More Aussies looking to overseas for the great 'Australian' dream

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When Alicia Young first travelled to Chile 10 years ago, she wasn't intending to buy a house.

The Australian fertility author and speaker and her husband planned to spend just six months in the seaside town of Pilchilemu in 2007, but as they were looking for a house to rent they came across one that was for sale.

So the couple bought the beachside home for $US105,000 ($134,000) with the intention of spending at least three months every year there when they retired.

Owning a property would also help them with their residency application when the time came, Ms Young said.

"We looked into it and owning property shows that you have more time for the community ??? you're not fly in, fly out," she said.

Ms Young isn't the only Australian lured by the prospect of an exotic retirement plan, especially when other countries might offer the incentive of cheaper property prices.

As of March 2017, there were 82,708 Australians retirees - or 3.31 per cent - collecting their pension overseas, up from 2.9 per cent ten years ago. The number of pensioners living overseas is six times what is was 30 years ago.

Most of those were living in New Zealand (16,432) followed closely by Italy, Greece and Spain, data provided by the Department of Social Services showed.

There has also been an increase, generally, in Australian expats buying properties overseas.The latest Expat Explorer Global Report from HSBC found that in a survey of 1034 Australiansliving abroad, 60 per cent owned property somewhere in the world - while just 34 per cent owned property in Australia.

"In 2016, only 26 per cent of Aussie expats owned a property in their host country, whereas this year we've seen that figure rise to 31 per cent," Graham Heunis, head of retail banking and wealth management with HSBC Australia, said.

"In contrast, last year 43 per cent of Aussie expats owned a property in Australia, and this has fallen to 34 per centin this year's report."

Of those Australians who owned property overseas, 35 per cent said they bought it as an investment, but retirement was also a factor, with 14 per cent intending to livein their new host country after they'd finished working, and 10 per cent having already retired.

Brett Evans, from Atlas Wealth, a company that provides financial advice for Australian expats, said changes to foreign investor rules in the latest federal budget could effect the appeal of buying and selling property in Australia for those living overseas.

Foreign buyers - which could in some instances include expats - will lose their main residence capital gains tax exemption if they sell an Australian property.

Mr Evans said about 20 per cent of his hundreds of clients were looking to retire in the next three to five years, with Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Greece, France and Spain top of the list.

But for globetrotting Australians conducting business, the US was the No.1 destination for favourable tax reasons, followed by the UK and the Middle East.

"If you are a small business owner and you want to set up in the Middle East but you can't get sponsored, you can get access there with a property," he said.

"It's the same with the Czech Republic and Estonia - it's a big tech hub ??? the Silicon Valley of eastern Europe."

Mr Evans said for entrepreneurs, buying a houseenabled them to gain residency and to build their business ventures from that base.

Mortgage broker Todd Hunter, of Where Group, said though it was possible to borrow from Australian banks to buy property overseas, it tended to be against property or equity the borrower already had.

"Banks are pretty shy about it now," Mr Hunter said, adding that for cheaper properties a buyer would be more likely to pay in cash.

Most of the overseas transactions he works with take place in the US, where he said it can be "very difficult to get finance" with the servicing of the loan treated more like a commercial deal with profit considerations, rather than a residential loan.

What to be careful of when looking to buy a property overseas

Craig Joslin, from the Australian Expat Investor, said it was important to know exactly what you are buying.

"We all understand what a freehold title is but when you buy overseas, you're often not getting the same form of title," he said.

The other big issues he flagged were currency fluctuations and tenancy laws.

"I'm not an expert on the rules in each different country - but in parts of Thailand, for example, you can buy property that you can only sell or rent to other foreigners.

"Otherwise people are looking for the holiday home kind of investments, for retirement - these are riskier investments and these properties are priced for expats, not locals."

In terms of managing currency risks, there was a lot to juggle in terms of borrowing in Australian dollars, and then buying in another currency like the euro, or Malaysian ringgit.

"There's always currency exposure in the loop somewhere", Mr Joslin said. "It's just trying to manage that."

"Currencies can move much faster than a property value, and in the wrong direction as well."

This story More Aussies looking to overseas for the great 'Australian' dream first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.