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Ross Irvine

Finance Director

British citizens have historically been keen buyers of property abroad, but the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 has left prospective buyers wondering how to buy a house abroad or if the process has changed. Yet while there may be uncertainty about buying abroad and where British expats stand when it comes to moving overseas, it doesn’t seem to have put buyers off, given the lure of a second holiday home or retiring abroad on sunnier shores in the wake of the pandemic.

Whether you’re thinking of jetting off, you’ve already moved abroad and want to settle down, or you want to invest in a holiday home or buy-to-let, there’s never been a better time to think global. And the good news is, getting a mortgage to fund your dreams is simple and straightforward – if you know what you’re doing. To help you, we’ve put together this guide with expert advice on how to buy a house abroad after Brexit as a British citizen, including everything related to expat mortgages and additional costs.

We also have a separate guide on getting a mortgage in the UK as an expat.

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Luxury home in La Zagaleta, Marbella. Buying property in Spain after Brexit is a hot topic / GETTY IMAGES

How to buy a house abroad after Brexit – can I still do it?

How do you buy a house abroad? Getting a property after Brexit surely is a hot topic. The good news for British citizens is it may not be as hard as you imagine. Whether you’re making your home abroad, or thinking of investing in a holiday home or buy-to-let, here’s all UK expats need to know about buying a property overseas.

Certainly, Brexit has made things more difficult to move into Europe. Previously one could disappear to any European countries with minimum hassle. Now, Brits will need to negotiate the visa requirements of individual governments. And of course, COVID-19 restrictions have hardly made it easier moving elsewhere in the world. Buying a house in EU countries now involves a lot more bureaucracy and paperwork than before Brexit. It can also be harder to get a mortgage for a house in an EU country. On top of it, buying a house abroad in an EU country is more expensive than before Brexit.

That said, 2021 could still be the year to make a big move and join the expat community. Post-Brexit, some reciprocal agreements on healthcare in Europe have changed. So many expats now need to apply for residence to access state-funded healthcare. For anyone not permanently living in the new country, it’s important to have a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). If you’re not eligible for state-funded healthcare, or would like additional peace of mind you may want to consider international healthcare insurance.

We expect many countries to open up digital nomad schemes or hassle-free visas for expats. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic recession and governments want to encourage wealthy expats who will continue to spending. Even before the pandemic, certain EU countries were appealing to British expats (e.g., Spanish islands, Greece, Finland).

Planning your next move from the UK?
Find out the best countries for Brits after Brexit

With all that, you will need to be more aware of potential mental health challenges when living abroad. Our recent survey of expats across the globe shows the ongoing importance of providing mental health resources dedicated to supporting expatriates, who may feel the effects of events, such as the pandemic, much more keenly than others.

What should I know before buying a house abroad after Brexit?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that every country has its own laws regarding property buying. Even if you’ve bought a house in the UK, don’t expect the process to be the same in other countries. However, some things in the process of buying a house abroad after Brexit have changed.

What are the pros of buying a house abroad in the EU after Brexit?

  • You still have a right to buy property in the EU after Brexit.The right to buy property in the EU is not restricted to EU citizens. British citizens can still buy a house in the EU (Austria is an exception). Anyone who can pay the price is still able to purchase a property in one of the EU countries. Brexit has not changed that.
  • The costs of buying a property are not affected by your nationality.Broadly speaking, the costs of buying a house abroad are the purchase tax, the Notary’s fee, the property registry fee and some small miscellaneous expenses. They are the same whether you are a national of the UK, or a national of the USA or China. These are the same for anyone who buys a house in the EU and is not affected by Brexit.
  • In most EU countries your right to do what you wish with a property that you own is not affected by your nationality.If you wish to buy a house abroad and to rent out, whether short term or long term, then you are still able to use the property for that purpose after Brexit, according to the rules applicable in each EU country.
  • As non-EU citizens, British nationals are permitted to apply for Golden Visa residency permits.It is a residency-by-investment programme currently being offered by EU countries such as Portugal, Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Greece and grants residency in return for a form of property investment. The key of the Golden Visa is that it doesn’t automatically entail tax residency. The visa also enables non-EU nationals to travel within the Schengen area which consists of 26 EU member state, for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. The Golden Visa scheme can provide a route from temporary residency to permanent residency and ultimately citizenship.

What are the cons of buying a house abroad in the EU after Brexit?

