For a select group of Americans, “the good life” has always included a home abroad. Topping their wish list are Paris, Provence, the Côte d’Azur, Portugal, Tuscany, Lake Como, and Venice. Happily, all are solid investments thanks to the lifestyles they offer, the access they provide to green spaces, recent improvements in accessibility for international visitors, and reasonably low entry costs. Add the potential for working remotely, and owning a home abroad becomes an even more appealing—and realistic—option.
Here’s a closer look at the factors drawing expats to each locale, along with important points to bear in mind if you’re considering purchasing a home in any of them.
PARIS: Long a favorite for its vibrant cultural offerings, architecture, and history, Paris also appeals to expats because it’s a transportation hub. More than 38,000 flights come in and out of Charles de Gaulle Airport daily, and the city provides an ideal base from which to explore western Europe by train.
The French capital is bolstering quality of life via a plan to ban nonessential traffic through its center by 2024—creating a cleaner, calmer environment in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Looking further ahead is the Grand Paris Express infrastructure project, a massive, two-decade-long transportation-improvement effort involving stations, rail and metro lines, roads, and more.
The capital has become one of the best prospects for overseas property investors, with the opening of social powerhouses like the luxe club Soho House Paris. Any of the 1 through 20 arrondissements is a sure bet for the future as is the area west of Paris, where most of the Grand Paris project will focus.
PROVENCE: Bucolic countryside, a relaxed pace, and high quality of life have long drawn expats to Provence, and the pandemic has made such factors even more desirable. The quest for more space, being closer to nature, and a more authentic lifestyle are driving forces for today’s home purchasers.
Traditional architecture, culture, and strong international schools in Aix are also plusses for Provence. People tend to buy here for the lifestyle rather than as an investment, but this liquid market does offer potential for some capital growth in the future.
THE CÔTE D’AZUR: This sun-drenched locale is drawing increased interest from expat buyers thanks to employment opportunities in the tech industry, centered in the renowned science and technology park Sophia Antipolis, as well as strong schools for children, led by Mougins British International School. The pleasant climate and proximity to sea and mountains are also a magnet for those seeking a health-centric lifestyle.
Buying in France: Mortgage options are somewhat limited for Americans, so research areas where you might want to live, and learn about the purchasing process and the costs of owning. Know how you will finance a property before visiting houses.
PORTUGAL: One of Europe’s most clean- living destinations, Portugal also appeals for its reasonable cost of living, fiscal benefits for foreign investors, safety and stability, architecture, and natural beauty, including beaches and preserves around Lisbon and Porto, both popular for expats. For families, an increasing number of good international schools, superb higher education, and affordable quality healthcare are draws, too.
Buying in Portugal: With favorable taxes and a Golden Visa program attracting more international investors, real estate demand exceeds supply and prices continue to rise. Find a good lawyer to advise you on the best tax options for you personally.
TUSCANY: Tuscany is steeped in history and culture, with an abundance of historic homes, open countryside, and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and the coast, where sailing and yachting options abound.
LAKE COMO: Like Tuscany, this region draws expats with its mountains and pristine lakes, which lend themselves to an outdoor lifestyle. (Skiers can hit the slopes just across the border in Switzerland.) The area also boasts an excellent international school, beautiful historic lakeside properties, and numerous Michelin dining options.
VENICE: The city is a perpetual favorite among art lovers who enjoy its world-famous galleries and museums, movie fans who flock to the Venice Film Festival, and culture buffs who live for La Biennale di Venezia, an international cultural exhibition hosted annually since 1895. The Venetian Islands (118 in all) also offer a unique lifestyle.
Buying in Italy: The introduction of a flat tax regime for High-Net-Worth Individuals and Ultra-High-Net-Worth Individuals—requiring a lump-sum of €100,000 per year instead of taxing income at normal rates—has been a major draw for expats. Sales and prices are rising in Tuscany, Lake Como, and Venice, but all still offer good value.
As you start your search for a home abroad, find a broker you trust. One with experience in the local market will be able to connect you with other experts, such as surveyors, lawyers, accountants, notaries, tax advisers, and technicians to review property plans and documents before you reach the contract stage. —Mark Harvey, Department Head, International Residential, Knight Frank