Overseas Real Estate Investing… For Real?

by | BiggerPockets.com

Go big or go home, right? I’ll tell you, my first investment purchase ever was two beachfront properties in Nicaragua. Crazy, huh? I’ve always been known to do everything backwards- hardest to easiest. Despite what I do, however, I don’t necessarily encourage everyone to go big or go home the first time around, or even the third, but don’t forget-

Real estate does exist outside of the US!

Agh! I mean, seriously, have you ever thought about putting your money somewhere other than in the States? Maybe you’ve heard of people doing it in the past but never thought of it as a realistic possibility. It tends to be one of those things that only happens in worlds completely separate from my own type of mentalities. Well guess what, it’s real.

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Why You Should Consider Investing Overseas

  • Diversity/Security. I’m sorry, but I don’t have as much faith in our government as most, especially when it comes to my money. People will argue all day long about the security of our government and economy and who knows what, but to each their own and I’m not that trusting. I put plenty of my money into the States, couldn’t hurt to keep some out of it.
  • High Returns. There is potential for some seriously high returns in overseas investing, especially if you invest in emerging countries. The risk is much higher, but the higher the risk the higher the potential return and you can definitely make some bank investing overseas.
  • It’s Really Freakin’ Fun. One thing I love the most about everyone I meet who has either invested overseas or is pondering investing overseas is that they inevitably have some sense of adventure. Overseas investing is not for the timid. It is scary! Scary doesn’t always mean bad either though, don’t confuse the two. Aside from the rush just from owning overseas property, it can also be incredibly fun to travel to check up on your investment, or just to have an excuse to visit it.

How to Know What Country to Buy In

Above all, I highly recommend if you are considering investing overseas to connect with other investors who are doing it. Networking in REI in general is a great practice, but especially when it comes to overseas investing, try to find people who have either done it already or are doing it and try to learn as much as you can from their experiences because you will likely learn things you wouldn’t have even thought to consider. For example, I never would have known there was a difference in countries who let foreign nationals own property freehold and those who won’t. I didn’t even know what that meant before. Since this is probably one of the most critical parts of overseas investing, let me expand on it.

You need to know if foreign nationals are legally allowed to own 100% deeded freehold property in that country.

Ever heard the famous opposition of buying in other countries which is, “I would never buy there, the government could just come in one day and take my property.” If you are not the 100% owner of a property, yes the government can come in and take your property. Make sure you are investing in a country that allows foreign nationals to own 100% deeded freehold property. I’d say the majority of countries will not let you own it outright as a foreign national. If you cannot, you better be real up on exactly what that means and what the potential consequences are. Don’t just settle for being surprised later on that one.

Since I’m on this topic anyway, I’ll use it as a segue to touch on some of the risks you need to be aware of if considering investing overseas.

Related: Should You Invest in a Vacation Home in 2013?

Some Basics to Watch Out for If Buying Overseas

This is not an all-inclusive list, and I encourage you to do research on your own so you have a good working knowledge of every crevice risk may lie. I just want to point out a couple of the most basic risks.

1.       Not being able to fully own a deeded freehold property.  I expanded on this one already, but it still deserves to be number one on the list.

2.       Lack of recourse if something goes wrong. There’s good news and bad news about this one. The bad news is that depending on the country, yes, there may be a serious lack in how much you can fight (or get back) if something goes wrong. Some governments are more corrupt which could make it very hard to find recourse. The good news is, although it’s really up to your perception because it’s kind of bad news too, is that recourse in the US can be just as difficult as recourse overseas. I know of investors who bought into developments in very well-known US cities and something happened and the owner basically threw his middle finger up at the investors and walked. The lawsuits started of course, but years later a lot of them aren’t even halfway completed. And that’s US recourse, so anyone who tells me other countries are the only ones you can lose money in needs to wake up. With any investment, always consider the worst-case scenario, which is you lose everything you invested. If that thought is unbearable, don’t do it. US or overseas, the same goes.

