International Home Ownership
Buying a house in another country comes with its own set of rules. If you don't acquaint yourself with the international real estate market, you may find yourself getting more (or less) than you bargained for. Here are some tips to familiarize you with the world of international real estate.
Research your location
Climate, geography, and entertainment may come readily to mind, but political stability, healthcare, property taxes, and transportation can have just as much of an impact on your potential home. Check resources such as the U.S. Department of State (http://www.state.gov/travelandbusiness/).
Try before you buy
Be sure you've chosen somewhere you really want to reside. If you don't already spend a lot of time in the locale, rent there for a couple months or more (perhaps in the “off-season”) to determine whether it is the right place for you.
Find an experienced, preferably accredited, realtor
If you will be working with a realtor outside of the U.S., be attentive to their code of ethics. Many foreign countries do not require their realtors to be licensed. It may be useful to retain a reputable agent of properties that has offices around the world. Their U.S. office can act as liaison with the office local to your potential home.
Beware of financing pitfalls
Your accountant or financial professional can explain any tax ramifications this purchase will incur for you. It can be difficult or impossible for non-residents to secure a mortgage in another country. Many U.S. banks have branches in foreign countries. Since a U.S. lender is required to adhere to the banking regulations of both the home and host country, you may have more luck securing a loan with a U.S. bank.
Learn the laws dictating your purchase
Never neglect the fine print—particularly if you can't understand the language you're reading! A good lawyer, preferably in your country of interest, can help you to break through language and bureaucratic barriers and clarify precisely what you are signing. Ask your current attorney if they can help you find one. A local lawyer, as opposed to a U.S. lawyer, also knows the laws you will be subject to when purchasing a home. He or she can help you to determine what rights you have as a property owner, as well as the laws governing the buying and selling of properties. This is critical because ownership laws in foreign countries may differ entirely. Switzerland, for instance, bars non-citizens from owning realty completely.