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Want to buy a private island? Here’s how.

Turn your savings and sense of adventure into your own island paradise.

Think you have to be rich and famous to own a private island? It may sound like a fantasy reserved for the elite, but you’d be surprised how accessible it can be. For less than the cost of a house, you could own a plot of land in the middle of the sea – and it’s remarkably simple to find one, too. But getting to your island paradise may be a different story, however.

If you’ve ever dreamed of buying a private island, now might be the time to take the plunge.

Why buy an island?

Ask one thousand people why they bought their islands, and you might get one thousand and one reasons. But chances are, one of these top three reasons will resonate with you:

1. Get away from the crowds.

A city on the mainland is accessible to almost anybody. But a private island is an exclusive place, especially when it’s surrounded on all sides by water. If you’re feeling cramped in your neighbourhood, you can find lots of space on your own island.

2. Build the home of your dreams.

One allure of owning a private island is the blank canvas on which you can build your dream house. As long as you get the right permits from the local government, you can transform your island into the grand vision you see in your mind’s eye. Whether you want a new place to live or a go-to vacation spot, you can create it on your own private island.

3. Develop it into an investment.

Empty islands tend to be hit-or-miss investments. But if you’re willing to develop your island, you could turn it into a money-generating asset.

Take Richard Branson’s Necker Island for instance. Paying just US$180,000 for the island in the late 1970s, Branson developed it into an ultra-exclusive luxury resort. Today, a single week on Necker Island costs somewhere in the range of US$27,000 – and that’s just for a room.

How to find an island for sale

The easiest way to find an island for sale is by looking online. On a private island website, you can organize listings by region, price and other criteria. Here are some popular websites:

  • Private Islands, Inc. Founded in 1999, Private Islands is one of the largest island-listing websites in the world. You’ll find islands for sale and for rent.
  • Vladi Private Islands. The company’s founder, Farhad Vladi, sold his first island in 1971. Like Private Islands, Vladi Private Islands is a premier island-listing site on which you can find islands for sale and rent.
  • Sotheby’s International Realty. Sotheby’s sells a narrower range of islands. Listings are typically aimed at high-net-worth individuals, as many of the islands are priced in the millions.

Though you can find countless islands online, many listings aren’t distributed publicly. To conduct a deeper search, consider contacting a realtor who specializes in private islands.

How much do private islands cost — and where can I find one for cheap?

Private islands sound expensive, and indeed, many of them are. Just ask celebrities like Johnny Depp, who shelled out US$3.6 million for Little Halls Pond Cay in the Bahamas’ Exuma district. Or Eddie Murphy, who paid US$15 million for his own slice of heaven.

Those are astronomical sums of money. But the truth is, not all private islands are unobtainable by mere mortals. For a private island, you could pay anywhere from millions of dollars all the way down to a few tens of thousands.
Islands are surprisingly affordable. In fact, many islands cost less than a house.

  • Of the 664 listings on Private Islands, Inc., 134 of them are listed for under US$500,000.
  • Of the 270 listings on Vladi Private Islands, 76 of them are listed for under US$500,000.

How to find an inexpensive island

Decades ago, it was nearly impossible to find a cheap island. But the Internet has changed everything.

Nowadays, it takes just three steps to find an island that fits your budget.

1. Find a private island website.
2. Navigate to the website’s catalog of islands.
3. Use the advanced search feature to filter and sort listings by price.

Just like that, you’ll find dozens of affordable islands that could soon be yours. Remember you can also use a realtor who specializes in selling islands since some are not listed online.

How much will I pay for an island?

For most things in life, you get what you pay for – and islands are no exception.

If your budget is $500,000, you’re likely limited to islands in Canada, the northern United States or some places in the Caribbean like Nicaragua or Belize. You’ll also find gems in beautiful places like French Polynesia, for example, for under $500,000. In other Caribbean spots like the Bahamas, you could be looking at spending upwards of $1 million.

Prices vary wildly, so look carefully through listings to find one that suits your budget.

Top places to buy an island

There’s no “perfect” place to buy an island. Rather, the right region depends on your tastes. If you want a tropical paradise, you might buy an island in the Caribbean or the Maldives. If you want a tranquil escape close to a lake, you might look into islands in Canada or the northern United States.

