When most people buy a property abroad it is normally the first overseas property purchase investment that they have made. It is probably their first, and certainly their most expensive, interaction with the legal system in that foreign country.
Despite this, purchasers often throw caution to the wind when buying property abroad and do things that they would never dream of doing back home. And they get themselves into trouble as a result.
Making mistakes when buying foreign property can be costly, time-consuming and very stressful, with the potential to completely derail your plans for a new life or investment abroad. To protect yourself against these sort of problems, we always recommend working with specialist independent foreign property lawyers when buying abroad.
At Judicare, we have decades of experience advising clients on buying property in countries all over the world, including Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Brazil, Morocco and the UAE.
We can guide you through the whole process of buying a property in a foreign jurisdiction, as well as advising on issues such as how property abroad affects inheritance, tax and other important issues.
Our UK-based international property team can help to make sure you stay safe when buying property abroad, so you can make your plans a reality safely and with no hidden surprises.
For advice on buying property in a specific country, please use the links to the right of the page, or to speak to a member of our team, please get in touch.
What do you need to know when buying property in a foreign country?
So what should you be thinking about when buying a property abroad in order to avoid any issues?
The basics are still the same…
The basics of buying a property abroad are essentially the same as buying a property in your home country. The process should look something like this:
- Searches should be carried out on the property to make sure that the seller owns the property, that the property is legally built and to identify if there are any charges on the property.
- A contract is then negotiated and agreed between the parties.
- An agreed percentage of the property purchase price is normally then paid as a deposit with the balance paid just prior to taking Title.
- A Title Deed is duly signed and then registered at the relevant land registry to reflect the change of ownership.
At that basic level, what you are trying to do is the same as back home but the actual process of each of these items can be very different. A considered approach therefore would be at every stage of your purchase ask yourself “would we do this back home?” If not, then ask yourself and your lawyer why.
…but many things are different abroad
Although at a high level things may be the same as back home, it is important to understand that the legal process, buying costs and even timescales can be very different in foreign jurisdictions. You should therefore try and understand how the process works in that country so that you don’t come across any nasty surprises during the buying process.
Do not assume that things work exactly the same way as in your home country. An experienced solicitor who specialises in the country that you are buying in will always be on hand to help, guide and protect you through the process.
Always use an independent lawyer
You would always use an independent lawyer when buying a property back home and would never use the lawyer that is “recommended” to you by the seller or the agent. So why should things be any different abroad?
You need a Solicitor who is acting in your interests and your interests alone, not also thinking about the seller or the estate agent. Your lawyers should be independent of any of the other parties in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. The two sides in a transaction have different objectives.
No matter what you are told, lawyers cannot act for both parties in a transaction and still look after the best interests of everybody. It may seem cost effective to use the services of a lawyer recommended by an agent or the seller, however it is always worth seeking your own independent lawyer to ensure your rights are being protected.
Know your budget and what this needs to pay for
Properties abroad are often cheaper than their equivalent in the UK, but the cost of buying (including legal fees, Notary fees, taxes etc) are often higher than in the UK. It is vital that you sit down and work out what your total budget is before you go and have a look at properties. You can then take that budget to work your way backwards in order to work out how much you can afford to spend on the actual property.
Find out how much it is going to cost you in legal fees, Notary fees, taxes and so on. If you need a mortgage then identify what percentage you can get in that country, how much they cost to set up and how much you can afford. Using all of this information you can then work out how much you can afford to spend on the property.
Those people who set a budget and then think that is what they can spend on the property are generally those who get themselves into trouble when they inevitably try to save money on lawyers, surveyors and the like.
Buying property abroad FAQs
How do I buy an overseas property?
This depends on the country, but a key point to understand is that it is usually not necessary for you to go to the country to complete the sale (although we always recommend visiting the property before making a purchase).
Working with trusted international property lawyers, like the team here at Judicare, means that the legal side of buying foreign property can be carried out safely, no matter where you are based.
Do I need a lawyer to help me buy property abroad?
In theory, you can buy foreign property by yourself without the help of a lawyer. However, as with buying property in the UK, we would always strongly recommend using an experienced property lawyer when buying abroad. This helps to make sure the transaction is handled correctly and that you are not caught out by any unexpected problems or scams which are, sadly, all too common. Furthermore most of our clients have never bought a property abroad before and therefore do not understand how the buying process works and often can’t even speak the language.
Are most legal systems the same as in the UK?
No, legal systems and the laws around buying property vary significantly between countries, which is why it is so important to work with a property lawyer with specific experience of the legal system in the country where you are buying.
How to fund buying a property abroad
There are various options for funding a foreign property purchase, including releasing equity from a UK property you own or trying to secure a mortgage from a lender in the country where you are buying. Obtaining a foreign mortgage can be confusing and challenging, so it is always worth taking specialist legal advice when considering this option.
For more information, please take a look at our guide to mortgages on foreign properties.
Do I need to change my Will when buying property abroad?
It is always a good idea to update your Will when buying any property as this can ensure your wishes are clear and make things easier on your loved ones when you pass away. With foreign property, it is often necessary to make a second Will for the country where the property is.
This is because inheritance rules vary significantly between countries, so you cannot always rely on your UK Will to deal effectively with property abroad. Simply including your foreign property in a UK will can cause problems when you pass away, including the potential for your property to go to people you might not have intended.
Find out more about we can help you with foreign Wills.
Find out more about buying property in foreign countries
Each country has its own legal system and buying process. In some countries the process and costs even also change from region to region. You can get further information about buying in various countries by clicking on the links to our Buying Guides for the country you are interested in at the top of the page.
You can also contact us to discuss your specific circumstances and requirements.
Why use Judicare for buying property in a foreign country?
International legal expertise
Our property law team are highly experienced in dealing with property across a number of jurisdictions, both within the EU and further afield, including in North Africa, Southern America and the Middle East.
We are a UK-based firm of solicitors and as such are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing assurance that we meet the highest legal standards.
Understanding of cross-jurisdiction legal issues
Our international property law team understand how UK law interacts with the law in various foreign jurisdictions and any potential issues this can create for you. We have particular expertise in the way this affects property ownership, taxation and inheritance.
Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP) membership
As AIPP members, we are committed to maintaining and improving standards of professionalism in the largely unregulated overseas property market.
We speak your language
As a UK registered law firm, we speak plain English and can explain even the most complicated legal issues and terms in a way that makes sense to you. This means you can have complete confidence in the advice we offer.
Need help buying property abroad?
Our UK-based property law team are highly experienced in helping clients to buy and sell property in various foreign countries all over the world. We can also assist with a whole range of related issues, such as advice on Wills and inheritance.
With a thorough understanding of both UK law and the law in various foreign jurisdictions, we can provide clear, reliable legal guidance in plain English, giving you the confidence to deal effectively with property in abroad.
For advice on buying property in a specific country, please use the links at the top of the page, or to speak to a member of our team now, please get in touch.