move abroad?

A workplace pension is one that your employer sets up for you. Not only do you contribute a percentage of your earnings each month (at least 5%), but your employer also contributes to it from their own pocket (they have to add at least 3%). Kerching!

Workplace pension

Just like with a personal pension, your workplace pension can be paid to you wherever you live, if you’re old enough. Nice!

Similarly to personal pensions, some workplace pension schemes will only be willing to pay into a UK bank account. However, some will be willing to pay into an overseas bank account (normally for an additional charge). Either way, remember that your pension will be paid in pounds sterling. So, if you change it into your local currency, the value will vary depending on the exchange rate at the time.

You may also be able to transfer your pension to a scheme in your new country. Just remember to use one of those Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (ROPS) we mentioned earlier. If you don’t, you could be treated as having made an unauthorised payment from your pension, which could mean a tax charge of 55% (and maybe even extra penalties on top!). And nobody wants that!

If you transfer your pension to a ROPS that’s within the EEA (European Economic Area) or Gibraltar, you’ll usually be able to avoid paying tax when you make the switch. However, transferring to a ROPS outside of these countries could result in paying tax. Hence why speaking to a financial advisor is so important! If you’re not sure where to find one, just use Unbiased¹ to search for the right financial advisor for you.

Do I have to pay tax on my UK pension if I move abroad?

That depends! Every country will have different tax laws. 

In the UK, you can get paid the first 25% of your pension without having to pay any income tax on it (income tax is a tax you’re charged in the UK on your earnings). Get in! After this, any income you take from your pension will be taxed in the same way as other earnings.

However, it’s important to check the rules of the country you’ve moved to. Some countries will have a similar rule to the UK, but others may not let you take anything out of your pension tax-free at all!

Not only this, but even if you’re classed as a non-UK resident, you might still have to pay UK tax on your pension income. The worst-case scenario is that you end up having to pay tax in both countries on any income you take from your pension. 

But don’t panic! Some countries have something called a double-taxation agreement with the UK. This means you can claim tax relief in the UK to avoid being taxed twice (tax relief is when you either get a tax refund or just legally avoid paying tax in the first place). To check whether your country has a double-taxation agreement with the UK, you can check the GOV.UK website. 

What happens if you move abroad before you start taking your pension?

So, we’ve covered what happens if you’ve moved abroad and you’re ready to take an income from your pension. But what happens to your pension if you move abroad before you start taking money from it?

Well, you have 2 main options:

  1. Stop paying into your pension. You don’t have to keep paying into your pension! If you’re moving abroad temporarily, you could pause your contributions and start them up again when you return to the UK. Or you could just stop them altogether and take your money when you’re old enough to.
  1. Carry on paying into your pension. You can carry on paying into a UK pension scheme even if you live abroad. Just be aware that if you want to set up a new UK pension, this may be a little bit more difficult as not all pension providers will be happy to set one up for you if you live abroad. 

Having said that, it’s important to understand that just because you can continue paying into your UK pension when you live abroad, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be the best decision for you. Paying into a pension when you live in the UK comes with certain tax benefits, which we’ll explain in a second. That may not be the case where you’ve moved to, so make sure to do some digging first. Which brings us onto…

Do you qualify for tax relief if you contribute to a UK pension when living abroad?

In the UK, income that you put into your pension – whether a personal pension or a workplace pension – isn’t taxed. This is because the government wants to reward you for saving to tide yourself over later on in life! It’s known as ‘tax relief’ and can work in a couple of ways depending on whether you’re employed or self-employed.

  • Self employed. If you’re self-employed, you’ll get tax relief in the form of a tax refund. In other words, the government will take the tax of your earnings and then refund it straight into your pension fund (we've got a great guide on self-employed pensions too).
  • Employed. If you’re employed, the government will be notified of how much money you’re putting into your pension and you won’t have to pay tax on that money in the first place.

As well as helping you to save for later on in life, tax relief makes paying into a pension a super sensible financial decision, as it means you keep more of your hard-earned cash to yourself and away from the taxman! 

However, you may not be able to get the same benefits if you live abroad, if any at all! To qualify for tax relief on the money you put in your pension, you have to be what’s called a ‘relevant UK individual’ for that tax year (a tax year is like a calendar year, but instead of going from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, it goes from the 6th April to the 5th April).

To be classed as a UK relevant individual, you’ll need to have earnings that the government can charge you income tax on that tax year (remember, income tax is a tax that’s charged on your earnings). 

Plus, if you don’t live in the UK currently, you’ll need to have lived in the UK in at least 1 of the last 5 tax years. You’ll also need to have signed up to your UK registered pension scheme during that time. If not, you’ll need to be a Crown Servant (or the spouse or civil partner of one!) – that means someone who works for the government, such as in the army, in the police force or as a civil servant.

As you can tell, that’s quite specific! So, if you’ve moved abroad permanently, the chances are that lovely tax relief might just be a thing of the past.

