Guides

Where to buy property overseas and how to secure your purchase

Gary O’Driscoll

Gary O’Driscoll

Head of Private Clients

Are you considering buying a property overseas? If the answer is yes, you could be about to join an army of like-minded people: a staggering 35,000 Britons buy property abroad every year.

Deciding to buy in another country - whether it’s a holiday home, retirement patch or savvy investment - is the easy part of your life-enhancing adventure. Before you can turn your dream into a reality, however, you have a big decision to make: where in the world do you want to find your own slice of paradise? From basking in the 3,000 hours of sunshine the Costa del Sol gets each year to cashing in on the low cost of living in Bulgaria, which is 54% cheaper than the UK, the opportunities available to you globally are compelling.

To help you make an informed decision, we have done some research on your behalf. As well as exploring the usual suspects, we have included two untapped options in our list of best locations to buy a property overseas.

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Plan for your next overseas property

Italy

Italy property

The amazing food and drink, diverse landscape, rich culture, and superb climate is probably enough motivation to buy your dream home in Italy. So let your mind wander to thoughts of mouth-watering pasta dishes, snow-capped mountains, sun-drenched beaches, tranquil lakes, and ancient cities. Don’t forget the affordable homes, lower cost of living, excellent transport links, healthy lifestyle - and football!

Some buyers are deterred by the Italian property market’s reputation for being fairly expensive compared to some of its European contemporaries - but they shouldn’t be. While you will find budget-busting prices in places like Venice, Milan or Florence, much of rural Italy is extremely affordable - and often within a few minutes drive of an Italian town. And forget paying inflated prices because you want to live by the sea - which is often the case in the UK. Some of the most affordable property prices in Italy are in the sunny south.

Italy is home to over 30 international airports, most of which are served by low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, making it simple for expats to maintain links with the UK or holiday homeowners to pop over. Flights from London to northern Italy usually take less than two hours and less than three hours to the south. This makes it easy for your family to visit and opens the door to making an income from letting your property to tourists.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria overseas property image

Soul-stirring mountains, vast tangles of forest and vibrant historic cities are Bulgaria’s obvious calling cards. But this emerging eastern European nation has another ace up its sleeve that contributes to its enticing blend of nature and history: vast, sandy beaches, turquoise water and Mediterranean-esque weather tempt overseas property buyers to Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts, like Primorsko, Sunny Beach, and Sozopol.

With the stunning landscape and relaxed lifestyle in the bag, it’s time to consider your budget. Bulgaria is top of the tree when it comes to cost of living and property prices: not only is it 54% cheaper to live there than in the UK; the average property price is €550 per square metre, compared to €4,523 in France, €2,398 in Spain, and €2,314 in Italy.

Slovakia

Slovakia mountain image

This landlocked European gem has come a long way more than a quarter-century after Czechoslovakia's break-up; evolving into a self-assured, independent nation. From the capital city Bratislava’s illustrious history to the castles, mountains, and mirror-still glacier lakes that define its wonderfully rugged landscape, Slovakia appeals to lovers of the great outdoors.

Not only are property prices eminently affordable there - the average price is €1770 per square metre - demand from overseas buyers has been supported by low interest rates on mortgages. So, whether you want a rural retreat in the High Tatras mountain range away from the hustle and bustle or an apartment in Bratislava’s resplendent old town, you won’t be disappointed with your choice to buy here.

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Spain

Spain property image

The Spanish property market has applied the factor 50 to repel the heat directed at it by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic in recent months. The nation’s enduring popularity with overseas property buyers remains reliant on the sun-drenched Costas where residents enjoy lower living costs, weather you can golf, swim or simply relax in comfortably year-round, quiet roads, excellent healthcare, family-oriented lifestyle, friendly people - and last but not least excellent food and wine.

Unlike other popular seaside areas in countries like Greece, which practically shut down during winter, affordable flights service every corner of Spain from airports across the UK - so you can access your home with ease throughout the year.

The Spanish property market offers something for everyone: apartments, townhouses, villas, masias, fincas, cortijos, white villages, cave homes, park homes - the list goes on. If you’re in the market for a modern property, you are spoilt for choice thanks to a plentiful supply of off-plan or key-ready homes. If it’s a project you’re after, you could even buy land relatively cheaply in Spain.

Florida

Florida property image

Perhaps you should look beyond Europe’s borders and consider buying a property in the US of A? From practicalities like a strong economy and surprisingly good value properties to everyday benefits like a language in common, familiar culture and fabulous food, the reasons to buy here abound. However, America is vast in size, so why not refine your search to what is comfortably the most popular spot for expats in the USA: Florida.

The Sunshine State - unsurprisingly - is famous for its year-round sunshine, as well as its pristine beaches, theme parks, cosmopolitan cities, and regular flights to and from the UK. Throw in the absence of state income tax and a school system that is one of the best in the country and you’re probably already packing your bags for your viewing trip there.

