Buying Property in the US as a Foreigner: The Ultimate Guide

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In the past decade, Asian investors have poured money into cities like London, New York, and Los Angeles.

It’s not strange as they want to buy property close to their relatives, in places they consider safe, or where they plan to send their kids for education in the future.

Yet, we see a trend where more and more foreigners invest in smaller cities and states that received less attention before. Some examples are Texas and Nashville.

However, before you engage in the American property market, it’s important that you learn if you can even buy property as a foreigner, how the process is, what taxes you need to pay, and more.

Topics covered in this article:

Can foreigners buy property in the US?

Yes, foreigners have no particular issues to buy property in the US. In fact, the buying process is straightforward and transparent, same as in most other Western countries.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invest in countries like Cambodia, you always need to weigh your risk to your profit potentials. But an investment in the US will probably reduce a lot of the hurdles in comparison with the latter one. 

We shouldn’t forget that the US is big and consist of many states, each with different regulations towards ownership of real estate.

To make an investment in the US might require equally much research as when you buy a property in the EU.

And you should not only have the US as your sole focus when researching about regulations.

In fact, your nationality and country might have regulations that make it harder, or less favorable for you to invest in a US property.  

Getting an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) when buying property in the US

Unless you are a US citizen, permanent resident, or temporary (working) resident with a Social Security Number (SSN), you’ll need to apply for an ITIN. In short words, an ITIN is used for tax purposes.

The ITIN number will be needed for you to open a US bank account, to pay for your property, and other costs and fees, like taxes and utilities.

Before you can open a bank account, you first need to get an ITIN number.

How do I get an ITIN number in USA?

You can apply for an ITIN number at the Inland Revenue Service (IRS), which is the national tax authority.

ITIN application form

You can find the ITIN application form here.

Can non US citizens get a mortgage?

Even if many Asian investors buy property with cash assets, I’ll explain how a you’ll be able to get a local mortgage as a foreigner.  

First of all, foreigners can get a Foreign Investment Loan, also referred to as FIL mortgage, but you need to provide much information regarding your private finances.

buy-property-united-states

Many foreign investors get frustrated by the long application and long buying process required. Be prepared to wait for weeks, in case you forget any documentation when applying for a loan.

Applying for a loan as a foreign permanent resident

If you’re a permanent resident alien, you need to bring your social security number and your green card. Fortunately, the application process is very similar between US citizens and foreigners who reside in the US.

Applying as a non-permanent resident foreigner

If you’re a non-permanent resident alien and have a social security number, but not a green card, you can get financing if you have a work permit (Employment Authorization Document) or a special employer-sponsored visa. The lenders also need to show that you’ll be able to live and work in the country for at least three years.

How much can foreigners borrow?

If you apply for an international loan at HSBC, you can be granted a loan of up to USD 3 million, which will be more than enough in most cases.

They are more than happy to have you as a client, my recommendation is that you give them a call for more details about the loan options you have.

manhattan-property

HSBC is one bank that offers good services such as loan and amortization payments directly online, through your personal internet banking account.

Sometimes, people say that you’re not capable of opening a bank account without a US credit history. But nowadays, banks such as HSBC offer help to get your international credit history for opening bank account purposes.

To apply for a mortgage through a US branch is still not an easy walk and often takes long time.

Down payments when foreigners buy property in the US

Bear in mind that foreigners need to pay more in down payment compared to local citizens, the rate is generally 30%. But, if you can put more money on the table, you might get advantages such as tax benefits.

Benefits when buying property with a mortgage

Some of the benefits when using a mortgage are:

  • You diversify your portfolio and use your money for other investments
  • In case the property appreciates in value, you’ll get a higher return on investment (ROI)
Summary how it works when foreigners take on a mortgage in the US

Foreigners are able to receive property loans in the US. However, in case you don’t have a local credit history, you often need to wait longer, pay higher rates, and a higher down payment.

How can foreigners buy property with cash assets in the US?

In comparison to countries like Malaysia, there are no minimum investment requirements when buying real estate in the US, at least.

