Index Investing With Dollars For Europeans

Disclaimer: I am not a professional investor nor do I claim to be one. You are solely responsible for your own financial and investment choices. I am not responsible for inaccurate information in any of my blog posts. I am merely sharing ideas and findings of my very amateurish investigation on index investing.

How to index invest with Vanguard in dollars?

This is actually the easy part. You need to find the best broker that fits your requirements who is specialized in international investing. That usually means the broker with the lowest fees. You need to compare these fees, for example like this:

BinckBank Lynx Interactive Brokers
Costs converting euros into dollars transaction fees € 0.2% of total amount $4 $4
Costs of placing an order in dollars €9.50 + 0.15% of total amount $5 $5
Total cost for buying €3,000 worth of Vanguard Total Stock Market ETFs €20 (€6+€9.50+€4.5) $9 (+/- €6.50) $9 (+/- €6.50)

So, then it’s a matter of adding a lot of euros onto your account with the broker of your choice. You convert your euros into dollars and you buy whatever index fund you’re interested in. Your broker will take you through the steps you need to take during a phone call. Seriously, this is not the scary part. Keep on reading.

It gets a bit scarier when thinking about the differences between these brokers. BinckBank is a Dutch company and your stocks are held in your name with a Dutch custodian. So in case BinckBank goes bankrupt, it will be rather easy to reclaim your stocks and accommodate them with a different broker. Your stocks with Lynx and Interactive Brokers are not held in your name. They’re traceable, obviously. However Lynx has a French custodian and Interactive Brokers an American custodian. I can imagine it being a tad more difficult to retrieve your stocks with those custodians. Still…they’re protected up to €500,000.

As always, it’s your choice.

How to reclaim withholding tax and avoid double taxation aka dividend leakage?

Yeah, that double tax thing. Turns out this isn’t the most difficult part either. I already explained that when investing in Vanguard index funds in euros you’re dealing with the Irish government. In that case you will never get your 15% dividend tax back, because Ireland doesn’t have tax treaties with other countries concerning dividend tax. So unless you’re Irish (what a lovely country you live in!), you’re f***-ed and you’re paying double dividend taxes. But that’s also the reason why you were interested in this blog post…because you are now considering investing in dollars. Let’s get on with it then.

Lahdihdah, you’re investing with Vanguard in dollars and they’re paying you dividend. Yay! This you will be added to your brokerage account. You can opt to reinvest the dividend. You can reclaim the 15% withholding tax the U.S. charged you. Brokers like Lynx and Interactive Brokers make arrangements for reclaiming U.S. withholding tax as soon as you become a customer with them. They will automatically fill in the required W-8BEN form for you. The only thing you need to do is to sign a new copy every three years. They will remind you to do this and you can do this online. No biggie. I spoke to three BinckBank employees and they weren’t familiar with W-8BEN. I talked to three employees of the Dutch IRS and the last guy gave me advice he had regained from another guy. Argh! I also sent an email to Fiscalert and their answer made sense. My best guess is that you need to fill in this form yourself and send it to your IRS. Then you can claim back this dividend tax and settle the amount with the property tax you have to pay.

Again, I am making suggestions and assumptions here. I am not telling you to make a certain choice. Your best bet to reclaim withholding tax is to index invest in dollars. However, there is a VERY SCARY thing to take into consideration. Yup, this is where the difficult stuff commences. Ready?

About the currency risk for Europeans.

If you’re thinking about converting your euros to dollars and start index investing with those dollars you need to think about the currency risk. Europeans will eventually want their dollars transferred back into euros in order to live off them (unless they decide to become long-term residents of the U.S. or visit the country often). If the dollar has devaluated strongly against the euro, you could be in for a big disappointment and even a huge loss on your investments. On the other hand, if the dollar thrives and the euro doesn’t you could be in for a huge windfall. But…nobody can predict the future, now can they? Maybe it’s also not all bad news when thinking about long-term investments. Who knows?

Remember the euro version of index investing with Vanguard? Well, you might think that’s without the currency risk because you’re investing in dollars. However, your euros are converted in to dollars (hence the higher TER) just as well since the fund tracks an index in dollars (FTSE or MSCI for example). So the currency risk for investing in international stocks in euros or dollars is very likely to be the same. Investing in euros in international stocks does not protect you against currency risk.

