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  • Writer's pictureMichael Shkurat

A Guide for Canadians: What You Need to Know When Buying Real Estate in the United States

Seattle, Washington skyline, space needle and Mount Rainier

The allure of owning a piece of the American dream has led many Canadian citizens to explore the possibility of purchasing real estate in the United States. However, venturing into the U.S. real estate market involves navigating a complex set of rules and regulations. In this guide, we will explore essential information that Canadian citizens need to know when considering real estate investments in the United States.

Legal Eligibility for Canadians:

Fortunately, Canadians are allowed to purchase real estate in the United States. There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of property, making the process relatively straightforward for Canadian citizens. You do not require any immigration status. Foreign buyers can purchase solely for investment purposes or for personal use. As a Canadian citizen with no U.S. status, you can use your property personally up to 6 months each year following the visitor Visa maximum requirements.

Bellevue skyline, Lake Washington and Seattle. Pacific northwest.

Tax Implications:

While Canadians are allowed to buy real estate in the U.S., they must be aware of the tax implications. The good news is that there is NO foreign tax for Canadians when buying in the U.S. However, property owners are subject to property taxes and potentially income taxes on rental income. Canadians do not pay a higher property tax rate, and pay the same property tax as a U.S. resident. Additionally, Canadians should consider potentially paying capital gains taxes when selling the property in the U.S.

Home and real estate properties in Anacortes, Washington United States on the water and pacific northwest islands.

FIRPTA (Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act):

FIRPTA is a crucial consideration for Canadians looking to sell U.S. real estate. This federal law imposes taxes on the sale of U.S. real property by foreign individuals or entities. Canadians who sell a U.S. property may be subject to a withholding tax of 10-15% of the property's sale price by the IRS, and navigating FIRPTA requires careful planning to minimize tax implications. FIRPTA’S objective is to ensure non-resident aliens file U.S. income tax returns and pay taxes on profits generated in the U.S. FIRPTA was instituted to prevent foreign investors from selling U.S. real estate and neglecting to pay any outstanding U.S. tax obligations. FIRPTA prevents this by requiring Federal withholding of 10-15% of the full sale price, regardless of the seller’s profit from the transaction. The deposit is held by the IRS until the seller files income tax returns at the end of the year, at which time any taxes owed are deducted and the balance is refunded to the seller. If no tax is due, the entire amount held is refunded. The seller may also obtain an exemption certificate or waiver from the IRS, in which case the funds can be immediately released.

Pacific northwest house, real estate in Bellingham Washington

U.S. Mortgage Options for Canadians:

Canadian citizens can indeed secure a mortgage in the United States, although the process can be more complex than obtaining one in Canada. U.S. lenders may have specific requirements for foreign buyers, such as a larger down payment and proof of income. You are required to have a minimum 20% down payment and you can use your Canadian income and credit rating to qualify. Not all banks will lend to foreign buyers, so working with a mortgage broker who specializes in cross-border transactions can be beneficial in securing favorable terms.

A harbor with boats and islands in Washington State, United States

Currency Exchange Considerations:

Given the fluctuating nature of currency exchange rates, Canadians should carefully consider the impact of currency fluctuations on their real estate investment. Working with financial professionals and exploring strategies like forward contracts can help mitigate potential risks.

A home in the pacific northwest on a lake in Washington State

U.S. Real Estate Representation:

Engaging the services of a knowledgeable real estate professional experienced in cross-border transactions is crucial. A real estate expert can guide Canadians through the intricacies of U.S. real estate laws, helping them navigate contracts, negotiations, and compliance with local regulations. You can also streamline your search by working with a US-based real estate agent that knows the territory. Communicate clearly with your agent so they know the exact type of property you want and other details, such as preferred amenities and location. The process for buying property in the US can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days. This timeline can be affected by a number of factors, including the type of property being purchased, the location, and the specific details of the sale.

While purchasing real estate in the United States can be an exciting prospect for Canadian citizens, it's essential to approach the process with careful consideration and thorough research. Understanding tax implications, FIRPTA regulations, mortgage options, and seeking professional guidance will empower Canadians to make informed decisions and turn their American real estate dreams into a reality.


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