Which Frontier Markets allow foreign investors to buy real estate?

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Which Frontier Markets allow foreign investors to buy real estate?

Real estate is one of the best assets to grow wealth.  Residential real estate serves a fundamental, core need of the foundation for shelter.  It is also, often the largest asset class in an individual’s portfolio.  In many Frontier Markets, real estate is often the only reliable asset class to hold, fixed income is nascent and government credit is hairy, which diminishes the value of the currency and equity markets may be illiquid or nonexistent.

Residential real estate is the largest asset class on earth, and it is certainly the largest asset class within Frontier Markets.  Commercial real estate has its own complications and often requires local expertise to navigate government and business groups.  For this reason, we think residential real estate holds a lot of promise for individual investors seeking exposure to Frontier Markets.  Managing a tenanted property can be daunting in the same city, being a landlord in another country that is risky is a whole other matter.  To date, only mom and pop-type shops have offered exposure to this asset class but we are certain that institutionalization is inevitable.

We will over the next year, provide more and more information on this asset class.  Residential real estate in Frontier Markets is something that is very close to our heart as it strikes at the core of generating out-sized returns while exposing yourself on the ground-level to countries in flux.

This article will focus on what the loose property market is like in each country we cover.  It is intended to start a discussion or provide you with some background if you think about buying real estate while on vacation.  Below is our master list of all the countries we cover (if you would like a better, more readable format in Excel click here: Foreign_Property_Ownership_Laws_2017

List of Countries and their Foreign Buyer Property / Real Estate Ownership Laws:

