Can a Non-US Citizen Buy Property in the USA? Get Facts on Taxes First

Can a Non-US Citizen Buy Property in the USA? Get Facts on Taxes First
Updated on April 9, 2024

Wondering if a non-US citizen can buy property in the USA? Good news! Anyone can buy property in the US, regardless of their citizenship. However, you’ll need to be aware of your US tax obligations.

Here’s what you need to know.

Can Foreigners Buy Property in the USA?

Yes, foreigners can indeed purchase property in the United States without facing any federal legal restrictions, maintaining the same rights to homeownership as US citizens. While straightforward in terms of legal eligibility, the process may present certain challenges, particularly in securing financing. Non-residents might find it easier to buy a property outright with cash due to potential difficulties in obtaining a mortgage without a US credit history. However, permanent or long-term residents, refugees, or those granted asylum status may be eligible for housing loans through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which often offers favorable terms compared to private mortgage providers.

When buying property in the US, foreign buyers will need to provide various documents, including proof of identity, proof of address and residence status, proof of income, and proof of affordability. The exact documents required can vary, but generally include passports, Green Cards or visas, Social Security Numbers (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN), pay stubs, and tax returns.

Foreign nationals are advised to engage with real estate agents who have experience in international transactions, as this can significantly streamline the buying process. Real estate agents can assist in everything from property search to closing the deal, and their commission is typically covered by the property seller.

It’s important to note that buying property in the US does not grant residency or immigration status. Foreign property owners should also be aware of their tax obligations, including property taxes and potential capital gains taxes upon selling the property. Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) requirements may apply, involving withholding a portion of the sale proceeds as a prepayment towards any potential capital gains tax liability.

Due to the complexities involved, particularly around financing and tax obligations, foreign buyers are strongly recommended to seek advice from real estate experts and tax professionals to ensure a smooth and compliant property purchasing process in the US.

The IRS tax code is 7,000 pages. Want the cliff notes version for expats? Let us help.

10 Tax Facts about Buying Property as a Non-US Citizen

1. IRS Publication 515

The first thing you need to know about buying property as a non-US citizen is that IRS Publication 515 summarizes the rules for non-resident aliens. The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) of 1980 was enacted by Congress to impose a tax on foreign persons when they sell or receive income from a US real property interest. IRS Publication 515 will help you understand how this law applies to you.

2. Tax Rates

In general, income from real property located in the US that is owned by a non-resident alien is taxed at a 30% rate if it is not effectively connected with a US trade or business. (This rate may be lower if your resident country has a tax treaty with the US.)

3. You Can Choose How Your Property Income Is Treated

If a non-resident alien owns or holds interest in property used to generate income in the US, then they can treat all income from that property as effectively connected with a US trade or business. This is known as a Section 871(d) election.

If you opt for this election, you can claim your deductions attributable to the real property income, so the net income will be taxable. This will apply to all income from real estate located in the US.

4. How to Make This Election

To elect to have your income treated as effectively connected with a US trade or business, simply attach a statement to your annual tax return. Your statement will need to include some basic pieces of information, such as:

  • The fact that you are making the election
  • A list of all properties you own or have an interest in located in the US
  • The dates of ownership for these properties
  • Any income you have generated from US property

Once you have made this election, it will remain in effect for all future years until you revoke it by filing IRS Form 1040-X.

To learn more, review the IRS instructions.

5. Why This Election Matters

Making a Section 871(d) election could have a major impact on your taxes. You should always consider the implications before buying property as a non-US citizen.

For example, if rental property gross income is $30,000, without a Section 871(d) election, the income tax would be $9,000 (30% of $30,000). After making the election, deductions such as mortgage interest, property tax, etc., would reduce the taxable income, and the tax payable would be 30% of the net amount.

6. Tax Treaties

The US has entered into tax treaties with many foreign countries. These treaties are designed to reduce the risk of double taxation. If you are a resident of a country with a US tax treaty, the treaty may reduce the taxes you would typically owe on income from a US property.

7. Gains Impact the Taxation

When a non-resident sells a property in the US, any capital gain is taxed as if the property had been sold by a US citizen or resident. This means the gain may qualify for lower long-term capital gains treatment, provided the property has been held for more than 12 months.

8. Withholding Tax

Non-residents will be subject to a 15% non-resident withholding tax on the gross sales proceeds of the transaction—unless the non-resident has a specific exemption from the withholding. A petition for exemption would need to be filed with the IRS in advance of the sale date to get a certificate of exemption. This is done using IRS Form 8288-B.

A lower rate of 10% applies to dispositions under $1 million for US property that was acquired as personal property.

9. State Tax

Depending on which US state the property is located in, you may also have to withhold or pay state taxes. Consult a qualified tax professional to learn more.

10. IRS Form 1040-NR

If you are required to report income from real estate or any associated withholding, you must do so using IRS Form 1040-NR. As a foreign person, you will also need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) if you don’t already have one.

To apply for an ITIN, complete IRS Form W-7. You will have to provide documentation proving your identity and verifying your status as a non-resident alien of the US. You can file your application by any of these methods:

  • Mailing it to the IRS
  • Presenting it at an IRS walk-in office
  • Processing it through an Acceptance Agent authorized by the IRS (this includes certain financial institutions and accounting firms)

Need More Info on Buying Property as a Non-US Citizen?

We hope this guide has helped you understand the tax implications of buying US property as a non-US citizen. If you still have questions, we have answers. In fact, we can even manage your US tax obligations on your behalf.

At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we help Americans living abroad file their US taxes accurately and on time. Just contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you in any way we can.

Schedule your consultation with a tax expert today!

Who doesn’t love a tax break? Use our handy calculator to learn what you can save using the FEIE.

Use our simple excel calculator to get an estimate of how the foreign earned income exclusion will save you money. It will make your day!

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