If you have sufficient cash assets, it can be great to pay everything up front. As explained above, the buying process is longer if you need to apply for a loan and you can enjoy tax benefits if paying everything up front with cash.

What are the benefits when buying a property with cash assets?

Some of the benefits to buy with cash assets are:

  • You reduce the time to purchase the property
  • If the investment is bad and heads downwards, you might end up paying more money if you’ve taken on a loan
  • You can reduce fees and taxes (get tax benefits)
  • Sometimes, the seller can agree on a lower price as you’re capable of buying the property fast
  • In a bidding war, you’ll be more attractive to the seller who knows you can pay directly with cash

The easiest way to pay with cash assets is to open a local bank account in your home country, for example, at HSBC, and then transfer the money to a local branch in the US.

Can foreigners get visas or residence permits when buying property in the US?

You cannot get a long term visa, or a residence permit for that matter, simply by buying a US property.

Maybe this doesn’t come as a surprise as it’s getting increasingly more difficult to get a US residence permit, even for educated people from developed countries.

Nowadays, people get green cards and working visa through lotteries, which speaks for itself.

Yet, there’s another way to get a green card by investing in US property.

Getting an EB-5 visa in the US

If you invest at least USD 500,000 in residential projects that create 10 American jobs, you’ll be able to apply for a green card through the so called EB-5 visa program.

The EB-5 program has become increasingly popular among investors in Asia, who look for a future in the US and that are willing to put up the money needed.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have any long term visas for retired people, like the Elite visa currently available in Thailand).

Best places to buy property in the US as a foreigner

Asian investors have mainly targeted coastal areas such as in California, New York, and San Francisco when buying property in the past.

But the trend is shifting and Asian investors have started to look for properties in smaller cities and suburban areas.

property-utah

Landscape and skyscrapers in Utah

The big cities have seen property prices skyrocketing, a similar trend we see in London in the UK. Here, people have started to target smaller cities like Sheffield, Birmingham and York, instead of London.

What is a suburban area?

Let me clarify what a suburban area is before we continue.

A suburban area is located in the outskirts, or between and close to two major cities for example.

As mentioned, property prices have increased moderately in these areas, especially when comparing to places like San Francisco and New York, where prices have become eye watering.

When you look for a city to invest in a property, pay attention to the following three things:

  • Recent and predicted growth of the population
  • Recent and predicted growth of jobs
  • Recent and coming growth of property prices

These are the cornerstones if you want to experience high price appreciations and good yields over a longer period of time.

Buying property in Florida as a non-resident foreigner

Florida has seen a big influx of Asian investors in the past years. Here, they can find top universities, great weather, and the taxes are comparably low.

But don’t only focus on Miami, you should have a glimpse at other places like Jacksonville, West Palm beach, Orlando and Tampa (just to name a few).

Unfortunately, the Florida market has stagnated. One of the reasons is that foreigners have used Florida (and mainly Miami) as a place to store laundered money.

But I highly recommend to do some research as people in Florida enjoy a great quality of life.

Buying property in Texas as a non-resident foreigner

As mentioned, Asian investors have focused on cities in the coastal areas, resulting in less investment in states like Texas.

Dallas is one of the top 5 cities in the US where property prices are predicted to grow a lot, due to the current undervaluation of properties.

You should also take a look at Austin that has grown remarkably in the past decade, but is projected to grow even more. Texas has a great economy and has performed better than a lot of other states.

It didn’t suffer as much during the subprime crash either.

houston-property

City center of Houston

If you like country music and smoked ribs, you should consider to make a property investment in Nashville (Tennessee).

Investors predict that Nashville’s economy will do very well in the coming years, and its properties are undervalued.

With property prices that increase by almost 10% a year, you can’t neglect this city…

Buying off-plan property as a foreigner in the US

Off-plan properties are rarely found in the US, at least compared to Asian countries. Miami is one exception though.

Asians like to invest in off-plan buildings, we’ve seen this in Australia as well, and where the governments entice foreigners to buy off-plan property.
But in the US, the more common property type is single family houses and apartments.

Condos are less common compared to cities like Bangkok, in New York, roughly 25% of the residential buildings are condos.

