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Why early financial freedom in another country isn’t as simple as you think

This article was inspired by Franklin Templeton’s ‘F word’ campaign and their findings about how young Singaporeans feel about money. Popular ‘F words’ include: Finances/Future/Freedom/Focus. Ours just happens to be both our Financials and our Freedom – in a city/country/village of our choice.

According to a survey by Franklin Templeton, the top goals in life of young adults are financial freedom (66%), living a happy life (64%) and travelling around the world (52%). (See the full survey here).

Turns out I’ve got a mix of all three.

Here’s what financial freedom looks like for me:

I want to semi-retire by the time I’m 40 and run a bike-touring business that lets tourists experience the joy of riding bikes in the quiet backcountry roads and trails of Japan.

During the day, my customers will cross rivers, plains and entire prefectures. They’ll rough it out in the name of adventure.

When night falls, we’ll pick them up in a van, and send them to their nearest accommodation where they’ll get to rest in comfort. (Read: onsens, hot meals, Netflix, Disney+ and blazing fast WiFi)

Of course, this will only happen during the cyclable seasons. During less busy periods, my choice of abode would be a house in rural Wakayama, Japan, nestled in a forest of Sugi trees.

Every morning, I’d check my emails, surrounded by morning mist whilst sipping hot sencha.

Occasionally, if it gets too cold for comfort, I might take a plane back to Singapore to hang out with friends.

****

In my conversations with many fellow millennials, retiring outside Singapore seems to be the goal. I mean, I get it.

Hanging at kopitiams till 10 pm and collecting your CPF monies monthly is good, but isn’t exactly the type of retirement that would excite someone.

The big question is: Are our dream retirements realistic though? Is my bicycle dream going to end up as just a dream?

Not gonna lie, I started out writing this article as an optimist. By the time I was done, I became more of a realist. More on that later.

CAVEAT: Before we proceed, I’d like to acknowledge that everyone’s idea of retirement is different. However, in this article, I’d appreciate it if I get to use my own requirements for retirement, which are:

  • Retire at an age with sufficient financial, physical and mental health. This might be young enough that you don’t qualify for a retirement visa yet
  • Retire with a partner, so you won’t feel lonely
  • Either have no job, or work in jobs that you enjoy and/or are not held hostage by your employer

How much I might need for my dream

Let’s get the painful part over first – the numbers.

When I first started this, my calculations were simple. I based them around the average household expenditure in entire Japan, multiplied by 22.2222, which is based on the revised 4% rule (up to 4.5%), a popular rule guide in financial planning.

The initial idea was that if I had a certain amount of money, I could invest it for income, and use this money to kickstart a new life overseas.

It would be a solid foundation that could allow me to live like the median household in Japan whilst settling in – including stuff like rent, food, transport, hobbies etc. We might not be able to live in luxury in a major city, but it should be sufficient for modest living.

Based on my calculations, a couple would need about $958,000, generating approximately $43,110 a year, or $3,592 a month.

I’m pretty confident that achieving the 4.5% can be done the mix of the following financial instruments:

  • Fixed income investments (income funds, annuities, endowments).

These are lower-risk products that aren’t volatile, a sizable chunk of my portfolio would go to these funds so that my net worth won’t drop by 30% overnight.

  • REITS and Real Estate

REITS and Private Real Estate are popular tools for Singaporean investors to get income. However, these are typically more risky as compared to Fixed Income. Real estate in particular, involves leverage, which might amplify your losses in the event of a housing market crash.

  • Dividend Stocks/Funds

Blue chip companies that pay you a certain dividend every quarter. You either pick the companies yourself, or buy a fund that selects a company for you.

  • Mutual/Index Funds

Because I’m still youngish at 40 and not anywhere near expected life expectancy, I’ll still allocate some of my portfolio for growth. However, this would be a smaller portion of my portfolio.

At first glance, it certainly seems like enough. Wakayama is in rural Japan, not Tokyo, so the cost of living shouldn’t be that high. However, I soon realised that I would want way more than this.

Here’s why:

BTW, here’s a calculation for other locales. The Singapore figure is for reference, so you can gauge how reasonable the math is.

Single (SGD $) Couple (SGD $)
Thailand 132,632 221,054
Malaysia 233,911 389,852
Japan 574,805 958,009
Singapore (For a foreigner migrating here) 785,592 1,309,320
New Zealand 882,907 1,471,511
Australia 1,002,595 1,670,991

Detailed calculations and sources here. Apply a 40% discount and you can get a rough estimate of how much you need to save as a single.

