Are you considering a property overseas to host your family and friends? Do you have your heart set on a retirement home in a foreign country, and need to send a sizable deposit before another buyer beats you to it? Maybe you’ve negotiated a lucrative price on a property based on a short closing timeframe.
Whatever your motivation for buying a property in another country, the financial and contractual processes don’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or fraught with legal risk.
Here are five tips for expats (and soon-to-be expats) planning to move or expand their property holdings overseas.
1. Do Your Market and Regional Research
Whether you are buying your property from a stranger, a lifelong friend, or even a family member, it’s important to enter an international real estate transaction with your eyes open, your mind clear, and a firm grip on your wallet.
If you were buying a property in your own city, or across the country, you would likely work with a competent real estate agent and spend a significant amount of time touring homes and doing your due diligence. Yet when it comes to a vacation property or retirement home, there are many emotions involved.
Depending on your origin and destination countries, your eligibility and ease of securing a mortgage in a foreign country will vary. You may have to make a significant down payment of nearly 30%. Developer or seller financing arrangements may help you save on interest. Be sure to budget for transfer fees or stamp taxes as part of your property purchase.
If you’re preparing to buy a property in a foreign country, ensure you do as much research as you would on a domestic property, if not more. You can find great resources on websites like Realtor.com, RealEstate.com.au or EuropeanProperty.com
2. Be Cautious about New Builds or Fixer-Uppers
Many countries have new home warranty programs and regulations. If you’re looking at new homes abroad, be sure to do your research on local developers, and understand the implications of builder-responsible defects.
Further, you can find reputable tradespeople through regional contractor associations like European International Contractors, the North American Contractors Association or the Australian Construction Industry Forum.
These groups can help you navigate the local renovation market, as well as the local rules of law related to home zoning, building standards, and renovations. Or before you start your journey, check for online reviews on credible websites like Trustpilot.
If you buy vacant land or a previously occupied home, avoid entering a private property transaction without representation. Get professional purchase advice from a certified local real estate broker, agent or reputable developer. You can also ask real estate professionals in your home country for referrals to their counterparts in your destination country.
3. Understand Your Tax Responsibilities in Your Countries of Origin and Destination
You might live in your vacation home for a few months out of the year, the whole year around, or even use it purely as an income property via leases. Do your due diligence on your tax responsibilities relative to capital gains, safe-harbor provisions, income tax and any reporting responsibilities your home country requires, and the nation where you buy a property.
4. Hire local legal representation
Rules, laws, and regulations have been mentioned a few times in this blog, yet it can’t be overstated. Mitigating risk when you set up residence in a foreign country is well worth the investment in hiring a local attorney or solicitor.
They can help you get important documents translated (not to mention translate the legalese) and advise you on potential legal exposures in your property purchase agreement. If you already have legal representation in your home country, law firms often have relationships with other firms in your destination country.
You can contact the nearest International Bar Association office in your destination region for additional guidance. When you’ve decided to acquire a vacation property in another country, or you’ve found the retirement home of your dreams overseas, your emotions play a central role in your thought processes. Take the time to research the links offered above. You’ll minimize your legal and financial risk and get more enjoyment from your investment.
5. Mitigate Your Foreign Currency Exchange Costs
When you are paying a significant amount of money for lease payments, maintenance fees or to purchase a home outright, transaction costs can be prohibitive. Many banks and foreign currency brokers charge high fees, bury hidden costs and offer less-than-desirable exchange rates. Before you go to your bank, check out the prices offered by a currency data service provider which monitors multiple currency sources.
Fee-free, exchange-transparent money transfers are available, and you owe it to yourself to get the best return on your money. When you are buying a home, making your money go as far as possible is critical. Whether you are making a one-time lump sum property payment or incremental mortgage payments, remittances in the local currency can help you realize significant savings.
Are you an expat who spends a significant amount of time traveling internationally? Are you looking for resources to help you track expenses, access the latest local exchange rates, or send money securely?
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