However, when travelling in Miami (especially in the financial districts) you’ll see a lot of cranes building condos, paving the road for foreign investment.  

Property taxes for non-resident foreigners in the US

There are a few regulations you should have a look at and that you’re probably not aware of at the moment. For instance, did you know that if you don’t put a trust on your property, a federal tax of 50% may be deducted in the case of death of the property owner?

As such, I recommend you to hire a tax professional to sort out the tax regulations beforehand, which can save you much money.

You can tax professionals online, but be sure to do due diligence.  

Capital gains tax for non-resident foreigners in the US

You need to pay a Capital Gains Tax of 10%, 15%, or 20%, but the rate varies depending on the state.

Should I set up a limited company (LLC) when buying property as a foreigner in the US?

You an also buy US property through an LLC (Limited Liability Company).

There are two benefits of doing this:

1). In the event of a lawsuit for example, if you own a property in your name, you might not only risk the assets in your property, but parts of your personal finances might also be at stake. We all know that lawsuits can be filed quite frequently in the US (you’ve even heard about people suing McDonald’s for millions, when they spilled hot coffee over themselves).

A lawsuit could be issued by a tenant, for example, in case the person gets injured while living in your property. If you set up an LLC, the property will be owned through that company, therefore your personal finances will not be affected in case a lawsuit is filed against you.

2). You can also enjoy reductions in taxes by opening an LLC, through so called pass-through taxation. Property owners can get double-taxed in case they don’t own a property through an LLC.

Finding a real estate agent as a foreigner in the US

If you’ve found a real estate agency, check their website and do some thorough screening. Ask people on the internet, check for testimonials and confirm that the agency is credible.

Many real estate agencies know that there’s a big influx of Asian investors in the US, particularly Chinese, and many of them hire agents that can communicate in Mandarin.

If you find it necessary, try to find a real estate agent that has Chinese speaking staff, to make the process more efficient and to avoid communication problems.

Agents registered at NAR (National Association of Realtors)

It’s also important to see if the agent is licensed and a member of the NAR (National Association of Realtors). The agent doesn’t necessarily need to be a member of NAR, but it’s highly preferable.

In case the agent is a member of NAR, he or she will often times be more serious.

Why?

Otherwise, they face a risk of getting fined several thousands of dollars.

Should I hire a real estate agent?

One of the benefits with Real estate agents is that they can save you a tremendous amount of time. Usually, many properties are listed on the MLS and it can be a hurdle for you to find one that suits all your needs.

If you summarize all your needs to the agent, the screening will take less time. And as we all know, time is money.

The agents can easily detect problems with the property, that you might not be able to see. Hence, it can save you a great amount of money too.

One of the most important things a real estate agent can help you with is to check the title of the property, prior to the purchase.

To check the title is very important to avoid that there are no hidden liens or encumbrances to the property.

That’s everything from me in this article. I hope that you found this article useful. I wish you all luck with your property purchase in the US.

FAQ

Below I’ve included frequently asked questions and our answers:

Can foreigners buy property in New York?

Yes, foreigners have no particular issues to buy real estate in New York.

Can Indians buy US property?

Yes, Indians are treated like other foreigners and have no general issues to buy property in the US.

Can foreigners open bank accounts in USA?

Yes, foreigners can open bank accounts in the US, but regulations differ, depending on the banks. Many banks require that you have an ITIN number (as explained above). Other banks might also require that you have a US-based address.

Contact a handful of banks for an individual assessment.

Can a tourist buy a house in USA?

Yes, foreigners having tourist visas can buy real estate in the US. You can even buy property without being in the US. Just keep in mind that much preparations are needed beforehand. For example, you need to verify the source of your money, according to the Patriot Act as of 2001.

How long can you stay in USA if you own property?

Even if you buy a house, you’re not allowed to stay in the use permanently. If you’re from the EU, you’re able to stay in the US for up to 90 days, while other regulations might apply for other nationalities.

Can I live in USA if I buy a house?

No, as mentioned above, you’ll not be able to live in the US permanently by simply buying a property.

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