3.       Not having oversight. This is the same as if you invest just out of your local area or out-of-state (which you know I’m a huge advocate of). If you don’t have trustworthy teams on the ground, your investment can be driven into the ground without you even knowing it. Be extremely cognizant of who has their eyes on your property, and in the case of overseas this can be more difficult because of everything from language barriers to time zone differences creating a game of phone tag you could never imagine to skeezy property managers who know the owner lives out of the country so they can take advantage of them with little recourse because the investor just doesn’t know otherwise and aren’t there to see it.

As with any investment risk, however, there are always mitigations to each risk. None of them are guarantees of course, because if they were they wouldn’t be called investments! There are ways to lower your risk and smartly choosing the country you invest in is the best place to start.

A Case in Point: Nicaragua

As I mentioned initially, my first investment properties ever were beachfront properties in Nicaragua. I’ll admit, when I first heard the name Nicaragua I thought it was a country in Africa. Geography was never my stronger suite and I’m pretty sure I was thinking of Nigeria because I remember assuming the opportunity must be a scam. Since that investment two years ago, I am still actively involved in Nicaragua investing, I go down there multiple times a year, and I actually planned on moving there at one point before other things came up and distracted me. I love that country! More important than my love for it however is the reality of investing there. I only talk about Nicaragua to give you an example of a country that investors are flocking to and why they are so you can understand what makes a country a good candidate for investment.

When I first said Nicaragua originally you probably got a little wide-eyed and thought I had lost my mind. You just proved my first point. Perception of Nicaragua has not caught up to reality. Nicaragua had a lot of problems 20-30 years ago which are over now. I have been down there numerous times, and even wandered around off the beaten path quite a bit, and never once have I ever felt unsafe. I have felt much less safe in LA and even in Atlanta than ever in Nicaragua. Down there, more than here, I stand out like a sore thumb too because I’m blonde and quite frankly lacking a tan. Blonde white chick, pretty small, not overly intimidating looking, and not once has anyone ever messed with me. The people in Nicaragua are amazing, the worst crime down there is robbery (one perk to a 3rd world country), and I’ve never knowingly run into a Sandinista. Not only is the country totally safe, #1 safest country in Central America to be exact, it’s gorgeous! The beaches are amazing, the cities are full of culture, and it has amazing mountains and volcanos if you aren’t as much a beach person. The advantage to most of the world not realizing all of this yet is it contributes to Nicaragua still being in the infancy stage for growth. Prices are still affordable and tourists haven’t overrun it… yet.

If you research current statistics on Nicaragua, you will be amazed. It’s been deemed one of the #1 retirement havens in the world, it’s being promoted by several big-name magazines and news stations across the world, significant mining opportunities are driving attention there, the economics are outstanding, they are top in the world for notable exports, globally branded hotel chains are moving in, and the list goes on. HouseHunters International has filmed there several times already, Survivor has filmed two seasons there, and Nicaragua has some of the top surf breaks in the world. These things are important because they suggest massive growth coming over the next decade. For investors, the statistics on the impending hotel room deficit in only the next couple years suggests an insanely high occupancy rate if you own rental property there, especially the beachfront resorts. All the while, prices are comparable to what Costa Rica’s prices were 20 and 30 years ago. Ever heard someone say, “Man, I wish I had invested in Costa Rica 20 years ago!” I’ve heard it my whole life. People say that for good reason; the prices there absolutely soared uncontrollably at one point. Risky, yes, but for those who took on the risk, they returns have been unquestionable.

Most importantly, Nicaragua has no restrictions on foreign ownership of property, and in fact, the Nicaraguan President is supporting it!

Related: The Vacation Rental Hypothesis

Regardless if Nicaragua is for you, that should at least give you an idea as to what qualities a country with high investment potential may offer. Low prices, huge growth potential, known interest, and support of foreigners owning there.

Go big or go home! What fun is it if you don’t?