  • It’s about increased red tape when it comes to buying a house in Europe.The main question revolves around time: the British can spend no more than 90 days at a time in Europe within a 180-day period (be it for work or pleasure). However, for those who are looking to spend a few weeks in the sun or on the slopes, this isn’t a problem. There are also some exceptions with different rules applying to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. If you visit these countries, visits to other EU countries do not count towards the 90-day total. That means holidaymakers can stay in these nations for up to 90 days without impacting the quota on how long they can visit EU countries for.
  • There’re adjustments in tax status for British citizens to consider.What has changed is the rate at which you pay tax upon the rental income that you earn in some EU countries. For example, EU residents pay tax on rental income in Spain at the rate of 19%. Brexit means that UK residents are obliged to pay tax at the same rate as non EU citizens, which is currently 24%, whereas prior to Brexit you could reduce the amount chargeable to tax by deducting allowable expenses of the rental. It is important to note, however, that you will be able to set off the tax paid in Spain against your UK tax bill for the same income.
  • However you are taxed on income received from your rental house, it will remain essential that you rent out your property in accordance with the local laws.In France British owners face an increase in social taxes to those levied on non-EU citizens, for example. The effect that Brexit is having on the EU property market and on currency may affect the cost to you in real terms, but it has always been the case that the worldwide property market is subject to fluctuation.

With that in mind, here are three top tips that apply to buying property in most foreign countries as British citizen:

  1. Work with a local property expert
    There are many people based around the world who specialise in helping expats like you find and purchase property in foreign countries. These property specialists may be able to help you find property in your preferred region and price range, represent you in negotiations (especially useful if there is a language barrier) and handle all the complicated paperwork. This is especially useful because they will help you to make sure you’ve completed the sale in accordance with local laws, including signing over the deeds. If you know other UK expats in the country you want to move to, ask them for recommendations. Alternatively, many overseas estate agents know property consultants and may be able to help you find one.
  2. Buying a new build? Vet the developer first
    If you’re looking at a property still under construction, the UK government advises that you do your research on the developer. You should ask to see paperwork related to the development such as architects’ plans, engineers’ appraisals, surveyor’s reports and confirmation of the land purchase. You may also want to look into the developer’s funding sources – who is financing the development, and are they credible? Also, ask your developer to show you examples of previous projects they have worked on and, if possible, speak to occupiers or residents of these projects to see how they feel about the developer.
  3. Learn what you can about the local infrastructure
    Remember, it’s not just bricks and mortar you’re buying. You’ll also need to know about the local energy supply, water and sewage systems, telephone and transport infrastructure, especially if you’re buying in a remote or rural area.
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A house on the Thai island of Koh Samui. The rules for buying abroad in South Asia have not changed for British citizens / GETTY IMAGES

You should also ask questions like: is this area at risk of flooding, earthquakes or coastal erosion? What are the local crime rates like? Where are the nearest emergency services based?

One idea is to speak to neighbours in the area to see what they know. Failing that, you should visit the office of the local government authority responsible for your area and ask to see plans, maintenance records and emergency response documents.

How to buy a house abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic shouldn’t slow your search down too much, as many countries are eager to keep the wheels of their property market turning.

However, it may make travelling to and from your desired country harder. You may want to look at whether receiving your COVID-19 vaccinations will help to speed up the process.

Choosing independent legal advice when you buy abroad

When it comes to finding a local expert to work with, your best option is usually to approach estate agents or legal officials who specialise in working with British expats.

Village Cinque Terre in Italy. Italy is among popular places to move abroad for British citizens / GETTY IMAGES

Check that they are qualified to practice in the country you want to buy in, that they have a history of successful purchases and that they are registered with any local legal councils and/or the Law Society in the UK. You should also make sure they have professional indemnity insurance.

Much of the time, this person will be able to act as your translator or interpreter, but if they can’t speak the language themselves they may be able to help you appoint one. This is usually the best option, but if you choose to hire a translator on your own take care to vet them first. This, of course, is assuming you don’t already speak the language yourself!

Most popular places and countries in the world to buy a house abroad as a British citizen

Before deciding on a specific country and location, it is worth understanding what everyday life is like in the area. If you aim to rent out your property to holidaymakers, make sure the area is well-connected and has attractions, as well as activities for different ages and tastes. Also, do market research to check whether property values in the region have been declining or increasing in recent years. The best way to get a clear picture of all the above is to rent a house for a few weeks and explore the area where you plan to buy with the mindset of a permanent resident.

It’s worth remembering that property laws vary by country. Here is a list of best countries to buy a house abroad as a British expat:

Luxury villa in El Tossal, Alicante, Spain. Before deciding on a specific country and location, it is worth understanding what everyday life is like in the area / GETTY IMAGES
  • France
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • UAE
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica
  • Canada
  • New Zealand.

