Federal Government Requirements
In the United States there are very few restrictions on international real estate investors, buyers, or sellers. The only exceptions concern national security, hostile countries, purchase or control of federal lands, and purchasing a business in a sensitive category.
As an international investor (foreign national) you may take title to real estate in your own name, in the name of a domestic corporation, foreign corporation, a limited partnership, a limited liability company, a joint venture, a real estate investment trust (REIT), or a foreign pension plan.
As a foreign national investor purchasing property in the United States you may acquire, transfer, or be involved in a real estate transaction without the permission or approval from any federal, state, or local governmental entity. You just need to comply with the following three issues.
1. Visitors VISAS & Immigration Laws: Title 8 of the United States Code details all U.S. Immigration Laws. Every non-U.S. citizen who wants or needs to enter the United States must have a VISA. There are over 40 kinds of non-immigrant visas so you should consult an immigration attorney and a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to find out which type of visa is appropriate to your situation.
Most foreign nationals who want to own property or live permanently in the United States commonly use the following types of visas.
B-1 (Business Visitor): This visa allows you, as a foreign citizen, to incorporate in the United States, acquire property, sign contracts, and perform other specific business activities. However, it doesn’t permit you to directly manage a U.S. based business or receive U.S. sourced wages (income from employment).
L-1 (Intra-Company Transferee): This visa pertains to foreign individuals who own or work for a foreign corporation that is directly related to a U.S. corporation. It allows you to enter the U.S. if you are employed in an executive, managerial, or special-knowledge capacity for that corporation.
E-1 (Treaty Trader): This visa is available for foreigners from nations that have a trade treaty and commerce with the United States. It permits you, your spouse, and your minor dependants to live in the U.S. for an indefinite number of years.
E-2 (Treaty Investor): This visa allows a foreign person to live in the U.S. while actively investing in, operating, and managing a United States based business.
EB-5 (Million Dollar Investor): This visa is available for non-U.S. citizens who plan to make a capital contribution of $1 million ($1,000,000) or more to a U.S. Based enterprise.
H1-B (Temporary Professional Worker): This visa allows a foreign person with a bachelor’s (4-year college or university) degree or higher to remain in the US for up to 6 years while employed in a professional position with a United States employer.
O and P (Extraordinary): These visas are available for aliens of “extraordinary” ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics to live and work in the United States.
Non-Immigrants (Temporary Residents) who already own real estate property in the United States can enter as short- term visitors for a vacation, to study as a full-time student, to conduct special projects, or to be temporarily employed, as well as other reasons. Some types of Visas for Non-Immigrants are B-1 & B-2 (Business Visas), E-1 & E-2 (Treaty Trader & Investor Visas), F-1 (Full-Time Student Visa), L-1 (Inter-Company Transfer Visa), Investment Visas, and the Visa Waiver Pilot Program.
2. Federal Taxation: Non-immigrants or non-residents must pay taxes on the income that they make from their investments in the United States. You are not taxed on income made outside the United States unless you overstay your visit. If you overstay your visit you can become classified as a “Tax Resident” which can result in all of your income from all sources worldwide being subject to U.S. tax. You are considered to be a U.S. resident for tax purposes if you meet the substantial presence test for the calendar year of your visit. Therefore it is essential that you keep track of the number of days spent in the United States each year.
However, there are exemptions to the specific time limits on stays for medical conditions and when you have specific connections to another country. You should consult an accountant (CPA) who specializes in these matters to find out about U.S. taxation law. Information can also be obtained from an immigration attorney or at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Most probably you won’t be eligible to receive a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN), which is also a U.S. citizen’s Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). Instead you are required to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). A ITIN can be issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or by a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) approved by the IRS. You will have to fill out a Form W-7 (in English language) or a Form W-7(SP) (in Spanish language) in order to request your ITIN. On the W-7 form you will be required to give a valid reason for your application.ITIN Guidance for Foreign Property Buyers and Sellers http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=120219,00.html
3. Reporting and Compliance: If you have income from any source in the United States, including real estate, you are required to file a federal income tax return for the year in which your income was received. Also, some states and cities collect income tax and require a return to be filed.
The federal government also requires all foreign buyers of agricultural land to report their purchase within 45 days of closing the transaction.
Real estate agents, brokers, attorneys, and escrow (closing) agents, must report all cash transactions over $10,000 no matter the type of property or reason for the transaction. That includes binder (escrow) deposits and escrow payments. Cash transactions less than $10,000 made at near intervals that add up to more than $10,000 are considered to be one transaction. Therefore, if you pay cash for property, expect that you might be questioned about its source. IRS Form 8300 is used to report cash binders and transactions