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6 keys to retiring overseas

Check currency conversions and local infrastructure as well. Roads normally traversed by draft animals and carts aren't necessarily the best for a BMW's suspension.

To find a good rental property, go to your chosen location for a few weeks, talk to people in the local expatriate community and try to develop local contacts, says Dan Prescher, expatriate, author and publisher of InternationalLiving.com, a Web resource for living abroad.

"That's how you avoid the $2,000 per month rental villas aimed at rich gringos and find the inexpensive, tidy, centrally located place that you can use long-term to get a feel for a place," says Prescher, the long-time resident of Merida, capital city of Mexico's Yucatan state.

Once you secure cheap, temporary living quarters, you can search for more permanent digs that feature the amenities you want.

However, remember that ownership laws are likely to differ from U.S. property law.

Before making an overseas purchase, hire a lawyer to represent you -- and you alone -- in any real estate transaction, Prescher says. Never hire the same lawyer used by the seller or real estate agent.

Most foreign real estate documents are not written in English, and rights of ownership vary from country to country.

In some countries -- such as Mexico -- certain areas are technically off-limits to foreigners. However, some countries have created ways around these laws to attract foreign investments.

For example, in Mexico, you can still buy property in restricted zones (such as beachfront) by creating a real estate trust known as a "fideicomiso." A Mexican-owned bank -- as opposed to a branch of a foreign-owned bank -- holds title on the property and you name yourself as the beneficiary.

Since the land is technically owned by a Mexican entity, it fulfills constitutional requirements, according to the Mexican Office of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

While the land is in trust, the beneficiary has rights to use and sell the property. In Mexico, the trust must be re-established every 50 years.

Other countries have their own rules regarding ownership.

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In France, the Napoleonic code governs how property is inherited even when a will exists. The code gives children from the marriage priority over a surviving spouse unless a special agreement called a "clause tontine" (joint ownership clause) is written into the contract when the property is purchased.

Knorr says a few of her friends bought homes in France unaware of the inheritance laws and after their spouses passed away, the women found they could not sell their homes because children from a prior marriage were against the sale and made a claim to the property.

"People fall in love with a house and the idea of it, and they buy it without having the background on the legal tax and estate ramifications," Knorr says. "You need to consult a legal adviser who understands these issues before making a major investment like buying a house."

When buying property in any foreign country, it's important to buy from an established real estate firm (many countries do not have an equivalent to the Multiple Listing Service system used in the United States) and to make sure you get good English translations of all documents, Prescher says.

"A good lawyer working for you in a foreign country will speak English," he says.

Buying and selling outside the U.S.
  • Some Central American and South American countries allow people to sell real estate without training or a license. Mexico restricts foreigners from directly owning property on its coasts or on borders. In France, foreigners can buy property as individuals, through a company set up specifically for the property's acquisition or with one or more partners. Each method has different rules affecting taxation and inheritance.

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