Moving abroad and the UK State Pension

The State Pension is a weekly payment you can receive from the UK government when you reach a certain age, known as State Pension age (currently 66). At the moment, the full State Pension is £185.15 Pension amount per week. Yep, it’s not a lot at all! However, if you have a workplace pension or personal pension, you can still get the State Pension on top, so it’s a really nice extra!

State Pension amount

Anyway, if you’re moving abroad, it’s good news for your UK State Pension. You’ll still be able to claim it as long as you’ve made enough National Insurance contributions over the course of your working life (National Insurance is a payment you make to the government alongside your taxes, to pay for things like healthcare).

In order to get at least some of your State Pension, you have to make National Insurance contributions for 10 years. But in order to get the full State Pension, you have to make contributions for 35 years. 

You’ll automatically be recorded as making National Insurance contributions if you pay tax in the UK and you earn more than £120 per week (or if you make more than £6,515 a year in profit if you’re self-employed). But if you earn less than £120 per week, you’ll need to make voluntary contributions if you want to qualify for the State Pension (making voluntary contributions means paying National Insurance even though you don’t have to – it sounds rubbish but you’ll thank yourself once you’re old and grey, we promise!).

There’s just one thing that you can’t get if you move abroad permanently, and that’s Pension Credit. Pension Credit is a government scheme for people on a very low income. It tops your household income up to £177.10 if you’re single, or £270.30 if you live with a partner. 

What happens to my UK State Pension if I move abroad?

Even though you can still get your UK State Pension if you move abroad, you may not get quite the same amount that you would if you were in the UK. Let us explain.

If you’re receiving the State Pension in the UK, you can normally expect your weekly payment to get a little bit higher each year. This is to take into account things like inflation, which refers to the fact that products and services get more expensive in an economy over time.

However, depending on what country you move to, you may not be able to benefit from those yearly increases. Your weekly payment will only increase each year if you live in one of these countries:

  • Countries in the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • Gibraltar
  • Switzerland
  • Countries that have a social security agreement with the UK (but not Canada or New Zealand)

If you live anywhere else and you claim the State Pension, you’ll just receive one flat rate for the rest of your life – except if you move back to the UK, in which case your pension will go up to the current rate.

How do I get my State Pension if I move abroad?

When you move abroad, you have to tell the International Pension Centre (if you live in England, Scotland or Wales) or the Northern Ireland Pension Centre (if you live in Northern Ireland). It’s not hard, you can just fill out an online form or give them a call.

When you hit the State Pension age, you can then contact them again to make a claim (that’s when you ask them to start sending you that lovely weekly payment!).

The great thing about the State Pension if you live abroad is that you can choose whether to have it paid into a UK bank account or a bank account in the country you live in. 

If you ask to have it paid into an overseas account, you’ll get paid in the local currency so you don’t have to worry about converting it. Just be aware that the amount you get will still change depending on the exchange rate (the current value of the local currency in comparison to pounds sterling).

What happens if I defer my State Pension and die?

You don’t have to take your State Pension as soon as you reach State Pension age. Instead, you can choose to defer it, which is where you delay taking it. We know what you’re thinking: why on earth would you want to delay taking that nice, juicy weekly payment you’re entitled to?

Well, it’s one way of increasing your State Pension. As long as you defer taking your State Pension for at least 9 weeks, your Pension will increase every week you defer it. Exactly how much it increases by will depend on when you reach State Pension age and how long you defer it for. 

The extra State Pension you’re entitled to for deferring it can normally be paid as a lump sum, or added onto your weekly payments once you start taking it. Kerching! But what happens to this extra State Pension payment if you defer your State Pension and then sadly die? 

Unfortunately, it all depends on when you reach State Pension age. If you turned State Pension age before the 6th April 2016, your spouse or legal partner (if you have one) can inherit your extra State Pension. So, your hard work won’t go to waste!

They can receive the extra State Pension they’ve inherited once they reach State Pension age themselves, as long as they don’t remarry or form a new Civil Partnership before then. This is the case whether they’ve moved abroad or not.

However, if you reached (or are due to reach) State Pension age on or after the 6th April 2016, any extra State Pension you’ve built up by deferring it won’t be able to be inherited. Urgh! That means all that lovely extra cash you’ve built up will go down the drain.

Apparently, it’s to do with the fact that the new State Pension is higher. But let’s be honest, it may make you think again if you’re umming and ahhing about whether to defer your State Pension!

Let’s recap

If you fancy moving abroad to start a new adventure in your sunset years, we have some great news for you: you’ll still be able to rely on your pension to fund your new lifestyle, as you can get paid an income from your pension no matter where you choose to live. Yes!

Just remember that every country has its own rules and regulations around pensions. The worst-case scenario is that you end up having to pay tax in both the UK and your new country! 

That’s why we’d always recommend using a financial advisor if you want to take an income from a UK personal or workplace pension once you’ve moved abroad. They’ll be able to help you make sure you’re living out your retirement in the most tax-efficient way possible. You can use Unbiased¹ to find the right financial advisor for you.

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This article was written by the team at Nuts About Money, and fact-checked by 2 independent reviewers. You’re in safe hands.

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