Even though the term "401(k)" is a reference to a specific provision of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code section 401, it has become so well known that it has been used elsewhere as a generic term to describe analogous legislation. For example, in October 2001, Japan adopted legislation allowing the creation of "Japan-version 401(k)" accounts even though no provision of the relevant Japanese codes is in fact called "section 401(k)".[41][42][43]
Generally, a 401k participant may begin to withdraw money from his or her plan after reaching the age of 59 without penalty. The Internal Revenue Code imposes severe restrictions on withdrawals of tax-deferred or Roth contributions while a person remains in service with the company and is under the age of 59. Any withdrawal that is permitted before the age of 59 is subject to an excise tax equal to ten percent of the amount distributed (on top of the ordinary income tax that has to be paid), including withdrawals to pay expenses due to a hardship, except to the extent the distribution does not exceed the amount allowable as a deduction under Internal Revenue Code section 213 to the employee for amounts paid during the taxable year for medical care (determined without regard to whether the employee itemizes deductions for such taxable year).[11] Amounts withdrawn are subject to ordinary income taxes to the participant.

ROBS plans, while not considered an abusive tax avoidance transaction, are questionable because they may solely benefit one individual – the individual who rolls over his or her existing retirement 401(k) withdrawal funds to the ROBS plan in a tax-free transaction. The ROBS plan then uses the rollover assets to purchase the stock of the new business. A C corporation must be set up in order to roll the 401(k) withdrawal.

Nepal and Sri Lanka have similar employees provident fund schemes. In Malaysia, The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) was established in 1951 upon the Employees Provident Fund Ordinance 1951. The EPF is intended to help employees from the private sector save a fraction of their salary in a lifetime banking scheme, to be used primarily as a retirement fund but also in the event that the employee is temporarily or no longer fit to work. As of March 31, 2014, the size of the EPF asset size stood at RM597 billion (US$184 billion), making it the fourth largest pension fund in Asia and seventh largest in the world.