When you buy a property overseas, it will sometimes come with an important bonus: It can open the door to foreign residency. When it does, you not only have a second home in the traditional sense, but you’ve got a second home in the broad sense as well—a place that, when you go there, they have to take you in (to steal a phrase from Robert Frost).
This overseas residency will also provide you a gateway into the host country’s banking system and financial services sector, along with a potential path to citizenship.
Obtaining residency can be a hassle, requiring you to provide extensive financial records and check stubs to show you qualify. But when you qualify as a property owner, you’ll often shortcut a lot of red tape.
Here are five of my favorite places where you can obtain residency by buying a property.
1. Colombia: The Easiest Process For Property Owners
I gathered the required paperwork specified on their website and walked over to the Ministry of Exterior Relations in Bogotá. There was a line outside when I got there, but they let us into the building at 7:30 a.m. I took a number, waited my turn, and left the building at 8:25 a.m. with a permanent residency visa.
Less than one hour… no lawyer… that’s about as easy as it can get.
Colombia offers the property buyer two paths to residency. By simply buying a property valued at more than 350 times the Colombian minimum wage—US$93,000 at the time of writing—you will qualify for a temporary residency visa (M-10). This price will go up and down as the Colombian minimum wage fluctuates. M-10 visas can be valid for up to three years.
But, if you spend US$172,700 on a property, or 650 times the Colombian minimum wage, you can obtain permanent residency right off the bat, as a resident investor. Once again, this price will fluctuate with changes to Colombia’s minimum wage. “Permanent” residency today is actually renewed every five years.
One caveat: Make sure that the municipal value on your property deed reflects at least the investment threshold that you need and that you have records of that same amount coming into Colombia. I’ve been audited, and they’re serious about all the numbers matching up.
2. Ecuador: One Of The World’s Lowest Thresholds
As one of the world’s most popular retirement destinations, Ecuador offers one of the easiest residencies for the property buyer, at a minimum investment of just US$40,000. This will qualify you for the investment visa. Applicants must also prove US$400 monthly income from any source.
As with Colombia, the municipal value on your property title must reflect the minimum investment level of US$40,000 or more. This is normally not a problem nowadays. But old deeds may have low municipal values on them, and you’ll need an attorney’s help to bring them up to US$40,000 without having the seller pay a large capital gains tax.
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency, so these values do not fluctuate with any exchange rate.
Your US$40,000 investment gets you permanent residency in Ecuador. And thanks to recent adjustments to the law, after gaining permanent residency through an investor visa, you can come and go as you like to Ecuador. There is no limit to the time you can be outside the country.
3. Panama: Friendly Nations Visa Makes Residency Easy
The Friendly Nations program was implemented by presidential decree in 2012. The idea was to make Panama more accessible for citizens of the eventual 50 nations on the eligibility list.
On August 2021 changes were made to the Friendly Nations Visa. The usual procedure was to immediately receive a permanent residency card after the six-month processing period.
Since the new rules were implemented, you will first get a provisional residency card that is valid for two years. After the two years are up, you will need to apply for a permanent residency card.
The biggest change for the new Friendly Nations Visa is that it will require a real estate investment in Panama property of at least US$200,000 either in cash or through a mortgage from a local bank.
As this visa requires that you have an economic link to Panama, your real estate purchase can do that for you. A lot of readers are using our current teak investment offer to qualify.
Like Ecuador, Panama also uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency, so you’ll be shielded from currency exchange rate fluctuations.
Greece is one of the most accessible countries in Europe when it comes to residency. Greece offers the Greek Golden Visa—a residence-by-investment visa program that’s giving Spain and Portugal a run for their money for the most popular in Europe. It allows non-EU citizens to make a significant contribution to the Greek economy to qualify for a residence permit.
There are a few different forms this financial contribution can take, most expat retirees go for the property purchase route… For a minimum purchase price of 250,000 euros, (around US$293,000) you acquire both a property and permanent residency.
The permit lasts five years and is renewable so long as you hold onto your property. You can include family members in it, including your spouse and children up to 21 years old.
