How to Buy a Home on an Island Paradise

  • Denarau Island, Western Fiji

    Denarau Island, Western Fiji

  • Bahamas


Buying a home on an exotic island is just about as close to paradise as we can get in this life. White sand beaches, azure coves, and temperatures that don't dare dip below 70 await the U.S. buyer on islands throughout the world. But buying a property surrounded by water and living as an expat -- even in Shangri-La -- can be trickier than it looks in glossy brochures.

Here are the secrets to buying an island retreat in some of the most glorious places on Earth.


What your U.S. dollars can get: $229,740 will get you an 875-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom waterfront condo overlooking Brigantine Bay in Treasure Cay, Abaco.

Why you'll love it: The Bahamas, which consist of more than 700 islands, have all the beaches and tranquil water you'd expect in island retreats. But what truly is better for expats in the Bahamas is the tax situation -- or lack thereof. The independently governed Bahamas isles have no income, capital gains, purchase, or sales taxes. So your cash will go further here, an especially attractive option for those on fixed incomes who may want to retire a bit south of Florida. There's little crime, and English with that fabulous island lilt is the official language.

Logistics: Mortgages and owner financing are available to help you buy property in Grand Bahama, says Ina Simmons, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker James Sarles Realty in Grand Bahama.

The Bahamas do not restrict foreign ownership of property of less than 2 acres for a single family. The first $250,000 of an owner-occupied property is tax-exempt, and property tax rates for properties between $250,000 and $500,000 is three-quarters of 1%.

"Your [Bahamian] lawyer will apply for investment board approval as part of the process, which is almost never denied unless a person is wanted by Interpol," Simmons says. The real estate commission, typically 6%, is paid by the seller.

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Crete, Greece

What your U.S. dollars can get: If you're up for pouring some TLC into your new digs, a mere $115,938* will make you the owner of a traditional Cretan two-story fixer-upper in the protected village of Gavalochori.

Why you'll love it: What's not to love about Crete, with its wonderful weather, ancient culture, and a relatively low cost of living? The island also has excellent hospitals, universities, and restaurants that stay open year-round. A large international community lives mainly on the north coast of Crete, including mostly Brits but also Americans, Germans, French, Dutch, and Swiss.

Logistics: Greek bureaucracy is legendary. "Patience, a good sense of humor, and an acceptance that you may have to visit and revisit various offices and produce documents, photocopies, and numerous passport-size photos are all that is needed," says the Completely Crete blog.

Members of the European Union can freely buy properties in Crete. U.S. citizens must be pre-authorized by the Ministry of External Affairs after presenting a curriculum vitae, six ratified photocopies of a passport, original certificate of birth plus five copies, and information about any criminal record.

Note: Ever since Greece's financial problems kicked into high gear, mortgages have been impossible to get.

"There are no mortgages in Greece currently, as the banks do not have spare cash to lend, but this is why prices are so low," says Wanda Kobylewicz, a Crete real estate agent. And although a 10% deposit is standard, conventional wisdom says don't put down any money until the title is searched by a qualified Greek attorney, who will also help you get a tax registration number, which is necessary for the purchase.

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What your U.S. dollars can get: $371,001* will buy you a three-bedroom apartment in Santa Margalida on the northeast part of the Spanish island.

Why you'll love it: It's a beautiful, Mediterranean way of life, and its fabulous architectural sites, museums, art galleries, and shopping increasingly are attracting wealthy visitors and developers. Although Spain has had its economic troubles, Mallorca has been shielded somewhat by its thriving tourism, which makes up 80% of the island's income.

Logistics: If you don't speak Spanish, you'll need a real estate agent or attorney to shepherd you through the property search and buying process. Foreigners need a NIE number, which is a foreign identity number needed to pay property taxes, which can take a few weeks to get. Only checks drawn on a Spanish bank will be accepted by a Spanish notary, who presides over the final deed signing.

Unlike some other island retreats, mortgages are available in Mallorca, and nonresidents typically can finance between 60% to 70% of the property value; a 10% down payment is standard.

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What your U.S. dollars can get: $775,514* can score you a three-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with a swimming pool and thatched lanai in the resort hub of Denarau Island.

Why you'll love it: You'll be pampered on Denarau Island with its spas, restaurants, festivals (including the Fiji International Jazz and Blues Festival), and -- last but not least -- pristine beaches.

Logistics: The Fiji government is leery of foreigners buying and selling property on its gorgeous islands, which it fears will make it harder for its own citizens to own and build homes. but it hasn't banned property sales to foreigners. Instead, in 2014 it imposed new restrictions that prevent foreigners who now own houses from selling to other nonresidents, says Aren Nunnink, a real estate agent in Savusavu, who has been selling Fiji properties to foreigners for 27 years. So, as long as you buy and plan to sell to a citizen, you're good. One bonus: Although a beachfront property seems ideal, it's not entirely necessary since all beaches in Fiji are public.

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What your U.S. dollars can get: $505,630* can buy you a two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa on the famous and prestigious Royal Westmoreland golf resort on the tony west coast of Barbados.

Why you'll love it: Barbados has it all: world-class golf resorts, yachting regattas, pink sand beaches that surfers and sun worshippers will love. What Barbados doesn't have is the throngs that choke some of the more touristy Caribbean islands, counting only about 500,000 annual stay-overs in 2014, compared with 1.4 million tourists in the Bahamas.

Logistics: Barbados puts out a welcome mat for foreigners by way of special entry permits, which offer unlimited length of stay on the island to retired property owners or persons with more than $5 million in net assets. Barbados does not restrict foreign ownership of property, although you'll have to obtain permission from Barbados' Central Bank and hire a Barbadian attorney to search the country's register and establish title to the property.

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* Currency conversions may vary depending on the market.

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