best places to retire with a UN pension

UN Pension: Best places to retire with tax-exemption [2024]

Retiring solely on a UN pension in Switzerland may not be enough for many people. Once we retire, we have to start paying taxes on the monthly pension in Switzerland plus an annual wealth tax on our global assets. In this blog post, we’ll explore where to retire for the most out of your pension. If you still have many years before retirement, then check out my other posts on saving more money before retirement, whether is it possible to be a millionaire on a UN salary, and how to estimate your UN pension at the time of retirement. Remember it is never too early to start thinking and planning for retirement!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current tax laws or regulations. It is not intended as legal, tax, or financial advice. Please consult with a qualified tax advisor or the relevant tax authorities in your country of residence for personalized advice and the most up-to-date information. The accuracy and completeness of the information are not guaranteed, and the author assumes no liability for any errors or omissions.

What to Consider for Retirement

When planning for retirement, especially with a UN pension in hand, envisioning a place that ticks all the boxes for a fulfilling and worry-free life is key. As we venture into this exploration, let’s consider the essential criteria that make a destination not just liveable but lovable for retirees.

  • Tax-Free for UN Pension: Maximizing your pension is crucial. Countries that offer favourable tax conditions for UN pensions can significantly impact your financial freedom. This means more of your pension goes towards enjoying life and less towards taxes.
  • Healthcare: Your well-being comes first. Look for places with excellent healthcare—affordable, comprehensive services, ensuring you’re always in top shape.
  • English usage or your mother tongue: Ease into daily life where English or your mother tongue is common. It simplifies everything from shopping to healthcare, making you feel at home.
  • Safety: Choose a safe, welcoming community. It’s about living carefree, with neighbours who look out for each other.
  • Public Transport: Good transport means freedom. It lets you explore and stay connected without driving.
  • Affordability: Make your pension count in a place where living costs are low, enhancing your lifestyle and leisure.
  • Expat Friendly: Embrace a community that welcomes expats, where you can easily make friends and start anew.

Checklist of Questions for Retirement Planning

When planning your retirement with a UN pension, start with a simple checklist. Think about living costs, healthcare, the weather, safety, if you’ll understand the language, what the food is like, if people are happy, how locals feel about foreigners, your living standards, and taxes on your pension. This list helps you make smart choices for a happy retirement.

  • Cost of Living: How far can my UN pension stretch, and what quality of life will it afford me in my retirement?
  • Healthcare: Is the healthcare system in the country of high quality, offering reliable and affordable medical services?
  • Climate: Considering my comfort with temperature and humidity, will the climate in this country suit me throughout the year?
  • Security: Can I expect to feel secure and safe while exploring neighbourhoods and the local surroundings, even after dark?
  • Language: How widely is English or your mother tongue understood here? Will I be able to communicate effectively with the locals in everyday situations?
  • Food: Does the local cuisine align with my dietary preferences and tastes? Will I have access to a variety of foods that I enjoy?
  • Happiness Index: What is the general mood of the population? Do people tend to lead happy, content lives, or is there a noticeable level of stress?
  • Friendliness: How welcoming are the locals towards expatriates and foreigners? Is there a strong sense of community and openness?
  • Standard of Living: Considering the cost of necessities and luxuries, will the standard of living here be comfortably within my financial means?
  • Natural Disasters: Are there any natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, or wildfires in the country?
  • Tax on UN Pension: Is my UN pension subject to local taxes, or will I benefit from tax exemptions that increase my disposable income?

Tax on UN Pension

While working in the United Nations and its affiliated international organisations, your salary is not taxed (but there is “staff assessment”, see below). However, it is completely different after we leave or retire from the UN. Your UN pension can be taxed depending on where you live!

taxes on UN pension

It is an amount deducted from all UN staff members’ gross pay according to the UN Staff Regulations and Rules, regardless of their nationality. As staff assessment is not a withholding tax, it cannot be reimbursed to staff members under any circumstances and it cannot be claimed as a deduction on United States income tax returns.
Staff assessment deductions are credited to the Tax Equalization Fund. Those Member States that do not impose income tax on the UN earnings receive a portion of the Tax Equalization Fund as an offset against their assessments for the UN regular budget, peacekeeping and tribunal budgets. When staff members have to pay national income taxes on their UN earnings, they are reimbursed from the Tax Equalization Fund irrespective of the total amount of staff assessment deducted from their salaries.

