Can foreigners buy property in the USA? Full guide

Gabriela Peratello
10.01.22
8 minute read

If you’re planning a move to the US you might be wondering: can foreigners buy property in the USA to live? Or maybe you’re considering diversifying your investment portfolio and want to know: can foreigners buy rental property in the USA? This guide is for you.

We’ll cover all the rules for foreigners buying property in the USA, and the process for purchasing a US home or investment property.

📑 Table of Contents

Can a foreigner buy a house in the USA?

In short, yes — foreigners can buy property in the US with relatively few barriers. However, buying a property as a foreigner or non-resident in the US may present a few different challenges compared to buying a home if you’re a US citizen.

The first challenge may come around financing the purchase because lenders are often less willing to offer mortgages to foreign customers. Secondly, some property types may not be as suitable for foreign buyers as domestic. And finally, there are potential tax implications if you’re a foreign or non-resident owner of property in the US which you’ll want to know about in advance. This guide covers all you need to know to get you started on buying your dream home or investment property in the US.

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What type of property can a foreigner buy in the US?

You may be wondering whether foreigners can buy a place to live in the US, or even: can foreigners buy investment property in the USA?

The good news is that there are no legal barriers to foreigners buying property in the US. You can buy a property as a foreigner living in the US full time, as a Green Card holder, as a non-resident investor or as a vacation home.

Foreigners can buy single family homes and condo units, or invest in commercial real estate. The only common barrier they may run into is if they’re looking to buy into a housing cooperative.

When you buy a home through a housing cooperative — often simply known as a co-op — you’re not actually buying the property itself, but rather a share in the cooperative that owns the condo building.

Co-op properties may be cheaper than other forms of housing, but are usually intended as primary residences only, so aren’t suited to being investment properties.

Some cooperatives may not be willing to sell to foreigners because of the risk that they will leave quickly, which can make it harder for the co-op to run efficiently.

What are the rules for foreigners buying property in the USA?

Foreigners can buy a property in the US without any legal restrictions. The main issue many foreigners will run into will be financing.

If you’re non-resident and want an investment property in the US you might find it easiest if you can fund the payment with cash — getting a local mortgage may be tricky if you have no local credit history. It’s not impossible to get a local mortgage as a foreigner or non-resident, but you may face higher interest and need to provide a hefty downpayment to unlock a mortgage.

If you’re a permanent or long term resident in the US, or you’re a refugee or have been granted asylum status you may qualify for a housing loan through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)¹. Compared to private mortgage providers, the FHA can often offer favorable terms and better rates for qualifying buyers.

Learn more: how to transfer money to buy property abroad

Which documents will you need when buying property in America?

When you buy a US property you’ll need to provide paperwork to support your purchase, and if you’re getting a mortgage or other home financing, you’ll also need documents to support your loan application. Each situation will be slightly different, but here are some of the common documents you’ll need to provide:


  • Proof of identity: this can include your passport, Green Card, visa, and other identification such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

  • Proof of address and residence status: you’ll usually have to show where you live using a drivers license or other official paperwork, and may need to prove your legal residence status if you intend to live in the property

  • Proof of income: to get a mortgage you’ll need to provide evidence you can afford to keep up repayments. This may include pay stubs and tax returns

  • Proof of affordability: a lender will also need to see evidence of any outstanding loans or debts to assess the affordability of the loan


How to buy a house in the USA as a foreigner: step by step

buying-a-house-step-by-step

Whether you’re buying a US property to live in, or as an investment, the process will be similar. Here are the basic steps you’re likely to need to take²:

Step 1. Arrange financing

The first step in any home purchase will be to figure out how much you can afford, and set a budget. This may mean applying for a home loan in the US or in your home country, refinancing a property you already own elsewhere to release cash, or using savings.

If you’re applying for a mortgage in the US and you aren’t a resident, be aware that the process can take some time and the options and terms available to you may not be as favorable as those on offer to residents.

Don’t forget to budget for closing costs and any taxes you may need to cover, as well as the ongoing costs of running your property as a home or investment.

Step 2. Find a real estate agent and start your house hunt

The next step will naturally be to start searching for your perfect property. You can do a degree of research online through property websites, but you’ll get the best service and support by using a trusted real estate agent to guide your search.

The costs involved in paying your realtor are often covered by the seller of the property, and a good agent can help walk you through making and closing an offer, as well as narrowing down your search to the most suitable properties.

Real estate agents typically work in local areas, so you’ll need to find someone who covers the location you’re thinking of buying in. Getting recommendations from family and friends in the region can help connect you with a great agent.

Step 3. Agree an offer

Once you’ve found the place for you, you’ll need to write up an offer with your agent, and have the sellers agree to the sale price and terms. It’s common to make an earnest money deposit at this stage, which is a small percentage of the sale fee to show your intentions.