The high startup cost, socially and logistically

One thing I realised was that the numbers I first calculated were based on the average expenditure of locals already living in the locations. The last part of that sentence is really important.

Often, the (financial, social, mental) cost of uprooting yourself and settling into a new place goes underestimated. That’s the reason why expats get relocation packages – paid for by the company – to smoothen the process out.

In my case however, I’ll need to sponsor my own relocation package. The calculations above haven’t accounted for costs such as visa applications, temporary accommodations and delays.

Yet another factor is the time to build up a network of friends.

For example, if you move to Japan, you might be lonely if you don’t know anyone or don’t speak the language. You’ll need time and money to acquire these friends, learn Japanese, and start a hobby.

(Yes, making friends doesn’t need to be expensive, but it can also be challenging if you haven’t budgeted for that.)

Property can be more expensive due to restrictions

In Singapore, foreigners cannot buy HDBs, which are considerably cheaper than private property. Neither can they purchase landed property without permission from the authorities.

The same applies to some countries.

This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to afford the property, but it does mean you can’t get the more affordable properties locals have access to.

In my case, I’m lucky that Japan has no restrictions on foreigners buying property (mostly due to their aging/declining population and low demand for their homes).

However, in places such as Australia or Malaysia, you’ll face restrictions that make acquiring cheap property available to locals.

Because of this, it’s important not to base your calculations off how much a local would spend.

Of course, you should opt to rent the property instead of owning it, but then that would limit what you can actually do with the place.

Does the country even want you?!

So far, we’ve mostly talked about money, but there’s a big thing to consider: Residency (including permanent residency) and visas.

This is more of an issue with the countries with comparable quality of life with Singapore (ranked 25 in the world, according to Mercer).

You’d be naive to think they’d would anyhow let you into their borders long-term without helping them out. After all, countries have to justify letting foreigners in for the long term.

Simply put, to get something, you must give something

The things you give are usually either:

  • Skills to contribute to their workforce as a skilled migrant. No skills, no migration.
  • Jobs when you start a business there and hire locals. You run a business there and bring vitality to their economy.
  • You invest or spend enough money to contribute to their economy via an Investor Visa. This starts off at 5 million AUD for a 4-year-visa in Australia or 3 million NZD for New Zealand.
  • Be married to someone and produce babies

In my case, I suspect I’d have to apply for a Business Management Visa for my bike touring business. Getting this visa requires me to have:

  • At least JPY5,000,000 (about $S60,000 invested in the business)
  • One full-time employee of Japanese nationality
  • Enough income/salary to support myself

My original numbers only factored in the cost of having income to live independently in Japan. It didn’t factor in the risks and running costs of the businesses, as well as needing to pay someone’s salary full time.

Factoring in time and changing plans

Finally, another reason why you might want to prepare more money is simply that you’re trying to retire at a younger age.

There are two main implications here.

The first is your increased life expectancy – meaning you live longer. The calculations above are based on you living for 30 years, which accounts for you living till 70. But it might not be enough if you want to live to say, 100.

Secondly, we need to consider how things change. This might be my dream retirement when I’m 40. But would it be when I’m 50, 60, 70 or even 90? It’s hard to say.

In addition, unexpected things can happen that might bring about massive changes in circumstances.  Your partner might die, you might develop health issues, your family might need help back home. The list is endless.

Case in point: A close friend of mine migrated to Houston for work, but had her place rekt by Tropical Storm Imelda.

In the end, she had to move back home and put living overseas on hold. Apparently, horrific natural disasters (typhoons, earthquakes, bushfires) are a thing outside Singapore.

IMO, better to have options.

Where does that leave us?

Taking all those factors into account, this is my revised estimate.

  Single (SGD $) Couple (SGD $)
Thailand 314,145 523,740
Malaysia 338,427 564,460
Japan 1,147,943 1,913,428
Singapore (For a foreigner migrating here) 1,884,781 3,141,302
New Zealand 1,349,497 2,248,992
Australia 1,281,843 2,136,148

These are based on household income instead of expenditure: the idea is that you get to enjoy an average person’s income for the rest of your life, even without working.

The numbers are significantly higher, but they should provide you with a lot of flexibility, security and account for business risk.