Country Foreign Investment? Foreign landlord? Land Ownership Lease Term  Renewable Lease?
Botswana Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Botswana allows freehold ownership by foreigners, though title can be an issue outside of Gaborone.  There are properties that offer a leasehold, but freehold is the most common ownership by foreigners.
Cameroon Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Cameroon has an absence of laws.  As a result, foreigners are able to own freehold land.  This is likely to be the case until legislation catches up with the norms for the region.  However, there is no national registry for title.  As a result, possession really is ownership.
Cote D’Ivoire Yes No No 25 Yes
-Cote D’Ivoire is a bit of a mess as far as private property ownership is concerned.  It is premature and high-risk.  Many of the laws concerning private property are concepts rather than reality.  As a result, we do not recommend considering Cote D’Ivoire for investment unless you have some sort of personal connection.
Gabon Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Gabon, there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Ghana Yes Yes No 50 50
-Ghana allows foreigners to invest on a leasehold basis.  The typical arrangement is up to 50 years, but legislation allows for extensions.  There is a degree of corruption with respect to title claims.  Would strongly suggest sticking to reputable projects and doing a lot of due dilligence prior to purchase.
Kenya Yes Yes No 99 No
-Kenya allows foreigners to purchase property on a lease-hold basis in all places other than rural areas and strategically-restricted regions.  Leases are initially for a 9-year term and then can be renewed after.
Malawi Yes No No 50 50
-Malawi banned foreign ownership in 2002.  Since then, they have actively campaigned to prevent foreigners from gaining material property interests.  Leaseholds are still permitted within restricted areas in and around Lilongwe and other areas of strategic interest.  Title and property protection outside of Lilongwe are truly terrible.
Mauritius Yes No Yes N/A N/A
-Mauritius has three programs for real estate investment which also provide foreigners residency rights in the country.  However, properties cannot be leased out, and also do not provide the resident with the right to work.  This makes it very limited in utility and is really suited to foreign residents.
Namibia Yes Yes No 25 Yes
-Namibia passed a law in 2015 which restricted foreigners from owning freehold property.  Leaseholds are permitted for foreigners still, but only within approved areas.  There is a risk of legislation making foreign access to property even more restrictive.  However, given the size of the country and its low population density, we are optimistic the government won’t go too far.
Nigeria Yes Yes No 25 Yes
-Nigeria has a very convoluted legal framework for foreign investors, just like all of Nigeria’s laws.  Title is one of the most corrupt areas of law in Nigeria and property disputes are almost a foregone concern, unless you invest in a large-scale, reputable development within Lagos or Abuja.  Leaseholds are possible at a maximum of 25 years.  However, a local partner is key.
Rwanda Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Rwanda, there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.  Outside of Kigali, you do run the risk of title controversy and disputes.
Tanzania No No No 99 Yes
-Tanzania does not allow non-citizens to own land.  There are certain designated regions that allow for leasehold investments, but they are limited enough that we consider the country closed for investment.
Uganda Yes Yes No 99 Yes
-Uganda allows foreigners to invest in construction, not land.  This limits leases for 99 years.  There is very little in terms of documented title, outside of Kampala.  Any foreigner considering an investment should restrict themselves to Kampala and other reputable projects with clear title.
Zambia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Currently, Zambia allows foreigners to invest in real estate without restrictions other than rural and strategic areas.  However, there is a lot of tension with respect to the amount of land owned by foreigners (particularly South Africans and the British).  We are not entirely confident that property rights would be protected, in the event of a legislative change.
Zimbabwe Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Zimbabwe there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property on restricted reserves and rural areas.  Post-Mugabe there is some legislative risk, but we feel comfortable with where laws are insofar as real estate is concerned.
Argentina Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Argentina there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within the vicinity of the border, strategic islands or other restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Bermuda Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Non-resident Bermudans are able to purchase homes over a determined value (ARV) which varies based on whether the property is a house or condo.  It is full freehold ownership.
Bolivia No No No N/A N/A
-Historically, Bolivia was very friendly to foreigners.  This is one of the reasons that Germans and Mennonites flocked to the country.  However, post-2012 a number of laws have been passed that make foreign ownership rights subjective and murky.  We would not recommend investing in Bolivian property at this time, even if you are permitted given how easily the government could cancel ownership.
Chile Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-A foreigner can own real estate in Chile as long as they get essentially a tax identification number prior to purchase.  Rural and resource-rich areas are restricted.
Colombia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Colombia there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within the vicinity of the border, strategic islands or other restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Costa Rica Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Costa Rica there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property that is in restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Guatemala Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Guatemala there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property that is in restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Jamaica Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Jamaica there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property that is in restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Panama Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Panama, there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within 10km of the border, strategic islands or other restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Paraguay Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Paraguay only has reasonable property rights within the capital (Asuncion).  Legally, there are no restrictions for property within urban areas for foreigners, including land ownership.
Peru Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-In Peru there are no specific regulations preventing a foreigner from owning real estate, other than any property within 50km of the border, strategic islands or other restricted reserves and rural areas.  Freehold ownership is possible.
