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Games could be catalyst for expats to head home

As the golden Olympics ends this week, can the nation's feelgood factor help slow the rising tide of Britons leaving the UK in search of greener grass, and bring more expats back home?

Scotland attracted 42,000 immigrants from overseas last year, with only 16,900 leaving for overseas, according to figures published last week.

But monthly emigration from the UK by British citizens rose last year by almost 1200 to 11,800, while immigration into the UK by British citizens fell sharply by almost 1000 a month to 6750, the Office of National Statistics says.

Of those voting with their feet, 55% leave for work-related reasons, with almost 40% of those not yet having a job.

Nigel Green, of expat advisers deVere Group, says the double-dip recession, higher taxes, the cost of living squeeze, depressed interest rates, the scrapping of age-related benefits, and this summer's weather, are scaring away some of the better off.

"During the first six months of 2012, our advisers in the UK reported a 37% increase in inquiries from people with savings and investments worth more than £250,000 who are considering living abroad, compared to the same period in 2011," he said.

British expatriates are more likely to be "downturn defiant" than their friends and family in the UK, Mr Green insists.

"For instance, they can move their retirement funds to a jurisdiction where they'll be taxed considerably less and where their pension pots can be protected from the Government's pension-dwindling measures."

James Hickman, managing director at prepaid card specialist Caxton FX, says: "Over the past year, the pound has strengthened roughly 10% against the euro, meaning that anyone looking to move to the eurozone will be benefiting.

"Our top destination for expats is France, and anyone who made the move recently will have benefited not only from a stronger pound but also lower property prices."

Expatriate Steve Thomas, who moved to Russia for work and has put off for the time being a plan to set up a new home in Glasgow, said: "I think once you start out on the expat road you become more resilient and aware of finance anyway.

"By dealing in currencies, one simply has to start thinking about things that at home you might ignore."

But he adds: "Life's not always a bed of roses overseas that's for sure, something many expats find out once they've travelled. Short or medium term contracts can net a good income, but many of the countries that can offer work aren't long-term destinations.

"How many will stick it out is a different matter, particularly in the eurozone."

Phil McHugh, senior analyst at Currencies Direct, agrees: "Volatility in the currency markets has caused much uncertainty for British expats. The weakening euro has led to a surge of expats trying to sell up and return to the relative stability of British shores."

As for moving your cash offshore, it is not as easy as it sounds.

"A common misconception is that income and gains on assets held overseas, such as property, investments, bank accounts, are not taxed in the UK – but that is simply not true," says Gary Heynes of accountants Baker Tilly.

"The reality is that offshore arrangements have, for many years, been subject to tax in the UK, except in very limited circumstances.

"Assets which are either held directly or placed into trusts or companies overseas have continued to be subject to UK tax on the person who made the transfer.

"Even if assets are held in an overseas trust or company, the individual who put those assets into the structure remains taxable on the income and gains arising as if they held the assets personally, unless the assets are truly given away to someone else with no possibility of benefiting from them."

One key to the attractiveness of Scotland to both immigrants and returnees, and to its future resilience, may be that balancing family and work life is more important in Scotland than it is in the rest of Britain, according to research published this week by the Financial Adviser School.

It found 60% of Scots rating work-life balance as a key factor when choosing their employment, compared with 49% in England and Wales. When asked if they would work from home by choice, 37% in Scotland said yes – compared with 20% in the south-east of England.

Meanwhile, a survey of 1250 UK freelance workers, to be published later this month, has found 45% in Scotland citing work-life balance as the reason they left full-time employment, against only 25% in England, while 35% of Scottish businesses say they intend to make more use of freelances next year.

Matt Barrie, chief executive of Freelancer.co.uk which ran the survey, said: "Scottish people are more confident about taking the plunge, knowing that there is real demand from local businesses for their skills."

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