Expat Property Taxes: How Much You Will (or Won’t!) Pay in 9 Top Destinations
One of the biggest considerations for expats seeking to buy their retirement or getaway home in Latin America is the taxes on real estate. Comparing property taxes of the most popular destinations for expats is an important step to deciding the best location for your tropical retreat.
Once the decision is made to become an expat, finding a home in paradise will involve some research. Looking at the unique qualities of each country and the properties available is a great way to begin your journey.
Comparing Property Taxes in Latin America Country by Country
Countries in Latin America have widely different approaches as to what real property should be taxed and when. Similarly, the calculations of property taxes can be confusing for expats trying to choose which location might be a good fit for their budget.
What follows is a brief overview, by country, of the tax structure for real property. This comparison will also include any taxes imposed at the time of sale or transfer of title as well as when payment of these assessments are due.
Belize has a fairly straightforward approach to property taxes. For residential property, the tax rate will be between 1% and 1.5% of the value as set by the Department of Natural Resources. These are payable each year by April 1st at any Lands Department office. When looking for your Belizean retreat, making this calculation is easy.
Residents in Belize City can take advantage of a 10% discount if taxes are paid by March 31st. There is a 25% discount on property taxes for Senior Citizens (over 65) that certainly is a great incentive for expat retirees.
Investors and developers of large plots of undeveloped land (parcels over 300 acres) are subject to a Speculation Tax. This tax is computed based on 5% of the undeveloped value of the property.
When a title is transferred, a transfer tax is collected as part of the buying process. There is no tax for values under $10,000; for values in excess of that amount, the tax is a flat 5%.
For all of the attention and growth that Costa Rica has experienced in the last decade, property taxes still remain as some of the lowest anywhere, including the U.S. The tax rate is 0.25% of the registered property valued as determined by the local governments or municipalities.
Some of the very large and high-end properties have been subject to a luxury tax based on such items as size, custom furnishings, and fixtures. These rates are still surprisingly low; in 2013 it was estimated that that this tax was in the range of 0.1% to .25% of property value.
Changes to the transfer tax of 1.5% may impact some buyers. While the percentage has stayed the same, the basis for the calculation (property value) cannot be less than the highest recorded fiscal value. Fortunately, this amount will usually be less than the market price of the parcel. With low tax rates, finding your home in the land of Pura Vida is still a great option.
Ecuador has some of the lowest property taxes in Latin America. The tax rates are progressive from 0.025% to 0.5% of the value as assessed by municipal officials.
These values are considerably lower than the purchase price – often by as much as 25% to 75%. As a result, it is rare to pay over $400 in annual taxes.
There are also deductions and discounts that can appeal to expats. Homeowners over the age of 65 only have to pay half the amount of the tax assessed.
Additionally, deductions for mortgages to purchase or improve the property are possible. Ranging between 20% and 40%, these must be requested and cannot exceed 50% of the value of the property. Ecuadorian real estate may provide some of the most affordable options in the region.
El Salvador is unique in that there is no property tax assessed for owning real estate. Although there is no annual assessment, when property is transferred, a transfer tax is triggered.
The tax, paid as part of the buying and selling process, equals 3% of the value over $28,571.43 of the purchase price. Non-residents also are subject to a 25% capital gains tax when selling property unless the sale occurs within three years of taking possession of the property.
The El Salvadoran government is considering a tax reform package that would include a tax on property that does not have any productive function except for private leisure or recreation. This “luxury tax” would be assessed at the rate of 1% of the value over $350,000 even if the property has not been developed.
Whether or not this tax will be enacted is uncertain. Regardless, the great majority of expats will not be impacted because of the high dollar threshold of the assessment. Low prices enhance the attractiveness of the selection of properties available.
Guatemala uses the cadastral value of real property to calculate the tax owed. The word “cadastral” refers to the extent, value of, or ownership of real property and is used widely throughout Central America.
Taxes are calculated in local currency (the Guatemalan quetzal) by local authorities. When converted to U.S. dollars, it becomes apparent that these are quite reasonable for the great majority of expat residents. Below is a chart showing the tax rates:
|TAX BASE, GTQ (US$)||TAX RATE|
|Up to 2 million (US$255,428)||0%|
|2 million – 20 million (US$2,554,278)||0.20%|
|20 million – 70 million (US$8,939,975)||0.60%|
|Over 70 million (US$8,939,975)||0.90%|
|Source: Global Property Guide|
As can be seen, there is no property tax owed on properties valued under $255,428. The taxes are due annually and are paid to local municipalities where the property is located. Searching for properties under this dollar amount may be easier than you might imagine.
Honduras has one of the few property tax laws that permit 12 monthly payments instead of just a single annual amount. The tax rate itself is based on value assessed by the municipality and can be calculated at $3.50 per every $1,000 of assessed value.