The only way to reduce currency risk to a minimum is to stick with European stocks only. You won’t have eliminated the currency risk fully even then because there are countries in the mix which handle other currencies than the euro (the U.K. pound for example!) and the companies you’ll be investing in are doing business globally, and are thus affected by the dollar as well. Index investing in euros (especially in international funds) is owning a lower currency risk portfolio but you’re not completely free from currency-risk.

Make a decision on whether you want to invest in euros or dollars and then whether you want to invest worldwide or Europe-only. It would be wise not to change course and stick to your decision after you made it and thus avoid making unneccessary costs. .

It’s up to you and your vision of the world how you feel about currency risk. I am merely working out different points of view here.

Hedging against the currency risk.

Scary stuff, right? Now, there is a way to sort of insure yourself against this currency risk. It’s called hedging, it doesn’t come cheap, sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t and this is how it works.

This is how the Interactive Brokers guy explained it to me. You want to hedge against currency risk so before you order you told your broker you want to go short. Let’s say you want to invest €5,000. You decide to buy 73 Vanguard Total Stock Market ETFs at $93 a pop totaling $6,789. Both transactions (transferring from euros to dollars and buying the ETFs) will have cost you $9 in total as described above. That money is lost. Because you hedged against the currency risk your balance with your broker is +€5,000 and -$6,789 (because you borrowed that amount in dollars). You’d be paying about 1.5% interest (p.6) annually (this is subject to change!) on the outstanding dollar balance. This would cost you $101.84 a year. As we’re long-term investors, this would cost you $2,036 over the next 20 years. But surely, this won’t be the only investment you’re making. So, hedging will cost the long-term investor thousands and thousands. Sounds worthwhile for the short-term investor, and that’s not us. Is it worth it? That’s up to you.

Please, bear in mind that the Vanguard funds in euros are not dollar hedged against currency risks (that would increase TER tremendously). For example, the Vanguard FTSE All-World ETF is currency unhedged. However, the Vanguard Developed Europe fund is unhedged against currency risk as well (only 45% is invested in euros!).

Again, this is what I know. I am not saying they’re fixed facts.

Risk analysis

This is OUR risk analysis, which we’ll be using to make our OWN PERSONAL investing decision. It might be helpful for you, it might not.

Currency risk Costs Dividend leakage Bankruptcy risk

European index in euros

Meesman MSCI Europe (via Vanguard) Low High (0.5% TER (0.35% as of December 2013?), 0.5% transaction fees) Yes Low
Vanguard FTSE Developed Europe UCITS via BinckBank Low Low (0.15% TER, €6.50 + 0.10%, minimum of €10) Yes Low
Ohpen European Index Fund MSCI Europe (not Vanguard!) Low High (0.52% TER, 0.5% transaction fees) Yes Low
iShares MSCI Europe UCITS ETF (inc) via BinckBank Low Medium (0.35% TER, €6.50 + 0.10%, minimum of €10) No Low
iShares MSCI Europe UCITS ETF (acc) via BinckBank Low Medium (0.35% TER, €6.50 + 0.10%, minimum of €10) No Low

World index in euros

Vanguard FTSE All-World ETF via BinckBank Medium Medium (0.25% TER, €6.50 + 0.10%, minimum of €10) Yes Low
Meesman World Index (Northern Trust instead of Vanguard!) Medium High (0.5% TER, 0.5% transaction fees) No (probably 0.4% higher returns?) Low

World index in dollars

Vanguard Total World Stock Index via Interactive Brokers Medium Low (0.18% TER, $9 currency + stock transaction fees) No High (stocks held in U.S.)
Vanguard FTSE All-World ETF via Interactive Brokers Medium Medium (0.25% TER, $9 currency + stock transaction fees) Yes High (stocks held in U.S.)

U.S.-only index in dollars

Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF via Interactive Brokers High Very low (0.05% TER, $9 currency + stock transaction fees) No High (stocks held in the U.S.)
Vanguard S&P500 ETF via Interactive Brokers High Very low (0.05% TER, $9 currency + stock transaction fees) No High (stocks held in the U.S.)