UN.org

According to UNJSPF (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund), each country determines, based on its own relevant national tax legislation and policies what UNJSPF pensions are subject to national taxation.

In short, your UN pension would be subject to tax depending on your country of residence.

However, there are countries that grant tax exemption for UN pensions paid as a lump sum or as a monthly income.

Best Places to Retire for Tax-free on UN Pension

Unfortunately, there is no official list of countries that give tax relief to UN pensions. Also, you should do your research before moving halfway across the world.

Based on Wikipedia, here is the list of countries with tax exemption for UN pensions: Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dom. Republic, Fiji, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Philippines, Peru, Qatar, Samoa, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, UAE, Uruguay, Venezuela

UN pension tax free from wikipedia
Screenshot from Wikipedia

Based on this Q&A page, we also have the following list of countries that were mentioned with tax exemption for UN pensions: Austria, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand

UN pension tax free from justanswer
Screenshot from JustAnswer.com

Countries with Recent Changes to the Tax Regime

Thailand

The tax on foreigners in Thailand changed from 1 January 2024, as reported in Swissinfo. Whether this applies to the UN pension or not, you need to verify it.

As a reminder, the tax reform drawn up by the Thai government stipulates that since January 1, 2024, resident foreigners, i.e. those staying in Thailand for at least 180 days a year, have had to pay tax on foreign income transferred to the country.

However, only income earned since January 1, 2024, is affected. Anyone who can prove that their income predates this date will not be taxed on these sums, even if they were transferred to Thailand after December 31, 2023.

Thailand is also planning to exempt certain categories of foreign pensioners, in particular those with an LTR (long-term visa), which is valid for ten years. To obtain this visa, you need to have a pension of at least $80,000 (CHF72,900) a year, or $40,000 a year and invest $250,000 in Thailand, in property for example.

Spain

Also, take note that Spain changed its laws on UN pensions. The Spanish courts have ruled that UN pensions are subject to Spanish income tax. So there is no benefit to moving to Spain for tax purposes during retirement (Thank you Michel for letting me know).

Portugal

Similarly, Portugal, as of 2024, has ended the preferential tax treatment for foreign pensioners that was previously available under the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) regime. The NHR regime, which provided significant tax benefits including a flat 10% tax on foreign pensions, has been closed for new applicants since January 1, 2024. Those who applied and were granted NHR status before this date can still enjoy the benefits for the remainder of their 10-year period​ (CAFIMO)​​ (Portugal.com)​. For those not covered by the NHR regime, foreign pensions, including UN pensions, are subject to the standard Portuguese income tax rates. These rates are progressive, ranging up to 48% depending on the total income level​ (Blevins Franks)​​ (FIRSTonline)​.

Nevertheless, if you just want to retire in a safe and affordable country regardless of the tax regime on UN pensions, then according to SmartAssets, these are your best bets:

Portugal, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Panama, Czech Republic, Peru, Slovenia, Austria, Australia

UN Pension Tax Comparison for 50 Popular Destinations

This table provides a comprehensive comparison of the tax treatment of UN pensions, wealth tax (see Wikipedia) on global assets, dividend income, and capital gains from stock investments in some of the most popular and safe retirement destinations around the world. Use this information only as a very preliminary rough guide. Make sure you consult with a qualified tax advisor for personalized advice.