Florida is pretty big in its own right - Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg could all fit inside it at once - so you’ll need to narrow your search. Orlando is a particular favourite among British buyers - and it’s easy to see why: excellent weather, sporting facilities and its close proximity to Disney World. All of which combine to offer another potential benefit: if you are considering renting out your property when you’re not in the USA, Orlando guarantees a constant stream of tourists all year round.

France

Overseas property in France

No list of this kind would be complete without including Europe’s most visited country - a whopping 87 million people flock to France each year to indulge in its diverse landscape and fascinating culture. So, imagine owning your own property in such a unique part of the world where salubrious ski resorts, world-class wine regions, sundrenched Mediterranean towns, historic cities, and bucolic villages rub shoulders.

If you’re considering moving to or buying a holiday home in France, you won’t be disappointed. From the relaxed lifestyle and fine cuisine to the value for money you can find in the French property market and first-class healthcare, there are both cultural and practical reasons for buying property there. Plus the cost of living in France is not too dissimilar to the UK.

It’s not just the French landscape that’s diverse; there’s a wide variety of property types on the market, such as traditional dwellings like fermettes, gîtes, châteaux, longères and maison de maîtres, or newer apartments, villas d’architecte, and pavillons. What’s more, the French typically prefer modern homes, leaving a healthy market of fixer-uppers for overseas buyers to snap up at low prices.

What next?

So, you know you want to buy a property overseas, and you have done your research and decided which country ticks all the boxes. The next step on your journey is to define your budget, before heading out for a viewing trip to your chosen destination. When planning your property buying budget, don’t overlook the additional costs that will arise during the buying process, such as legal fees, taxes, the cost of the notary, disbursements and the cost of transferring your money overseas. A general rule is to add at least 10% on top of the purchase price.

Before you make an offer on a property, you must put a vital part of the overseas property buying puzzle in place: seek the services of a currency specialist.

Choosing a currency specialist

Choosing a currency specialist is just as important as working with an estate agent that can find you your perfect property and a good lawyer that can ensure your purchase is legally sound. This is because there is a big risk when buying property overseas: currency market movements.

Currencies are traded around the clock - 24 hours a day. Therefore, the value of the pound against other currencies is constantly changing - not just daily but by the minute. Even slight fluctuations can make a big difference to the price of your property. From a deposit and estate agent fees to a lump sum for the final purchase, every transfer you make as part of the overseas buying process has the potential to cost you more than it should, denting your budget - and in the worst-case scenario, causing the cost of your home to disappear out of reach.

The dynamic nature of exchange rates means agreeing to buy a property at one price and paying for it weeks or months later involves a degree of risk. Between putting in an offer and actually paying, the price will be fixed in the currency of the country you are buying in - euros, dollars etc. - but constantly fluctuating in pounds. For example, just a 1% drop in the value of the pound will increase the cost of a €150,000 house by over £1,000. Don’t be surprised if the pound’s value falls by over 5% during the buying process.

In some instances, the impact of the political and economic variables that influence exchange rates can be even more severe - as has been proved in recent times. Take Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic for example:

  • Brexit: On 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU - a decision that took markets by surprise. Last-minute polling suggested that ‘remain’ had the edge, so when the Brexit result reverberated around the world the pound fell off a cliff, experiencing its largest intraday collapse in 30 years.
  • Covid-19 pandemic: Back in March 2020, when the true extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, the pound sunk to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 and its lowest level against the euro since the depth of the financial crisis 11 years earlier.

A currency company that specialises in high-value transactions such as overseas property purchases can work in partnership with you to solve these kinds of ongoing problems. Problems that aren’t limited to buying your property overseas. The process of selling your property and transferring the funds back home also exposes your finances to the unpredictable world of exchange rates, potentially costing considerably more than anticipated.

Clear Currency

Clear Currency specialises in helping clients buying and selling properties overseas to save money when making international payments - both large and small.

Transferring large sums of money into another currency and transferring them overseas can be daunting and confusing. Aware of this, we use our knowledge and experience to cut through the jargon and give you a friendly and personal service.

We recognise that it’s impossible to accurately predict how exchange rates will perform; therefore, it’s prudent to plan for all eventualities. With this in mind, we will assign you a dedicated account manager. In addition to helping you benefit from quick, easy, reliable and secure transfers, they can help you mitigate the impact of currency risk on your property budget.

Your account manager will work in partnership with you throughout the property buying process. For example, before you make an offer on a property overseas, they can prevent you from being delayed in transferring funds and seeing the purchase collapse. Because fluctuating exchange rates make it hard to judge how much you’ll pay at any one time, your account manager can help you execute a forward contract to secure the cost of your purchase. This allows you to lock in an exchange rate for a date in the future, securing the price of your property when the time comes to pay.

How far will your budget take you?

Plan for your next overseas property

The value of your money can change significantly when currency markets move. Speak to a currency expert today to discuss how you can stick to a budget.

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