Insider Guide to Florida Real Estate Transactions, ch. 9: PROPERTY OWNERSHIP, VISITS AND VISAS FOR FOREIGNERS
If you consider buying US real estate as a non-US citizen, this short primer offers you a brief overview – without giving legal advice and without replacing the need for an experienced US immigration attorney and a tax advisor.
Owning US real estate: Overall, foreign citizens can acquire, enjoy and visit their residential or commercial US-properties without many restrictions or difficulty. But the purchase of a vacation property – such as a single family home or condominium, as owned flats are called here – does not qualify for a long-term visa or permanent residency, independent of the purchase price.
Visits to your property are typically limited to three months, with possible extensions. Many countries have an agreement with the US for Visa-free visits. Caveat: To avoid being taxed by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), total time per year in the US should be limited to approx. 180 days (keyword "substantial presence test"; please consult a US tax advisor).
Different is the situation with the purchase of investment real estate. When specific criteria are observed, a long-term visa or permanent residency with work permit can be reasonably expected. Especially interesting are the EB-5 and the E-2 options.
EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program: This visa is one of the most straightforward ways for a foreign investor to obtain permanent residency in the US. Its goal is to create or save American jobs.
A foreign national, through a direct investment under specific criteria or into a USCIS-approved "EB-5 Regional Center" which is an investment project, can obtain Permanent Residency for him/herself and eligible family members. Conditional residency is granted for two years, after that permanent residency ("Green Card") and later US citizenship can be applied for. In case of a direct investment, the investor has to be actively involved in the business. For Florida as of March 2023, the minimum investment amount is $1,050,000.
E-2 Treaty Investor Visa: There are many benefits to this visa. Valid typically between two and five years, it can be renewed indefinitely as long as the underlying original investment (business) continues to exist and operate. A possible drawback is that – with exceptions – an E-2 does not offer a path to permanent residency. However, there is no official limit on the number of renewals, and there is no cap on the annual number of E-2 visas.
Furthermore, there is no defined minimum investment amount, instead a “substantial investment” (approx. $100,000 equity have qualified applicants in the past) in an “active ongoing business” which must be “at risk” (no raw land, for example) is required. The investor has to be actively involved in the day-to-day operation, which must be more than just marginally profitable. Approval of an E-2 is determined on a case-by-case basis by the viability of the business invested in.
Obtaining US Citizenship: Besides several other criteria, an applicant for US-citizenship must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the application. Example: if you have a Green Card but lived in Switzerland for four of the last five years, you will not qualify.
If you are a non-US resident considering buying US real estate, please discuss your plans with your broker and, since US-licensed real estate brokers and agents are neither qualified nor allowed to give legal advice, it is absolutely vital to consult a recommended immigration specialist prior to any purchase or even contract offer. Note: Immigration and visa policies may change at a moment’s notice. Your immigration attorney will have an overview on the most current status of the law.
Comments? Questions? Please contact me anytime; I'd be delighted to assist you. The complete Guide to Florida Real Estate Transactions is available in English or in German – send a quick email to request your copy.
Next chapter in this series: Taxes
"Insider Guide to Florida Real Estate Transactions, ch. 9: Property Ownership, Visits and Visas for Foreigners" by Tobias Kaiser, CC BY-NC-ND
Tobias Kaiser works as an independent real estate broker and consultant in Florida since 1990. Always putting his clients' interest first, he specialises in modern Florida homes and architecture, as well as net leased investments.