(Interactive Brokers and Lynx charge the same currency and stock transaction fees)
(iShares avoids double taxation through a crest

Again, I am not telling you which investment decision to make.

We haven’t made a decision yet. We’re thinking of sticking with Vanguard (because their index funds outperform others based on the same benchmark pretty much all of the time), investing in Europe with euros and investing in the U.S. with dollars. Maybe throw a little bit of emerging in the mix. Or opt for the easy solution: All-World in euros which holds the ideal mix at an acceptable TER. Sigh….

Please, tell me what you would/are going to do and why. Oh, and, good luck!


Mrs EconoWiser

Disclaimer: I am not a professional investor nor do I claim to be one. You are solely responsible for your own financial and investment choices. I am not responsible for inaccurate information in any of my blog posts. I am merely sharing ideas and findings of my very amateurish investigation on index investing.

55 thoughts on “Index Investing With Dollars For Europeans

  1. rationaldutch

    Thanks a lot for all this detective work, and writing it all down! It must have been a lot of work!

    I am still bit puzzled. I hope you can help me.

    Suppose I, have 1000$ in a US Vanguard-ETF, and receive a dividend payment of 20$.

    What exactly is the effect of filling in the W-8BEN form? Can you please describe what happens in both cases, that is, in the case I did not fill it in, and the case I did fill it in.

    I am trying to understand 🙂

    1. econowiser Post author

      Hi there, you’ll receive a dividend payment of which the 15% tax was already extracted. So, $20 is 85% of what you were supposed to receive. You can reclaimed the missing $3.52 in box 3 if you’ve filled in the W-8BEN form. If you haven’t filled in this form plus reclaim this in box 3 you’ll never get to see that $3.52 and that’s your loss.

      The Dutch government will also take its share of your $20. So, if you don’t reclaim the dividend tax the U.S. already took from you…you’re paying dividend tax twice!

  2. rationaldutch

    So, what you saying is that in both cases the US will take 15%. But, only in case, where one has filled in the (US) W-8BEN form, the Dutch “belastingdienst” will allow you to reclaim this 15% US tax. Is that correct?

    1. econowiser Post author

      That’s exactly how different people have explained it to me! But again…the disclaimer thing…I’m no expert. It’s merely my understanding of the whole situation.

      1. rationaldutch


        I know about the disclaimer 🙂 Don’t worry. I really appreciate all the effort you made, and know you are just writing down what you found out.

        I am still confused.
        I wonder why the “belastingdienst” cares whether you have filled in an American form. I also wonder why they are willing to pay the 15% the US took? Or will the US actually transfer the 15% they took to the Dutch belastingdienst, so that they can give it back?

        I also wonder, why mister Meesman has not taken this approach. He went all the way and started a fund with a Dutch “domicile”, when he could have simply used a American Vanguard fund. Or am I missing something.

      2. econowiser Post author

        The Dutch IRS will reclaim all dividend tax with the American IRS, and vice versa. It’s supposed to be this huge and costly administrative hassle. So the Americans can reclaim their dividend tax as well.

        Meesman bought his global stocks with Vanguard. That fund is domiciled in Ireland. As the Dutch and the Irish do not have a tax withholding reclaim treaty, Meesman nor the investor could get the 15% tax the Irish government took back. Now, he’s doing business with Northern Trust and set up a Dutch “fiscale beleggingsinstelling” so that investors can’t be charged twice since this fund is domiciled in The Netherlands.

        Mr. Meesman probably didn’t want to buy ETFs in dollars because of the currency risk.

    1. econowiser Post author

      That’s okay! No, idea whether I am giving the right answers. It’s just my understanding of this impenetratable world called index investing. 😉

  3. a Mustachian

    Thanks a lot for for doing all this work! This will be very useful in helping me make a decision that suits my own situation.

    Investing in dollars is starting to look more daunting than I would have liked. I’ll probably stick to euros, then.. Maybe I should send a nice e-mail to Mr Timmersmans about the double taxation agreement currently in force between the Netherlands and Ireland. Yes, there IS in fact a treaty, but it’s sod-all use in our situation ( see point 1.3.5 if you’re interested).