Trinidad and Tobago Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Buying property is easy without a foreign investment license if you are looking to purchase 1 acre or less.  In this case, the process can be relatively quick (approximately 3 weeks).  Certain areas are difficult to purchase property in (such as the central business district of Port of Spain) and of course rural and natural resource-rich areas.
Venezuela Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Technically, foreigners can purchase real estate in Venezuela with permission from the government.  Apartments are easier than houses and rural areas are restricted as well as certain coastal areas.  However, given that the country has collapsed, there is a risk that the property could be expropriated or worse, that certain criminal elements take possession of the property.  Title is not worth much right now.
Georgia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners are able to invest in real estate and only need to file paperwork as an ordinary real estate transaction.  No need for special permission.  Rural properties and certain other strategic properties are prohibited.
Kazakhstan No No No N/A N/A
-Foreigners cannot own real estate in Kazakhstan unless they are residents of Kazakhstan.  Certain folks have set up businesses and silent Kazakh partners, but for our purposes, there is no way to own real estate in Kazakhstan directly.
Kyrgyzstan No No No N/A N/A
-Foreigners cannot own real estate in Kyrgyzstan unless they are residents of Kyrgyzstan.  Certain folks have set up businesses and silent Kyrgyz partners, but for our purposes, there is no way to own real estate in Kyrgyzstan directly.
Mongolia Yes Yes No 99 Yes
-Apartments can be acquired easily.  Rural properties and land cannot be owned by non-Mongolian citizens.  Apartments can be rented out and title issues are rare.
Bosnia & Herzegovina Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-It is straightforward to purchase.  Government approval is needed, but it is rather quick.  Certain areas and property types are restricted, but the majority of the market is available for investment.
Bulgaria Yes Yes No 7 Yes
-Apartments and built-up construction may be purchased.  However, land or any construction in a rural property cannot be.  Apartment purchases are straightforward, but there is title risk from claims on property that are pre-communism.
Croatia No No No N/A N/A
-If your country has a reciprocity agreement with Croatia it is possible to purchase real estate.  Otherwise, there is no clear-cut way to invest/purchase.  There are a number of caveats for even those folks (primarily the EU), in terms of no rural or coastal properties.
Cyprus Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners can own real estate easily.  Taxes are dependant on purpose (investment, residence, holiday etc.).  There are few challenges and the registration system is of a high quality.
Estonia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners are able to purchase all real estate other than designated areas (such as islands and near the Russian border) as well as lots larger than 10 hectares, rural and woodland properties.  A tax ID is required as well as permission from the government in certain areas.  It is relatively easy and straightforward.
Latvia Yes Yes No 99 99
-Buying an apartment is easy.  Buying a home is challenging.  The land and construction must be purchased separately.  It is possible to own land as an EU-citizen, it is not possible if you are a non-EU citizen.
Lithuania Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Certain rural and coastal properties cannot be purchased, but everything else is pretty straightforward for a foreign investor.  One of the friendliest jurisdictions.
Macedonia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Anyone can buy land that isn’t rural or forest.  It is a straightforward easy to understand the process that can be done remotely via the use of a lawyer.  Property rights are protected and there is a fundamental shortage of real estate in the country.
Malta Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-If you are a resident, it is fairly straightforward.  If you are a non-resident then you can only purchase a home that is more than 170,000 euros (grows with real estate price) and 101,000 euros for an apartment.  Rural properties are not possible.
Romania No No No N/A N/A
-Technically an EU citizen can own land and investment in Romania but with a number of caveats.  A non-EU citizen may be able to lease a dwelling (not own land) if there are similar rights for a Romanian citizen in the subject country.  However, all of this is messy and noisy, and we think it is fair to say that investment is not possible at this time.
Serbia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Anyone can buy land that isn’t rural or forest.  It is a straightforward easy to understand process that can be done remotely via the use of a lawyer.  Property rights are protected and there is a fundamental shortage of real estate in the country.
Slovakia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Anyone can buy land that isn’t rural or forest.  It is a straightforward easy to understand process that can be done remotely via the use of a lawyer.  Property rights are protected and there is a fundamental shortage of real estate in the country.
Slovenia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-If you are a citizen of the EU or an OECD country it is actually quite easy to buy real estate.  If you are a citizen of another country, the best course of action is to set up a Slovenian company to purchase real estate.  Certain restrictions apply, but it is generally quite open.
Ukraine Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-A foreigner can own real estate in Ukraine as long as they get essentially a tax identification number prior to purchase.  Of course, Russia could take all the land, but we think that is relatively unlikely in Western Ukraine.
Bahrain Yes Yes No 99 Yes
-A foreigner can own land in designated areas.  The laws are quite murky and we would not trust it unless you live in Bahrain and will be residing in the property.  The island is too small, and real estate is too expensive to trust locals and the government to enforce investors interest in Bahrain.  Foreigners are restricted to owning one property anyway.
Egypt Yes No Yes N/A N/A
-Egypt allows foreigners to own up to 40,000 square feet spread across 2 properties so long as a family member resides on the real estate.  This means that it is not possible to rent out the property.  You could, however, own a vacation property that you frequent from time to time.
Iraq No No No N/A N/A
-Foreigners at this time cannot invest in Iraq unless they go the route of setting up a domestic corporation, find a local partner and pay some bribes to the government.  Kurdistan does allow investment in residential units however, and is quite welcoming.
Jordan Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners can quite easily purchase property with advance permission from the government.  There are certain property types where a leasehold is the only way to access property, but there is a wide enough opportunity set that we would label Jordan as very friendly to foreign investors.