Some EU countries, like Greece and Malta, have tighter restriction on buying a property as a foreign citizen. Worth noting that Australia, another popular destination or Brits buying a house abroad, recently introduced a tax if your house is empty for more than six months.

Thinking of moving and living abroad?
Check out our ultimate guide for British expats

Finding a mortgage as a British citizen abroad: overseas mortgage vs foreign mortgage

Getting a mortgage to buy property in a foreign country is not easy, but it’s certainly possible. There are two ways to accomplish it: either getting a special expat mortgage from a UK lender, or applying for a local mortgage as an expat.

Either way, you’ll need to meet certain criteria such as:

  • Be able to show proof of employment and monthly earnings – this could be a UK-based job that you’re doing remotely, or a job based abroad – just so long as you have a source of regular income
  • Have a good credit history
  • Be able to pay the mortgage back before retirement age

How to get a UK mortgage (“overseas mortgage”) in a foreign country

When you buy property abroad using a UK-based mortgage, this is called an “overseas mortgage” or “international mortgage.” There are many specialist overseas mortgage lenders in the UK, including:

  • HSBC International Services
  • Simon Conn
  • SPF Private Clients
  • Knight Frank
  • Articus

How do I apply for an overseas mortgage?

Applying for an overseas mortgage from a UK-based lender will involve a similar process to applying to buy a property in the UK. You will need to show proof of your income and credit history, pay a deposit (usually at least 25% of the value of the property) and commit to a term for the mortgage.

You will also need to carry out a survey and get a mortgage valuation, as you would in the UK. However, as you’ll be dealing with a UK-based lender, this could incur a much higher fee than you would usually expect.

The same goes for solicitors’ fees. Not only will you be using your solicitor much like a consultant, there may be much more paperwork and many more searches involved than in the UK.

And of course, you will need to consider life insurance, ideally through an global life insurance provider (like William Russell) In fact, we recently published a guide to popular life insurance questions for expats which may help.

There are also some extra, expat-only steps you may need to go through, including:

  • Anti-money laundering checks, to check your deposit is coming from a legitimate source
  • Tax checks to check which country (the UK or your new home) you owe tax to, especially if the country you are moving to does not have a double taxation agreement with Britain.

How to buy a house abroad: Can I get a foreign mortgage as a British national?

The alternative course of action is to search for a mortgage in the country you are living in. This is a more difficult but potentially more viable and more affordable course of action, depending on your situation and the country you want to buy a property in.

Mortgages in most other countries are fundamentally similar to those in the UK, but may involve major local differences. For instance, you may find it harder to find variable rate mortgages in some countries, while in others you may be advised to take a loan from an independent lender rather than a big bank. Make sure you have a good consultant to guide you through the local process.

And of course, after Brexit, you will not be able to apply for a mortgage in an EU country as an EU citizen – you will have to do things the same way as the rest of the world, even in places like France, Italy and Spain. That includes taking out international health insurance.

To give you an example, this is how a non-resident mortgage in Spain might look like – it’s designed for non-residents who pay their taxes outside Spain. The maximum mortgage amount is 70% of the purchase price (or valuation if lower), but some banks have a maximum amount of 60%. For fiscal residents who pay Spanish taxes, the maximum mortgage is 80%.

As a general rule, most banks will lend on the following criteria:

  • Over €100,000 loan minimum LTV 70%
  • Under €100,000 loan minimum LTV 60%, minimum loan €35,000

How can I increase my chances of getting a foreign mortgage when I’m buying abroad?

Luckily, if you have savings, an income and a good credit rating, there is a strong chance you will be approved for a foreign mortgage. But there are also some things you can do to help your application:

  • Applying for citizenship may increase your chances of being approved
  • If your spouse is a citizen of the country you are buying in, it may be best to make a joint application
  • Open a bank account in your new home country and close any inactive current or savings accounts in the UK

All that’s left then is to apply, either through lenders themselves or online, or by asking your property consultant/estate agent to start the application process for you, and completing the process as usual according to the local laws and regulations.

How to buy a house abroad – buying property off-plan

Buying off-plan means agreeing to the purchase of a property before it has been completed. You are, in other words, buying it based off the plans.

This is a common option for foreign investors looking to buy holiday homes in high-rise blocks or brand-new villas, but you may also be thinking of buying a new-build home in a residential area. Either way, you need to be aware that this carries risks.

