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  • Sammi Sidahmed

How to top up your British state pension while living as an expat in the UAE


Many expats fail to save an adequate amount for their future whilst living in the UAE, which is why relying on state pension at home can be crucial.


Retirement is an issue that all expatriates in the UAE are concerned about. While earning a tax-free salary certainly has its advantages, but unless you have the discipline to arrange your own pension savings it does not guarantee a healthy retirement.


Many expats fall back on their home country’s pension scheme for their future - as long as such a scheme exists. This is something British expats have in their back pocket but claiming that pension is not quite as straightforward as it seems, as simply moving back to the UK is not enough.


To qualify for a full British state pension, you need to have worked in the UK for 35 years - but if you work as an expat in the UAE or elsewhere, you may still be able to top your years up with voluntary contributions, to ensure you reach this threshold.


Working overseas means not paying UK income tax or the National Insurance contributions that fund a UK government funded state pension. The new state pension came into effect in 2016. To qualify, you need to have made at least 10 years of UK National Insurance contributions (NICs); you will only get the full state pension if you have made 35 years’ worth of contributions. Its well worth checking whether you can pay voluntary NICs to top up the years you have lived overseas.


The full UK state pension is worth £175.20 per week, or £9,110.40 a year, (a 3.9% boost as of April 2020) According to the UK Consumer Association’s Which? magazine, the average expenditure for British retirees is far less than most people anticipate, at around £24,000 - in which case the state pension would fund a third of annual retirement spending.


There are six different types of NIC, but only two which are voluntary: Class 2 and Class 3. It is Class 2 NICs that expats who live and work abroad can make. You will have needed to work in the UK immediately before leaving, and to have previously lived in the UK for three years in a row or paid three years of National Insurance.


What is the process for topping up your British pension?

  • Step one: Request a pension statement from the Pension Service’s Future Pension Centre, to see how many qualifying years you may have. Be sure to check whether you paid enough National Insurance in the year you left the UK for it to be treated as a qualifying year on your pension record.

  • Step two: Read the leaflet NI38 from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) fill in and post the form (CF83) at the back of the leaflet. Remember to tick ‘yes’ in section 7 - you want to know about any shortfall of National Insurance contributions you can pay.

  • Step three: The National Insurance Contributions and Employers Office (NIC & EO) will then calculate what you need to pay to make up any shortfall.


The state pension age has traditionally been 65 for men and 60 for women. By 2018, it will be 65 for both men and women, increasing to 66 in October 2020 and to 67 in 2028. The government will then review the state pension age every five years.


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