    1. econowiser Post author

      Yeah, my husband found that one yesterday evening as well…I guess Ireland is great for multinationals to establish themselves in Europe…but not for individuel investors who have no choice but to deal with the Irish government…

  4. Monique

    Dank voor al je verhelderende overzichten! Het wordt er niet eenvoudiger op, terwijl het bij de start allemaal zo simpel leek… Ik ga er eens rustig over nadenken. Ik ga in ieder geval voor een optie kiezen, die ik begrijp, zo simpel mogelijk is en die ik (redelijk) kan overzien.

    1. econowiser Post author

      Ja, de schitterende eenvoud van indexbeleggen my ass! 😉 Hier wordt er ook nog steeds gewikt en gewogen. We gaan dit fiscale jaar toch niet meer beginnen…we starten fris en fruitig in januari met het inleggen.

      1. a Mustachian

        Are you already a customer with BinckBank? I’m not yet sure whether Binck is right for me, but I’ve applied for an account there so I can take advantage of the special offer for new clients of a ‘free’ €200 to be used for transactions (provided that I opt to invest with them, of course). The offer remains valid till 31 December 2013 and the €200 remains available for 90 days after I activate the account, so that should be plenty of time to make up my mind.

  5. Pingback: Stocks — Part XVII: What if you can’t buy VTSAX? Or even Vanguard?

  6. Anoth

    And then, when you want to balance your portfolio, comes another dilemma:
    How should you invest in (government) bonds? The good Vanguard bond ETFs are not available to us in Europe…

    1. econowiser Post author

      I don’t think we’ll be buying a huge amount of bonds for the next ten to twenty years as we’re in the wealt building phase.
      You can buy bond funds in dollars, check my post on How about investing with Vanguard in dollars then?. You can also buy eurobond funds through a distributor, like Meesman.

      1. rationaldutch

        I meant: For government bonds, you can also consider the Vanguard euro government bond index fund, for corporate bonds you can take a look at Vanguard’s euro investment-grade bond index fund. See:
        You can buy them at Binck, SNS-fundcoach, and many other places.

      2. econowiser Post author

        For the distributor, I believe even a 500k minimum. But not for the private investor who invests through the distributor. Meesman is a distributor and offers a couple of these funds. There your monthly minimum is €100.

      3. Anoth

        I still cannot find a way to invest in the Vanguard funds through Meesman. I thought they switched to another provider a while ago…

      4. econowiser Post author

        For their Global fund they switched to Northern Trust in order to solve the tax leakage issue. The other four funds you’re buying from Meesman are Vanguard funds. They don’t call them Vanguard funds, because these are the mutual funds (so not ETFs) that can only be bought through a distributor. So when you’re buying Meesman Emerging Markets you’re buying Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index which tracks the MSCI Emerging Markets index.

      5. Anoth

        Thanks for the answers!
        What do you mean by “you can buy them at binck…” when referring to the Vanguard bond funds? Binck is not a distributor, and I’m not sure they even list these funds.

  7. rationaldutch

    Some time ago, I contacted Meesman and Vanguard about dividends. Their answers did not really help my understanding of dividend-leakage a lot. However, there is one thing that both of them mentioned: There are two kinds of dividends:
    (1) Dividends from a stock to the ETF (for instance, from Apple to a Vanguard ETF)
    (2) Dividends payed out by the ETF to the ETF-owner.
    From what I understand, there both dividends can be taxed. In your post, you only discuss the second kind of dividends.

    What I wonder is, is there there still some kind of dividend-leakage in the first kind of dividends, even with ETFs with a US-domicile?

  8. Mqrius

    Huh, I’ve been looking into this myself, and I thought it was as follows:

    Regarding buying US Vanguard: Binck bank already makes sure you don’t pay 30%, so they automatically deduct 15% from your dividend. You can then reclaim this in box 3 (In the belastingaangifteprogramma: “Vrijstellingen en verminderingen” > “Aftrek om dubbele belasting te voorkomen” > “Box 3” > “Buitenlandse aandelen en spaartegoeden waarop u bronbelasting wilt verrekenen”)
    I thought the W-8BEN form was for the first part: Getting 15% instead of 30%. Meaning, you wouldn’t have to fill it in if you go via Binck Bank.