Photo Credit: larepuvlica_eurasia

About Author

Ali Boone

Ali Boone is a lifestyle entrepreneur, business consultant, and real estate investor. Ali left her corporate job as an Aerospace Engineer to follow her passion for being her own boss and creating true lifestyle design. She did this through real estate investing, using primarily creative financing to purchase five properties in her first 18 months of investing. Ali’s real estate portfolio started with pre-construction investments in Nicaragua and then moved towards turnkey rental properties in various markets throughout the U.S. With this success, she went on to create her company Hipster Investments, which focuses on turnkey rental properties and offers hands-on support for new investors and those going through the investing process. She’s written nearly 200 articles for BiggerPockets and has been featured in Fox Business, The Motley Fool, and Personal Real Estate Investor Magazine. She still owns her first turnkey rental properties and is a co-owner and the landlord of property local to her in Venice Beach.


  1. Ali

    After reading BP for some time, I’ve been been lead to the opinion that foreign property ownership is less … well, “foreign”, to those of us outside the U.S.A. {which is large enough market in its own right that investment activity is a little more insular than elsewhere}.

    Central America – especially Nicaragua and Costa Rica – is a popular investment region for Canadians {mostly for vacation properties} as are Mexico and, to a lesser extent, South America (Peru, Chile).

    • Oh, for sure Roy. Just about every time I’ve been in Nicaragua hanging out with investors, the vast majority of them have been Canadian. Something about the warm weather they like… 🙂 I’ve been working around some amazing investment opportunities down there where the property they buy can be used by them anytime they want, as well as put in a rental program so when they aren’t there they are collecting cash flow. Super cool!

      I think you are absolutely right about it being less ‘foreign’ idea to buyers from outside the U.S. But that’s also fairly representative of the U.S. in general I think (for good or for bad, more bad).

    • Hey Mark! Oh I hear you. Big fan of the beach myself 🙂 I was bummed out at first when I found out all of the buying in Nicaragua is on the Pacific Coast instead of the Atlantic/Caribbean side because I’m a total Caribbean nut, but turns out the Pacific side in Nica is just absolutely amazing. I would definitely like to look into some Caribbean investing though at some point.

  2. Jordan Amarant on

    Ali, Great Article. I’ve have followed your posts and website for a little while now and have been researching a lot on Nicaragua. In fact my younger sister is there now traveling for a month. I have her on the hunt for potential opportunities! I am an avid traveler and it is my dream to invest in multiple countries around the globe. Ideal investments in Ideal locations!! I would love to talk to you more about Nica and the process you went thru to turn a dream into reality, as well as what type of returns you are earning, financing options, etc..
    Kudos to Ali for beig on the leading edge of international investing and for not putting 100% faith into our government!
    Thanks, Jordan

    • Ali Boone

      Hey Jordan! Yeah, anytime. That’s cool your sister is there for a month! A lot of backpackers I met when I was hanging out down there said they were only backpacking Nicaragua and could care less to go to Costa Rica or any of the other surrounding countries. Just more testament to the popularity!

      • Gerardo L Pichardo on

        Hello Ali,

        Do you still happen to own any properties in Nicaragua? I’m very interested in this opportunity. I was born in Leon, Nicaragua, but we fled the country when I was 2 due to some of those problems you mentioned.

        Do you think it’s still a good time to get in? I’m planning on making my first visit back to my homeland next year and get the process started.

        Thank you,


  3. karen rittenhouse

    Wow, really fascinating, Ali.

    I’ve never considered investing out of the country, but you’ve really peaked my interest. And my interest in Nicaragua. I’ve been tempted by Costa Rica because I’ve visited there and it is so GORGEOUS! But your post has me wanting to explore this foreign investment possibility.

    Maybe a field trip there for some interested investors? You sound like the one to put something together…

    Congratulations on your success with this and thanks for expanding my thinking!

    • Ali Boone

      You bet, Karen! And just so happens, I know of an investors’ discovery weekend happening down there in later June! I’ve been on those trips and they are an absolute blast. You get to network with people from all over the world, all investors or investor-related, all doing different things, but all with at least that little sense of adventure to think about investing down there.

      If you can make it down there in June, let me know and I’ll make sure to go down as well so I can meet up with you! I can send you info on it and the schedule and such if you’d like. If you can’t make it in June, they usually have them every few months so can still get you down there!

