How to invest in ETFs location-independently

Hi there,

As it happens, I bought ETFs with Trade Republic while registered in Germany (I’m a German citizen). I decided to quit my job, and go digital nomad for time indefinite with my (American) girlfriend.

Germany required me to unregister while away. That prompted Trade Republic to cancel my account (I have to sell the shares).

No big deal, since I’ve only been doing it for 6 months - but I don’t want that to happen again for obvious reasons.

Is there a broker that lets me invest in ETFs location-independently, with zero risk of them cancelling me (makes little sense to invest in a low-risk portfolio with the risk of cancellation after a few years)? Any tipps & tricks?

I have no experience with Germany and that does sound a bit strange that they would make you de-register if you told them you were going on holiday. (Albeit, a long one).
One alternative - next time don’t tell them. Just maintain your accounts in Germany and if necessary use an address of a friend or family member.
In Bermuda, where I live, location isn’t really an issue with only a few exceptions. You will however need a connection to Bermuda in order to set the account up initially so that might rule out that option.
An alternative would be to set up a wholly owned company to invest eg set up a company in Bulgaria or Panama to open the investment account and buy and sell in the company name. It’s an increase in costs to maintain the company but the company’s location never changes.

I’ve always found the “don’t ask; don’t tell” approach works. Set up your investment account and banking details first. Go travelling and don’t tell them. After all, you’re just going on a short vacation - that just keeps getting extended. I find that once set up, they rarely ask for updated information unless you ask them to do something new.

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Thanks!

In Germany, the law changed in 2015 (Bundesmeldegesetz) and deliberately tries to prohibit people from doing that.

Most likely, the don’t ask don’t tell approach would work anyway - but I don’t want the (small) risk of adverse effects due to breaking the law in Germany.

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To answer your initial question, Interactive Brokers should be a safe bet. They offer accounts to residents of most countries.

Financially it may not make sense to use IB unless you deposit $100,000 or invest a significant amount per month (several thousand Euros), due to their minimum commission of $10 per month for accounts with less than $100,000 worth of assets.

If your investments amount to less than that consider a low-cost EU based broker outside of Germany. While they may require you to be EU resident on paper, at least they won’t automatically cancel your accounts when you deregister from the country.

Examples could be Degiro or Trading 212.

You may also want to check that the broker you choose will allow you to transfer your holdings to another broker instead of needing to sell in case you ever need to close the account. This can come in handy if you ever need to close the brokerage account at a time where it would not be beneficial from a tax perspective to realize all your capital gains.

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Hi Niklas!

I was just wondering how you proceeded after Trade Republic. I had heard good stuff about them but didn’t know I had to be registered as living in Germany. I just heard about Sofi Invest which seems to me is similar to Trade Republic but I must say I still feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities, taxes, currencies, etc.

I’ve just had a look at Hanna’s new article “The World’s Best Low-Cost Online Brokers”. There are two points that are not discussed:

  1. SIPC protection. Which brokers offer it, to which clients and covering which assets? Interactive Brokers used to offer it to clients resident worldwide, but a few years ago they moved the Hong Kong clients like myself to their Hong kong-registered subsidiary, and the USD 500,000 SIPC account protection was replaced by HK’s Investor Compensation Fund, managed by Investor Compensation Company Limited (a subsidiary of the local Securities and Futures Commission) only protecting up to HKD 150,000 (i.e. USD 19,230, 26 times less than SIPC!). On the other hand, I need a broker able to deal with Ireland-registered ETF’s, to avoid US inheritance tax and reduce the dividend tax witholding from 30% to 15%.

  2. Custodian fees: if I’m not wrong some European brokers such as Saxo charge them, but this, and in which measure, is not detailed in the article.

Otherwise, a very useful report: thanks Hanna!