Updated September 2021
Buying an Australia property as an immigrant on a visa can be difficult. Whether you are a permanent resident or a temporary resident, there are many visa requirements as well as Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) requirements a migrant must be aware of. When investing in Australian property temporary residents, foreign investors, and even visa holders may be approved to purchase using home loans.
Australia has strict guidelines for foreign non-residents and temporary residents who wish to purchase a house in Australia. Back in March 2015, a Sydney residential property bought for A$39 million, the “Villa del Mare”, received instructions from the Treasurer of the Australian Government that it must be sold off. The purchase was found to be not compliant with the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act (1975), which requires foreign investors to notify the Treasurer through the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) before purchasing residential real estate. Since then there have been additional properties that were found to be illegally purchased and forced to be sold.
Who creates and enforces the guidelines on purchasing properties as a foreign non-resident or temporary resident?
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is the governing body which ensures residential properties are bought in compliance with the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act (1975). In addition to the assessment of foreign purchase of residential property, the FIRB also assesses foreign investment in Australian businesses, especially in agriculture and mining.
The FIRB serves as a control to prevent foreign investors from over-inflating residential property prices through excessive investment. As such a list of requirements was created to ensure local Australian interests are protected.
What residential properties can be bought by an Australian temporary resident? How is it different for permanent residents?
Australian permanent residents share the same treatment as Australian citizens with regards to the purchase of residential property. There are no FIRB restrictions for permanent residents.
On the other hand, temporary residents and foreign non-residents are subject to various rules when purchasing residential property.
What is the definition of a temporary resident or foreign non-resident for the FIRB assessment?
According to the FIRB, a temporary resident is an individual who:
- holds a temporary visa that permits them to remain in Australia for a continuous period of more than 12 months (regardless of how long remains on the visa); or
- is residing in Australia, has submitted an application for a permanent visa, and holds a bridging visa which permits them to stay in Australia until that application has been finalized.
Temporary residents would include holders of the following Australian visas:
- All temporary visas
- Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional) visa (subclass 188/888)
- Student visas that are 12 months or longer, such as:
- Independent ELICOS Sector visa (subclass 570)
- Schools Sector visa (subclass 571)
- Vocational Education and Training Sector visa (subclass 572)
- Higher Education Sector visa (subclass 573)
- Postgraduate Research Sector Temporary Visa (Subclass 574)
- Non-Award Sector visa (subclass 575)
- Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485)
- Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489)
If your temporary visa is less than 12 months you are considered to be a foreign non-resident.
What are the rules for purchasing a residential property as a temporary resident?
Residential properties are categorized as “new dwellings” or “established dwellings”
New dwellings are homes built on residential land which has not been previously sold as a dwelling and has:
- not been previously occupied; or
- if the dwelling is part of a development and sold by the developer, it has not been previously occupied for more than 12 months in total
A refurbished or renovated residence which was previously occupied is not considered to be a new dwelling. Vacant land bought for residential construction is deemed to be a new dwelling instead. As such, “Home and Land” packages are considered to be new dwellings too, as long as:
- the development is completed within four years from the date of approval
- evidence of completion is submitted to the FIRB within 30 days of being received
There are no conditions or limitations on the number of new dwellings that can be purchased by a temporary resident. Approval is generally required before the purchase is made.
Established dwellings typically refer to residential properties that are on the secondary market. If a residential property is constructed and occupied, it is usually considered to be an established dwelling.
Temporary residents can purchase ONE established dwelling to live in as their primary residence in Australia. The property should not be used for leasing. The property also should be sold within 3 months if the temporary resident moves out of the established dwelling. In other words, an established dwelling cannot be purchased by a temporary resident to be held as an investment property. Additionally, temporary residents who want to purchase an established dwelling for redevelopment must seek prior approval from the FIRB before purchasing the property.
What are the fees associated with buying a property on a visa?
A visa holder purchasing a property will be subjected more fees and higher rates/interest rates than an Australian citizen or permanent resident. Two fees every visa holder must factor in are the FIRB acquisition fee and the Stamp Duty.
FIRB Acquisition Fee
When lodging your application with FIRB you will be prompted to pay an acquisition fee.
Acquiring an interest in residential land where the price of the acquisition is:
- $1 million or less: $5,700
- $1 million to $1,999,999: $11,300
- $2 million to $2,999,999: $22,700
- $3 million to $3,999,999: $34,000
- $4 million to $4,999,999: $45,400
- $5 million to $5,999,999: $56,700
- $6 million to $6,999,999: $68,100
- $7 million to $7,999,999: $79,500
- $8 million to $8,999,999: $90,900
- $9 million to $9,999,999: $102,300
- $10 million or higher: contact the Australian Tax Office for a fee estimate
Foreign citizens who want to buy or invest in residential property in Victoria (VIC), New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA) will need to pay a stamp duty levy and, in some states, a land tax surcharge.