    Am I wrong?

    1. econowiser Post author

      As Lynx and Interactive Brokers provide this W-8BEN form automatically for you and are specialists when it comes to trading in dollars I’d say it’s rather important to fill it in. I thought that form was to get 15% instead of 30% as well…

      1. Mqrius

        Just checking if I understood you correctly: Do they provide it automatically as in, they hand it to you so you can fill it in? It wasn’t in my Binck or Lynx sign-up documents.

        I thought they basically fill in the form themselves, get the 15% that way, and hold the other 15% from you via the dividend payments. That would mean you wouldn’t have to do anything (besides claim back in box 3). Or do you actually need to fill in W-8BEN yourself?

      2. econowiser Post author

        According to Lynx and Interactive Brokers you have to fill in the W-8BEN form yourself, but they provide the form online. You need to sign it every three years and they’ll remind you of that. I’d just ask Lynx for the W-8BEN service.

  9. Charles

    I recently asked Binck Bank about the W-8BEN form regarding dividend-leakage. The gave me the following answer:

    “U heeft een vraag over het W-8BEN formulier, ook wel het treaty statement genoemd. In de Verenigde Staten betaalt u een hoger dividendbelastingpercentage dan in Nederland. Personen woonachtig buiten de Verenigde Staten kunnen in aanmerking komen om een gereduceerd belastingpercentage te betalen. Doordat Nederland een belastingverdrag heeft met de Verenigde Staten betalen particulieren al een gereduceerd tarief. Dit is gelijk aan het dividendbelastingpercentage in Nederland, namelijk 15%. Particulieren kunnen der halve niets terugvorderen.”

  10. Charles

    Vanwege de relatief hoge kosten (TER) die men betaald voor ETF’s genoteerd op de Europese beurs ten opzichte van in Amerika genoteerde ETF’s, overweeg ik om op de Amerikaanse beurs te beleggen. Op internet vond ik het volgende artikel over valutarisico:

    Wat ik met name interessantvond was de reactie van een lezer(genaamd: C_S_M) op het artikel van M. Plooi. Op basis van deze reactie, vraag ik mij af in hoeverre ik valutarisico loop op de dollar als ik via een Amerikaanse ETF zou beleggen in bijvoorbeeld Europese aandelen. Volgens mij loop ik alleen een risico op de koers van deze Euro landen en niet op de dollar. Ik maak in eerste instantie wel kosten omdat ik mijn euro’s omwissel in dollars waarmee ik beleg in dollar genoteerde Europese ETF’s(dit speelt ook als ik bij verkoop mijn dollars weer omwissel in euro’s). Als de dollar in waarde daalt ten opzichte van de euro zou dit betekenen dat mijn Europese ETF(genoteerd in US Dollars) in waarde zouden toenemen. De dollar is in deze constructie slechts een tussenstap. Alleen wanneer ik beleg in Amerikaanse ETF’s, waarvan de onderliggende aandelen in dollars staan genoteerd, is er sprake van een mogelijk valutarisico. Ik ben wel benieuwd hoe jij en andere lezers hierover denken?

  11. Tyrone

    “However Lynx has a French custodian and Interactive Brokers an American custodian. I can imagine it being a tad more difficult to retrieve your stocks with those custodians. Still…they’re protected up to €500,000.”

    Could you clarify that protection? Where does that come from?

  12. Ashray


    This is an amazing post and I am in a mess right now with all these different ‘layers’ of taxation. I hope someone can shed some light on my doubts because I haven’t been able to find the right info anywhere.

    So I want to invest in Vanguard European ETFs, say for example, VEUR. As I would like to invest in Euros, I thought it would be best to buy some VEUR on the Amsterdam Euronext.

    VEUR is domiciled in Ireland.
    I live in Chile. (I am an Indian citizen however..). Chile does not levy any dividend or capital gains taxes for me for the next 3 years (this period can be extended for another 3 years). So I am interested in finding the best investment which would give me the best deal in terms of dividend/capital taxes.