The good news first:

If you are willing to make a few trade-offs for quality of life, early financial freedom is very possible if you move down from Singapore (ranked 25 by Mercer) towards Malaysia (85), Indonesia (142) or Thailand (133).

Based on our estimates, you can retire there within 10 years if you’re earning the median salary, with an extremely frugal lifestyle.

The (sorta) bad news:

If you’re thinking of countries with a better or similar quality of living (at least by Western standards), e.g. Australia (11) or New Zealand (3), then you’ll need a lot more money.

That said, if you feel like your dreams are shattered, we hope you take heart that there are multiple paths to living the dream overseas.

The path mentioned in this article is clearly the most expensive, but you can also opt to go there first with less money – but you’ll need to have valuable skills and be a useful migrant.

In this case, being young helps. The older you are, the less likely visas will be granted to you. It’ll also be harder to learn new languages, leave your responsibilities in Singapore behind, etc.

Finally, there’s always the option of staying in Singapore, and visiting these countries as a tourist/working holiday etc.

Our strong passport will allow for ease of travel between countries and you can live overseas for a considerable amount of time.

The one takeaway you should get from all of these? Whether you want financial freedom early in Singapore or elsewhere, you either have to live below your means or earn enough to justify your means.

After all, there are two ways to be rich: one is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.

Stay woke, salaryman

A message from our sponsor

This campaign is part of Franklin Templeton’s ‘F word’ campaign. Our ‘F word’ is clearly financial freedom – in the place of our choice. (but they have other ‘F words’ too)

Whether or not your dream retirement involves Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand or Australia, there’s one thing you’ll need if you want to make it happen: Money and stability.

And while 32% of young adults see making losses from investment as one of their investment challenges, staying invested over the long term will allow you to ride the highs and lows of the market and the likelihood of growing your money over time is higher.

Franklin Templeton is a global asset management company that offers a wide range of funds, ranging from fixed income to growth funds. You can visit their financial education page to get tips on how you meet your retirement goals, or check out their wide range of funds offered to help you get there and remember to refer to the important legal information on the website.

Franklin Templeton is also inviting people to share the following information on this Instagram post with the following information, accompanied by #MyFWord
• What is their dream retirement
• How much it’ll cost
• How they’re preparing for it
To incentivise ya’ll to share, TWS is giving away 3 x $40 Kinokuniya vouchers to 3 winners so that you can stock up on any books that you’ve been eyeing. Contest ends 29 August 2359.

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10 replies to “Why early financial freedom in another country isn’t as simple as you think

  1. I’ve looked into the detailed data that TWS has used for AU as I live here, the data is old.

    Bulk of the expenditure when you retire is housing and health. For housing, AU has continue to see a boom and there’s no sign of slow down. By the time retirement rolls around for most of us, it’ll be too expensive to rent or own a house.

    1. The initial estimate, based on the 4% (4.5%) rule is based on a 30-year retirement. The revised estimates take into account your increased lifespan and shorter working duration. This would be closer to what you’d need to retire in perpetuity.

  2. One thing that should also be considered is the quality of healthcare. If, heaven forbid, you get into an accident or develop an infection/illness — how quickly and efficiently can you get treated? Does the country have national health insurance, or will you have to fork out hundreds or thousands of dollars to get treatment? Should another pandemic arise, will there be hospital beds for you if you get ill — even if you have the money?

    1. Yea, was going to say the exact same thing — you made a good point about the pandemic. Another two factors to consider is that:

      1) the cheaper, rural areas usually means less accessible healthcare (Singapore is so small, we may never realise this rural/urban distinction) and

      2) healthcare system is not just about the hospitals, it’s also the primary care and emergency services. A distant relative had aa heart attack in another country while in a car; a friend drove him to the nearest clinic but no one there could perform CPR on him and they were asked to go to the nearest hospital (which being foreigners they had trouble finding).

  3. The only downside we have here is that Singapore doesn’t have suburban area (Yishun maybe?). Actually, if you want to retire early or make your retirement plan easier as the article stated: desire less. Cap your life expectancy, e.g. up to 75 years old. Older than that we tend to have serious health crisis and lower quality of life. Also, consider having no child to support.

  4. Life can be that simple. No need to be so complicated. Minimalism is the way for one. However, some may not like it. It is entirely up to each individual. No right or wrong preferences.

    WTK

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