Whether you are looking for a vacation home, a place to retire, an investment property, or a short-term or permanent residence for your family, I can help you find the perfect place!
Read more to see why these four countries are my top picks for buying real estate in Central America.
1. Costa Rica
Costa Rica features an excellent health care system and stable government. They have had no army (and no reason to have an army) since 1949. Their focus is on preserving wildlife (think sloths, toucans, howler monkeys, and sea turtles) and achieving zero emissions by 2050. For several years, Costa Rica has been considered one of the happiest countries in the world by National Geographic.
Costa Rica frequently sees foreign buyers purchasing land with plans to build. Buying real estate in Costa Rica as a foreign buyer could require a medical exam and life insurance, depending on the age of the buyer(s), but non-residents enjoy the same rights as residents in terms of purchasing property. Expect to pay transfer tax and registration stamps, as well as escrow services of roughly $550. Property taxes are just 0.25% of the assessed value.
Enjoy Pura Vida in charming Costa Rica!
Belize is a beautiful little country that packs a serious punch for those looking to buy property as a foreign buyer. At only 8867 square miles and with a population of just 397k (roughly the population of Cleveland, Ohio), Belize is small. Agriculture and tourism play a major part in Belize's economy, and the parliamentary constitutional democratic government of Belize is stable. Everyone over the age of 18 can participate in the election of government officials, including their Prime Minister and members of their House of Representatives.
Belize offers non-nationals the same rights to real estate and taxation as they do nationals. As U.S. citizens, we can buy a property and own it outright rather than entering into a long-term lease with the government.
Property taxes in Belize are only 12.5% on occupied property's yearly rental value, plus a 2% tax on vacant property's annual rental value. Tax is just 1% on unimproved land. Income tax is just 1.75%, and Belize does not levy taxes on non-Belize income for foreign residents. There is no capital gains tax.
Enjoy the "go slow" island life, fast-paced city living, or bucolic country living in beautiful Belize. "You'd better Belize it!"
With a population of roughly 129 million, and over 758,000 square miles of land, Mexico is the largest country in Central America. And with nearly 2 million U.S. citizens living in Mexico, you're sure to find a great expat community while enjoying the mild winters and low cost of living. According to Allianz Care, "Mexico boasts an impressive and efficient healthcare system consisting of public and private schemes. The majority of Mexican hospitals are excellent and are staffed by highly trained and often English-speaking doctors."
Real estate transactions in Mexico are regulated at the federal, state, and local levels. Foreigners are welcome to purchase property in Mexico. Individuals can purchase land anywhere except along the beaches and borders. Trusts may purchase property anywhere, with the deed held in trust with the foreign buyer as the beneficiary. A value-added tax of 16% will be charged at closing. Individual income tax for Mexico-sourced income is charged at a progressive rate up to 35%. Property taxes range from 2%-5%, depending on the state, and you should be prepared to pay capital gains taxes as well.
Cross-border financing may be available, but be prepared to make a large down payment (roughly 30%-35%).
For areas with luxury properties, check out Mexico City, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Nayarit, Queretaro, and Santa Fe.
With relaxing beaches, popular urban areas, and quiet countrysides, you are sure to find what you need in beautiful Mexico!
* I do realize that there is some debate as to whether Mexico should be considered part of North America or Central America, but according to the United Nations, Mexico is part of Central America, so that is what I am going with.
Panama is a constitutional republic with elected executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The government is stable and the economy is currently the fastest-growing in the region. With over 1800 miles of beaches, bustling urban areas, and relaxing rural areas full of howler monkeys, agoutis, capybaras, toucans, and much more, Panama's beauty is reason enough to want to live there. Add mild winters and health care that is equal to that of Canada, the U.S., and Europe, and... well, I've convinced myself!
Panama's Balboa is equal to one U.S. dollar, so there is no currency exchange rate. Foreign buyers are allowed to purchase property in Panama, either as an individual or as a corporation. Be prepared to pay a 2% transfer tax (sometimes paid by the seller), plus notary and public registry fees (approximately $300). Property taxes are low, with the maximum being 2.1%
Obtaining financing is possible through banks like HSBC, Scotia Bank, and Panamanian banks with parent companies in the U.S., but be prepared to pay roughly 30% out of pocket.
Whether you are buying a vacation home or permanent residence, enjoy the high quality of life and the low crime rate that Panama has to offer!
These are my personal top picks for best countries to buy real estate in Central America, but if you are interested in another Central American country and want a country assessment, please feel free to email me for more information.
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Carolyn Barnes, Your REALTOR® & Katy Expert