Buying real estate is one of the most common ways people invest offshore. Perks include rental income, the ability to turn it into a second home, and the fact that governments don’t make you report international property.
However, most places in Asia don’t allow foreign real estate ownership. You can almost always lease property on a long-term basis of between 50 to 99 years. Getting true, freehold ownership is harder as a foreign investor though.
That being the case, below is a list of five countries in Asia where foreign property ownership is possible.
Keep mind that I’ll only mention places which are worthy of investment. Sure, you can own property in Taiwan on a freehold basis. But why would you want to?
Thailand, along with everywhere else in this article, allows foreigners to own freehold condo units under their own name. Buyers must follow some regulations yet things are fairly straightforward for the most part.
First, foreigners can only own up to 49% of the total floor space in a single condominium building.
Breaking this rule is hard in reality – Thailand doesn’t have many condos which even approach the 49% threshold. You’re probably safe unless you’re looking at resort areas like Pattaya, or are buying into a project heavily marketed toward foreigners.
Second, all money used to purchase real estate must be transferred into Thailand as foreign currency and converted into Thai baht at a Thai bank.
This isn’t a big deal. However, make sure to carefully check your wire transfer forms when buying a condo in Thailand. You’ll need to transfer all over again, wasting precious time and money, if your sending bank does the currency exchange rather instead of a Thai bank.
One more note: Thai law also allows foreigners to own physical land for residential purposes with an investment exceeding 40,000,000 baht (US$1,200,000). In practice, it’s a highly bureaucratic process and few people have actually been approved.
Cambodia is the least developed yet fastest-growing nation on this list. A rare mix of sustainable, rapid growth and business-friendly policies makes Cambodia one of the best frontier markets in the world.
You can buy a condo in Cambodia on a freehold basis as a foreigner. It’s done through a strata title, which effectively gives the owner rights to the piece of sky their property is situated upon. Newer condominium buildings are usually based on strata titles.
Cambodia’s GDP growth rate since 1994. Like other frontier markets, they haven’t suffered a recession in over two decades.
Back in 2016, the central government officially stopped letting individual foreigners buy traditional shophouse apartments. District offices have significant autonomy in practice though. Several locales were still transferring shophouse apartments directly to foreigners as of early 2017.
You can start a Cambodian land-holding company and buy physical land too. This requires a nominee structure, some contracts, along with monthly upkeep costs. But it’s ultimately a safe and effective way for larger investors to buy land.
The polar opposite from our last country, Singapore is the third wealthiest nation on the planet. One out of every ten households in the city-state has a net worth above US$1 million.
As such, property in the city-state is also among the world’s most expensive. Yet there’s still value in the market even though real estate prices often exceed US$15,000 per square meter (US$1,600 per square foot).
That’s because Singapore boasts high growth despite having a developed, prosperous economy. Property values are also lower than Hong Kong, for example, which isn’t as wealthy and has more available land.
Foreigners can buy freehold condos in Singapore with few ownership restrictions. With that said, the government recently put forth cooling measures and now heavily taxes non-local buyers. Our guide to buying property in Singapore has more information about this.
Technically, foreigners can own landed houses in Singapore too… after going through an expensive and bureaucratic process. You generally must invest at least S$20 million and get approval from the Singapore Land Authority.
The Philippines is growing at a rapid annual pace of 6.9%, tied with Cambodia, making their economy the best on this list. Future prospects are very positive despite recent press coverage regarding their internal affairs.
From a business standpoint, the amount of skilled, English-speaking, low-cost labor in the Philippines is rivaled only by India. It’s a huge competitive advantage which will boost the nation’s economy well into the future.
The Philippines’ population will grow from 103 million at present to almost 150 million by the year 2050.
Foreign real estate buyers can own freehold condos in the Philippines under their own name. Rules are similar to Thailand’s, with up to 40% of floor space in a single building able to be foreign owned. Once more, breaking that threshold is difficult in practice.
A major drawback in the Philippines is that foreigners cannot own land. Unlike Cambodia, nominee structures aren’t viable because of the Philippine Anti Dummy Law and a constitutional prohibition against foreign land ownership.
You can easily own condominium units in each of the countries listed above. However, Malaysia stands out as the only place where foreigners can buy landed houses in Asia outright, in their own name, without a corporate structure.
There’s nonetheless a few restrictions. Most notably, each state in Malaysia imposes a minimum purchase price on foreign property buyers. They start from RM400,000 (US$100,000) in Sarawak, ranging as high as RM2,000,000 (US$500,000) on Penang island.
Furthermore, some states restrict the locations where you can own land. The state of Selangor, for example, doesn’t allow foreign land ownership outside of gated communities. “Heritage properties” anywhere in Malaysia, such as older shophouses, are also restricted to local buyers only.
Those factors aside, Malaysia is certainly the easiest place to buy land in Asia.