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Individual Savings Accounts: What Happens to Them if You Move Abroad?

Most people in the UK are unaware of the details regarding what happens to their Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) if they move abroad.

Therefore, I intended to provide an extensive guide regarding ISAs and what happens to them if an individual moves abroad.

Like most articles, I won’t just conclude by describing what happens to your ISAs if you move abroad.

Instead, this is going to cover the comprehensive information regarding ISAs.

If you just want the information related to what happens to your ISAs if you move abroad, please jump to that section by navigating below.

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use these contact options.

ISA: What Does It Mean?

Now, let us get to the extensive details related to ‘ISA: what does it mean?’

ISA: What Does It Stand For?

ISAs stand for Individual Savings Accounts.

 In the tax year 2023 to 2024, you can save up to £20,000 via ISAs.

Types of ISAs

There are four types of ISAs namely: Cash ISAs, Stocks and Shares ISAs, Innovative Finance ISAs, and Lifetime ISAs.

Related Content:

The Lifetime ISA Explained

How Many ISAs Can I Have?

Note that you will only be allowed to put your money into a single type of ISA each tax year. Regardless of that, there is no particular answer to the question ‘How many ISAs can I have’?

In layman’s terms, the precise answer to the question ‘How many ISAs can I have?’, the answer is ‘As many as you want until you contribute to a single type of ISA and do not exceed the overall annual allowance.’

Let’s assume a cash ISA example for having better comprehension. Imagine you had a Halifax ISA this year, but you wanted to have a Santander ISA or Virgin ISA, so you must have to wait until next year.

Next year, you can keep your Halifax ISA while opting for a new Santander ISA or Virgin ISA. Alternatively, you can transfer your Halifax ISA to Santander ISA or Virgin ISA.

This is set to change from 6th April 2024, because from then onwards, you can have multiple ISAs of each type of ISA as long as you contribute within the annual allowance.

Who Is Eligible?

To be eligible for different types of ISAs, certain age requirements apply:

  • You need to be 16 or older to open a cash ISA.
  • For stocks and shares or innovative finance ISAs, you must be 18 or older.
  • If you’re between 18 and 40 years old, you can open a Lifetime ISA.

Additionally, you must meet one of the following residency criteria:

  • Reside in the UK.
  • Be a Crown servant (such as diplomatic or overseas civil service), or the spouse or civil partner of a Crown servant residing outside the UK.

It’s important to note that you cannot hold an ISA on behalf of someone else.

However, there is an option to open a Junior ISA for children under 18.

In situations where an individual lacks the mental capacity to open and manage an ISA, a close friend or relative can seek a financial deputyship order from the Court of Protection (COP) in the UK.

In Scotland, applications should be made to the Office of the Public Guardian.

In Northern Ireland, applications should be directed to the Office of Care and Protection.

How Do ISAs Work?

It is essential to get familiar with all the important details concerning ‘How do ISAs work.’

Income or capital gains from investments in an ISA, as well as interest on cash in an ISA, are not subject to tax.

If you file a tax return, you are not required to declare any ISA interest, income, or capital gains on it.

I often encountered the question ‘How many ISAs can I have?’ from various people who are interested in ISAs.

As I said, you can contribute money to one of each type of ISA each tax year, which runs from 6 April to 5 April. I even described an example above, which was illustrated through Halifax ISA, Santander ISA, and Virgin ISA.

The annual allowance is £20,000, and you can choose to invest the full amount in one type of account or spread it across multiple types.

For a Lifetime ISA, the maximum annual contribution is £4,000.

Examples of possible combinations within a tax year include saving £15,000 in a Cash ISA, £2,000 in a Stocks and Shares ISA, and £3,000 in an Innovative Finance ISA.

Alternatively, you could save £11,000 in a Cash ISA, £2,000 in a Stocks and Shares ISA, £3,000 in an Innovative Finance ISA, and £4,000 in a Lifetime ISA.

ISA accounts remain open beyond the tax year’s end, and your savings remain tax-free as long as they stay within the ISA accounts.

The eligible investments for each type of ISA are as follows:

Cash ISAs may include savings in bank and building society accounts and some National Savings and Investments products.

Stocks and Shares ISAs may include shares in companies, unit trusts, investment funds, corporate bonds, and government bonds.

Non-ISA shares cannot be transferred into an ISA unless they’re from an employee share scheme.