  4. Hey Ali,

    As a Canadian investing in the US, I think looking outside your border is a great strategy. My concern would be more about currency. If you believe the US government is in trouble and hyperinflation is a possibility, any country with a currency tied to the US dollar would feel the same pains.
    I don’t know how to get around that, short of storing gold bars under my bed. Guess I should have taken more global economics courses in school 🙂
    Either way I think it’s worth a look. Lots of eggs, lots of baskets!

  5. Mehran Kamari on

    What an awesome article Ali, Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    I’m making payments on a luxury condo being built in the Philippines right now. It won’t be done til 2017 though! I signed the contract a while ago before I learned enough about evaluating markets etc. Paris Hilton is involved in marketing the property though and it’s putting a lot of hype around the project lol.

    This investment/vacation home has just been sitting on the side of my mind for a while. After reading this article I realize I need to better understand all the ins and outs of actually owning a property there. For Example, I just learned their “capital gains tax” is taxed on the full sale price of the property (regardless of what you bought it for.) Why not just call it a SALES TAX haha.

    • Ali Boone

      Lol! Mehran and Paris sittin’ in a tree…. haha. Just kidding. That’s really interesting on the condo. I’d love to hear more numbers on that. What is the forecast for travel to the Philippines? I assume you’ll be renting out the condo? When is it supposed to be done?

      • Mehran Kamari on

        We wouldn’t just be sitting lol! I’m not sure on the forecast for travel, but this condo location is 8 minutes from the airport and right in the middle between two of the major business hubs of the City (Manila). For a rental it’s geared more at the young business professional that “wants to live in style”, as the complex will have the first man made beach in the city.

        I am half filipino though and I have family that travels there all the time. I’m going there for the first time this December. Apparently it’s supposed to be heaven for a young guy like me *wink* and I may want to just keep the condo as a vacation home. Possibly rent it out when I’m not around.

        It finishes in 2017. Between now and then I’m making monthly payments that will add up to the 20% down payment over the next 5 years. There is a balloon in 2017 upon completion. so I’ll either have to pay it off or seek financing/sell it.
        Contract cost was around $65k at the time of signing. I pay around $350/mo for the downpayment until 2017. The units in the different towers are moving quickly and I think the unit is worth about $75k right now thanks to Paris Hilton.

        My only concern right now is if the dollar gets weaker, or the Filipino peso gets stronger, I end up paying more!

  6. Ali,
    I was actually born in Nicaragua and looked into investing there a couple of years ago. Did you finance your properties there. Financing was my biggest obstacle, can you give any more details on the financing aspect of your overseas adventures?


    • Ali Boone

      Hi Hernan. I did finance mine but it was seller-financing. Those offers aren’t around that I know of now, but there is financing available through the Nicaraguan banks. I think the interest rates are a bit hefty, but doable nonetheless. They definitely do construction loans so if you are wanting to buy a lot and build a house, that is another option a lot of people are doing. Then for the pre-construction buildings, most often the payments are stage payments. Like the one I work around the most now, 40% down now, 40% down once the roof is on, and the rest at closing.

  7. That’s one thing I have really tried to crack is finding a vacation type property that will cash flow enough to cover itself and still allow me to use it when I vacation. In the states, it seems you are always going to lose money. I’d be interested in the June investor’s trip as I would like to see it for myself. I have about two weeks in June where I am free, so it depends on dates.

  8. Chris Paulus on

    Thank you for the awesome article! I have a much higher appetite for risk than most and share your feelings as stated in the article. I had originally planned on picking up some properties is Cayman, but hurricanes can be a giant reset button on a small island. I have spent the last 6 weeks investigating Costa Rican real estate, taxes, customs, culture and legal structure. I suspect I will spend the upcoming weeks studying Nicaragua. Please send me details on the investor’s trip. Thank you for taking the risks and then sharing the experience!

