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RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Alexander Knight

10 safest countries for Singaporeans to buy properties

BY ALEXANDER KNIGHT

10 Laos

No one can own land in Laos, but land-use rights are possible (up to 75 years, or 50 years for companies). A Lao citizen with land-use rights may lease the land to a foreign-invested company for up to 30 years. There is a vague law that allows for these land-use rights by foreigners only if investing at least USD $500,000 into the government. And while it's possible to own a structure upon leased land, when the lease expires, the structure reverts to the government without compensation.

9 Myanmar 

Foreign investment is extremely regulated and restricted, and foreigners cannot own land. It's possible to lease for up to 30 years, but with rampant corruption, there is no security. Alternatives include making a contribution to a joint venture with the government, or to lease land from the government and then enter into an agreement called a build, operate and transfer (BOT), which allows the investor to own the project.

8 Vietnam

Nobody can own land in Vietnam. One estate agency, Chesterton, markets 50-year leases to foreigners buying apartments, which provides for many of the same rights as ownership. Alternatively, foreigners can form a company or form a build, operate and transfer (BOT) company. 

7 Brunei

All land transfers, freehold or leasehold, are subject to the approval of the King, and foreigners cannot own land without approval. Foreigners who legally reside in Brunei can hold properties under strata titles, and residents as well as locally registered companies can hold long-term leaseholds of up to 60 years. Banks, however, will not grant mortgages to foreigners, not even foreign residents.

6 Indonesia

Foreigners can own condos through strata titles, but the property developer holds the title. Land ownership is also out of bounds but land-use rights are possible for up to 25 years. However, if a local buys the land on behalf of the foreigner, the foreigner may have either permanent land-use rights or full power of attorney over the land. Another option is to form a company called a Penanaman Model Asing (PMA), which can be wholly foreign owned. 

5 Cambodia

Foreigners cannot own land but can lease land, or purchase it though a local company (51% Cambodian owned). Another alternative - having a local buy the property on a foreigner’s behalf and then leasing it to the foreigner - is illegal and discouraged. In general, corruption and greed mean that for any foreign investment, extreme due diligence is required by the buyer.

4 Philippines

Foreigners cannot own land but apartments and condos are possible, as long as locals own 60% or more of the units in any development. Leases are available on land for up to 50 years. It is possible for a foreigner to form a commercial partnership with some locals to buy land, but even then, the maximum for residential properties is 1,000 square metres or one hectare in a rural setting. 

3 Thailand 

Foreigners cannot own land but can own apartments or condos (as long as 60% of the building's units are owned by locals or the foreigner buys the whole building). Foreigners can lease land, but with few rights. Investing THB 40 million (USD $1.2 million) into a project may get you up to 1,600 square metres of land. Many foreigners form a Thai company, at least 51% Thai owned, or marry a Thai citizen (but in in the event of death or divorce, the land still does not belong to the foreigner). 

2 Singapore

Without approval, foreigners cannot buy restricted properties, such as a vacant lot, residential land, landed property, unapproved condo development or a Singaporean Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat. Foreigners can purchase an apartment,  condo, and a leasehold estate in an otherwise restricted property (for up to seven years). Approval is considered for permanent residents or those who prove to be of significant economic or professional benefit to the country. There is also a scheme that allows purchase of landed properties by foreigners on Sentosa Cove. 

1 Malaysia

Malaysia is the only country in South-East Asia that allows full foreign ownership of property and land. Foreigners can purchase any type of property if spending a minimum of RM250,000 (USD $78,456)*. This allows for up to two condos in a development with no more than 50% foreign ownership, or one condo plus a two-plus storied terraced house, or one condo plus land, bungalow or semi-detached house. Foreigners can also get a renewable 10-year visa through the Malaysia My Second Home Programme (MM2H). For more information, visit mm2h.gov.my.

*Except in the state of Penang, where minimum investment must be RM 2 million on the island, or RM 1 million on the mainland for landed properties, or RM 1 million on the island or mainland for stratified properties. Sale of property in Penang is only allowed three years following purchase. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Alexander Knight

Alexander Knight

Alexander Knight is a Singapore-based property commentator and Regional Director Southeast Asia at investorist.com.

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