A Greek residence permit gets you full access to the Schengen Zone. And it gets better… after seven years of continuous residency, you can apply for Greek citizenship. The only stipulations are that you provide a medical certificate, police background check, and proof of health insurance.
5. Malta: The Best Deal I’ve Found In The Eurozone
A British colony up until the 1960s, Malta could be your gateway to visa-free travel in Europe. With English as the official language, Malta offers one of the easiest transitions abroad.
Launched in 2021, the Malta Permanent Residency Programme is a scheme to help non-EU investors get a European residence permit quickly and efficiently. The minimum investment in the southern Maltese islands (including Gozo) is 300,000 euros; that’s about US$350,000 at an exchange rate of 0.85 euros per U.S. dollar. In the more affluent northern sectors of Malta, the minimum is 350,000 euros (US$410,000). Click here for currency conversions at today’s exchange.
Compare Malta’s minimums to Portugal, which requires 500,000 euros, and Spain’s Golden Visa program, which also comes in at 500,000 euros. Malta is a super deal at a fraction of the price, especially considering its good weather and relatively low cost of living.
Even when you own a property, residency can be hard to obtain. These five countries are not only great places to live overseas, but they also make it easy for the property buyer to stay on indefinitely.
Editor, Overseas Property Alert
Letters To The Editor
What is the current tax law regarding Colombian residency? I read recently that Colombian residents are required to pay taxes on their worldwide income. Is that correct?
And most importantly, is it a law on the books that’s not enforced? ;
It would be a large burden on U.S. persons if it is the case, as U.S. citizens are already taxed on their worldwide income.
You are considered to be a tax-resident in Colombia if you are in Colombia for more than 183 days in any 365-day period. If that period straddles a calendar year, then your tax residency begins in the second year. If you are not a tax-resident, then you pay tax on your Colombian income only.
If you are tax-resident, you are liable to pay on your worldwide income. But, as Neil suspects, there’s more to that story.
But, in the real world, even as a tax-resident, unless you’re earning significant Colombian-source income or have relatively high bank account balances, it’s likely you won’t even need to file a Colombian return, as you’ll likely be below the triggering threshold. In regards to your pension, this will not be taxed in Colombia.
Also, if you did pay any income tax to Colombia, it can be taken as a credit on your U.S. return.
Editor’s note: We get a lot of interesting correspondence from readers about the Nicaragua Canal, which was first proposed during the reign of Napoleon IIl. In 2013, a bill was approved to fund the US$50 billion project, but since then, progress has been at a standstill. The following is a good question, with a good answer provided by Lee Harrison.
You say the Canal is the main driver of the economy in Panama and that it’s a reason to feel safe investing there. What is your prediction on how Panama will fare if Nicaragua’s canal is ever completed?
Estimates say it could take away about 70% of the Panama Canal’s traffic and revenue. I would like to know how you feel about this and why.
I like Panama a lot, and I am already a resident… but I am concerned.
I’m not sure where you’re getting the figure of a 70% reduction in revenue for the Panama Canal. That sounds like a made-up number by some blogger trying to raise a bogus alarm.
First of all, if they finish a Nicaragua Canal—and that’s still a big if in my mind—it will take at least a decade, likely longer, for them to complete it for full operations.
Even the expansion work which was done on the Panama Canal—where they only added new, bigger locks—took nine years. The expanded Panama Canal was supposed to have opened in 2015 but was delayed until June 2016.
Any potential impact a Nicaragua Canal may have will take a generation to come into play. By that time, global shipping will have increased substantially. Since the Panama Canal expansion opened, it reached capacity very quickly. So, if the Nicaraguan canal does ever open, a large, pent-up demand is already there.
Meanwhile, Panama’s economy continues to diversify. Despite the shock of the worldwide pandemic, Panama’s economy had strong growth throughout 2021. Tourism surpasses the Canal with its contribution to GDP. Banking continues to expand, as does agriculture, which should be the next big boom for Panama as companies put together large production farms and plantations.
So, if the Nicaragua Canal ever comes online, I don’t believe Panama will be impacted substantially.
Have a question? You can write to us here.