Lifetime ISAs may include cash or stocks and shares.

Innovative Finance ISAs cover peer-to-peer loans and crowdfunding debentures.

Existing peer-to-peer loans or crowdfunding debentures cannot be transferred into an Innovative Finance ISA.

For inquiries about ISA tax rules, you can contact the ISA Helpline.

Where Can You Open an ISA?

Any individual in the UK can open an ISA through the following sources:

  • Banks
  • Building societies
  • Credit unions
  • Friendly societies
  • Stockbrokers
  • Peer-to-peer lending services
  • Crowdfunding companies
  • Similar financial institutions

Contact any of these entities to have better clarity on how you can open an ISA through them.

Withdrawals

You have the flexibility to withdraw funds from an Individual Savings Account (ISA) at any time without losing the associated tax benefits.

It’s important to review the terms of your ISA to determine if there are any specific rules or charges associated with withdrawals.

However, there are distinct regulations regarding withdrawals from a Lifetime ISA.

If your ISA is categorized as ‘flexible,’ you can take out cash and re-deposit it within the same tax year without affecting your current year’s allowance.

Your ISA provider can provide information on whether your ISA is classified as flexible.

For instance, if your annual allowance is £20,000 and you contribute £10,000 to your ISA in the 2023 to 2024 tax year and later withdraw £3,000, the amount you can reinvest in the same tax year would be:

  • £13,000 in case your ISA is flexible (comprising the remaining allowance of £10,000 plus the £3,000 withdrawn)
  • £10,000 in case your ISA is not flexible (reflecting only the remaining allowance)
ISA transfers

ISA Transfers

You have the flexibility to transfer your Individual Savings Account (ISA) from one provider to another at any time.

This transfer option extends to both the same type of ISA and different types of ISAs.

When transferring funds invested in the current tax year, it’s necessary to transfer the entire amount.

For funds invested in previous years, you have the choice to transfer either all or a portion of your savings.

If you decide to transfer cash and assets from a Lifetime ISA to another ISA before reaching the age of 60, a withdrawal fee of 25% will be applicable.

There are some restrictions on what you can transfer, particularly when moving cash from an innovative finance ISA to another provider.

It’s essential to check with your provider for any limitations or charges they may impose on ISA transfers.

To initiate the transfer process, reach out to the ISA provider you intend to move to and complete an ISA transfer form.

Failure to follow this procedure means you won’t be able to reinvest that portion of your tax-free allowance.

ISA transfers typically have specific time frames:

  • 15 working days for transfers between cash ISAs
  • 30 calendar days for other types of transfers

For innovative finance ISA investments, inquire with your provider about the expected duration.

If your transfer takes longer than the specified timeframe, contact your ISA provider.

If you are dissatisfied with their response, you have the option to escalate the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Contact details for the Financial Ombudsman Service:

  • Telephone (for landlines): 0800 023 4567
  • Telephone (for mobiles): 0300 123 9123
  • Monday to Friday, 8 am to 8 pm
  • Saturday, 9 am to 1 pm

ISA: What Happens on Death?

Your Individual Savings Account (ISA) will be terminated under the following circumstances:

  • Your executor closes it.
  • The administration of your estate is concluded.

If neither of these events occurs, your ISA provider will close the ISA 3 years and 1 day after your death.

Until that date, no Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax is applicable.

However, for Inheritance Tax purposes, ISA investments will be considered part of your estate.

Regarding stocks and shares ISAs, you can instruct your ISA provider to either:

  • Sell the investments and transfer the proceeds to the administrator or beneficiary of your estate.
  • Transfer the investments to the ISA of your surviving spouse or civil partner.

This option is feasible only if they share the same ISA provider as you.

Be sure to review the terms and conditions of your ISA for specific details.

Inheritance From a Spouse or Civil Partner

In the event of the death of your spouse or civil partner, you have the opportunity to inherit their ISA allowance.

In addition to your regular ISA allowance, you can supplement it with a tax-free amount equivalent to either:

  • The value they had in their ISA at the time of their death.
  • The value of their ISA at the point of closure.

For specific information, reach out to your ISA provider or contact the provider managing your spouse or civil partner’s ISA.

If your spouse or civil partner passed away between December 3, 2014, and April 5, 2018, their ISA concluded on the date of their death.

The ISA investments are considered part of their estate for Inheritance Tax purposes. Instructions can be given to their ISA provider to sell the investments and either:

  • Transfer the proceeds to the administrator or beneficiary of their estate.
  • Directly transfer the investments to the designated recipient.

