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3 Things you need to know about buying land abroad

For the love of land

By Zeenat Moosa Hassan

, |

3 Things you need to know about buying land abroad

For the love of land

By Zeenat Moosa Hassan

, |

3 min read

Investing in offshore property has always been popular with South Africans seeking stability and alternative residency options.

However, buying land, with a view to building a home in a foreign country, is not as common, but it is still possible. Here is everything you need to know.

Check if buying is an option

Buying foreign land is different from buying foreign property, so check the rules in the country you want to invest in. Places like New Zealand, Romania and Bulgaria, for example, allow non-residents to purchase apartments and buildings, but the land itself can only be owned by locals.

Foreign land ownership is much easier in the UK though, with very few restrictions on foreign land ownership, but available land is scarce and self-building sporadic, with less than 150,000 Brits buying land to build each year.

In other parts of the world, things are more complicated. Some regions in Canada, for example, allow foreign land ownership but only for up to four hectares, which limits the size of the end property. Countries with the most favourable land buying laws include Portugal and Mauritius, but, even then, you need to be aware of local building regulations.

Know the building laws and regulations

Every country has its own set of regulations when it comes to property building. In coastal areas of Mauritius, for example, planning policy guidelines set by the Ministry of Housing and Territorial Development state that the statutory

distance between two homes must be a minimum of three metres. Furthermore, on land located along the beach, the height of buildings is also regulated, with most homes usually only one storey high.

The country with the fewest restrictions is Portugal, which is also the cheapest place to build in Europe thanks to its very low labour costs. The country follows the Cada casa é um caso principle, with each plot assessed independently, and restrictions varying considerably across the board. The best way to fully get to grips with these disparities would be to consult with a local realtor or building expert.

Get documents in order

In South Africa, a typical property transfer requires various FICA (Financial Intelligence Centre Act) affidavits, marriage declarations, and a power of attorney to be signed, but things become more complicated when either the seller or the grantor is in a different country.

‘The signing of documents outside of the Republic of South Africa can be problematic because different procedures apply, depending on the rules of the country where the documents are to be signed,’ says Neil Mc Kinon, attorney and conveyancer at Hammond Pole Attorneys in Johannesburg.

Mc Kinon explains that under Rule 63 of South Africa’s High Court, documents signed in most countries outside of South Africa must be authenticated for use in South Africa by an authorised government official. The documents must also be signed by a witness and include a Certificate of Authentication, which bears an official seal of office.

The only exceptions are documents authenticated by a Notary Public within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland or Zimbabwe, which do not require a separate certificate or witness signature.

‘Signing documents in countries outside of South Africa can lead to delays in the transfer process, given that these documents must be sent back to South Africa and the signatory may also be required to make an appointment with a Notary Public or a relevant government office.

‘One way of accelerating the process is by signing a special power of attorney authorising a trusted third party to sign on your behalf. This must be prepared by a conveyancer and signed in South Africa,’ he concludes.

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