If you’re an expat working and/or living abroad and you want to buy a property in the UK with a mortgage, there are several elements you need to be aware of when arranging finance. 

What is an expat mortgage?

If you are living outside the UK you will need to apply for an expat mortgage. The typical High Street lenders are unable to lend to expats as they require you to be a UK resident to be eligible to apply.  If you’re an expat, you need to apply for an expat mortgage using either an international lender or a smaller building society. These mortgages have certain conditions, such as buying a buy-to-let property as an investment or income generator.

Who can get expat buy-to-let mortgages?

Lenders offering expat mortgages take into account two additional factors, as well as the usual background checks and proof of income.

Mortgage companies prefer borrowers who are employed by multinational companies, this allows them to confirm employment details and verify documentation. It is much easier than having to deal with an unknown overseas employer with the need for translation of documents, contracts and pay slips. If you’re self-employed, lenders would like to see your accounts being done by a small to medium-sized accountancy company which can be verified and has accreditation.  

The second issue mortgage companies look at is the country in which the expat is based. Some countries are deemed higher risk due to the history of widespread bribery, money laundering and corruption practices. Borrowers in such countries as Nigeria and Colombia may have a tough time finding a lender willing to offer them an expat mortgage.

What about interest rates?

The increased risk of lending to an expat is reflected with slightly higher rates of interest, but the difference is marginal. It’s always wise to compare products before signing any mortgage offer.

While interest rates are a consideration, lower rates may reflect a company known for its poor service, sloth-like speed, and unnecessary paperwork. You could lose weeks, only to have your application rejected, which could cost you your purchase.

The application process for expat mortgages

You should be able to complete your expat mortgage application by email, fax or courier without having to return to the UK in person. However, one word sums up the difference between applying for a domestic mortgage and an expat mortgage – time-consuming! Checks take longer and different time zones slow down communications and responses. Dealing with language barriers and processing unfamiliar documents all take extra time.

If you are applying for an expat mortgage, be prepared for extra paperwork. You may need to visit your local British Consulate to have documents certificated. You will also need to provide proof of the source of your deposit with a full history of where the income was sourced and how it found its way into your bank account. It is tedious but essential, due to strict money-laundering laws.

Why are buy-to-let mortgages for expats hard to find?

Lenders understandably assess borrowers on risk. Expats may represent a higher risk for various reasons:

  • Lenders need to be sure of the provenance of any funds used as a deposit when buying a property.
  • If the borrower is based overseas, it can be difficult to assess documents and check their validity, so the workload is increased.
  • In the event of non-payment of the mortgage, lenders may find it difficult to prosecute someone who is not in the UK

For these reasons, if you want to apply for an expat mortgage you need to use a specialist broker. Fortunately, it is easier to get an expat mortgage now than it was in the past. 

What recent changes have affected expat mortgages?

In 2015, the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, made important changes to mortgage interest relief, restricting the tax benefit on buy-to-let mortgages. This prompted landlords to operate buy-to-let properties within a limited company framework.

The increase in demand for buy-to-let mortgages was matched by a lower demand for personal mortgages. The financial market responded by seeing a new influx of lenders who were keen to lend money for expat buy-to-let mortgages. As usual, increased competition from more players meant that new expat mortgage providers competed for business with more attractive interest rates, a wider product range and better service.

Things to consider before applying

When applying for an expat mortgage, the most important part of the process is to find the right lender who understands and specialises in expat mortgages. Find a broker who is familiar with expat mortgages and can recommend the most suitable company for your needs. Don’t forget to liaise with your expat financial planner, who can also give helpful tax advice on your international income.

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