How to Buy Property Overseas with a Money Transfer

Information verified correct on December 7th, 2016

Buying foreign property works both ways – you can buy property here in Australia or look to buy offshore.

The year of 2013 has seen a significant rise in the number of foreigners buying property in Australia. From July to September, Australia saw 16% of new property purchased by foreigners compared to 11% for the duration between April and June. There are a number of reasons why overseas buyers are investing in Australia;

  • Australian real estate is believed to be less volatile, proving to be a secure investment.
  • Wealthy families are looking to invest overseas because of concerns about political stability in their own countries.
  • Establishing a residency of a family member in a safe country, such as Australia.

The main reason for Aussies buying property overseas is that in comparison to prices at home, overseas investments may seem undervalued and therefore likely to appreciated in the future.

Process of buying property overseas

Compared to other parts of the world, investing in Australian property is very expensive where values and rents have hit an all time high. This is why local investors are now looking for cheaper alternatives overseas in some countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. You can buy property in different countries to diversify your investment portfolio and this may help to lower the effects of a downturn in a given market. There are important considerations that you should make to assist you in making the best decisions when buying property overseas.

Which property do I Invest in?

This is all about intensive research to identify the best investment opportunities in a given country and you can easily do this online or by consulting with experts overseas. Some things may be too complex to understand on your own, so it is wise to seek advice from professionals to ensure that you are fully aware of the market you will be getting into. This is where you can hire an accountant, buyers agent or financial advisor to help you understand tax regimens, procedures, laws and regulations to be observed in a given country.

Where do I find my source of financing?

If you can’t raise the full amount required to purchase property overseas, you will need to find a way to finance your investment property. There are financing institutions in Australia that have branches or business partners in foreign countries and you may be able to rely on them for a financial solution that suits you. Most of them will be able to even assist you in filling out the required paperwork and making the necessary transactions.

Do I need to consider currency transfer exchange rates?

The total amount that you will end up spending when investing in overseas property will be greatly affected by the exchange rates. Generally, these will keep on varying and you will surely make a good purchase where the rates are favourable. Remember that the same will also be affecting the income that you will be getting from your investment and you may find this varying from one year to the other. You may want to consider a foreign exchange operator to help you get the best rates.

Get into details

Once you’ve made up your mind on the country to invest in, you should now go for the specific details on the property buying process that you will be expected to follow. This is so because the process will vary from one country to another and even between different regions.

Some of the new emerging markets where one can purchase property abroad include North Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and South Africa. The real estate market in Dubai has also exploded after a decree was issued to allow foreigners to purchase freehold property. In Greece, the government has plans of offering visas to foreign investors to entice them and the situation is also the same in Spain where investors are being granted residency.

Before jumping into such commitments, it will be wise to consider proper management of the intended investments since finding reliable real estate agents can be challenging. You may also end up with clients who will be difficult to work with.

Buying property within Australia as a non-resident

The Australian Government regulates the foreign investment in the housing sector quite heavily. Foreigners can normally get approval for vacant land and existing residences for redevelopment as long as they apply for approval well in advance. Since Australia’s foreign investment policy is designed to increase new dwellings, its hard for foreigners to get approval to buy owner occupied properties.

Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval

Purchasing property as a non-resident requires approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) unless you are exempted from doing so by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Regulations. The requirements will be different depending on whether you are purchasing established or new property. When purchasing residential real estate in Australia, you can be exempt from seeking approval from the FIRB if;

  • You are an Australian citizen residing abroad making the purchase in your own name or through a trust or an Australian corporation.
  • You are a foreign national with a permanent resident visa or if you, or you are entitled to, hold a “special category visa” making the purchase in your own name, through a trust or an Australian corporation.
  • You are a foreign national making a joint purchase with a spouse who is an Australian citizen.

Buying vacant land in Australia

As a non-resident, you can get approval to purchase vacant land where no construction has been started. This will be done on condition that continuous construction will commence within 12 months if you are investing in residential property or five years if you are planning to develop commercial property. You can also buy commercial structures that have been extensively refurbished to be used as residential dwellings.

You can get approval to buy a residential estate that is already established if you are a holder of a visa permitting you to stay in Australia for at least 12 continuous months. Such property can only be used as a principal residence and it is a must to sell the dwelling on expiry of the temporary resident visa. Even if you fail to do so, you will not be able to use the place as your principal residence again.

Foreign companies that have established substantial businesses in Australia may get approval to buy property for senior executives who have been residing in the country for more than 12 months. Eligibility will be based on the assets and the extent to which the foreign companies are operating in Australia. These are the same features that will determine the properties that can be acquired.

Among the properties that will be exempted from examination are residential dwellings that were designated as Integrated Tourism Resort (ITR) before September 1999. This includes both existing dwellings and vacant land. Resorts that were designated as ITRs after the said date will only be exempted if they are leased for long term to the hotel operator and this means that they will be available to accommodate tourists when not being used by the owner.

All contracts allowing non-residents to acquire property in Australia should be turned conditional once approval is done unless the foreigner got such approval before the contract was entered into. Entering into unconditional contracts in order to own property before getting approval can result to penalties.

Frequently asked questions about buying property within Australia as a non-resident

Can I buy property in Australia as a foreigner?

Yes, but this may require approval from the government through the necessary channels.

I was granted approval 5 months ago, but there have been delays in the sale of property. Is my approval still valid?

Yes, this will be valid for 12 months.

Can I forward an application before deciding on the specific property to invest in?

No, you can only get approval for some specific property and you should make up your mind first.

Can I lodge applications for different properties at the same time?

Yes, but you should do this separately for all the properties you are planning to purchase.

Is there any limit on the number of properties I can invest in?

As a foreigner, you can only purchase one established property and you must use this as your principal residence. You will not be restricted when purchasing new or vacant properties. This will also be the case with established dwellings meant for development.

Which property can I rent out?

You can only rent out new dwellings, established dwellings that have been redeveloped or dwellings that exist on vacant land. You cannot rent out an established dwelling.

Should I seek approval when selling my property?

You won’t need to do so if you’ve met the conditions that were specified in your approval. You should seek approval if these have not been met.

Can I get an extension on the timeframe allowed to commence construction?

Yes and you should also do the same for any other conditions that you are finding hard complying with.

The developer whom I am buying property from has a pre-approval letter, but this is dated some few years ago. Will I need to forward a new application for approval?

No, provided everything will be done according to the pre-approval letter.

As a foreign non-resident, should I submit an application for approval when planning to acquire property through a trust or an Australian company?

Yes, you must seek approval regardless of how you are going for make the purchase.

As a foreign person, can I make a joint purchase for a second-hand residential property with my brother who is a permanent resident in Australia?

No, you can only do this if the person in question is your spouse.

As a foreign non-resident purchasing a house together with my spouse who is a permanent resident, should I seek approval?

Yes, you will require approval, but your spouse will not need such.

I acquired a second-hand property as a temporary resident, but I am a permanent resident now. Am I still obligated to sell the property on purchasing another established dwelling?

No, all the conditions that were attached to the first property will no longer apply.

I was granted approval to acquire a new property, but I am a temporary resident. Can I rent out the property when returning overseas?

Yes, you can rent it out since you bought it as new property.

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