What you need to know about investing in ETFs from a specific country?

You can find a lot of information online about how to invest in index funds in general. An example of that is my “step by step guide to investing”.

Yet, sometimes you need specific knowledge about aspects of investing in your own country. How should you go about finding that information?

Successfully finding that information requires having a clear research process. In this post I will share the process I use.

The process I use has 3 steps:

  • Determine which information you need
  • Find the information you need
  • Document the collected information

Determine which information you need

The Internet can give you answers to many things. But first you need to know which questions to ask. You can’t reach your destination if you don’t know where you want to go. Therefore, the first step is to have a clear idea of all the information you need in order to properly handle your investments.

Below is a list of things about a country I find important to know when investing. I have used this list to gather information about the countries in which I have lived. I think these questions apply to other countries as well.

Taxes

  • How do dividends taxes work?

What is the tax rate? Is the rate fixed or progressive? How is the tax amount to be paid calculated? Are there any exemptions?
Do taxes vary depending on the type of fund (accumulating vs. distributing or bonds vs. equity, etc)?

  • How do capital gains taxes work?

What is the tax rate? Is the rate fixed or progressive? Are there any exemptions?
Can you use your capital losses to reduce your taxes in following fiscal years? How does that work? Which taxes do they reduce?
Do you pay capital gains taxes even if you don’t sell your shares?
Do taxes vary depending on the type of fund (accumulating vs. distributing or bonds vs. equity, etc)?

  • When and how are taxes submitted?

Are taxes submitted online?
Is it mandatory to submit a tax declaration every year? In which circumstances are you required to submit it? Are you required to submit a declaration for all brokers or only for some?

  • What is the fiscal year?

Is it January 1st to December 31st? or some other date range?

  • When are taxes paid?

Are taxes withheld at the broker or paid when the declaration is submitted?What details are needed when submitting taxes in regards to investment?
You need to understand the practical details of submitting taxes. How do the tax forms look? Which tax forms you need to fill? Are there special forms for funds/ETFs? Which information they need to be filled with?

It is worth imagining how would you fill the forms under some hypothetical scenarios. How would you fill the form if you only had dividends in a year? How would you fill it if you had capital gains? How would you fill it if you had capital losses?

  • Is there a tax free allowance for capital gains? What are its terms?

Some countries have a tax free allowance. Capital gains within that allowance are not charged.

  • Are accumulating funds’ virtual dividends taxed?

You need to understand this in order to assess if accumulating funds are more advantageous than distributing funds from a taxes point of view.

Brokers

What are the costs of each broker? Do local brokers provide an advantage from a tax point of view?
Are there special products local brokers offer that allow you to cheaply invest in index funds/ETFs? What are the costs?

Investment wrappers with tax advantages

  • What are the investment wrappers with tax advantages?

What is the local equivalent of the 401(k)?
What are their benefits? What are its costs? What are its limitations?
Can you invest in index funds through them?

Fund Domiciles

  • What is the most appropriate domicile locally?

It likely is Ireland and Luxembourg. But some countries have funds domiciled locally which may be more tax efficient.

  • Domicile choices regarding US

is there an estate tax treaty? Is there a dividend tax treaty? Do you have access to funds domiciled in the US? Is the US the most appropriate fund domicile?
This is related to the Bogleheads guide to navigating US tax traps.

Many European investors will served well by funds domiciled in Europe. But it is worth understanding the US domicile choice for the sake of completeness.

Index funds

  • Are there index mutual fund providers? Which ones? How do their fees compare to ETFs?

Find the information you need

The list of information you need works like a todo list or a checklist. It is your guiding-light and helps you know if you have reached your destination.

Now that you know which information you need, you need to find it.

To find the information I recommend primarily using Google. You will have to search in your local language. The official information is always in the local language. The best articles are often in the local language. Occasionally, you may find good guides in a foreign language (e.g. English) if there is a large amount of expats living in your country.

I usually start by searching for something general like “how to invest from ?”, “taxes for ETFs in ?”, “taxes for investment in ?” . And then do more specific searches whenever I need more details of something.

Effective googling is an art. Effective googling requires guessing which words the articles you are looking for might have. As you google more and more for a topic you start getting familiar with the terms and that helps improve your searches.

The way I wrote the questions in the previous section may not directly translate to words that exist in the articles you are looking for. For example, you may have to search for “brokers in ” instead of “ How do local brokers compare to DeGiro and Interactive Brokers?”. Often you will be googling for the generic topic (e.g. taxes) and as you read articles you will have to make sure that you got all the information you needed from them.

You may not be familiar with the translation of some of the words in the “Determine which information you need” section to your local language. You may initially use Google Translate which will give you a rough translation. You can use that rough translation for your first searches. As you read more articles in your local language you will learn the appropriate local terms which you can use to improve your search queries.

Many countries have online publications for finance related topics. You want to pay special attention to those since they often have experts/editors/writers on staff which tend to research thoroughly. Blogs like this one also tend to be helpful because they often use a vocabulary that may be more relatable to the reader.

Alternatively you can also try finding information in Reddit. The subreddits r/eupersonalfinance and r/EuropeFIRE gather people from many European countries. In those subreddits you can start by searching for your country name (e.g. “Croatia”, “Romania”) and you will be able to see questions/answers that have been posted for your country. Often, you will find the information you need has already been shared in those previous topics. If you don’t find what you need, you may open a new post.

You can also find more specific information in personal finance subreddits dedicated to specific countries (e.g. r/Finanzen for Germany, r/financaspessoaispt for Portugal) . The Bogleheads forum also has a very helpful community.

Document the collected information

As you search for all this information it is important you take notes. Store everything you learn in a doc or a spreadsheet. Write notes using your own words and it will help you understand and remember the topics.

Taking notes will allow you to always have a place where you can quickly check information without having to search on the Internet again.

You can look at my article on investing from Portugal as an example of what your notes can cover:

  • Note that the article is longer than my personal notes would be because the article has to explain topics to a diverse audience. When writing your personal notes you can be significantly more succinct. You can include links to the articles that you liked.
  • You may also create a summary spreadsheet like this one. It is a nice way to condense information. I use it to compare brokers and to have information quickly accessible.