For example, a property value at $100,000 would have a yearly tax of $350.00. Spread out over twelve monthly payments, each installment would be for $29.16. Buying property in Honduras with the ability to spread out yearly taxes is an attractive prospect.
As a result of new tax reforms that went into effect on January 1, 2014, property transfers carried out by nonresidents are now subject to an increased 4% (previously 2%) withholding tax over the transfer value to be withheld by the acquiring party.
One important feature of the Honduras tax scheme is the incentive program for projects or plans that would increase tourism to Roatan. Under this program, property taxes may be given a 20 year exemption. This is a powerful incentive for investors looking for a location to develop and build.
Mexico was the first Latin American country to attract expats. The older expat enclaves, such as Puerto Vallarta, have demonstrated the potential for living and investing in Central and South America. Mexico still has a great selection of properties and lots to interest expat buyers.
Property taxes in Mexico vary from state to state. Each state’s tax department sets the assessed value and the tax rate can range from 0.05% to 1.2%, depending on the property location. Other variables such as whether the lot is improved, if there is poor access, and if it is only used seasonally also factor into the assessment.
The assessment itself is done at the time of sale or transfer and will remain the same until the property is sold again. The taxes are due at the beginning of the year although the tax amounts are not available until mid-January of the year they are due. Since tax bills are not sent out, it is up to the property owner to go to the tax office with a previous bill to obtain the current one.
Payments can be made in six installments during the first ten days of every second month; ( i.e. January, March, May, July, September, and November). Failure to pay the taxes when due can result in steep penalties; in some cases as high as 3% for every month the payment is past due.
Mexico also charges an acquisition tax on every transfer of real property regardless of whether it is through a sale, donation, trust, or other method. The rates can range from 2% to 3.3%, again varying by state and is owed as part of the transfer process.
Nicaragua has, perhaps, the easiest property tax scheme in Latin America. The tax is a flat 1% and are calculated at 80% of the cadastral value of the property (land, buildings, and permanent improvements) as assessed by the local office.
In the city of Managua, the calculation is slightly different. There the figure is based on 80% of the cadastral value LESS 40,000 Nicaraguan Cordobas (NIO); roughly equaling $1,624 in U.S. dollars.
Since there is no up-to-date national registry for property values, property taxes are less important than in other locations. With a lack of proper records, many small communities do not even collect the taxes which has led some to view paying them as a voluntary, rather than mandatory, act. Many of these smaller towns and villages have attractive and unique properties that are worth a look.
There is a 30% capital gains tax assessed on property sales. Again, this is based on the land value and not the sale price.
Panama is unique among the countries in the region in that the property taxes are national and are collected by the Ministry of Economics and Finance. The tax rate is a maximum 2.1% and is based on the assessed value – usually the declared value in the original sale documents. Expats are increasingly interested in the homes and lots available here and the possibilities that Panama offers new arrivals.
The calculation is based on the value of the land plus the declared value of any improvements made. If a transaction is made for an amount in excess of this amount, that will automatically increase the value of the property for tax purposes. Payments can be made in three installments: April 30th, August 31st, and December 31st.
Property taxes are graduated depending on the assessed value. Below is a chart showing this breakdown:
Value of the property Property Tax Rate
US$ 0.00 up to US$ 30K (exempted) 0%
US$ 30K up to US$ 50K 1.75%
US$ 50K up to US$ 75K 1.95%
US$ 75K and above 2.10%
Condominiums, however, use a slightly different formula:
Property Tax Rate for Condos:
Value of the property Property Tax Rate
US$ 0.00 up to US$ 30K (exempted) 0%
US$ 30K up to US$ 100K 0.75%
US$ 100K and above 1.0%
The 20 year exemption on property taxes that was so attractive to investors ended in 2009. That program has been replaced by a revised set of exemptions:
- 15 years Up to US$ 100,000.00
- 10 years From US$ 100,000.00 to US$ 250,000.00
- 5 years Above US$ 250,000.00
- Commercial Use/Non-residential improvements have 10 year exoneration regardless of the property value
Lastly, Panama does have a transfer that is the greater of a) 2% of the total sale price or; b) the declared value of the parcel plus the value of improvements plus 5% for each year the property was owned.
A Brief Note on U.S. Property Taxes – Paradise Is Cheaper!!
While the various property tax schemes throughout these tropical locations may seem confusing, there is one important element to keep in mind: U.S. property taxes are higher!!!
22 of the 50 states have median property taxes in excess of 1%. New Jersey is the highest at 1.89%. When combined with other property-related taxes and fees, the overall cost of property ownership far outstrips most of the Central and South American locations expats desire. In a very real sense, paradise is cheaper and living there is easier now than ever before.