That said, some regions are popular for private island enthusiasts. These include:

  • The Bahamas. The Bahamas is an extremely popular place to buy a private island. The weather is beautiful and taxation is low; there’s no income tax, for example. What’s more, it doesn’t take too long to reach the Bahamas from Canada. A flight from Toronto to Nassau takes just 3 hours and 10 minutes.
  • South Pacific. French Polynesia and Fiji are prime vacation spots for newlyweds – and for good reason: they have some of the most beautiful islands on the planet. With a thorough search and a little patience, you could find a pristine island for a fraction of the price. Keep in mind it’ll take you much longer to fly to this region from Canada though.
  • Central America and South America. Islands in places like Belize, Nicaragua and Brazil tend to cost less than islands in the Caribbean. If you want an island close to the mainland, Brazil, Nicaragua and Belize are especially good choices for a host country.
  • Southeast Asia. Head to countries like Thailand and the Philippines for beautiful islands that won’t break the bank. This region boasts a wide variety of islands to choose from. You’ll also be close to popular vacation spots bursting with culture and experiences, not to mention delicious food.

How to choose an island

When you’re starting your island hunt, budget will be one of your biggest considerations. Once you have a figure in mind, head to a private island website and use filters to show islands within your budget. Equally important is your island’s location. Consider the weather of the region, which country’s jurisdiction it’s under and how easy it is to travel there.

Here are a few other factors to consider when looking at islands:

  • Extent of development. Do you want an island that’s move-in ready, or one that’s completely undeveloped? Or maybe something in between?
  • Ease of development. If you want to develop on the island, how accommodating will the local government be? Are you required to commission an environmental study? Which permits will you need, and how much will development cost?
  • Weather. You’ll also want to consider the types of weather that the region usually experiences. If your island will frequently endure big storms, hurricanes or other wild weather patterns, you might want to rethink the location.
  • Your goals. Do you want something you can vacation on? Do you want to fish off your island, or are you buying it for conservation? Each island comes with pros and cons that affect how much you’ll enjoy your potential new purchase. Not all islands will be suitable for development, so be sure you’re able to build if that’s your goal.
  • Proximity to land. How long will it take to get to your island from the mainland? Are there any weather conditions that would prevent you from getting there? Is there a dock or ferry already available? Will you be able to get contractors and building supplies out to the island without incurring massive shipping costs?

Can I buy an island with no government?

Do you dream of starting your own island country? Unfortunately, that’s a difficult undertaking. Virtually every island in the world falls under the jurisdiction of a government.

In the US, Canada or Britain, you may be able to run a somewhat autonomous island “nation”. But it’s unlikely these countries will allow you to secede.

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What to watch out for

Consider if you’re ready for the complications of purchasing and building on an island. Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for:

  • You might not like island life. It’s an island owner’s worst nightmare: buying an island and spending heavily on construction — then finding out they absolutely hate being there. Don’t let that be you. Instead of jumping into a purchase immediately, rent or stay on a nearby island first. This can help you decide whether you like the region and the isolation – and whether you’re cut out for island life at all.
  • You might not be able to build on the island. Before you buy your island, check with the local government to see if you can actually develop there. If you rush into your purchase, you may find that you can’t build because your island is in an environmentally protected area. Or, you may find that you have to obtain countless permits just to erect a simple structure. Bottom line: it pays to research before shelling out your hard earned cash.
  • Developing the island could be expensive. If you’re buying an undeveloped island, consider the price you’ll pay to make it habitable. You’ll need some way to obtain fresh water, maybe with a reverse-osmosis facility, as well as a waste management system. You might also install solar panels for energy. Together, this can cost tens of thousands of dollars — and that’s not including the costs for housing construction or bringing materials to your island.
  • Proximity to the mainland could be an issue. Consider how far your island is from the mainland. The more remote it is, the more difficult it may be to transport supplies. Furthermore, consider how long you’re willing to travel to get from the mainland to your island.

How to pay for your island

When it comes to paying for your island, there’s a simple rule of thumb: bring cash.

Unlike traditional housing, which you can usually obtain a mortgage for, you’ll likely have to pay upfront for your island. Banks typically don’t offer loans for islands because they can’t easily appraise them, but you could check with an online lender who may be more lenient. If you’re lucky enough to get a mortgage, it might only cover a small part of your island’s cost – which still means a hefty cash down payment.

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