An N+1st attempt to summarize information helping to optimize taxes arising from investments with ETFs.
Some preliminary comments: I am going to mostly refer to MSCI indices. Their definition/composition can be found at msci.com (search for pdf factsheets).
MSCI ACWI is all-countries index: 50 countries, 23 Developed Markets, 27 Emerging Markets. An up to date country weights can be found at ACWI | SPYY : SPDR® MSCI ACWI UCITS ETF
(see Holdings → Geographical Weights).
Dataset 1: withholding taxes on dividends received from stocks from different countries for funds with different domiciles.
Data are both “theoretical” and extracted from yearly reports of various ETFs. Unfortunately LU ETFs do not report gross dividends and withholding taxes separately.
Red: expensive taxes
Green: potential tax savings
Yellow: data as extracted from annual report which I don’t understand completely. Could be one-off effects in particular funds.
In case of a Swiss resident, tax optimization includes (at least) two things: (i) less non-reclaimable withholding tax on dividends and (ii) less dividends which are taxed as income. So it is for example possible to move a segment that pays more dividends into a tax-sheltered account (3a funds at finpension/VIAC).
Dataset 2: % of non-reclaimable witholding taxes on dividends and dividend yields for some “whole world” (with and without emerging markets) funds.
Dataset 5: estimated total yearly cost of investing in various world market segments via different investment vehicles.
3a investing via CSIF Index Funds does not take into account tax savings when you pay taxes in and taxes paid when you take 3a money out. However considering how different these tax rates are, one probably benefits additionally from 3a investing. Wealth tax is also not accounted for, but it should additionally increase advantage of 3a investing.
Wealth tax exemption is applicable independent of the specific investment chosen within 3a. So i’d say it is not valid to include it in this specific comparison, as this concerns the question whether one should use 3a and not the questions which ivestments to hold in 3a.
That’s assuming the ETFs are dominated by US stocks. If @gre will indeed underweight the US at 34%, it would probably be worth it to use Irish ETFs, or rather, use a US ETF for US stocks and Irish ETFs for all other regions. Due to the lack of an Irish ex-US ETF this requires multiple ETFs. However, if @gre wants to use custom (or GDP) weighting, using regional ETFs may make sense anyway.
You may be right that the total cost is still slightly in favor of US ETFs, at least for some regions. However, the difference is small for most non-US regions. An important aspect is that this only holds true for the optimal case where you get a credit for the full 15% US WHT. If/when you (Coast)FIRE or have a lower income for another reason, you may no longer get the full 15% US WHT credit and then the US ETFs will quickly be worse than IE ETFs for most non-US regions.
I.e. if I were to invest in regional ETFs because of custom weighting, I would use US ETFs only for regions where there is a clear advantage (US, probably Canada, maybe Japan). Besides being better suited for years with lower income, it also reduces the IRS risk (especially for heirs in case estate tax threshold is lowered). And I rather pay taxes to Switzerland than to the US for non-US stock, especially as the US didn’t do anything for it.
Just to make it clear. It is a two steps process. Level 1 withholding tax on dividends are paid to the country where the company is located, not to US. Then, when a US ETF pays you dividends, they withhold level 2 tax, which is paid to US. You won’t see these money again, but hopefully get it completely deducted from taxes.