Kuwait No No No N/A N/A
-Long-term foreign residents may acquire only one property that is at most, 3,500 square feet.  However, a foreign investor that does not reside in the country is unable purchase property at all
Morocco Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners can purchase land in Morocco with the exception of agricultural land.  It is a fairly straight-forward process with a lawyer.  Property management can be challenging, but property rights are fairly well-protected.
Oman Yes Yes Yes Indefinite Indefinite
-Oman now allows foreigners to own land and develop structures as well as own real estate within designated areas.  Technically it is a perpetual lease that can be canceled at any time by the government.  This isn’t too different then epropriation rights for land in most developed countries.
Palestine No No No No No
-We track Palestine and are keen observers of the Palestine Stock Exchange.  However, land ownership in Palestine is obviously not something we would consider given that Palestinians themselves have spurious ownership over their own land.
Qatar No No No 99 Yes
-We consider this a ‘no’ because foreign ownership is restricted to three developments.  For all intents and purposes, Qatar is closed off from a property perspective for foreigners.
Saudi Arabia No No No N/A N/A
-If you are a foreigner who has residency status in Saudi Arabia you may own property with the government’s approval.  However, any non-resident foreigner may not own land.  Even those foreign residents are restricted further by being unable to purchase land in Mecca and Medina.  Would not recommend considering real estate investment in Saudi Arabia.  There is the caveat that GCC citizens are able to purchase property.
Syria Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Foreigners may own land or property that is larger than 1,400 square feet.  This is a rather strange provision but it is intended to prevent foreigners capturing seemingly affordable housing.  Permission is required from the government, in order for the purchase to be approved.  If you intend to be a landlord, leases ought to be registered with the government.  However, locals rarely do so.  It goes without saying that Syria is a tricky place to do business and a local partner ought to be considered.
Tunisia Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Tunisia is very friendly for foreign investors.  If you are buying a property in industrial land or a designated tourist area, then no permission is required to purchase, and the foreigner may hold title to the land.  However, if the property is not in either of those two areas, then permission is required.  In order to do this, a deed of sale, along with a request prepared by a lawyer need to be submitted to the government.  Agricultural land cannot be held by a foreigner.
Bangladesh Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Bangladesh is bereft of really detailed law on property ownership as a whole.  Technically, a foreigner is able to own land without restriction.  Expect though, to pay bribes to get title and be certain that if you do not live in the country, that others will challenge for ownership.  Particularly if that area does well.  A challenger could also pay a bribe to have the government consider his/her respective plea.  We would not recommend investing in Bangladesh without a local partner we trust.
Nepal No No No N/A N/A
-Foreigners at this stage are unable to own land or a leasehold of property in Nepal.  Foreign corporations can own land for the purposes of operating a business (such as a hotel).  However, there are restrictions with respect to profiting from such ownership.  it is a complicated, muddled mess
Pakistan Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Pakistan allows foreign buyers to outright own real estate.  However, there are a number of hoops to jump through and there is no standardized approach to property sales in Pakistan.  The result of this is that a lot of attention needs to be paid to prevent fraud and title searches as well as newspaper advertisements intending to purchase a particular plot is necessary.  Necessary to have a local law firm that can navigate the environment as well as defend the investment.
Sri Lanka Yes Yes Yes N/A N/A
-Sri Lanka does not allow ordinary transfers of land to a foreigner or foreign corporation.  However, the country does allow full ownership of a condo parcel/unit that is on the 4th floor or higher.  For our purposes, this entails full and complete ownership.
Cambodia Yes Yes No 40 (government) No
99 (private)
-Cambodia allows foreigners to own condos via strata ownership with a 40% restriction per development.  This is the most common way that foreigners purchase property in Cambodia.  However, there is also the ability to purchase land via a local company.  This can be set up with 51% Cambodian ownership via two classes of shares.  The end result, is that a foreigner can control land, but is a strategy that could be risky if the government decides its a problem.
Laos Yes Yes No 30 (private) No
50 (government)
75 (special economic zone)
-Laos allows foreigners to lease raw lend and build whatever construction they choose (within local laws) for use within the lease term.  As indicated, the maximum lease term varies depending on who the owner of the land is.  The foreigner is able to rent out property and conceivably even build out a development.
Myanmar Yes Yes No 70 No
-In 2016, Myanmar passed a law enabling foreign ownership within condo structures that are built on at least 20,000 square feet.  It is contemplated that foreigners would be able to lease out property and would be protected by property rights.  What is not clear, is if the lease term can renew each time a foreign owner purchases a property.  This, of course, could be subject to gamesmanship, as it has been in Dubai with non-arms-length transactions.
Papua New Guinea Yes Yes No 99 No
-97% of land is customarily owned (traditional landowners, and cannot be held by foreigners.  Foreigners are also unable to own freehold land.  Leasehold land is possible to purchase a lease of up to 99 years.  However, it is not contemplated that this could be extended.  Foreigners are able to rent out property they have purchased, but it is a little bit of a grey area.
Philippines Yes Yes No 50 Yes
-Foreigners are able to buy condominiums but not land.  The typical arrangement is a 50-year agreement which will then have at least one 25-year period that is renewable.  If a foreigner chooses to build a home, or buy a home, the land has to be owned by a Filipino and there needs to be an arrangement between the two for a land lease.  In a specific condo development, foreigners may only own 40% of all units.  This is similar to the Philippines’ corporate ownership law, that at least 60% must be held by Filipinos.
Vietnam Yes No No 50 Yes
-In Vietnam, nobody owns land, only the government.  Foreigners must have residency in Vietnam in order to purchase property.  It is a standard 50-year lease (maximum) with a renewable term.  If title law changes, many purchases would adjust to the new law.  In Vietnam, all real estate transactions are done in gold.

We hope you have found this useful.  Our next real estate piece will cover how to value real estate with leasehold terms.

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