There are currently around 207,000 British retirees living in Europe, with many more spread out across the rest of the world.
Some of them will be back in places they know well. Maybe they have dual citizenship, or have moved back to the country they grew up in. They’ll return to a lifestyle they know and love. Others will be enjoying new experiences, from the joys of exploring another culture’s food and drink, to the mental workout of learning a new language.
But retiring abroad needs a fair bit of advance planning. You’ll have to think about everything, from getting the right visas to setting up a local bank account. Making sure you can get your pension if you live abroad will be a key part of that.
So we’re going to talk you through how to claim your UK pension from abroad - including how to access your pension abroad after Brexit.
Can I claim my pension if I leave the UK?
That’s quite a broad question. It can cover:
- your State Pension
- any defined contribution pensions you have
- any final salary pensions you have
- any other payments you’re getting
- the tax impact of moving abroad.
What happens to my State Pension if I move abroad?
You can keep claiming your UK State Pension overseas. But it might not increase every year as it would in the UK. You’ll only get any annual increases if you live in:
- any European Economic Area country or Switzerland; or
- any other country that’s agreed to pass on cost-of-living increases to the State Pension.
You can find a full list of countries that pay an annual increase in the State Pension on the GOV.UK website .
Claiming your State Pension from abroad
The government can pay your State Pension into:
- a bank account in the country you live in; or
- a bank or building society account back in the UK.
You’ll need to contact the International Pension Centre to move your State Pension abroad. Also, if you’re getting Pension Credit, it’ll stop if you move abroad permanently. If you're moving abroad to receive medical treatment, you may still be able to receive this benefit for up to 26 weeks. It can be claimed again if you return to the UK. You can find out more on the gov.uk website.
If you retire abroad before you reach State Pension age, you might be able to make voluntary National Insurance contributions (if you haven’t paid enough years to qualify for the full pension amount). And if you do paid work abroad, you might have to pay them! That will depend on where and for how long you’re working. Find out more on the government’s National Insurance if you work abroad page.
If you only spend part of the year abroad, you’ll have to decide which country you want to be paid in. You can’t get part of your State Pension in one country and part of it in another.
And when you’re working out how much you’ll be paid, don’t forget to keep an eye on currency exchange rates. They can make a big difference to the value of your UK State Pension if you live abroad.
Taking money out of your pension from abroad
You may wish to transfer your UK pension abroad or just leave it in the UK. If you decide to leave your pension savings invested in the UK, providers can either:
- pay pension income into your UK bank account; or
- pay it into a bank account in your new country.
Both choices can create issues. You might not be able to keep your UK bank account if you move abroad. And not all pension providers will send money to a non-UK bank account. Those that do, might charge you for it. We recommend talking through your plans with your bank and pension provider, to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
If you want to transfer your savings into a new, non-UK pension, you’ll need to find one that’s classed as a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme, or QROPS. Making that sort of transfer can be quite a complex process, so it’s best to speak to a financial adviser about it.
Claiming other payments from abroad
You might have money coming in from an annuity, property or financial investments. As always, once the money’s reached your UK bank account, you can just move it abroad. Some providers of some types of product might be able to pay directly into a foreign bank account – you’ll have to check with each of them to see.
The tax impact of claiming from abroad
When you move abroad, you’ll probably become a non-UK resident for tax purposes. But if your pension stays in the UK, the government will tax it as UK income. If your new home country doesn’t have a double-taxation agreement with the UK, you will also have to pay tax on it there. If they do have a double-taxation agreement, you'll still need to declare the income, even if you don't need to pay tax on it. The GOV.UK Tax on your UK income if you live abroad page has a lot of very helpful information. It lists all the countries the UK has double-taxation agreements with, and links to details of how to claim tax relief from each of them.
I’m leaving the UK – can I get a refund of my pension contributions?
You can’t obtain a refund of your contributions unless you:
- have recently opened the pension and made a contribution in the last 30 days
- have a Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme, and have been a member for less than two years, or
- have contributed more to your pension than your UK earnings
It’s best to check with your pension provider to see if you’re eligible for a refund.
Generally you have to wait until you’re 55 (increasing to 57 from April 2028) before you can access your workplace or private pension and it will remain invested until then. It’s important to remember that it’s likely your pension will still be subject to the deduction of an annual management fee. You can learn more in our article on pension fees and charges.
Can I still access my pension abroad after Brexit?
Yes, you can still access British pensions abroad after Brexit.
As long as you qualify for the UK State Pension, you’ll still receive it even if you move abroad when you retire – and you can still access any workplace or private pensions you have.
If you’re an EU national who’s built up a pension in the UK, you’ll still be able to access it or move it to the country of your choice.
We’ve covered the pension basics in this article. But that’s only a small part of the planning you’ll need to do. As a starting point, it’s also worth thinking through:
- what your healthcare needs could be, how you’ll meet them in your new home, and whether you’ll need to put money aside to cover them
- writing a new will (or updating your old one) to make sure it covers any changes resulting from your move and is legally binding in your new home
- making sure you’ve taken possible currency ups and downs into account – they can make a big difference to the actual value of your pension payments.
It’s a good idea to seek guidance before you make any decisions about your pension. You can book an appointment with Pension Wise, a government service from MoneyHelper, which offers free impartial guidance to help you understand your money better. You might prefer to speak to a financial adviser. If you’re not sure where to find one, try the Unbiased website.
If you want to find out how that kind of planning looks in practice, check out Tina’s story. She was so keen to retire abroad, that she started planning more than 20 years in advance! So if anyone knows how to cover all the bases, she does.
And if you’re not quite ready for an international move, why not take a look at some of the UK’s best retirement locations instead?