When it comes to universal fantasies, it's near the top of the list: buying a home in an exotic land -- preferably one where the U.S. dollar goes miles further, the weather is fine, and the food is fabulous. Oh, and where you can afford a truly breathtaking property.
This pipe dream may be more within reach than you realize!
Great swaths of Mexico and Costa Rica are already packed with English-speaking expats, but if you're looking for more off-the-beaten-path property that's easier on the wallet, here are four less expected locales that might be the perfect setting for your excellent overseas adventure.
Why you'll love it: Jaw-dropping natural beauty and all the sweet life amenities you expect in southern Europe, with a gentle price tag, daily direct flights from New York to Lisbon, and English widely spoken.
Those seeking buzz can find a flat in bustling Lisbon, or if you prefer a rural retreat, check out the idyllic Porto wine country or the southern Algarve coast, considered some of the world's most gorgeous beaches.
"The Algarve is one of international real estate's best buying opportunities right now," says Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas. "It's quintessential Old World living, with cobblestone squares next to beautiful beaches."
Logistics: It's easy for Americans to own property and to come and go as they choose.
"Portugal has what's called a golden visa program, which means if you make an investment of half a million Euros (about $545,000 at this writing) you get automatic residency for the whole family, and it's very unique in that you don't have to spend a minimum number of days there to maintain it," says Philip White, president and CEO of Sotheby's International Realty.
It's possible to finance a home purchase in Portugal, though the terms won't be what you're used to in the U.S. "European mortgages are usually a variable interest rate, but don't let that scare you because those rates are often very low -- 2% or even less," says Peddicord.
-- -- --
Why you'll love it: With its coral reef -- rimmed beaches, bustling cities, and famously friendly locals (the country is dubbed the "land of smiles"), it's no surprise that foreigners are drawn to buy in Thailand, and the cost of living seals the deal.
"With everything from food and entertainment to health care costing dramatically less than in the U.S., Thailand is among the best places for Americans to buy overseas in terms of a great lifestyle," says Peddicord. "And because there are strong communities of English-speaking expats, it's easy to make friends."
Logistics: Foreigners can't legally own land in Thailand; instead you'll buy a "lease hold," which is basically a long-term lease of 30 to 50 years with an option to renew for a predetermined number of years. It's a concept considered normal in many parts of the world, but if you're uncomfortable with it you can buy a condominium -- foreigners are allowed to own them outright as long as 51% of a development is Thai-owned.
-- -- --
Why you'll love it: This North African nation contains an intoxicating mix of cultural influences -- Arabic, African, and French. Plus, "Morocco offers year-round sunshine, is within reach of Europe, but real estate prices are a fraction of what they are in Europe," says Peddicord.
Logistics: Purchasing property in Morocco isn't as simple as in Europe, but the many Europeans with vacation homes there will attest that it is well worth a little added hassle. Because Brits fancy vacation flats in Marrakesh and Casablanca, the U.K. government has assembled a guide to buying property in Morocco. Foreigners are allowed to buy homes (no farmland though), and the process requires a notary and lawyer.
-- -- --
Why you'll love it: Although best known for its canal, this "hidden gem" of Central America also boasts a Caribbean and a Pacific coast, mountains, and rain forests, plus the international metropolis of Panama City.
If you're concerned about the long-term value of your investment, Panama is a very safe choice.
"Because of the canal, Panama has a lot of money flowing through it, unlike Central American countries that are very tied to the North American economy," points out Peddicord, who lives in and runs her business from Panama City.
Logistics: There are no legal barriers to buying property in Panama, and it's made even easier by the fact that the U.S. dollar is accepted as currency. Expect to make a down payment of 30% to 40%.
There's one catch, however: Banks may require you to buy local life insurance to secure a mortgage. "This is common in non-Commonwealth countries, and can be a hassle if you're older," says Peddicord. But given what you're getting, overall it's still a steal.