Buying property abroad

Buying property abroad is more popular than ever, with increasing numbers of people following their dream in purchasing a holiday home, a buy-to-let, or moving lock, stock and barrel to the sun. If you're planning such a move, read our guide before you buy.
In this article
                      Location checklist
                      Professional advice
                      Making an offer
                      Buying in Spain
                      Buying outside Europe

Location checklist
Before you start looking for a property, it's worth asking yourself a few basic questions, which should save you time and money in the long run: 

  • Do you prefer the town or country?
  • Do you want to be inland or on the coast?
  • Do you want to be isolated or in the thick of it? (Most people prefer to be within about an hour's travel time of a town.)
  • How much outside space do you want?
  • How close do you want to be to your neighbours?
  • How close do you want to be to shops, bars and restaurants?
  • Where's the nearest public transport, how often does it run, what time does it end?
  • How far is the beach?
  • How close are you to the nearest airport?
  • How far is it to sports facilities, golf, tennis, swimming, and so on?
  • How good are the local health and social services?
  • Arts and entertainment - what's available in the area?
  • Neighbours - what are they like and how often do you want to see them?

If you're relocating abroad, take a look at the Practicalities checklist from Fresh Start to help you get organised for the big move.

Professional advice
Use qualified professionals to protect your interests and make the purchase of your new home a stress-free experience. Estate agents are a good source of advice. Only negotiate with ones that are officially registered and hold a licence. Ensure you have a good lawyer with an excellent command of English and the native tongue, to deal with the endless stream of rules and regulations. For instance, did you know that if you're buying in Spain you'll need to make out a will in Spanish before buying, or that you can inherit debts from a previous vendor?

Research all legal issues and costs involved. Your solicitor/lawyer will advise and assist you. Before you have decided on a property it's important to be fully aware of the legal process and costs involved in your purchase. Obtain professional advice and check your finances, taking account of these additional costs.
Be well prepared with your finances; taxes can be high when buying. Set up a direct debit from a native bank account to pay for bills. Be careful not to miss payments and read those red letters; foreign banks are not lenient with those who don't pay up in time. If you're considering renting out the property when it's empty, bear in mind that advertising in the UK for a property abroad could result in tax demands from both the English and foreign authorities.

Making an offer
Make your offer in writing if possible (of course, subject to contract), and include not only the price, but also the amount of deposit, when you're prepared to pay it, when you're prepared to complete, what you understand to be included in the price (for example furniture and fittings if applicable) and, an often neglected point, that all machinery equipment and installations are in normal working order.
For more information about buying abroad, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) has a number of leaflets available.

Buying in Spain
Spain's pleasant, healthy climate and wide selection of properties make it the most popular destination for an overseas property. Choose from developed plots, farmhouses and village locations, through to villas, townhouses and new apartment developments.

A finca is a plot of land or an estate outside of or in-between towns and villages. Properties advertised as fincas can run from tumbledown farmhouses to lavish modern villas. An advantage is that fincas generally come with a substantial amount of land, which may include olive groves and fruit orchards.

If you wish to spend more than six months in Spain you need to apply for a 'residencia' to become a resident. Being a resident doesn't restrict movements in any way and it has many advantages, such as lower taxes. If you don't become a resident you must appoint a fiscal representative.

The fiscal representative
It's highly advisable for any person who has a property in Spain but doesn't live there all the time to nominate a fiscal representative. This is a person to whom the tax authorities can send all correspondence relating to your affairs in Spain, secure in the knowledge that it will arrive. The fiscal representative must be resident in Spain, but it's for you to choose whom to appoint. It can be a friend, neighbour, lawyer or tax adviser.

The gestor
For facility management you can appoint a local gestor or legal representative. This person is the official form filler who does the work for quite reasonable charges. If you decide to live or work in Spain your gestor can assist you with residencias, work permits, licences and permits in connection with the opening of new businesses. They'll also advise on importing cars, furniture, electrical goods and pets into Spain, obtaining payment of your pension in Spain, national insurance and other related matters.

The estate agent
Ask your estate agent for details of the outgoings payable every year to maintain the property:

  • annual real estate tax (1131)
  • community fees
  • charges for rubbish collection
  • water rates
  • electricity charges
  • property income and wealth tax

Applying for a mortgage is a straightforward process, as in the UK. A number of documents must be furnished to the Spanish bank in order to accommodate a smooth transaction. Please not that originals of everything will need to be shown and copies will be taken at the bank.

  • passport, driving licence
  • if employed: past three months' payslips, latest P60s
  • if self-employed: last three years audited accounts, tax returns and accountant's reference

Children's education
If you plan to move the whole family abroad, your children's education is highest priority. You can choose from international, state and private schools.
Contact the National Association of British Schools in Spain for information. Website:
Or phone Spanish Education on 020 7727 2462.

Buying outside Europe
If you are thinking of buying further afield, more advice can be found on these sites:
Australian High Commission. Website:
Australian Tourist Commission. Website:
Canadian High Commission. Website:
Canadian Tourist Office, Canada House, 5 Trafalgar Square, London SW1Y 5BJ
Embassy of the United States. Website:
US Citizenship and Immigrations Services. Website:
Orlando Economic Development Commission. Website:
The British in Florida. Website: