Written by guideseditor,
21st May 2019

If you’ve an image in your head of exactly what you want from your dream home overseas, why settle for less? If you build your home from scratch, you can have it just as you imagine. But how do you go about finding the right plot of land to build a house on abroad? And which experts do you need to involve in the process?

Can I buy land abroad to build on?

In general, the answer is yes, you can! In the European Union, there are largely no issues. You’ll follow the same rules as the locals – for example, in Italy, you’ll find land to build a house on has to be considered as ‘building land’ by the council, but there are absolutely no restrictions on you buying! Outside the EU, you might need to comply with certain other regulations (so there’s also certainly a case to be made for trying to buy before Brexit, too). For example, in Australia, you can buy land, but building needs to start on it within 12 months. In Canada, there are no restrictions beyond some provincial-levels laws (in Prince Edward Island, for example, non-residents need to apply if they’re buying a plot of land to build a house on of over 5 acres).

How straightforward is it to get planning permission?

You’ll hear a wide range of answers for this, but, by and large, if you do the right preparation, you can find it quite straightforward. As long as you understand the system of the country you’re buying building land in – how its planning laws work, where you can and can’t build, what restrictions there are in certain areas and so on, then you’ll find much fewer bottlenecks in the process. A good legal expert will be worth their weight in gold here – contact our Resource Centre to be put in touch.


With the help of experts, the process of buying land to build a house on will be much more straightforward.

With the help of experts, the process of buying land to build a house on will be much more straightforward.


In some countries, such as Italy or France, things can seem to move more slowly than you might expect back in the UK. Estate agents – and our readers who have already gone through the process – say that the best thing to do is just to work within the system. Accept that things do go more slowly, and you’ll find it less frustrating.

What are my options for building?

You have two main options for building your home.

The first is to self-build. This way, you buy your plot of land to a home on and engage a specialist architect to design your dream home. Then you can employ a builder – or even do some of the work yourself – and other tradespeople to build everything from scratch. The upside of this is that you get absolutely exactly what you want, but it can mean quite a lot of organisation and back-and-forth. Nonetheless, it is extremely rewarding!

Make sure you get the best deal for your land to build on that you can! Don’t miss the tips in our free guide, How to Negotiate Abroad.

The second option is to buy off-plan. In this case, you’d buy a home – not yet built, or in the stages of construction – from a developer. Unlike buying a finished home, you will normally be able to customise it, such as adding an extra bathroom, or opening up the living and dining space. You’ll also be able to pick your fittings and fixtures. You can sometimes also get financial advantages – buying off-plan in Spain, for instance, you’ll sometimes be able to get VAT reductions on furniture.

How do I find the experts to help me in my purchase?

You’ll need a number of key figures to help you make a success of this. They include your estate agent, to help find the best possible plot of land to build on in the right location – you’ll often find their local knowledge means they can suggest places you wouldn’t have thought of! – and a lawyer to help you navigate local planning laws. A currency specialist is key, too. Nearly 70% of overseas buyers use a specialist to protect their money from the risk of changing exchange rates, instead of chancing it by sending on the day through their bank. One of the most important ways that people do this is with a ‘forward contract’, with locks in your exchange rate for up to a year. We recommend Smart Currency, ranked #1 in the UK for money transfer with thousands of five-star reviews from our readers – read more about their advice for anyone moving overseas in the Property Buyer’s Guide to Currency.

Check also with our Resource Centre to find out about country-specific experts you’ll need too, such as a notaire in France or potentially a geometra in Italy. You can contact our Property Specialists on 020 7898 0549 or email info@propertyguides.com for free advice. And don’t miss our articles on buying land to build on in Italy and Canada.

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