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What are today’s options for expatriates in Malta with UK pensions and what do you need to think about to ensure financial security in retirement as Brexit approaches?

Pensions are often the key to long-term financial security, so it is crucial to take extreme care when deciding what to do here. Expatriates have the added complication of factoring in the tax rules of two countries, as well as the potential for Brexit to limit the range of opportunities. 

So what are today’s options for Britons living in Malta?

Defined contribution’ or ‘money purchase’ pensions

This category includes most personal and employer pensions and Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs). Here, what you are entitled to depends on how much you have paid into the scheme alongside employer contributions, tax rebates and investment growth. 

Since the pension freedoms of 2015, members of defined contribution schemes can usually do the following from age 55: 

  • Take the whole fund as cash, technically called the ‘Pension Commencement Lump Sum’ (PCLS) – 25% will be tax-free in the UK.
  • Make cash withdrawals when you want – a quarter is free of UK tax each time (unless you have already taken the PCLS).   
  • Take regular income through ‘flexible drawdown’, leaving the remainder invested. 
  • Take a secure, regular income for life through an ‘annuity’.


As UK pension payments are usually paid in sterling, conversion fees and variable exchange rates can reduce the value of pension income for retirees living in Malta. 

Expatriates have the option to transfer UK pension funds to an EU-based Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) tax-free. QROPS advantages include the flexibility to pass pension benefits to chosen heirs, take income in euros or sterling and more investment choice. Once in a QROPS, funds are protected from future UK taxation, including lifetime allowance penalties

However, QROPS benefits and rules vary significantly between providers and jurisdictions. Also, a 25% UK tax charge applies on transfers to QROPS outside the EEA (European Economic Area). Many believe the UK government may tax EU/EEA transfers after Brexit, so if you are considering transferring, act sooner rather than later to avoid unnecessary taxation. First, make sure you take specialist advice to establish if transferring is suitable for you and navigate the complex options. 

See the pros and cons of transferring to a QROPS


‘Defined benefit’ or ‘final salary’ pensions

Here, your employer guarantees a proportion of your salary for the whole of retirement. While you cannot usually withdraw cash from this type of pension, you can transfer it to a defined contribution scheme or QROPS. Traditionally, this has been considered less beneficial than drawing a guaranteed pension for life. However, some providers have been offering higher than usual ‘transfer values’ to reduce their future pension liabilities, sometimes representing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Sensibly reinvested, a high one-off sum could potentially provide a retirement income that exceeds the original annual payment, but it is crucial to fully understand the consequences before giving up lifetime benefits.

See more about transferring final salary pensions


Making your pensions last

Having the freedom to withdraw or transfer your pension does not mean that you should; you may be better off taking no action at this time. If you choose to take some or all of your benefits as cash, make sure you have a reliable plan to fund your long-term future that matches your personal circumstances and future goals. 

Read our article 'Can you afford the cost of living longer?'

Beware that pension scams have never been more widespread and sophisticated – generally, if an investment sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure any company you are dealing with regarding pension services is regulated with the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Remember: unprotected investments risk losing your money, with no compensation if things go wrong.

See more about pension scams and unregulated investments

Even amongst regulated providers, check for quality. The FCA found that less than half of those transferring final salary pensions received suitable advice. Your adviser should take account of your needs, objectives, personal circumstances and risk appetite to find the best solution for you and your family. Getting it wrong could have serious and unexpected consequences. 

While you should not rush pension decisions, take care to explore your options now – before Brexit potentially changes the landscape – to establish your best approach for a prosperous retirement in Malta. 

Contact us for a pensions planning review

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.