  9. Ali, we met in Nicaragua, we own lots in the same resort, we met last August or September I believe while doing a tour , could of been April of 2012, send me an email and we can talk,

    Andy from Texas

  10. Ali, Thanks for your informative and thought provoking post. I am a licensed realtor in Florida for the last 12 years or so and have been investing in real estate prior to as well as after the bubble bursting. It has been a long time dream of mine to invest in real estate or a business that would afford me the opportunity to diversify and travel, especially as a strong retirement plan with cash flow potential. Why not make it vacation worthy as well! 🙂 I am an entrepreneur as well, owning retail establishments here, which has held me back a bit from travel and overseas investing but I am finally at a place that will allow me the time away to make it happen. I would say that I could comfortably outlay between $50 -$100K on the right investment opportunities with the proper cap rates. I have been trying to buy a few properties per year cash and flipping them for decent profits and transferring all the revenue made over the year to a portfolio home which I in turn lease which generates cash flow and speeds up the retirement plan of acquiring cash flow properties. This also leaves me mortgage free and with my initial investment money free after each flipped property. I am interested if this strategy seems feasible overseas and what your thoughts are? Would love to discuss this with you and would truly appreciate your feedback and any info on meeting with other like investors. Thanks so much and congrats on your success!!

    • Hey Ronnie, thanks for jumping in! As far as whether it would work, I think it could but it may be difficult. It will really depend on what country you are looking at. The questions you’ll want to ask yourself- can you speak the language, will you be able to manage the team of contractors a) from so far away and b) for potential language barriers and c) what is the quality of the workers in that country. Also, what is the resell ability? Is it easy to sell a house down there?

      Good luck!

  11. Hi Ali,

    My name is Eric, and I’m currently trying my hand at building down in Costa Rica. Im not really sure how I missed this post for so long, so I apologize for coming into the discussion so late.
    First off, thank you for the post with all the great info. I am currently 2 years into my project, and I find there is so much to know trying to building in Central America, and no one real place to go and get the info that gets passed on like it does by the people who have actually done it like yourself. So, I appreciate any tips from those that have done this successfully.

    To the last poster, @Ronnie , I would read tip #3 over and over again. This is so key! So many things can go wrong so easily without a reliable person on the ground. Since I will remain in the United States while our project is being built, I chose to take on a partner, and cut him in on the finished profits once everything sells. That way, he only makes $ if the project becomes complete. Also gives him a little more incentive to make sure things are moving along on a daily basis. A good lawyer will also be key to your success.

    Thanks again for the post, and power to all those currently in the process of, or thinking about real estate abroad.


  12. Hi Ali,

    I am a recently retired military officer. I have a couple rental properties in the US. I was looking for a place in the Caribbean to set up a small rental business. Acquire some rentals by building or rehabbing some exiting properties. Last year I spent some of my vacation driving around rural coastal towns in Dominican Republic and Jamaica. (i call it “adventure driving for Dollars” .. had to do a couple small stream crossing in my Toyota Yaris rental car in DR 🙂 I have heard good things about Nicaragua but i have a couple questions if you dont mind.

    1 What is the business atmosphere in NIC? I know everything is a bit sticky in a developing country but what is the pain level to get things done. (setting up a business, dealing with local Lawyers, Local Gov Officials, ect)

    2. How are the local property management companies or is there a need to start one? I am single so i do not mind moving down there on a semi permanent basis and doing a lot myself. However i know i will need some local connections in my area to reduce friction.

    Thanks for your posts and info you have already provided. I am planning to fly down in a month or two to take a look. Thanks again.


    • Hi Todd!

      Oh man, I’m jealous of your Driving for Dollars excursion! Now I want to go do one (and I’d make sure there would be streams to cross in a Yaris or the trip just wouldn’t be that exciting).

      1. I can’t say anything official or formal about the business environment in Nica but a lot of it is very Americanized so it’s not all that hard. ‘Setting up a business’, I assume youy mean an LLC? That I can’t speak to as I don’t put mine in LLCs (yet) and not sure if you would do that through the states or Nica. Most lawyers speak English so that works fine, and usually the people behind the different deals or buying opportunities are American so it’s all pretty straight-forward. Foreign investment is really encouraged in Nica so they try to make the process easier. Who you work with of course is always a thing too.

      2. Depends on what you are buying. The development I work most closely with comes with property management (a worldwide hotel chain actually, they are the managers). Most of the bigger developments come with management. If you go smaller, not sure.

