Owning a vacation home across the country might be too distant for some, but there are those who dream of buying property abroad as rental, retirement, or just plain getaway homes.
Of course, buying a home is complicated, and buying a home in a country where you don't live and most likely don't hold citizenship is complicated and then some. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you start browsing listings on your favorite beach in the world.
Decide: Where do you want to go?
There's literally a world of opportunity for buyers who are willing to look outside the boundaries of their own country. Most people who decide to buy a vacation home abroad do it while they themselves are on vacation, so the first step is to do some traveling yourself and scope out potential homes.
The availability and price of homes are only two things that you'll want to keep in mind while you travel. The monetary exchange rate, health care facilities, stores, recreational activities, food, culture, and many other factors are going to influence your experience (and any guests' experiences) in that vacation home, so it's a good idea to find a place where as many of those factors as possible lean in your favor.
Research, research, research
Any home purchase is at least a bit of a risk, but that risk is exponentially higher when you're relatively unfamiliar with the country where you're planning that purchase. You might think the landscape is gorgeous, but if you haven't taken steps to learn about how the government operates (and whether it's stable), or typical criminal activity, or any number of other factors that could potentially influence your life and homeownership in that area.
Look into the history of the area to ascertain how safe and stable it is, both socially and environmentally. It's probably not a good idea to buy in a country that's experiencing political upheaval, or in a place where major weather events are common, so focus on places where the weather is manageable (especially from overseas) and the society is solid.
Make a plan for the vacation home
Some people dream of owning a vacation home in a remote part of Tuscany, surrounded by history -- and if that's the dream, more power to you. But be aware that the rental opportunities won't be the same as if you bought in a more tourist-centric area that's already part of global traffic patterns.
That might not matter if you don't want to rent the home, but it could be a deal-breaker if you'll need rental income to help offset the cost of buying or as a second income stream. So if you didn't consider those factors when you pinpointed where you wanted to buy, then it's time to revisit that question.
Many people who own vacation homes abroad plan to eventually retire in those homes, and that opens up a whole new world of questions to answer. You certainly don't have to retire overseas in your vacation home, but if you do, make sure that you revisit those currency exchange rate and health care facility questions with an eye on your future. It might help to hook up with an expat community in the region or find one of the expat online forums and ask people who are doing what you'd like to do for advice.
Understand how homeownership works in the country
The laws and regulations surrounding buying and owning a home are different depending on the country. For example, you may be able to buy a home, but not the land it sits on. And your ownership of things like water and minerals on the property can also vary widely from country to country. You might also need to obtain special permits in order to buy a home in a country where you're not a citizen, or jump through any number of other bureaucratic hoops.
One of the best first steps you can take is to find a local real estate agent, who can refer you to a local real estate attorney, and ask them to help you manage the transaction. That said, be aware that in some countries, real estate agents only represent sellers, so do a little bit of research first to ensure you're talking to the right people.
Get your financial house in order
The financial requirements for buying a home abroad can be very different than they are here. For example, you might end up needing to put 40% down on the home instead of the more typical 20% in the United States.
Talk to your real estate contacts in the country and become familiar with the mortgage loan requirements you'll need to meet. Bring your own financial advisor in the loop, too: They can help you decide whether it's feasible to purchase a home outright or whether you really do need that loan -- and they can help you figure out a level of debt that gets you what you want but still feels comfortable.
Enlist local help to start shopping
Some real estate portals have international listings (realtor.com is one of them), but some countries don't digitally list properties at all. So it's usually a better idea to work with a local professional who can walk you through potential purchases and alert you when something new hits the market.
If you haven't already done this, it'd be smart to plan an extended trip to the area so you can interview and hire an agent or attorney (or both), look at possible properties, and see if any of them are a match. This could take just a couple of weeks or be a month-plus adventure, so plan accordingly.
Your dream of owning a vacation home overseas can become a reality if you find the right people to help you on the journey.