To take advantage of their ISA allowance, along with your regular allowance, and for further details, contact your ISA provider or the provider managing your spouse or civil partner’s ISA.

Now, we will have a look at the holy grail of today, which revolves around what happens to your ISA if you move abroad.

What Happens to ISA If I Move Abroad?

There is a common question among the people enthusiastic about ISAs, i.e., what happens to an ISA if I move abroad?

So, what happens if you move to another country?

If you decide to open an ISA in the UK and subsequently relocate to another country, there are specific regulations governing your contributions.

Once you move abroad, you are generally prohibited from making further contributions to your ISA beyond the tax year in which you departed.

However, exceptions exist for certain individuals, such as Crown employees working overseas or their spouses or civil partners.

One crucial aspect to note is the requirement to inform your ISA provider promptly when your residency status changes and you are no longer a UK resident.

This notification is essential to ensure compliance with ISA regulations.

Despite the restriction on additional contributions, you have the option to keep your ISA open even if you move abroad.

The advantage is that you will continue to receive UK tax relief on the funds and investments held within the ISA.

This continues to offer a potential benefit even in an international context.

Furthermore, if you decide to transfer your ISA to another provider, you can do so regardless of your residency status.

This flexibility allows you to manage your financial affairs in a way that aligns with your international circumstances.

In the event of a return to the UK and the resumption of UK residency, you regain the ability to contribute to your ISA, subject to the annual ISA allowance.

This allowance represents the maximum amount you can invest in your ISA within a given tax year while still enjoying tax benefits.

In layman’s terms, moving abroad may restrict your ability to contribute to your ISA.

However, the option to maintain and transfer the account, coupled with the potential for continued tax relief, underscores the flexibility of ISAs for individuals navigating international relocations.

Now that you’ve understood what happens to ISA if you move abroad, let us delve into further details.

Benefits of ISAs

One of the primary advantages of both cash ISAs and their investment-based counterparts is the exemption from income tax and capital gains tax on your returns.

While some savers are drawn to ISAs primarily for this tax advantage, there are additional potential benefits worth considering, including:

benefits of isas

Tax-free withdrawals

Withdrawals from both cash and investment ISAs can be made without incurring penalties (unless dealing with a fixed-rate account).

It’s important to note that making early withdrawals from a stocks and shares ISA is generally cautioned against by experts.

Wide investment choices

ISAs provide a diverse range of investment options.

For cautious savers, the cash ISA might be preferable, while those with a higher risk tolerance and investment expertise can explore:

  • Funds
  • Gilts
  • Bonds
  • Stocks and shares, among other choices

Transferability

ISAs are highly transferable, allowing you to switch from one provider to another to capitalize on better interest rates and deals.

Additionally, you have the flexibility to transfer funds between a cash-based ISA and a stocks and shares account, and vice versa.

No wrapper charges

ISAs typically do not entail additional charges, and the income earned is not considered for age-related personal allowances.

No age upper limits

ISAs have an advantage over some alternatives, like self-investment personal pensions (SIPPs), as there are no upper age limits.

Individuals aged 16 or above can open a cash ISA, and junior ISAs can be established on behalf of minors by a parent or guardian.

Inheritance

In the unfortunate event of your passing, ISAs often allow you to pass on your savings to your spouse through an ‘inherited ISA allowance.’

This one-time payment is equal in value to the amount saved in the account, in addition to the allowance.

These features collectively make ISAs a versatile and attractive financial instrument for a range of savers and investors.

Are There Any Disadvantages?

One significant drawback of cash ISAs is the potential for lower investment returns compared to accounts based on stocks and shares.

However, there are general drawbacks to consider as well.

Contribution limits

Both cash ISAs and investment ISAs have a maximum contribution limit of £20,000 for the current tax year (2019/20).

No tax relief

While returns in ISAs are tax-free, there is no tax relief on contributions, unlike alternative products such as SIPPs.

Irreversible withdrawals

Due to the annual contribution cap, withdrawn funds cannot be replenished into an ISA if it would exceed the limit.

Flexible ISAs, however, may have exceptions to this rule.

Non-carryover of allowance

Any unused portion of the annual allowance cannot be carried forward to the next year; it is forfeited.