If you go through with the sale, the deposit is credited against your closing costs or downpayment, but you may lose this money if you agree to the sale and later back out.

Your agent will help you navigate this step — but it’s worth considering adding an appraisal or inspection contingency into your offer.

These clauses will give you greater freedom in the case that your home inspection or appraisal shows issues, and could mean your deposit is returned if you are forced to abandon the sale due to serious issues showing in these pre-closing checks.

Step 4. Complete due diligence checks

Once you’ve secured the property in principle you’ll need to carry out sensible due diligence checks.

Some of these may be required by your mortgage lender, but even if you’re a cash buyer, it makes sense to thoroughly check the home before you leap in. Checks include a home inspection and home appraisal — talk through with your realtor which checks are suitable for the type of property you’re buying.

Step 5. Close and pay your costs

You’re nearly there. If you’re taking a mortgage your lender will notify you of the costs and payment schedule several days before closing.

You’ll then need to pay all relevant fees, any taxes and your down payment during a closing meeting. Once this is all done, congrats, you’re a homeowner. 🎉

Taxes and fees when purchasing property in the US as a non-resident

Before you start the journey to buying a property in the US you’ll need to understand the taxes and fees involved in both the purchase and on an ongoing basis.

Some of the one off costs involved with buying a property are covered by the buyer, while others are the responsibility of the seller. In most cases, the buyer will pay the following²:

  • Title search and insurance: 0.5% - 1 %
  • Recording fees: 0.2% - 0.5%
  • Legal fees: 0.5% - 1 %

Local taxes and fees may also apply. On an ongoing basis it’s worth remembering that if you’re renting the property for an income, you must report and pay US taxes. Capital gains tax will usually apply when you sell your property on.

The cap on estate tax (payable if you die and pass on the property to an heir) can be extremely low for non-US citizens, so you may want to look at tax planning solutions depending on the value of the property you’re buying.

As with all things involving tax, the situation is complex and changes frequently, so taking professional advice is a must.

How to pay for your property in the US

Let’s take a look at the key ways you might choose to fund your US property purchase.

Getting a mortgage in the US as a non-US citizen

There’s no legal barrier to getting a mortgage in the US as a non-citizen. However, if you’re a non-resident it can be pretty tricky in practice to get a local US mortgage. This is often because you won’t be able to meet US credit checking requirements as you won’t have a local credit record.

If you intend to get a mortgage to pay for your property you’ll want to start early, shopping around for the available products and deals based on your situation.

If you can’t get a US mortgage through a local lender, you may still be able to access funding through an international banking arm of a major global bank.

Paying from abroad with Wise

If you need to pay for your property or your purchase closing costs from abroad, you could save with low cost international payments from Wise.

Send money online with Wise in 50+ currencies, for up to 6x less than using your regular bank.Make a one off payment to cover your closing costs, or arrange a recurring transfer to pay your mortgage on an ongoing basis.

You’ll get the real mid-market exchange rate with no markups and no hidden fees. Just fast and secure payments every time. See how much you can save with Wise today.

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Paying for your property in cash

If you have the savings to pay for your property outright you may be an attractive buyer which can give you greater leverage in price negotiations. You’ll also avoid any issues around getting financing in the US as a foreigner or non-resident.

Can foreigners open a bank account in the US?

As a foreigner you can legally open a US bank account, although some banks will only offer products to foreigners resident in the US.

Larger global banking brands are more likely to have account products which are suitable for non-resident foreigners. Think through what you’d use your account for to help guide your research and pick the best account for your specific needs.

Buying a house in the USA as a foreigner FAQ

buying-a-house-in-the-us

Let’s finish up with a few common questions about buying a house in the US.

Does buying a property in the USA give you residency?

Buying a property in the US does not give you residency. To live in the US you’ll need an appropriate visa or residence status which must be applied for separately to the house purchase process.

Can a Green Card holder buy a house?

Green Card holders can buy a US property without restrictions, and may also be entitled to FHA financing to help.

How long does the property purchase process take in the US?

The length of time it takes to purchase a property in the US can vary based on the details of the sale — expect a 30 - 60 day timeline if all goes smoothly.

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    Use this full guide to how to buy a house in the US as a foreigner to kickstart your research and help you on the journey to buying your dream home or investment property.

    Buying a home in the US is perfectly possible for foreigners, regardless of your residence status. However, there will be differences in the process and requirements which you’ll want to learn about before you start.

    Take care to look at the full costs and tax implications of owning a US property, and don’t forget to use Wise international payments to cut the costs of currency conversion when you send payments from abroad.


    Sources:

    1. FHA - Loan requirements
    2. Global Property Guide - US buying guide

    Sources checked on 01.10.2022


    This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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