Foreign Buyer Beware

For some strange and inexplicable reason people go to other countries to buy property.   They feel I guess that they are making a good investment in having a home in a spot where they might vacation often and it is cheaper to have a place to go to that they own rather than having to pay for a hotel all the time.

For some however this luxury scheme is just that and they are the ones losing out.

In the last week in the local expat newspaper was yet another story of two folks from Britain who had bought and furnished a vacation home here in Spain.  They enjoyed years of traveling between the two countries living and working in the UK but vacationing here.

Somewhere along the line however they must have pissed off the wrong person.  They arrived a month ago to spend a little time at their vacation home only to find a For Sale sign out front; all of their furniture, clothing and family heirlooms removed and gone and every fixture removed from the walls.  In shock they contacted the bank on the For Sale sign and were told they were only following repossession orders that they received from the courts.  This couple never received any notification from anyone that there was an issue with their home and the bank which was on the For Sale sign was not the bank that they had done work with in order to buy their home in the first place.  According to all the authorities involved oops, our mistake, wrong house.  It is of course too late to return any of the furniture to them because no one knows where it went; no one is taking responsibility for who gave the order or who brought the court order either.  The expat loses completely here, end of issue.  The banks were following the courts orders so they have no liability.  No one is saying where the court received the order from and no one owes the expats a dime.

Another case came up recently where two Italian citizens were posed with the threat of jail time because they built a home on a parcel of land where they did not legally own the property; even though they had gone through an attorney and thought that everything was legit.  They put down their money; built the home; mortgaged their property in Italy to do so and then found out that none of it was legal and they might not only lose the home in Italy they used for collateral but also spend time in jail.  Again, the expat loses here.

In Panama we heard of a woman from the US who had bought a home in the country using what she thought was a good attorney whom had been referred to her.  She bought the home, thought she had clear title, furnished it and returned to the US because she was only going to vacation in Panama.  When she returned to Panama two years later she found her attorney living in the home and she was told since she had abandoned the property it was no longer hers.  Last we heard she was still fighting it but again she is the expat and the Panamanian attorney knows the laws in his land way better than any expat and whom does she think the courts will side with?

Not every expat gets cheated out of their money or loses their home.  The problem is that just as many do have legal issues in a foreign country and so far none of the resolutions we have seen have been in the favor of the expat.  Did you know that in many countries the only legal document is the one written in the native language?  Even if you have a document written in English it does not take precedence over a document written in Spanish for example.  Make sure therefore that any and all legal documents you sign are clearly understood by you in either language.  This way you won’t be sorry you signed on the dotted line.

Mike and I agreed early on that we were no longer buying property anywhere.  There really isn’t time for a good return on our investment and the equity we might build would be too many years away.  We certainly have never found it to be the case where an expat made loads and loads of money off a property investment in a foreign country.

We would rather spend our money traveling and going to new places instead of worrying about whether some foreign bank or entity had repossessed our property.  We also like the freedom to not have to return to the same place over and over again.  This way we have nothing we leave behind and we take our memories with us, which is something we can guarantee no one will take away from us.

Florence Lince



  1. I’ve only been an expat for the past four years, but I am already beginning to wonder, “should I buy a house in the US and rent it out, or buy a condo somewhere warm and cheap that I will eventually use as a retirement home?” I’m still in the saving stages, but after reading your post, your lifestyle sounds like the better option!

    -Amanda at


    1. The key is to know the laws and the rules well before you buy property anywhere. Not everyone gets cheated. The other issue is that once you buy a property somewhere you feel compelled to visit that one place over and over. If wanderlust is over and you want to settle down it might be the way to go. We like having the freedom to pick up and see new places instead of returning to the same place year after year. Having a rental that supports your travels is the other option. It’s nice to have money rolling in that you can use to see the world.


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