Investing Overseas – Australians Are Isolated

2 July 2021
Despite the easier access to international markets these days, Australians are still hesitant to invest overseas.

Only 15% of Australian shareholders own international shares, according to an ASX investor study from 2020. Of that 15%, a significant portion could be held as the result of overseas companies buying Australian businesses. As a whole, Australian investors are very domestically focused, isolated from foreign markets.

Advantages of investing in overseas markets

While investing locally can be advantageous due to a better understanding of the markets, it does leave investors at the mercy of local financial cycles. One of the potential benefits of investing overseas is that you can gain exposure to markets with different economic forces. That is, by investing in a spread of different countries, when some regions are experiencing a downturn, others may be seeing growth, thus potentially smoothing your returns.

How to invest in overseas markets

As with investing in Australia, there are two main ways of investing overseas – directly and indirectly.

Direct investment

Direct investment is where you purchase an asset under your own names, such as shares or a property. The only difference is that the asset is located in another country.

While this gives you the freedom and control to manage your investments as you wish, it can also come with some drawbacks. When you invest directly in another country, you need to be aware of the regulations and taxes that apply in both the country you’re investing in and in Australia when you collect your returns. Foreign countries can have very different legal systems than Australia, which can cause you trouble if you don’t research the differences first.

Indirect investment

Indirect investment is where you buy an asset through another party. Examples of indirect investment are managed funds or purchasing shares in an Australian company with overseas exposure.

This is an easier way of gaining foreign exposure, although you lose control of picking and choosing your investments directly. Indirect investment can also be more expensive, due to management fees, but the ease and peace of mind can be worth the extra cost.

International investing with ETFs

Exchange traded funds are one way to enter foreign markets while still trading on the ASX. With a single ETF, you can invest in shares around the world, or just in developed or emerging markets or even ethical investment outside of Australia. There is a multitude of ETFs to choose from that can help you broaden your investments and diversify your portfolio.

The table below displays some of the International Broad Based ETFs available on Canstar’s database with the highest three-year returns (sorted highest to lowest by three-year returns and then alphabetically by provider name). Use Canstar’s ETF comparison selector to view a wider range of products. Canstar may earn a fee for referrals.

Disadvantages of international investment

Like all investments, investing overseas carries risk. However, due to the unique nature of overseas investment, there are some additional risks to be cautious of.

Different rules

Rules and regulations in other countries do not always match those in Australia. This can lead to differences in how and when investments are processed, leading to longer delays in buying and selling assets.

There may also be differences in the type of information companies are required to provide to investors, resulting in less or different information than you can expect in Australia.

Added costs

Investing overseas can also come with additional costs, from currency conversions, foreign levies and taxes, and other transaction fees. There is also a risk of currency fluctuations negatively affecting your return, though this can also swing the other way.

It’s also important to remember that income from your overseas investments is still subject to taxation in Australia, though you may be able to obtain a tax offset if you have already paid tax in the foreign country. The ATO’s website has more information on this.

Economic and political threats

Another, harder to quantify risk in overseas investments, are changes in the economy or politics of a foreign country. Major changes in a country can occasionally occur without warning and can be difficult to navigate particularly if you don’t speak the language. Trends and changes in foreign countries, that would be well reported on if they were taking place in Australia, may not be as well covered by Australian media.

If you’re comparing online share trading companies, the comparison table below displays some of the companies available on Canstar’s database with links to providers’ websites. The information displayed is based on an average of six trades per month. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical). Use Canstar’s Online Share Trading comparison selector to view a wider range of online share trading companies.

A world of investment options

Investing overseas is not without its risks. Nevertheless, for those prepared to do the due diligence, it can provide access to different market which will diversify your portfolio and potentially enhance or smooth your returns. In an increasingly interconnected world, investing internationally can provide you with more options and more control over your money.

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