Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home and Away – USA, Property and Visas

I don’t normally comment on those “let’s help you find a home overseas” type TV programmes but I’m going to make an exception here. Some of these programmes are well made and some are not at all to my taste. Many people, though, find them great entertainment and a motivation to do something about their overseas living dream.

I have recently watched some of the new series relating to the USA as an expat destination and two things have consistently annoyed me.

For a start, the potential expats are consistently shown a property in the UK and another in the USA and asked which one they like best. Due to differences in house prices and the impact of the recession, this often involves them looking at (e.g.) a one bedroom tiny flat somewhere directly outside a waste disposal tip in the UK, then asking the participants to compare this to a 10 bedroom mansion with swimming pool and private lake in somewhere like Florida.

“Do you know yet which house you prefer?” is usually the inane question.

OK, that’s subjective and moderately (but only moderately) exaggerated I know. The point is that nobody doubts that in many parts of the USA at the moment your money will buy you a lot more in bricks and mortar than it would in many parts of the UK. It may or may not be a good time to invest in US property - that’s a subject for specialist advice - but the key thing is that this programme is meant to be about changing one’s life, not just finding investment opportunities and/or holiday homes.

That leads onto the second point. This programme and others like it rarely discuss in detail the participants’ visa or citizenship status. There are sometimes some passing references and at times one can deduce from the fact that one of the people involved has a US accent that possibly they have residency rights.

The trouble is that programmes like this can mislead people. Buying property in the USA is not at all difficult and it is about 1% of the issue if contemplating lifestyle relocation there. What IS difficult, in some cases insurmountably difficult, for many potential expats is obtaining residency and work permissions. In the USA owning property in itself does NOT guarantee that you will get the right to live in your dream home permanently and there is no such thing as a retirement visa.

You can use various Expat Focus resources to read up more on this, sometimes complicated subject and there are specialist organisations that will help people relocate to the USA, usually for a fee. You can find their details on the Internet – there are many of them.

All in all, you need to do your homework before starting to fly over to the USA to check out properties with or without a TV presenter’s help! Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I wish this issue were covered a little more realistically in these sorts of TV programmes!

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