Retirement Tax Comparison Table
CountryTax on UN PensionWealth TaxTax on DividendsTax on Capital GainsSources
Switzerland0-40%0.89-1.5%35%NoFederal Tax Administration
Argentina9-35%No9%9%Federal Administration of Public Revenue
Australia15-45%No0-45%0-45%Australian Taxation Office
AustriaNoNo27.5%27.5%Austrian Tax Office
Belgium25%0.15-1.1%No30%Federal Public Service Finance Belgium
Brazil27.5%No27.5%15%Receita Federal do Brasil
Canada15-33%No15-33%15-33%Canada Revenue Agency
Chile5-35%No20%20%Internal Revenue Service of Chile
China3-45%No20%20%State Taxation Administration of China
Colombia0-33%No10%10%Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales
Czech Republic15-45%NoNo15%Ministry of Finance
Denmark8-56%No27%27%SKAT
Egypt22.5%No22.5%22.5%Egyptian Tax Authority
Finland6-31.25%No30%30%Finnish Tax Administration
France0-45%Up to 1.5%30%30%Ministry for the Economy and Finance
Germany14-45%0.89-1.5%26.375%26.375%Federal Ministry of Finance
Greece9-44%No0-15%0-15%Independent Authority for Public Revenue
HungaryNoNo15%15%National Tax and Customs Administration
IndiaNoNo20%20%Income Tax Department
Indonesia5-35%No20%20%Directorate General of Taxes
Ireland20-40%No20-40%20-40%Revenue Commissioners
Israel10-50%No25%25%Israel Tax Authority
Italy23-43%0.2-0.76%26%26%Agenzia delle Entrate
Japan5-45%No20%20%National Tax Agency
MalaysiaNoNoNoNoInland Revenue Board of Malaysia
Mexico1.92-35%No20%20%Servicio de Administración Tributaria
Netherlands36.93%1.2%15%15%Belastingdienst
New Zealand10.5-39%NoNo33%Inland Revenue Department
Nigeria7-24%No30%30%Federal Inland Revenue Service
Norway22-47%0.85%25%25%Norwegian Tax Administration
Pakistan0-35%No20%20%Federal Board of Revenue
Philippines0-35%No10%10%Bureau of Internal Revenue
Poland17-32%No19%19%Ministry of Finance
Portugal8-48%0.3-0.45%28%28%Portuguese Tax and Customs Authority
Romania10-32%No10%10%National Agency for Fiscal Administration
Russia13-30%No13%13%Federal Tax Service of Russia
Saudi ArabiaNoNoNoNoGeneral Authority of Zakat and Tax
SingaporeNoNoNoNoInland Revenue Authority of Singapore
Slovakia10-35%NoNo7%Financial Administration of the Slovak Republic
South Africa18-45%No20%20%South African Revenue Service
South Korea6-45%No15-22%15-22%National Tax Service
Spain19-47%0.2-3.75%19%19%Agencia Tributaria
Sweden32-57%No30%30%Swedish Tax Agency
Thailand0-25%No15%15%Revenue Department
Turkey15-40%NoNo30%Revenue Administration
Ukraine0-40%No5%5%State Tax Service of Ukraine
United Arab EmiratesNoNoNoNoFederal Tax Authority
United Kingdom20-45%No15%15%HM Revenue & Customs
United States10-37%Yes (varies by state)0-20%0-20%Internal Revenue Service
Vietnam10-35%No20%20%General Department of Taxation

Online Tools to Find the Perfect Haven for Retirement

Earth Awaits is an incredible, user-friendly tool designed to simplify the journey of finding your dream retirement destination. It’s completely free to use and offers a straightforward way to explore options based on your unique preferences. Whether you’re considering monthly budget, family size, preferred continents, crime rate, pollution levels, or the primary language spoken, The Earth Awaits makes narrowing down your choices a breeze. Perfect for anyone looking to make informed decisions about their retirement living arrangements, this tool turns the daunting task of selecting a retirement spot into an exciting adventure. Numbeo and Expatistan are other websites that compares the cost of living, property prices, etc among different countries.

But let’s dive into The Earth Awaits to contrast Austria, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, UAE — six countries that stand out in our list as well as Geneva, Switzerland. This comparison will illuminate their unique offerings for retirees, helping us pinpoint the perfect place to spend your UN pension.