    So here’s my question:
    If I buy VEUR.AS in Euros on the NYSE Euronext, will I be charged dividend witholding taxes on the distribution by the Dutch government? (For what it’s worth, I have an account with Interactive Brokers and Saxo Markets UK so I can trade on almost any Euro/UK exchange)

    I have a painful feeling that yes, this is true (feeling = painful because I bought a small amount of VEUR.AS today). Not only that, but my gut feeling is that I will get charged 15% witholding on my holdings of VJPN, VAPX, and VFEM as well.

    So at this stage I think my best bet is to buy VEUR in GBP or USD on the LSE. I didn’t want to do this initially because my savings are in EUR and I didn’t want to go through the currency conversion. But of course, I can take a 0.1-0.2% hit right now to be able to make better money on the dividend yield through the years.

    Do any of you know anything about this? The dividend witholding taxes, etc. are a minefield in international investing. I had an eTrade US account and went the EUR way because of US witholding taxes and now it appears I am up against another situation.. =/ It takes a lot of learning to find the best methods 🙂

    Thanks for reading and any replies are appreciated!

      1. Micks

        Ireland and the Netherlands have a withholding tax treaty with a 15% rate. So even though Ireland does not tax the outgoing dividends, the Netherlands agreed with Ireland that a 15% rate should be used if a Dutch investor receives Ireland domiciled dividends. These treaties are in place to avoid too high or too low taxation, I agree that it does not seem beneficial from a Dutch point of view with Irish funds.You still should be able to get the withheld taxes back if you file your taxes.

      2. a Mustachian

        I’m a Dutch citizen.

        According to the annual statement from my broker, Binck, my Vanguard ETFs were not subject to any dividend tax; I received the gross dividends.

        My shares in Think ETFs, on the other hand, WERE subject to a dividend tax of 15% paid to the Dutch government. Think ETFs are based in the Netherlands. I got to deduct the amount withheld from the sum I have to pay for my annual income tax.

      3. Micks

        a Mustachian, thank you for the reply. I was indeed mistaken, misinterpreted the treaty. By the way, I have set up a wiki page on the Bogleheads wiki that is on investing from the Netherlands, maybe you could take a look and leave some feedback (either on the wiki page itself or on the related forum post). Would be very much appreciated!

  13. marcel

    Hi everybody,

    I am located in France and would like to buy vanguard index funds through a PEA which provides certain tax advantages. Unfortunately, as far as I know there are no vanguard index funds available through this investment vehicle, so one has to find other options. Does anybody know which funds one can invest in through a PEA that are comparable to vanguard VT or BND? Also, does anybody have recommendations for a broker in France that offers PEA (I am currently with boursorama but don’t like their service).

    Thank’s for your input.


  14. A Mustachian

    Hi Ms Econowiser,

    I believe this link will be of interest to you and any Dutch speakers here:

    It details investing in US-listed ETFs for Dutch investors, specifically via Vanguard’s total stock market and total international stock market ETFs. It looks less intimidating than it did when I first read your blog entry here. I’m seriously tempted to trade in my current global stock investments for those two.

  15. Nick

    Dear Mrs. E,

    At first, many thanks for your unimaginable effort in putting this whole blog together. It is an awesome read. I am also currently based in The Netherlands and have very recently ventured into the wonderful world of Index investing (Thanks to you and Mr. J :)). I do have a couple of questions that I hope you are able to address:

    – I bank with ING, so thought there “zelf op de beurs” investment account is a good option for me. This account costs Eur 4 per quarter and has no transaction cost for index funds. So I bought in Vanguard S&P 500 and Vanguard Emerging Market Index Funds. Both funds are domiciled in Luxembourg and do not distribute dividends.

    so my question really is, whats your opinion on buying these vanguard funds from ING? if the funds are domiciled in Luxembourg, would that 15% tax be an issue like in Ireland? With no transaction cost and possibility to grow your investment with monthly payments, would you still suggest Meesman or staying with ING is equally good?

    Once again thanks for your time and keep up the awesome work.


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