      Feel free to email me and I can give you some traveler tips and different areas and such to make sure you hit up while you’re there. I’m so jealous you’re going! Now I may have to think about a trip down there myself. When are you going?

  13. Good points. Too many Americans are resigned to earning 0.5% in the bank or some low rental yield on real estate that has no fundamental reason to appreciate. Nicaragua is a great place for real estate considering its undervalued compared to Costa Rica and Panama, which have long been over-promoted hotspots. And the US: forget it. Why rich Chinese are snatching up million dollar properties in California is beyond me. No return there, and the whole system will crash eventually.

  14. Hi Ali – I am new to investing and your website/blog. I am interested in learning more about investing in Nicaragua and the investors trip you mention that happens every few months. Would you please email me the brochure/information on the investors trip along with any other information you may have on overseas investing? I appreciate your time and love reading all your posts!

  15. Hello Ali,

    I was given the impression that many people who buy property in NIcaragua do not purchase Title Insurance like they do in the US. I also found out that the three US based Title insurance companies have withdrawn their business in Nicaragua. Do you know how are these new investors insuring their purchases ?. Are there any local or non us companies still providing such services? Would appreciate your advice on this matter. Thanks


  16. Hi Terry, I’m not sure the details on your questions actually. The reality is there isn’t a lot of protection down there, but I don’t know the extent of what is actually available. I can look into it for you. I haven’t done much in Nicaragua lately because a lot of the developments have halted due to financing, so nothing much to promote. Although buying individual properties is still great, I just worked with the developments more so. Your best bet would probably be to talk to the real estate agents down there if you are looking at individual properties. There are a lot of US-founded agents down there who could probably speak to it.

    • Hi Ali,

      Yes I did speak to the agents and they told me since title insurance ( usually issued by US based companies) are no longer available the only way is to obtain opinion reports which have no legal value except to provide a history and quality of the land titles. Any thanks for your response.


  17. Hi Ali:
    Great article.. And impressive efforts on building a business overseas!!

    I am interested to better understand the opportunities in Nicaragua, and how your properties are doing in last couple of years. I would also appreciate if you could email me your thoughts on financials that you refer in other comments.

    Also curious howz your expedition in rest of Central America coming along!

    Thanks for your response!

  18. Aaron T.

    I have a buddy that is from NICA. He is here now, but just built his retirement home there in the mountains.

    Ali, do you have any investor contacts or places that are better than others to look at for investments?

    We are going to make a trip down there this summer to look around.

    • Ali Boone

      Hmmm….everyone I know is now gone from it. I would definitely check out San Juan del Sur though (one of the best places to hang out there anyway) and hit up Aurora Real Estate (I think that’s their name….if it’s not, it’s close). They are US folks who live there full time and run a pretty good real estate biz. They’d probably be good to talk to.

  19. Aaron T.

    Yes, San Juan del Sur is the more popular spot.

    I will find myself down there a couple time this year to vacation and check out some investment opportunities.

    My buddy is from there and just paid cash to build his retirement home in the mountains northwest of Managua. He is also a native and has many connections from growing up there. I would not mind having some property, maybe some B&B, Condo, etc… rent out surfboards, jet skis, etc… some way to cash flow from different sources.

    I will post up what i discover this year.

  20. Hi Ali Boone,

    After reading some great points here about overseas real estate, I think that it can be really a good option to invest & get better ROI. Overseas real estate investment offer a higher returns opportunity as well as security so i think that we should definitely invest in it.

  21. Dustin DeNeal

    Great Article Ali! I’ve been in the Asia pacific region since 2013 (Thailand, Singapore, Bali, and New Zealand) and the real estate market in NZ is growing at an incredible rate but unfortunately the NZ government just made it more difficult for foreign investment (excluding Australia and Singapore Citizens).
    Singapore is great if you have the money.
    But Thailand and Bali are more complex in that, like you said, they are those countries that need more creativity to own the properties … I’ve heard of foreign investors that purchase properties through their
    locally owned company where the national employee owns 49% while the 51% is split between two foreigners so the national still holds the majority but would be unable to control the properties. Have you heard if this approach has much success?

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