You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to buy a home in the U.S. You don’t even have to be a U.S. resident. Anybody who wants to can purchase property here.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, the value of residential property in the United States that was sold to foreign buyers totaled $59 billion, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR)’s International Transactions in U.S. Residential Real Estate report. The vast majority of non-resident buyers are from Canada and Mexico, followed by China. They’re largely purchasing detached single-family homes in Florida and California.
While almost half (44 percent) of foreign buyers rely entirely on cash to make these purchases, it’s also possible for non-residents to obtain a mortgage in the United States to help finance the new homes. It’s not all smooth sailing, though. Non-citizen homebuyers will have to deal with slightly more complicated mortgage application requirements establishing their financial qualifications. They will also have more complex tax laws to comply with as homeowners.
What type of property can a non-resident buy?
Any non-U.S. citizen, including permanent residents, temporary residents, non-residents, refugees, asylum seekers and those who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief, can buy property in this country. There are no legal restrictions prohibiting the purchase of real estate by individuals who fall into any of these categories.
“Purchasing a residential property in the U.S. is open to any individual regardless of their citizenship,” says Jen Horner, a Realtor with RE/MAX Masters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
There are also no limits surrounding the type of property that can be purchased. A non-U.S. citizen can buy a single-family home, condo, townhouse, duplex or apartment building — or even land with no structure on it at all.
“There are no restrictions in the United States on purchasing a property as a foreign national. This applies to resident foreign nationals who might want to buy property for primary residence based on where they currently live in the United States, or non-resident foreign investors looking to buy property for other reasons — such as investment use or a vacation home,” says Chase Michels, of the Michels Group at Compass in Hinsdale, Illinois.
According to the NAR, between the spring of 2021 and the spring of 2022, 74 percent of foreign buyers purchased a detached single-family home or townhome. In addition, 44 percent of foreign buyers purchased a property for use as a vacation home, rental or both.
What documents does a non-resident need to buy a home?
While they can buy freely, non-U.S.-citizen buyers are typically required to provide additional documentation to complete a home purchase in the United States, compared with U.S. citizens.
The exact requirements vary however, depending on whether the home is being purchased with cash or a mortgage, and based on the specific resident status of the buyer. Some of the basic requirements for non-U.S. citizen buyers, says Michels, often include:
- A foreign passport, U.S. visa or driver’s license
- Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- Financial statements from applicant’s foreign bank, if applicable
- Evidence of financial assets/income (bank statements, etc.)
- Tax returns (preferably U.S., if applicable)
“Cash purchases will require proof of identity and reporting the purchase to the federal government,” says Horner. “If a mortgage lender will be used, they have the ability to request as much documentation as they feel necessary to advance [the] mortgage application.”
Which begs the question: Are non-U.S. citizens able to obtain mortgages to finance home purchases in the United States? The short answer is yes. But it’s complicated.
How can a non-resident finance a home?
In general, mortgage lenders prefer to work with applicants currently living in the United States, and who are classified as permanent or non-permanent residents. (Individuals who have a green card and a Social Security number are permanent residents, while those who have a Social Security number, but no green card, are non-permanent residents.) Their rationale is simple: Applicants residing in this country are viewed as less of a risk, particularly in cases of default on the loan.
Their residency status impacts the specific type of mortgage that can be used. There are two main categories of lending for non-citizen purchases, says Michael Cantwell, loan officer for Guild Mortgage. “One major classification is that of a foreign national and the other would be those individuals currently living in the United States who have not received U.S. citizenship yet,” says Cantwell.
Applicants who fall into either of these categories can usually qualify for a conventional mortgage backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) government-backed loans. However, non-permanent residents will need to be using the home as a primary residence in order to obtain mortgage approval.
“Many banks and mortgage companies offer conventional and FHA home loans to non-U.S. citizens provided they can verify their residency status, work history, and financial track record,” says Michels.
And for non-residents? Applicants living abroad can buy properties in this country using what’s known as a foreign national loan or foreign national mortgage loan, says Cantwell. These loans are typically offered by U.S.-based banks and lenders and are designed for borrowers living outside the country who are seeking to either purchase or refinance. Foreign national mortgages are not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Additional rules and restrictions for non-residents
Tax rules also apply to properties owned by non-U.S. citizens. For instance, if a non-U.S. citizen rents out the property purchased to generate income, then that income must be reported and taxes must be paid both in the United States and in the property owner’s home country, says Bruce Ailion, a real estate attorney and Realtor with Re/Max Town & Country in Atlanta. In addition, non-U.S. citizens are liable for paying local property taxes.
And when selling a property in the United States as a non-U.S. citizen, capital gains tax will typically apply as well.
“When selling a property in the U.S. there are special withholding provisions that must be complied with,” says Ailion. “A tax advisor with specific knowledge in international tax should be consulted.”
On the plus side, all Fair Housing Act, Title VII, and other anti-discrimination protections apply to real estate transactions involving non-U.S. citizens. These laws are in force no matter who the buyer is, says Michels.
Final word on non-resident home purchases
It is entirely possible to purchase a home as a non-U.S. citizen — whether you’re a foreign national or a permanent or a temporary resident. There are no limitations on the type of property that can be purchased or how the property is used. Furthermore, U.S. laws that protect the rights of all homebuyers cover non-U.S. citizens and non-residents as well.
What’s really more significant, in terms of complications, is not a person’s citizenship, but their place of residency. If you don’t live in the U.S., buying a home does get more difficult — especially if financing is going to be needed for the purchase.
Non-residents must be prepared to deal with additional complexities, including more extensive documentation requirements establishing their identity, income and assets. They are limited to certain types of loans or mortgages, ones not backed by the primary mortgage market-makers. But the path to U.S. homeownership is certainly not blocked — it just may have a few speed bumps on it.