No joint names

Unlike some alternative products like high-interest savings accounts, cash ISAs cannot be held jointly, and they cannot be placed into a trust.

Inheritance tax liabilities

While the ISA allowance can be inherited by beneficiaries in the event of the account holder’s death, there may be an inheritance tax obligation.

However, if the spouse is the beneficiary, this does not apply.

Safety

How secure Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) are depends on the specific type of ISA you have.

In the case of a cash ISA, the risk of capital loss is absent since the funds are not invested in assets carrying inherent risk.

Should the provider face collapse, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) offers coverage up to a maximum of £85,000.

Consequently, experts often recommend diversifying funds across multiple accounts for those with investments exceeding this amount.

On the other hand, stocks and shares ISAs entail a higher risk along with the potential for greater rewards, contingent on the investment choices.

Seeking advice from an independent financial advisor is crucial when dealing with stocks and shares ISAs due to the potential for capital loss.

An advisor can provide strategies to mitigate this risk.

This includes gradually allocating funds into your account and diversifying investments across various asset types.

While the first £50,000 invested in an investment ISA is protected in case of a provider’s insolvency, this safeguard does not extend to shield against underperforming assets.

individual savings accounts

How to Choose?

Choosing the best Individual Savings Account (ISA) depends on your financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment preferences.

There are several types of ISAs in the UK, each with its features and benefits.

For example, if you are looking for the best cash ISAs, you should primarily focus on lower risk and easy access.

When choosing an ISA, consider factors such as your investment goals, time horizon, risk tolerance, and the specific features of each type of ISA.

It’s often wise to consult with a financial advisor to ensure that your investment choices align with your overall financial plan.

Alternatives

Money Market Funds

A money market fund represents a low-risk investment vehicle that channels funds into short-term securities, including:

  • Cash deposits
  • Company and government bonds maturing in the upcoming months

These funds are particularly attractive to investors seeking a secure investment option capable of withstanding economic uncertainties.

Money market funds can be included within a stocks and shares ISA.

If you appreciate the tax advantages associated with a stocks and shares ISA but desire a lower-risk investment with swift returns, integrating a money market fund may present a favorable compromise.

This option is suitable if you seek a relatively low-risk investment with prompt returns.

(or)

If you wish to allocate your ISA allowance to stocks and shares while deferring long-term investment decisions.

Related Content:

Top 10 best market money mutual funds for expats

General Investment Account

You can opt for a general investment account (GIA), if:

You are eager to invest in stocks and shares but have utilized your £20,000 ISA allowance for the tax year.

(Or)

You have a preference for investing outside an ISA.

General investment accounts allow you to hold investments without the tax wrappers associated with ISAs and SIPPs.

While tax benefits are absent (resulting in income tax on returns and capital gains tax on sold investments), there is no limit on the amount you can invest.

This choice is suitable if you aim to invest in stocks and shares but have already committed £20,000 to an ISA or ISAs during the current tax year.

Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs)

A Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) is a pension type that empowers you to determine the investment destination for your funds.

Unlike conventional pensions offering a broad fund selection, a SIPP allows you to individually select companies to invest in, making it an appealing option for seasoned investors.

SIPPs also benefit from pension tax relief, where the government contributes to your SIPP with each contribution, within specific limits.

Explore the mechanics in our article on How pension tax relief works.

Similar to ISAs, SIPPs have an Annual Allowance, limiting contributions per tax year.

However, this allowance is notably higher than that of an ISA, presently set at £60,000 for the 2023/24 tax year.

Keep in mind that, unlike ISAs, access to pension savings is restricted until you reach the age of 55 (anticipated to rise to 57 by 2028).

Learn more about SIPPs and assess their suitability for you in our comprehensive guide Everything you need to know about SIPPs.

This option is beneficial if you intend to accumulate retirement savings while making independent investment decisions, appreciating a more substantial allowance than what ISAs provide.

Related Content:

UK SIPP for US citizens

Bottom Line

I strongly hope that the information in this article helped evaluate ISAs and understand what happens if you move to another country.

That being said, if you are seeking the best-in-class expat financial advice or expat financial planning services, you are in the right place.

I have assisted several clients in achieving financial independence through expat financial services such as:

  • Expat financial advice
  • Expat financial planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Investment management
  • Investment advice

Feel free to reach out to determine whether or not you can benefit from the tailored investment solutions I offer.

Pained by financial indecision? Want to invest with Adam?

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 735.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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