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I'm a naturalized US citizen.

When I lived in the UK, as a British citizen, I amassed a small pension pot (about 50,000GBP).

Is there any way to get that money transferred to the US (into another pension), without losing a large portion of it to the UK government?

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer nor financial adviser. This is neither type of advice.

In theory it is possible, though there appear to be hurdles where the USA is the target country. According to Transferring to an overseas pension scheme on the HMRC website:

The overseas scheme you want to transfer your pension savings to must be a ‘qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme’ (QROPS). It’s up to you to check this with the overseas scheme or your UK pension provider or adviser.

If it’s not a QROPS scheme, your UK pension scheme may refuse to make the transfer, or you’ll have to pay at least 40% tax on the transfer.

Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme on Wikipedia says:

The critical issue in deciding how a QROPS is taxed internally on funds, and on payout, would be the double tax treaty between the country of residence of the beneficial owner (the pensioner or beneficiary) and the jurisdiction where the pension is based. Taxation can be affected by whether the country of residence of the beneficial owner recognises trusts or contract based pensions.

But further down that page, under Concerns about QROPS transfers for US residents it notes, among other concerns:

There have been increasing concerns about using QROPS for residents of the USA since 2013. Several IRS enquiries have led to many US accountants, as well as UK / US pension experts, ruling such transfers out. It has also led to the receiving QROPS trustees asking beneficial owners (the pension holders) resident in the USA to sign waivers absolving the QROPS trustees of all liability, as the transfer of UK pensions to third-party countries like Malta, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man are not considered as eligible rollover distributions. The IRS has made it clear that such transfers could be taxable.

The HMRC page Check the recognised overseas pension schemes notification list, as of the 1st November 2018 update only lists two entries, but note, the lists consists of:

[...] pension schemes that have told HMRC that they meet the conditions to be a ROPS and have asked to be included on the list.

so there may be other schemes that qualify but have not asked HMRC to be included on that list.


In short, it may be possible, but the USA as a target destination appears problematic. As it says on the HMRC page:

HMRC cannot guarantee these are ROPS or that any transfers to them will be free of UK tax. It’s your responsibility to find out if you have to pay tax on any transfer of pension savings.

and

You should seek suitable professional advice, including from a regulated financial adviser.

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Under the new pension freedoms you can draw the capital out of your pension,so an option may be to draw it quickly (after you reach retirement age e.g 55) then reinvest in your USA fund.

There is also the 25% tax free lump sum, which you could draw and reinvest

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There does appear to be a lot of confusion over what can be done with a UK pension, both Personal Pensions and Occupational Pensions if somebody lives in the USA. This answer will apply to both US citizens as well as British Expats residing in the USA.

A few years ago there were several listed QROPS in the USA and it was possible (though not always advisable) to transfer UK pensions to these US based QROPS. However, it became apparent that the local rules in the USA clashed with those required by HMRC to qualify as a QROPS and all of the schemes were withdrawn as there was now the possibility for a 55% unauthorised member payment charged to be levied on any transfer from a UK scheme to a US scheme. Additionally, it is also correct that local non QROPS IRA´s and 401K´s will not allow transfers into them (and this would trigger the aforementioned UMPC in the UK anyway).

Since March 9th 2017 the UK government introduced the Overseas Transfer Charge which levies a 25% charge on transfers from UK pensions into an overseas scheme where the member does not live in the country where the scheme resides, unless that member and scheme are in the EEA. This then means that the use of a Malta QROPS for a US resident is effectively closed too anyway.

That leaves the choices for a US resident limited but not necessarily bad. Any UK pensions would need to be transferred to another UK scheme, ideally an International SIPP (the same as a regular SIPP but one which allows non UK residents as members) and there are some which cater for US residents. Amongst other things this means that the underlying investments should be US compliant (which normally means cheaper too). These International SIPPS can be treated in a very similar manner to an IRA, benefits can be drawn in a flexible manner from the age of 55 and can often be paid gross so you only have to worry about local US taxes and not UK taxes. These schemes will tend to give currency freedom so you can invest in both USD and GBP and have benefits paid in both. Benefits can be paid to a local US bank account too, which many UK schemes struggle with. You will need to use a Financial Advisor to make any transfers as typically the providers will not deal with the public and if the existing pension has certain guarantees then a full pension transfer report, called an APTA, will need to be provided too before any transfer can take place. Consolidating multiple pensions into a US compliant UK based International SIPP can often be a wise move and give back control that many people feel they lose when they no longer reside in the UK as it is near impossible to find a UK advisory firm that can deal with US residents. As outlined above there are often many other tangible benefits too.

Bottom line is, if you live in the US and have UK personal or Occupational (company) pensions then make sure you deal with a US based and regulated advisory firm that specialises in this field. They should also be able to give advice on the tax implications in both the UK and the US on income drawn, the lump sum and any other potentially taxable events. There aren´t that many advisors in the US who can do this but they do exist and more often that not you will find you can have an initial, exploratory conversation with an advisor for free and establish where any issues are, how to resolve them and the costs involved. I work for such a firm , based in New York (but we have clients all over the USA) called Atlantica Wealth but we aren´t the only form that specialises in this area. I hope this helps.

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