Foreign Citizen Stamp Duty By State:
- Victoria: 7%
- New South Wales: 8% + 2% Land Tax
- Queensland: 7%
- South Australia: 7%
- Western Australia: 7%
- Tasmania: 3% + 0.5% Surcharge
- Northern Territory: Currently no stamp duty
*Note: Please confirm true, up to date tax rates with state government as government bodies and tax rates do change.
There is also the possibility of being charged an annual vacancy fee. From 9 May 2017, foreign persons who purchase residential real estate will be subject to an annual vacancy charge where the property is not rented out or occupied for more than six months per year. For more information see Guidance Note 48.
There are several fees, taxes, and rates that differ between states and the specific visa you are carrying. When buying property in Australia, it is highly recommended that you speak with a professional tax agent/ the Australian Taxation Office, and an accountant to ensure that you are aware of all of the fees.
At what stage do I need FIRB approval and will I be disadvantaged?
The FIRB guidelines state the you must have approval before a property can be purchased in Australia.
An offer to purchase a property may need to be conditional on FIRB approval, which may lead to delays and the offer not being accepted or as attractive as others without such conditions. The regulations state that you must complete a separate application for each property you intend to purchase. This issue can be mitigated by applying for what is called an 'Exemption Certificate'.
An Exemption Certificate allows a foreign person to purchase one unspecified property within a six-month period. The exemption certificate means that you do not have to seek individual approval for each property you are interested in. More information is available from the Australian Tax Office.
Are there any barriers to getting finance approved?
Your status as a temporary resident may impact your ability to secure finance to purchase property in Australia. Financial institutions have different restrictions on the amount you can borrow depending on your visa type and status.
Being self-employed or a business owner may also have an impact on how much you can borrow. Contacting your financial institution or financial adviser for more information.
What happens if I do not comply with the FIRB policies?
Violations or “Breach" of the FIRB policies will incur a criminal and civil penalty. Additionally, the property in question will be forced to be sold as the ownership is deemed illegal. As such it is best to comply with the FIRB policies and always contact the FIRB if you have any doubts about the procedures and requirements. You can find the contact information for the FIRB on their website listed below.
How does buying a property help a 188A Business Innovation visa holder apply for PR?
A criterion for the subclass 888 Business Investment Stream permanent business visa is that the you must meet two of the following three requirements:
- assets of AUD200,000 net value in your main business (or 2 main businesses) in Australia
- personal and business assets in Australia of AUD600,000 net value
- equivalent of at least 2 full-time eligible employees in your main business
By meeting the first requirement for business assets and also buying property, meeting the second requirement should be straight forward considering the median price of a house in Australia is over AUD500,000. This would achieve the two out three criteria meaning that the business would not need to employ two full-time eligible employees.
Does owning property enhance a permanent residence or citizenship application?
Owning a property is not an essential criterion to be met when applying for permanent residency or citizenship.
In the case of citizenship, owning a property is considered by the Department of Home Affairs in assessing the 'close and continuing link to Australia' criteria. However, it is not a compulsory requirement, and other factors such as family connections, work history, and time in Australia are also considered.
As a temporary resident, can I rent out the properties I have purchased?
Temporary residents may have the intentions to build up a portfolio of residential properties as a form of investment. Upon purchase, many of these properties are rented out to generate passive rental income. As a temporary resident, you can do so as long as the properties being rented out are all new dwellings. By regulation, you can only purchase one established dwelling for your own residence, and not rent it out.
Comments by Chris Johnston – Principal Lawyer and Registered Migration Agent at Work Visa Lawyers
The purchase of residential property is a primary consideration for many Australian visa holders. Residential properties may be purchased as a family home and primary residence, or as a safe asset for investment. If you are a temporary residence visa holder, you need to check with the FIRB to ensure you comply with the investment policies. Failure to comply with the requirements may cause unnecessary financial losses and frustrations.
As a rule of thumb, if you are a temporary resident in Australia you must seek approval from the FIRB first before purchasing a property.
As a permanent resident, the FIRB restrictions will be lifted and as such, it is recommended that temporary residents apply for permanent residency once they are eligible. With permanent resident status, you can safely invest and purchase residential properties knowing that you are exempted from FIRB requirements.
Work Visa Lawyers understand that owning a home is a big step in settling down in Australia. We hope that this article has provided you with the necessary knowledge about purchasing your first home in Australia.
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