Before signing any paperwork or transferring any money, make sure you:

  1. Get a bank guarantee.
    This means, if the developer fails to deliver, their bank will be liable to return your money
  2. Read through all the paperwork thoroughly.
    Make sure it clearly states the deadline for completion, as well as a clause for interest paid to the buyer in case the project runs over
  3. Keep receipts of all transfers.
    Save copies of all paperwork and contracts, and consider putting a solicitor on retainer in case you need to proceed to legal action

What to do if things go wrong when you buy abroad

In the unlikely event that you feel you have been the victim of fraud, it’s best to seek independent legal advice. If you have kept copies of the paperwork and receipts for all your transactions, there is a good chance you will be able to reclaim your lost investment through the local courts.

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Picturesque Tuscan region in Italy. The Chianti hills between Florence and Siena have long been popular among the more artistically minded British buyers / GETTY IMAGES

How to buy a house abroad: additional costs

What sort of additional costs should you expect when getting an overseas mortgage? There are a lot of up-front costs involved with an overseas or expat mortgage, including some you might not expect. Set aside plenty of extra cash for:

  • The mortgage deposit: this could be up to 25% of the value of the property if you are buying abroad
  • Mortgage fees: from a broker’s fee, to arrangement/opening fees, to admin fees, you should expect your overseas mortgage to cover various hidden costs and adjust your budget accordingly
  • Your agent and/or solicitor’s fees: you will use many more of your consultant’s hours if you’re buying abroad, and this mean hefty fees. You may also have to pay for things like translation services
  • Council or government fees: you may need to pay the local council or regional government for their help when it comes to performing searches, tracking down paperwork or countersigning documents
  • Tax: the UK charges stamp duty, but other countries may have their own transaction taxes on property sales, which you will need to research in advance. Your mortgage may help you cover these taxes
  • International bank transfer fees: getting money from your UK-based account to your overseas seller will no doubt incur a currency conversion. This fee can be quite high, especially if the amount you are transferring is the full value of the property. You may also need to pay your bank cheque-writing or bankers’ draft fees
  • Will writing services: depending on the country, you may be required to draw up a will, which will require consultancy fees
  • Moving costs: these will be much higher if you’re shipping your possessions overseas. You will probably need to look into shipping companies that deliver to a nearby port, plus local hauliers to bring items to your property
  • Connection fees: especially if your property is a new-build, you may need to pay to hook your property up to the local sewer, electricity, gas and telephone grids

Your handy “how to buy a house abroad after Brexit” checklist

We’ve provided a handy checklist for you if you are considering purchasing a home abroad – you can print it out if you want to.

  • ☐ Research the entry requirements including any COVID-19 restrictions. Check what restrictions are in place if you need to get back to your home country quickly. Read here about how to get a COVID vaccine as an expat.
  • ☐Consider using a relocation agent to help you navigate the move abroad. Availability of experts may be limited post-Brexit and COVID-19 so make initial enquiries as early as possible.
  • ☐ If you’re planning to buy a house abroad and move with family and/or pets, there are additional considerations such as schooling and pet passports.
  • ☐ Be proactive about making connections before you buy a house abroad, both with other expats and locals. It helps to know some of the language too – you want to make sure there are no hidden tricks in the area you are considering for your future overseas home.
  • ☐ If you’re planning to become a digital nomad, check with your employer first. They might have designs on a “return to the office”, and their may be tax implications or other restrictions on your employee benefits package.
  • ☐ Have you asked your property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?
  • ☐ Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as taxes and other bills/fees?
  • ☐ Have you received your  agreement as proof of address? (You will need this to do many other things like set up a bank account.
  • ☐ Have you chosen a bank for your account and prepared the necessary paperwork?
  • ☐ Do you have all the necessary payment cards to go with your account?
  • ☐ Have you arranged to get a mobile phone with a local SIM card?
  • ☐ Prioritise your health, including mental health, as moving abroad – like any big change – can present challenges. Make sure all your medical appointments are up to date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication.
  • ☐ Healthcare can vary across the world, both in terms of quality and access. International health insurance can give you access to private healthcare, wherever you make your new home.
  • ☐ If you have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, if so, do you have evidence of your vaccine such as the batch number and manufacturer?
  • ☐ If you have not been vaccinated, have you made arrangements to get a vaccine once you arrive or looked at the quarantine implications?
  • ☐ Have you applied for a visa at least 2 weeks before beginning your preparations?
  • ☐ Have you also applied for a visa for your spouse and/or family?

Before you move abroad…

…make sure you have taken out comprehensive international health insurance for yourself and your family. Starting a new life overseas comes with all sorts of bumps and hurdles, but one thing that shouldn’t get in the way is finding access to high-quality medical treatment. With William Russell, you can depend on our three decades of expertise in every country on earth, with cover for treatments such as cancer and services like medical evacuation for extra peace of mind. Start your new life abroad with us – contact us today to find out more.

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