Top 11 Tips for a Successful Move to Another Country for Retirement

Deciding to move to another country for retirement can add another layer of complexity. However, this decision can also bring numerous benefits that enhance your retirement experience. Moving to a new country can offer a lower cost of living, a better climate, new cultural experiences, and a chance to reinvent yourself. It can also be an opportunity to find a community that aligns more closely with your interests and lifestyle. With proper planning and consideration, retiring abroad can be an incredibly fulfilling adventure.

  1. Visit for an Extended Stay: Before making the move, spend a few months living in your prospective new home. This will give you a real sense of daily life and help you decide if it’s the right fit. Even while you’re still working, consider spending your vacations in the country where you plan to retire. It is also important to visit the local healthcare facility even if it is just for a simple check-up. This will help you get a feel for the place.
  2. Research, Research, Research: Look into the country’s cost of living, healthcare system, climate, safety, and the availability of amenities that are important to you. Use reliable sources and consult expatriate forums for firsthand experiences.
  3. Calculate Your Pension: Understand how your UN pension will be taxed (hopefully 0%) and how far it will stretch in your chosen country. Consider consulting a financial advisor with experience in international retirement planning.
  4. Learn the Language: Even a basic understanding of the local language can significantly enhance your experience. Consider taking language classes before and after you move.
  5. Understand the Healthcare System: Investigate the quality and cost of healthcare. Ensure that you have access to necessary medical services and consider purchasing international health insurance.
  6. Embrace the Local Culture: Learn about local customs, traditions, and social norms. Being open and respectful will help you integrate more smoothly into the community.
  7. Build a Support Network: Connect with other expatriates and local residents. Join clubs, organizations, or online communities to build a network that can provide support and advice.
  8. Plan Your Finances: Besides your pension, consider other income sources, investments, and savings. Be aware of currency exchange rates and have a plan for managing your finances across borders.
  9. Understand Legal Requirements: Ensure you meet all legal requirements for long-term residency, including visas, permits, and any other legal documentation. I would recommend getting the best lawyer or agency and not the cheapest to help you with this process. It is worth paying for a service to help you go through the process.
  10. Stay Flexible and Patient: Moving to a new country will come with its challenges. Stay patient and flexible, and give yourself time to adjust to your new environment.
  11. Set Up Financial Accounts: Establish international bank accounts that can receive your UN pension and offer international currencies. Consider an AMFIE account for a free multi-currency option to receive your UN pension after retirement. Set up a UNFCU USD account with an Elite credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. Additionally, use Revolut for currency conversion and smaller transactions through their online app.

By taking these steps, you can ensure a smooth and successful transition to your new life abroad. Retirement in another country can be a rewarding experience filled with new adventures and opportunities.

Final thoughts

As we look ahead, dreaming of retirement is exciting, especially with your UN pension to support you. Whether retirement is years away or just around the corner, thinking about it now is a smart move. Austria, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and UAE could be great choices, each offering something special for a joyful retirement. So, let’s start planning for a future filled with happiness, exploration, and peace. It’s the perfect time to think about where you’ll enjoy the rewards of your hard work.

Nevertheless, the tax environment is constantly changing. Please make sure you check with the tax authorities of those countries before making a move.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for the very useful information. May I ask if this tax exemption in Austria covers pensions from Asian Development Bank and World Bank? Thank you.

    1. Hello Jane, I understand that ADB and World Bank have their own pension schemes and they are not part of UNJSPF. It is best to check with the Austrian tax authorities directly. But if I come across anything I will certainly update the blog post and let you know. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for this amazing article. It clears many general questions! What about Germany? Is there any specific information in regards with the pension of UN retirees?

    1. Hi Avril,

      Thank you for stopping by.

      It seems for Cyprus you have 2 options if you are receiving an overseas pension.

      The first option is to pay a flat rate of 5% on pension income with a €3,420 tax-free allowance.
      The second option is to be taxed according to Cyprus’s normal income tax rates, which means paying no tax on your first €19,500 income (annual), before the following tax rates apply.

      20% for income between €19,501-€28,000,
      35% for €28,001-€36,300,
      30% for €36,301-€60,000
      35% for €60,001+

      Please check with the local Cypriot tax authorities too!

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