BY Margaux Buridant Vice President, Senior International Wealth Strategist, Bank of the West

Jul 13th 2020

International Perspectives

6 Things Expats Should Look for in a Financial Advisor

Jul 13th 2020

As an expat in the US, your global lifestyle is more exciting than most, spanning multiple languages, cultures, and traditions. But your financial picture is probably more complicated too, with accounts, retirement plans, and tax exposure in more than one country. Finding the right financial advisor can help you achieve your goals and provide valuable guidance during any challenging points in your financial journey.

  • For newcomers, an advisor can speed the process of opening bank accounts, qualifying for credit cards and loans, and guaranteeing income for housing applications.
  • For established residents, the right advisor can help you manage international accounts, develop a global estate plan, and navigate tax laws that can be especially tricky for non-US citizens.

Many financial professionals in the US have limited experience with international clients though, and they tend to be less attuned to global values, such as sustainability and impact, so make sure to look for these key traits when searching for an advisor.

6 Must-Have Qualities in a Financial Advisor

  1. Personal Connection

    Financial planning is about more than just money. It’s about the goals you value most, so it’s important to develop a relationship with someone you actually enjoy talking to. Ask yourself if your advisor understands where you’re coming from. If you’re feeling like the connection isn’t there, go with your instincts and move on.

  2. Education and Guidance

    What’s your advisor’s angle, pushing products or providing information? The US financial system is very different than many others. Make sure your advisor can understand your international perspective and clearly explain how things work in America. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure your advisor is offering personalized guidance so you can make informed decisions.

  3. Global Expertise

    Does your advisor understand your home country’s financial landscape as well as America’s? Can they advise you on the nuances of US and international wealth planning? Are they familiar with exit and estate taxes and strategies to mitigate them? It’s not enough to know where your country of origin is on the map; they need to know how your assets fit together and how to plan for a variety of scenarios in multiple countries. Also, if they can’t speak your native language, maybe they shouldn’t be your first choice.

  4. Access to US credit

    Sometimes advice isn’t enough—your advisor should be able to open doors, too. Can they help you get approved for US credit cards or auto and home loans, even if your US credit history is short or non-existent? Can they explain how to build your American credit score moving forward? When necessary, make sure your advisor can also be an advocate.

  5. Resources and Support

    Expat finances are often complex, so your advisor should be able to enlist and coordinate efforts between a CPA, estate planning attorney, and insurance specialist when appropriate—not only in the US but in your home country as well. When financial matters are at their most challenging, can your advisor give you the confidence that everything is under control?

  6. Impact and Sustainability

    There’s much more to the world than the US and more to investing than ticker symbols. Can your advisor help you craft a portfolio in line with your international background and personal values, investing in the places and causes you care about? Does their knowledge of international investments extend beyond off-the-rack mutual funds? And can they offer a full range of impact investments, allowing you to direct your wealth to create change? It’s your money, after all. You should have a say in where it goes and how it’s used. For that matter, your advisor should be able to tell you how their own institution is investing its funds.

Getting Started

One way to find a good financial advisor is through recommendations. Friends and colleagues in the expat community may be able to suggest someone they like. Just make sure to do your own research too, and go over the items on this list when you meet them.

Either way, there’s no substitute for a personal connection, so the first step should be a conversation. If you’d like to connect with a multilingual advisor from our dedicated international desk, we’d be happy to go over your needs and share our thoughts on how we can help you make the most of your expat experience in the US, from day 1 to wherever the future takes you.


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