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Want to buy a private island? Here’s how
Turn your sense of adventure and a bit of money 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. Actually getting there 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 a thousand people why they bought their islands, and you might get 1,001 reasons. Chances are that one of these top three 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 neighborhood, 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 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.
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. Paying just $180,000 for the island in the late 1970s, Branson developed it into an ultra-exclusive luxury resort. Today, a night on Necker Island costs $60,000.
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.
- 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 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 typically aim for high-net-worth individuals, as many of them are priced in the millions.
Though you can find countless islands online, many other listings aren’t distributed publicly. To conduct a deeper search, consider contacting a realtor who specializes in private islands.
How much do they cost — and where can I find one for cheap?
Private islands sound expensive — indeed, many of them are. Just ask celebrities like Johnny Depp, who shelled out $3.6 million for Little Halls Pond Cay in the Bahamas’ Exuma district. Or Eddie Murphy, who paid $15 million for his own slice of heaven.
Those are astronomical sums of money. But the truth is, not all 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. Many islands cost less than a house.
- Of the 592 listings on Private Islands, Inc., 180 of them are listed for under $500,000.
- Of the 326 listings on the Vladi Private Islands website, 54 cost under 100,000 euros.
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.
How much will I pay for an island?
For most things in life, you get what you pay for. Islands are no exception.
If your budget is $500,000, you’re likely limited to islands in Canada or the northern United States. These islands can be picturesque, but they may not be your idea of the perfect vacation getaway. Meanwhile, an island in the Caribbean can set you back at least $1 million.
Prices vary wildly, so look carefully through listings to find one that suits your budget. You’ll find gems in beautiful places like French Polynesia, for example, for under $500,000.
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 Michigan or Canada.
That said, some regions are popular for private-island enthusiasts.
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. Crucially, the Bahamas sits close to the United States. A flight from Orlando to Nassau takes just 75 minutes.
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.
Central America and South America
Islands in places like Belize and Brazil tend to cost less than islands in the Caribbean. If you want an island close to the mainland, Brazil is an especially good choice for a host country.
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 that burst with culture.
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 region. 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?
- Your goals. Do you want something you can vacation on? Do you want to fish on 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.
- 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?
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.
What to watch out for
Consider if you’re ready for the complications of purchasing and building out an island. Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for.
1. You might not like island life.
It’s an island owner’s worst nightmare: Buying an island and spending heavily on construction — then finding 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 whether you’re cut out for island life at all.
2. You might not be able to develop on the island.
Before you buy your island, check with the local government to see if you can 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 that you have to obtain countless permits just to erect a simple structure.
Bottom line: It pays to research before shelling out your dough.
3. Developing the island could be expensive.
If you’re buying an undeveloped island, consider the costs 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 hundreds of thousands of dollars — and that’s not including costs for housing construction.
4. 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.
If you’re lucky to get a loan, it might only cover a small part of your island’s cost.
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