For many overseas buyers looking at homes in the US, their first question is “do you need a visa to buy property in America?” The answer is no – as long as you fulfil certain conditions. However, if you wish to spend longer than 90 days in the US, then you will need a visa. In this, Part Two of our six-part series, Buying in the USA, we look at your rights to buy property and the American visas you may need.
Do I need a visa to buy US property?
No. Just like in the UK, you can buy a property in the USA without a visa or any special paperwork. Neither do you necessarily need a visa to travel to the US and look for/buy the property. British people can travel there under the Visa Waiver Programme, so long as you:
- have an up-to-date e-passport,
- have gone online to obtain your ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation),
- have a return ticket,
- can state where they will be staying while in the US.
The VWP allows you to make multiple entries to the US and stay for up to three months of the year. If you wish to stay longer than that, you will have to obtain an American visa.
If I buy a property, will I be able to stay in the US?
No. Buying residential property does not in itself give you any rights to live in the US. If however, you open a business that could include accommodation you may be able to obtain an E5 investor visa.
What is the simplest option for buying a property?
Visa Waiver Programme
Under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), most British people can visit the USA for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without an American visa. You will need an e-passport with an electronic chip and logo on the cover. The older style machine readable passports will not allow entry.
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You will also have to obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). Applying online is simple and will set you back just $14 (£11). You don’t have to send off your passport, it is recorded electronically. The ESTA is valid for multiple trips to the US of up to 90 days each, over a period of two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
The ESTA will be refused if you have a criminal conviction (or possibly if you have just been arrested, even if that didn’t end in a conviction). The same goes for some medical conditions or if you have previously overstayed your visa or been deported. If the ESTA is refused you may still get in, but will have to obtain a visa and attend an interview at the embassy.
What if I want to spend longer than 90 days there?
To stay more than 90 days, or if you wish to work or study, you will need to get a visa. American visas divide into Immigrant Visas and Non-Immigrant visas.
There are more than 20 non-immigrant visas, but the usual visa for British people buying property, not working but aiming to stay longer than 90 days, is the B-2 Visa. It is still a tourist visa and doesn’t allow you to work at all, but it does allow you to stay in America for up to six months.
- Complete the online application and upload your photo. You will need to print off your application form to bring with you.
- There is an application fee of $160 for a B-2 visa, but no issuance fee.
- Schedule the application interview, which will be held at the US Embassy in London or the Consulate in Belfast. It only applies for applicants between 14 and 79. The current wait time for the interview in London is 8 days.
- Take all the required documents and passport for the interview. The process will take around two hours and your passport with the visa inside it will be returned around 5-7 days later.
How long can I stay per year on a B-2 visa?
Normally for up to six months of the year, though an extension may be possible.
How long is a non-immigrant visa valid for?
For British passport holders the visa will last up to ten years.
What do I need to work/study temporarily in the USA?
Other non-immigrant American visas apply for various types of working. Here are the most common for British people:
B-1 Visa: This is also a temporary visas but allows you to do some work, where you are not being paid by a US company. Examples include looking for business opportunities, being involved in sales or an exhibition, lecturing or training.
H-Visa: Temporary work or training in a specialist occupation (e.g. fashion model, specialist children’s education training).
I-Visa: Media representatives and journalists.
J-Visa: Exchange students such as camp counsellors, teachers, au pairs and interns.
L-Visa: Intra-company transfers of staff.
O-Visa: Those with “extraordinary ability” in science, arts, business, athletics, etc.
How can I stay in the USA permanently?
The important thing to remember is that if you have either plenty of money, a lot of ambition or the right skills, you can normally get to live in the US, even without marrying an American, which is another option. Like most countries, the USA needs people skilled in certain occupations. For most employment visas you will need to apply for the job and be sponsored by the potential employer, but there is also the investor categories, where you need to be creating wealth and jobs in the US.
As for non-immigrant visas, there are dozens of different immigrant visas. The most commonly used by British people wishing to live in the US is the E or EB employment visas. Fees are higher than for non-immigrant visas but still far lower than for many countries, usually between $200 and $400.
E-1 Visa: Priority workers, including those with extra-ordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers and the managers and executives of multinational companies. Applicants do not always need a job offer for this category.
E-2 Visa: People with advanced degrees and exceptional ability.
E-2 Treaty Investor Visa: A lower requirement for investment than the EB5 visa (below) with investments starting at $150,000. It has to be a “real business” that you are going to run personally, and will generate a significant level of income above what will be required by the applicant and his/her family to live on.
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E-3 Visa: Skilled workers in certain occupations, sponsored by a prospective employer.
E-4 Visa: “Certain Special Immigrants”. Includes broadcasters and those who have provided service to the US military.
EB-5 Visa: Investor visa: to get an EB-5 visa you must be starting a new business that will create jobs and bring money into the US. These visas make up around 7 percent of successful entrants, so they are an important category. One problem is that the processing time can run over a year, but it can lead to a green card, allowing permanent residence. The basic requirements are:
- Minimum investment of $1 million anywhere in the US, or $500,000 in designated high unemployment or rural areas
- It has to be your own money, not borrowed.
- It must create at least 10 full-time jobs for US citizens within two years, not including the investor’s own family.
- You do not necessarily have to run the business yourself, or live in the same area.
I am in a same sex marriage, can I bring my spouse?
Yes. The US treats same sex marriages exactly the same as male-female marriages.
The USA Buying Guide covers every stage of the property buying process, sharing our experience and knowledge to ensure a safe and successful property purchase. The guide will help you to: