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- Do I need a buyer's agent?
Buying a home in America – how exciting! To make sure nothing goes wrong, my biggest recommendation is to really understand the process, so you can negotiate sufficiently and make sure that you are not being fooled. You can find the whole purchase process and lots of vocabulary in another post, this one is all about the buyer's agent. So what is a buyer's agent? When buying property in the United States, buyers and sellers are usually represented by two different realtors. As a result, both sides can be sure that their opinions are represented honestly. The buyer is represented by the so-called buyer's agent and the seller by the listing agent (or seller's agent). In some cases, both sides are represented by the same broker, who is then called a dual agent. What does a buyer's agent do? Here is a summary of the benefits: Can answer any questions about the process and the objects. Creates a realistic portfolio of properties based on your preferences, tailored to the actual market and budget. Acts as an advisor who only represents your interests and can safely guide you with knowledge and experience. Gives an overview of the current market and prices. Leads negotiations with buyer's and seller's side for price or repairs. Prepares offers and contracts on your behalf and forwards them to listing agent. Is the communication pipe between you and the seller side. Accompanies you to the closing. Can connect you to other resources such as appraisers, insurance companies, closing agents and inspectors. How much does a buyer's agent cost? A buyer's agent charges an average of 3% of the house price. In most situations, the seller covers the cost of both realtors (about 6% total cost), but this is negotiable. The realtor fees themselves are sometimes also negotiable. Where can I find a buyer's agent? The best resources are these: Online – Find local listings and read reviews from other customers. Neighborhoods - Local agents often advertise locally where they represent properties. Referrals - Ask online groups or colleagues who know good brokers. How do I know if I've found a good buyer's agent? Again, do your research, because "knowledge is power"! The more you know about the market, property and pricing, the more you can see if the agent is giving you honest information in your best interests. Also learn about appraisers, inspectors, insurance companies and closing agents - again you can compare what they are offering or advising you to do. In addition, it matters whether they have good connections and experience and, above all, whether you like them. Do I need a buyer's agent? Without a buyer's agent, you may not be taken seriously by some sellers. It looks more serious with an official agent. It can be helpful to have someone by your side who is familiar with the neighborhoods, objects and other parties and contacts, especially if you come from abroad or from another area. It can be difficult to find the contacts you need if you don't know the area and the language. Knowing the local mentality and language is also important for safe negotiations and offers. Since there is often lots of money involved, you should make sure that you have sufficient information and knowledge. Normally, the buyer's agent's costs are covered anyway - so why not take advantage? If you decide not to hire a buyer's agent, you should be sure that you know the market, the location, the language, the mentality, the contacts and any prices. A local expert is recommended. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- Tips for buying a house in the USA
Buying your own property, whether as a vacation property, investment or family home, is an exciting business - especially abroad. This article addresses common questions and uncertainties about financing and the process as well as important information, vocabulary, risks and resources - so that nothing stands in the way of your dream of owning a home in the USA. I discuss what to look out for and what to research so that a foreign buyer gets financing at all, is taken seriously by the seller and can successfully complete the purchase. Vocabulary and explanations for buying US real estate A home purchase in the US with financing The process of buying property in the USA with financing Insights & Difficulties of Funding Requirements Tips for foreign buyers on financing A home purchase in the USA without financing The process of buying property in the USA without financing What to consider in both cases Paying the right taxes Managing the property Vocabulary and explanations for buying US real estate There are some expressions that non-Americans may not have heard. Here you will find frequently used and helpful vocabulary. Appraisal The appraisal is often mandatory for financing. The actual market value of the property may differ from the selling price, which is particularly important with government loans (government loans only pay for market value). Just like good research, the broker can give an insight into the market value of the property in advance, but if there are deviations at the end, it can result in a new basis for negotiation. Average cost around 300-600 USD. Closing The final step in the buying process is closing. The buyer meets with his realtor (if hired) and the closing agent to sign papers, confirm information, and most importantly, pay the closing costs. Final closing costs, which are the responsibility of the buyer, include lender, attorney and city office fees, as well as insurance, taxes, appraisal, inspection and registration. Cost point for the buyer on average 2-6% of the loan amount. As a seller, you also have closing costs such as taxes and realtor fees. Average cost to the seller of 8-10% of the loan amount. Closing Agent The Closing Agent is a professional Real Estate Attorney who ensures that the purchase transaction is legal and correct. The participation of buyer and seller as well as realtor, escrow, title company and lender is checked and confirmed. At closing, the law firm is paid the Attorney Closing Fee, which averages around USD $600-$1000. Credit Report Fee The credit report fee is charged at closing, which is common for any major purchase. Average cost at USD $30-$50. Debt To Income Ratio To be eligible for financing, the average debt-to-income ratio must be below about 43%. That means total monthly payments like car, credit card, and loan payments combined shouldn't exceed 43% of total income. Depending on the loan provider and the situation, this percentage may vary slightly. Deed The deed certifies the owner's right to claim ownership of the property. In contrast to the title, this describes who ultimately owns the property. Downpayment This down payment (compared to the Earnest Money) is the promise to the bank. The amount is part of the purchase price and is not financed by the loan. The higher the down payment, the greater the responsibility and promise of repayment, and the more likely the lender offers the loan. If a downpayment is below 20% of the home purchase price, the lender often requires a Private Mortgage Insurance. Getting a loan with no down payment is possible, but rare. Earnest Money The Earnest Money amount is set between the buyer and buyer-agent and then promised by the buyer with the offer to the seller. This confirms the seriousness of the buyer's interest in the property. The amount is usually credited to the buyer upon closing. If the purchase does not go through, the amount will be refunded to the buyer, unless the failed sale is caused by the buyer. Escrow Account This is an agreed third-party account into which ongoing real estate costs such as taxes and insurance are paid by the borrower. With each monthly loan installment, an additional amount is paid, which is transferred to the escrow account. The bills are then paid annually from this account. In this way, the companies involved, such as the lender, can be sure that everything is always paid on time. FIRPTA Withholding Tax FIRPTA (Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980) is a US tax law that ensures foreign sellers pay income tax when selling real estate in the United States. As a result, the buyer is obliged to withhold 15% of the sales price in taxes and pay it to the state. There are some exceptions, for example if the property is being bought for residential use or the selling price is no more than USD $300,000. In addition, the seller can report the sale on their US tax return and reclaim any overpaid taxes. Another option is the Witholding Certificate from the IRS. Government Grants Some buyers can apply for government grants. First-time buyers in particular are likely to receive financial support from the state. There are various offers, such as cash grants, tax credits and interest rate reductions, to make the purchase easier. Be sure to read the fine print so you can use the grant properly. HOA Homeowner's Association A HOA is often for apartments or houses in neighborhoods and deals with common areas, insurance, and house exteriors. However, keep in mind that each HOA may have a different contract and the fine print plays a big role here. The monthly costs that the homeowner has to pay also differ. This is where it can be a relief as well as a burden - ask your realtor for the right paperwork. Homeowner's Insurance In order to be able to finance a home of your own, you must already have signed your new homeowners insurance. The realtor can often recommend an insurance company, but it's worth getting a few quotes depending on what state or territory the home is in or what's important to the buyer. Flood and storm insurance (for named storms/hurricanes) is also required in some areas. The insurance is divided into Dwelling (for damage to the house), Other Structure (for damage to e.g. garage, shed or fence), Personal Property (for replacement of e.g. furniture, clothing), Loss of Use (for maintenance costs, such as hotel, in the event of damage), Personal Liability (for claims arising from damage to others or their property caused by owners) and Medical Payments (for medical expenses of damage to others caused on the property, regardless of who is at fault). Inspection When you have decided on a property, or are very interested and want to move forward in the financing process, the next step is often the home inspection. You can either order an inspection yourself, but it is often best to simply do this through your broker, who has experienced referrals. The buyer then receives the inspection report and can decide how to use this information for further negotiations. Lead-Based Paint Inspection Property in the US built before 1979 could have lead paint, which poses a significant health hazard. So if you want to buy an older property, this inspection is mandatory. Average cost at USD $300. Lender Here it is really best to contact as many as possible, as both the areas of interest and the perception of interests can be very different. Not every lender works with foreign clients, and the financial situation also makes a difference. Both banks and private companies act as lenders and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. MIP Mortgage Insurance Premium A loan insurance premium must be paid for an FHA loan. The current MIP rate is 1.75% of the loan amount. Mortgage type When you look at a real estate ad, you might stumble across terms like FHA or USDA. These are different types of loans. It is interesting to know when you are eligible for which types and how best to use the advantages. Conventional Loan: There is no government insurance or assistance, so it comes with higher requirements. Average requirements: Credit score of at least 620, down payment often 20%, debt-to-income ratio below 43%. FHA Loan (Federal Housing Administration): Requires an additional loan insurance (FHA Mortgage Insurance) that the buyer must pay (MIP Mortgage Insurance Premium). Average requirements: Credit score of at least 580, deposit 3.5%, debt-to-income ratio below 43%. USDA Loan (U.S. Department of Agriculture): For rural areas and buyers with incomes below the specified income limit. Also requires a so-called guarantee fee of 1% upfront and a 0.35% annual fee. Average requirements: Credit score of at least 640, 0% deposit, debt-to-income ratio below 41%. VA Loan (Department of Veteran Affairs): For military veterans, current military personnel or their spouses. Average requirements: no minimum credit score, 0% deposit, debt-to-income ratio below 41%. Offer to Purchase/Purchase Agreement When buying a property, an Offer to Purchase is deemed to be 'conforming to contract' when it has been accepted in writing and signed by both parties. This signed offer is then referred to as the Purchase Agreement. In many cases, however, the contract contains certain conditions that must be met in order for the sale to go through. Pest Inspection Some US states require a pest inspection before a loan is approved, especially VA loans. Average cost at USD $100. PMI Private Mortgage Insurance Private Mortgage insurance protects the lender if a borrower fails to repay their loan, thus reducing the risk for the lender to give a loan. It allows a buyer to qualify for a loan that they otherwise might not have been able to obtain. Typically, a borrower with a down payment of less than 20% of the home purchase price must purchase loan insurance. Cost point on average at 1% of the loan amount. Pre-Approval Before you start looking for a house, you should get a pre-approval that specifies how much money the lender will lend you and under what conditions. This not only helps as a buyer to know what to shop for, but also helps the seller since a pre-approval shows confirmed interest and buying power. You can get this document from your lender. Prepaid Interest The lender may require the buyer to pay any interest accrued between the closing date and the date of the first mortgage payment at closing. Property tax Every homeowner owes the property tax to the local authority. At closing, the first 12 months of property tax are often due. The value of the property tax can be calculated using public records or the appraised value. Property Title A property title is the right of ownership for use, modification, and transfer. With the title come fees at closing for Title Search (approximately $200 USD), Transfer Tax (approximately $1 per $500 USD of property value) and Title Update (approximately $50 USD). The Title Insurance is also important to understand. Rate Lock Fee Some lenders offer to hold the current interest rate between pre-approval of the mortgage and closing. This service may be free depending on how long the rate lock is in place, but some lenders may charge a fee of around 0.25-0.5% of the purchase price. Survey Fee Some US states require a land or property survey before a sale can be completed. The fee goes to the surveying company that verifies and confirms the property lines. Average cost at USD $400-$900. Realtor When buying a home in the United States, buyer and seller are represented separately by realtors. The buyer hires the buyer agent and the seller hires the seller agent (or listing agent). It is also possible, but more uncommon for an agent to represent both sides, which is then called a dual agent. Buyer agent and listing agent each charge 3% of the purchase price (minimal differences depending on the US state), which are due at closing. These costs are often paid by the seller, but offer a good basis for negotiation. Cost point on average at 6% of the loan amount. Recording Fee This fee is paid to the local city or county government to update public property records. Average cost at USD $100. Origination Charges At closing, the origination charges (incl. underwriting fee, commitment fee and document preparation fee) are billed, which compensate the lender for the work to check the creditworthiness, as well as create and approve the loan. Cost point on average at 1% of the loan amount. Seller Credit Buyer and seller can agree to increase the sales price and loan amount. This allows the buyer to have the closing costs financed with the loan and does not have to pay everything out of their pocket. The seller ends up getting the same money and can close the deal securely, so both sides have an advantage. Title Insurance The title insurance is a form of liability insurance that protects lender and homebuyer from financial loss caused by defects in the title. There is title insurance for both the owner to protect the homebuyer from title issues and the lender to protect them from title issues. Owner title insurance is optional, but most lenders require borrowers to obtain lender title insurance before they can obtain a loan. Cost item for owners insurance averages USD $500-$800 and for lender insurance averages 0.5-1% of the loan amount. A home purchase in the US with financing Financing a home in the US as a non-US citizen is doable, but it comes with extra work. Here is the process for buying property with financing, as well as further insights, difficulties and tips. The process of buying property in the USA with financing The process of a purchase with financing usually looks like this: Select lender Get pre-approval Select realtor Go house hunting (Here are more tips!) Submit Offer to Purchase Perform inspection & appraisal Complete negotiations Get insurance Have loan approved Complete closing Insights & Difficulties of Funding Requirements What matters to lenders is financial responsibility (usually proven by the credit score), total debt, as well as lengthy legal residency in the US (like visa) and a steady income. If you want to get financing, you have to fully disclose your finances to the lender. Being able to prove every transaction and not trying to hide anything plays a major role here. Especially in the 90 days before the loan application and closing, you should keep your accounts as steady as possible. Absolutely avoid gifts of money, sales and extraordinary transactions, since the lender should not question anything. What is typically required for non-US citizen financing: A valid work visa. A valid social security number. Work permit documents. Proof of employment. A good credit history. Proof of income. What can become difficult as a foreign buyer is replacing these requirements if you can't fill them. For example, if you don't have a credit score or US bank account, it's best to bring all of your foreign financial details with you. Proof of long-standing bank accounts and income, as well as credit card and loan payoffs can definitely help. Additionally, you may be able to show that you either intend to move to the United States or plan to reside here regularly. Because another thing that is important to a lender is to know that once you get the loan, you don't just leave the country and neglect your payments. Consider what the lender wants to see - financial responsibility! Tips for foreign buyers on financing Tip #1: Co-Sign! If you have relatives or friends in the US (with good credit scores and income), you can ask if someone would co-sign the loan to give the lender more security. Tip #2: Find the right lender and realtor! That really decides everything. Also check here for brokers with CIPS. Tip #3: Some foreign banks work with US banks or have a presence in the US market. So it may be possible to request a loan through your local bank or to get more information about the application. A home purchase in the USA without financing If you bring enough change with you and can buy your new dream house cash, this whole process becomes simplified. Because most of the requirements come from the lender. Again, it is wise to hire a realtor to learn about local laws and characteristics, as well as for negotiating, drafting the offer, or getting an appraisal. If you decide to work without an agent, all you have to do is find the closing agent to handle the closing. The process of buying property in the USA without financing The process of a purchase without financing usually looks like this: Find property (Here are more tips!) Complete negotiations Find Closing Agent Complete Offer to Purchase Perform inspection & appraisal (optional) Get insurance (optional) Complete closing What to consider in both cases Paying the right taxes When buying (and selling) real estate in the US as a non-US citizen, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid falling into the big tax trap. Like any homeowner in the US, you owe property tax on your property. The tax invoice is usually sent by mail, so make sure you have entered the correct postal address and have a way of payment. As a seller, the Withholding Tax (FIRPTA) is also important to keep in mind. When a property is sold by a non-US citizen, the buyer must withhold and pass on a sum of taxes to the state. However, this only applies in some cases (rather with investments) and the difference can be recovered through the US tax return. Also to be considered as a seller – the capital gains tax. The seller pays additional tax on the profit of the sale. So – it is best to always and properly file the American tax return, not only to comply with the law, but also to pay only the most necessary taxes. Managing the property Especially if the property is not used as a full-time home, it quickly becomes questionable who will take care of the house in the meantime. Administration, repairs, gardening and maintenance work must be organized ahead of time. If the property is located in a storm or severe weather area, there are precautions that must be taken here as well. There are many Property Management companies that take care of rental properties, landlords and tenants. Rentals of 6-12 months (sometimes shorter) are common in the US - so it would be doable to rent out the property for a certain period of the year, thereby letting the management company handle administration and communication. But be careful here again, because taxes are also due on rental income! Continuous costs and processes must be taken into account: First, it is important to be able to receive necessary mail, and especially bills, on time. Then you have to be able to understand the official documents, because sometimes the foreign language of bureaucracy can make things difficult. And finally, you have to be able to pay the bills, which can also be difficult and expensive internationally. It is advisable to consider setting up an American address, an American bank account and American tax returns (with SSN or ITIN). Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- The US Credit Score Explained
In the US, everything revolves around the so-called credit score and credit history. The credit score, a number between 300 and 850 points, is used by financial institutions as a measure of a person's creditworthiness. Every person in the American system builds up their personal score over the years and can track and determine it themselves. The goal is to get a high score in order to get better offers from lenders. The Credit history is an overview of personal financial data such as accounts, credit cards, debts and repayments. Depending on the total debt, the payment history, the credit utilization and the duration of the credit, the details of the credit history determine the credit score. In summary, this means that the report indicates how responsibly you have handled your finances over time. Potential lenders, such as banks, credit card companies or car dealers, use the credit score and credit history to gain insight into a customer's behavior and to better evaluate a loan request. The more a customer can promise timely repayment, the higher the chance of a good loan. And that promise comes through credit history and credit score. The three most widely used and well-known credit reporting bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, which maintain consumer information. These credit bureaus obtain information from other financial service providers that report consumer behavior. A potential lender gets the information needed from the credit bureaus to grant a loan and on what terms. So: The consumer makes a purchase, finances, or contracts with a business. This company reports this to the credit bureau. The credit bureau enters this information into their database. The next time the consumer requests credit or financing, the lender can consult the credit bureau's database file and make their decision. Therefore: If a consumer has made little or no purchases, their record with the credit bureau is very thin. As a result, a new lender may not see enough information about the consumer and may decline a loan. That’s why it is important to make purchases and financing from the start so that you fill your file with information. This post is about: Vocabulary to understand the US Credit Score System Important Questions about the Credit Score Where Credit Bureaus Get Consumer Information From How the score is calculated What score you should have How to get the best score What is determined by the score Where to find your score and history What tips there are Vocabulary to understand the US Credit Score System There are some expressions that non-Americans may not have heard. Here you will find the most used and helpful vocabulary. APR Annual Percentage Rate: The charge on the credit card balance that rolls over from month to month. Amortization: The gradual reduction of the loan amount through regular payments. Collection: One of the worst points on a credit report. When payments are overdue and a creditor wants to collect the money owed, the account goes into collection. Credit Bureau: An agency that provides information about the creditworthiness of individuals or companies. Also referred to as consumer reporting point. Credit Score: A score compiled from an individual's financial report. Credit History: A report of a person's financial condition and behavior. Credit Types: Different types of credit (e.g., Auto, Home, Personal, Credit Card, etc.). Creditor: When you take out a loan, you pay it back to the creditor. Debt-to-credit ratio: Also known as utilization, this is the total amount of a consumer's debt compared to their total credit limit. So, the “Credit Utilization Ratio” is the percentage usage of the total approved credit amount. Debtor: This is a consumer who has a loan and owes money to a creditor. Delinquent/Late Payments: If the minimum amount of a loan is not paid on time, it is flagged as delinquent. Derogatory marks: Notes for late or missing payments, collections and other negative remarks that result in a point deduction. Installment debt: Will be repaid over time with a certain number of payments. The term can be from a few months to 30 years (examples: mortgage loans, car loans, student loans). Over-the-limit fee: This fee applies when the credit limit (e.g., a credit card) is exceeded. Payment history: When you made which repayments. Third-party collections: These are typically companies that work with creditors to collect debts. Utilization: see Debt-to-credit ratio. Important Questions about the Credit Score Where do the credit bureaus get my information from? Every time someone applies for a loan or makes a repayment, the lender reports that information to the credit bureaus. The sum of this information is then converted into the score and communicated back to the lenders. How is the score calculated? The total number of points results from 5 different areas, which are calculated with different focal points. Payment history (35%), total debt (30%), credit history length (15%), credit types (10%) and new credit requests (10%). Also What score should I have? The Credit Score falls into several sections from Poor (300-579:) to Excellent (800-850). The higher the score, the better the loan offers. A score around 700 already allows for good loan offers and interest rates. How do I get the best score? The more responsible the financial behavior, the more the score increases. There are many ways to increase and further expand your score. First, as strange as it may seem, you have to take on debt (take out financing for purchases such as household appliances or a car). Then it's about proving to lenders that you're regularly paying off your debts and that you're financially responsible. So, periodically pay off existing debts, reduce overall debt, keep utilization reduced, and don't apply for too many new loans. What is determined by the score? The credit score determines whether you will be approved for a loan or contract and what interest rates and terms (e.g., down payments) you will be offered, for example for a home loan. Where can I find my score and history? There are several ways to check your score and history. Apps like Mint and CreditKarma give an insight and many bank and credit card apps now offer to check the score. What tips are there? There are algorithms and entire companies that specialize only in credit scores, helping consumers build their score and make the right decisions. This here is no legal advice, but a few tips that can often help the score. #1: Co-sign. If your score is not good enough to get a loan or service, it helps to have a second person sign the contract. As a result, the good score of the second person is taken into account, you get the credit and thus continue to build up your own score. #2: Register in Contracts. The credit bureau file can also contain apparently less important contracts, such as for cellphones or utility services. #3: Beginner Cards. There are special low limit credit cards for consumers with low credit scores and starting credit histories. #4: Authorized User. If someone in your family has a well-established credit card, registering as an authorized user can help. Tip #5: International Providers. Some companies, like American Express, have an international presence. If you already use a credit card in your home country, this may appear in the American database. Whether the credit scoring system works or is fair is sometimes disputed, but it still governs the entire country and the life of every person in America. Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help. If you want to know more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- How to get a US Social Security Number as a foreigner
The American Social Security Number (SSN) is used by the US government to track an individual's income and years of work, as well as a personal identification document. Obtaining the nine-digit social security number is not mandatory for US citizens but becomes necessary if you are seeking to take up formal employment and register salaries with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for future services such as tax returns and pension payments. As a foreigner seeking an American work permit, the SSN is mandatory. US citizens and qualifying US residents may apply with the US government for their American Social Security number with the social security card as an associated identification document. US citizens usually apply for the SSN as soon as their child is born. For non-US citizens, there are two scenarios: Within application for a U.S. Immigrant Visa: When applying for a U.S. immigrant visa from abroad, you can already apply for the SSN in your home country on the same application. After approval and successful entry, you will receive your social security card in the mail. Outside of application for a US immigrant visa: In all other cases, the social security number is applied for in person with the necessary documents at the local social security office. In this post, I will focus on the scenario of applying for an SSN as a non-US citizen outside of the US immigrant visa application. Read on to learn more about: Who is eligible for an SSN Why you need an SSN How fast you can get an SSN Where to apply for your SSN What is required for the application What the SSN costs How long the SSN is valid What to do if you lose your SSN What exceptional cases there are Who is eligible for an SSN? In general, US citizens and foreign US residents with a work permit (Nonimmigrant Visa or Immigrant Visa, examples: Green Card, EAD, E-2) are eligible for a US Social Security Number. All other foreign nationals traveling to the United States for business or pleasure who do not have a work permit are not eligible for a Social Security number. Why do I need an SSN? An SSN is required to legally work in the United States, to report your salary to the government, and to receive Social Security Benefits and other government services. Without SSN, it is difficult and often impossible to get a loan, open a bank account, get insurance, buy a home or car. How soon can I get an SSN? After you enter the United States with your work permit, the US system begins to register your presence with the appropriate documents. Since this process can take a few days, it is better to wait at least a week after entering the country to apply for the SSN. After applying for the SSN, all information and documents are checked at the issuing offices. After about 2-3 weeks you will receive your social security card in the mail. Where do I apply for an SSN? The SSN is requested from the local Social Security Office (Social Security Administration/SSA). In some cases, SSA offers to start the application online and then fill it out in person. What do I need to apply for an SSN? In addition to the actual application form (Form SS-5), original documents proving identity (valid foreign passport) and working immigration status (Green Card, EAD, Form I-94, US visa with approval stamp) are required. Exchange and international students need additional documents, such as B. Form DS-2019. How much does it cost to apply for a social security number and card? Applying for and maintaining a US Social Security number and card is free. How long is the SSN valid? The personal SSN is assigned to the person for the rest of their life in the US. For individuals with limited U.S. rights (e.g. work visa), the SSN is only valid in combination with a work permit document. What do I do if I lost my SSN or my information has changed? If your information is lost or changed (change of name, etc.), you can use the same application form (Form SS-5) to request a fresh copy of your Social Security card. Are there exceptional cases? Yes, there is an acceptable alternative to a social security number. If you do not have a US work permit but need a Social Security number for tax purposes, you can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) with the IRS. Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help. If you want to know more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- Emigrate to the USA – Here’s how
Immigration is the movement of people from one place or country to another and is a fundamental aspect of human history. America is a country that has been created and built by immigrants from around the world. In addition to the countless nature experiences and the diversity of cultures, you will find economic and financial opportunities. The United States, a single country the size of Europe, offers many reasons for people to emigrate from abroad. And how can you emigrate to the USA legally? Applying for US immigration is often expensive, complicated and overwhelming. In order to be able to live and work legally in America, there are fees and requirements for which legal advice can be recommended. However, this support often does not go beyond the legal matters, and many expats are on their own after receiving their visa. This is a crucial point, because only then does the actual journey begin! First of all, it is important to understand the possibilities and difficulties involved in applying for a visa for legal entry into the United States for both temporary and permanent residence. What you find on the internet about US immigration is not always truthful or easy to understand, so I'm happy to share my personal experience. About six years ago, I moved to the USA for work, and I am still surprised to this day at how little help was given with integration. In other articles, I explain whether and when legal advice is necessary, which experts you also need and what you still need to accomplish to successfully start your new American life. Helpful US immigration vocabulary The US visa process Explanations of the US visa types Immigrant visa Non-immigrant visas Examples of the visa processes Integration tips Helpful US immigration vocabulary On portals and articles you often come across the following terms. Everything is explained here for easier understanding: Adjustment of Status: Adjustment of status from nonimmigrant visa to immigrant visa EAD (Employment Authorization Document): Identification document of the work permit Green card: Identification document of the immigrant visa I-94: Arrival/Departure Form required for all travelers on non-immigrant visas Immigrant Visa: Visa with unlimited rights and residence Legal alien: foreign citizen with US visa Lawful Permanent Resident: Individual with an immigrant visa/green card Non-immigrant Visa: Visa with limited rights and residence Permanent resident: foreign citizen with immigrant visa Temporary resident: foreign citizen with non-immigrant visa USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services These phrases will be used and explained in this article. The US visa process There are many methods to obtain an American visa, but the general rule is: You need a sponsor (person, company, school) The sponsor must submit a petition (application for the foreign person) Once the petition has been approved and the visa is available, the foreigner can submit their application for visa The application contains social and criminal background information, as well as a biometric appointment and a medical check-up performed by certified parties After receipt of the application, you will be invited to an interview with an Immigration Officer (USCIS). After approval, you will receive your visa and the permission to request entry into the United States. Note: Since only a certain number of visas are available per year for certain visa categories, in some situations you have to wait for the availability of the relevant visa after you have submitted your petition before you can submit the application. The official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Forms can be found here. Common problems when applying for a visa and reasons for visa refusals are missing information and documents as well as insufficient qualifications for the chosen category. It is often also careless mistakes or missing signatures that complicate the process. Differences in procedures, costs and duration depend on the type of visa and the individual situation. There are more ways to legally immigrate to the United States, but in this article, I will focus on the most common methods. So, what does all that mean exactly? Explanations of the visa types Immigrant Visa Immigrant visas with the Green Card as an accompanying identification document grant the unrestricted right to permanently live and work in the United States. You have the same rights and responsibilities as an American citizen, except for the right to vote or serve on a jury. An American immigrant visa is thus the permanent residence and work permit for the USA. The green card holder is referred to as a lawful permanent resident and can apply for American citizenship, typically after 5 years. Requirements for an Immigrant visa depend on the origin of the application and thus category of the visa. Visa fees are typically between $2000 and $3000, and the average approval time is between one and two years. There are different types of immigrant visas depending on the origin of the application, some examples are: Employment-Based Immigrant Visa – Obtaining the Green Card from an Employer Family-Based Immigrant Visa – Obtaining the Green Card through family reunification Diversity Visa Lottery – Obtaining the Green Card by winning the Green Card Lottery Please note: A green card is usually applied for when you are already legally residing in the United States. A visa, on the other hand, is required to even request an entry permit. The full range of possible immigrant visas can be found here! Nonimmigrant Visa Nonimmigrant visas give you the right to reside in the United States for a limited period of time. An American nonimmigrant visa is the temporary residence and work permit for the United States. Nonimmigrant visa holders are referred to as legal aliens or temporary residents. After the visa expires, you must leave the United States or renew your visa. As a temporary resident, you can obtain a U.S. driver's license and Social Security card, file taxes, and rent or buy real estate during your legal residency. However, you only have a temporary work permit (only for the sponsoring company) and no right to vote or military service. As with immigrant visas, the requirements for a nonimmigrant visa depend on the origin of the visa and its category. Visa fees typically range from $200 to $300 and approval times average from two to four months. There are numerous nonimmigrant visas for a variety of situations, such as: Work-Related Visas Visitor Visas Internship/Study Visa Please note: A visa gives you permission to ask for entry. There is no guarantee that you will be able to enter the United States. This decision is up to the border official. See the full range of possible nonimmigrant visas here! Examples of Visa processes Example #1 I was offered an employment contract by an American company and applied for an E-2 nonimmigrant visa. Here is an overview of one such application: Sponsor: A Company. The US company. Petition: From the sponsor. The company created and submitted the application (petition) to explain what I will contribute to the American economy, what is included in the position and why I am specifically qualified to fill this position. Visa Application: From me. My application contained evidence of my medical background (proof of vaccinations, illness and accidents), my criminal background (background check, questions about crime) and my professional and personal background (work, place of residence, family). Interview: With the US government. I applied for my visa personally at the embassy and completed the biometric appointment and the interview with a USCIS immigration officer on site. Approval: Visa. The embassy approved my application and entered the new visa (E-2) in my passport. Upon entering the United States, I was allowed to ask the border official to allow entry, issue my Arrival/Departure Form (I-94) and authorize the two-year stay that came with it. Result: New status. So, I was a temporary resident on a nonimmigrant visa. The E-2 visa is valid for 5 years and the I-94 must be renewed within 2 years of entry/exit to stay legally in the US. The entire application process went quite quickly, about four months. Cost around $10,000.00. It should be noted that the petition and application were submitted with the help of the company's immigration attorneys. Example #2 After I got married, my partner and I applied for Adjustment of Status from E-2 to Green Card. Here is an overview of one such application: Sponsor: A person. The spouse as a US citizen. Petition: From the sponsor. Petition for me, as a foreign relative, with an affidavit of financial support. Application: From me. My application for Adjust of Status and the associated EAD, with proof of my medical background (vaccination, illness and accident records), criminal background (background check, crime questions) and professional and personal background (work, location of residence, family) and proof of our marriage. Petition and application were submitted together by mail, biometric appointment is completed at the nearest USCIS office. Interview: At the US government. Invitation to an in-person interview with a USCIS Immigration Officer. Approval: Visa. After the interview, the application will be approved, and the green card is sent by mail. Result: New status. This means that I am a permanent legal resident with unrestricted residency and employment rights. The whole process can take up to a year or more depending on where you live in the US and which office is responsible for it (you will get the EAD faster so you can work). The cost was around $4,000.00. Further examples: K-1 Fiancé Visa: If Person A (foreigner) and Person B (US citizen) are engaged and wish to be married in the United States, Person B must first petition to the US government for a nonimmigrant visa, and have it approved before Person A is allowed to enter and both are allowed to get married and then Person A can apply for the immigrant visa. K-3 Spouse Visa: If Person A (foreigner) and Person B (US citizen) were married outside the United States, Person B must first petition to the US government for a nonimmigrant visa and have it approved before Person A is allowed to enter the country to obtain the immigrant visa. EB-1 Visa: Self-application (no sponsor required) as a person of exceptional ability, such as outstanding professors and researchers, people with exceptional ability in arts, science, business, sports or education, and executives who have worked in a foreign university within the last 3 years branch of a US company. EB-5 Visa: When you are investing $500K to $1M in a US trading company and are holding 10+ permanent jobs. Dual Intent Visa: When you are a student at an American US college and start working for the college, which then becomes a sponsor. Integration tips After finally getting your US visa, it feels like the worst is over. But if you don't have friends or family in the US who can support you with legal and local knowledge, your next project is only just beginning. Because what happens after immigration? Social security number, driver’s license, lease, car insurance, bank account, health insurance, cell phone contract, credit score building… the beginning can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. (Check my downloads here!) Planning ahead from your home country before moving is key to a smoother transition, but even then, progress can be limited as some things can only be done locally in person. If you have arrived in the US and are in the process of integrating into the community, there are a few things to keep in mind. Local bureaucracy coupled with often a shortage of support and understanding from local residents can quickly lead to helplessness. Don't be surprised if you feel overwhelmed with the integration process and remember that there are people who are happy to help you. In other blog posts and downloads I explain everything step by step so that you can easily and efficiently become part of your new American community. Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- How to best use a 401(k) as a foreign employee
In the U.S., there is no federal mandatory retirement insurance for most employees, but it is up to each individual to decide whether and how they want to invest their money. Most employers offer their employees the option to contribute to the company's 401(k) plan. However, the offer comes with conditions and the plan is not designed to give access to your money before retirement age. So, what do you do when you don't plan on retiring in the US? Unfortunately, there isn't much information for foreigners who do not plan to retire or take up another position in the US but still choose to pay into a 401(k) during their work in the US. In my case, neither my company's human resources department nor the specialists at the 401(k)-plan sponsor could help me, so I'm happy to share the process, the issues, and the outcome. Vocabulary The Process The Problems The Result The Benefits of a 401(k) The Disadvantages of a 401(k) Tips Helpful 401(k) vocabulary 401(k) loans: You can take out a loan for certain emergencies. Some plan administrators allow you to borrow funds from your own 401(k). Loans do not incur any taxes or penalties. Contributions: What you put into the savings account from your paycheck. Earnings: The profits made from investments. Roth 401(k): Employer-sponsored retirement plan with its own rules that allows for after-tax contributions and tax-free payouts after age 59½. You pay income tax before you put the money into your savings account, so you don't have to pay tax when you withdraw. Roth IRA: Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) with no employer involvement where you pay after-tax dollars, your money grows tax-free, and you can generally make tax-free and penalty-free withdrawals after age 59½. You pay income tax before you put the money into your savings account, so you don't have to pay tax when you withdraw. Penalties: Usually the penalty is 10% which you must pay back from your withdrawal. Plan Sponsor: The company that offers and controls the Plans. Rollover: If you change or leave your employer, your account can be transferred to another 401(k) or IRA tax-free. Traditional 401(k): Employer-sponsored retirement plan with its own rules that allows pre-tax contributions and taxable payouts after age 59½. You pay income tax on the entire amount you withdraw at the time of payout. Traditional IRA: Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) with no employer involvement where you pay dollars before taxes, your money grows tax-deferred, and withdrawals are taxed as current income after age 59½. You pay income tax on the entire amount you withdraw at the time of payout. Unqualified Withdrawal: A withdrawal made before the age of 59½ or an account younger than five years. Vested: If the amount is vested, it is entirely yours. Until then, depending on the schedule, you only partially own the employer contributions. Example: Four-year vesting period means you get 25% after the first year, 50% after the second year, 75% after the third year, and 100% after the fourth year. The Process After starting my new US job, it quickly became clear that nobody could explain the basics of a 401(k). I had to start from scratch and although I worked for an international company, nobody really wanted to understand that the American way was not known elsewhere. To learn what a 401(k) is, the investment options, vesting, matching, penalties, ROTH, contributions, earnings...none of it made sense or sounded too promising. In the early years of my employment, I chose not to invest in the company's 401(k) simply for lack of knowledge and information given to me. When my employer changed plan sponsors after a few years, all employees had to re-register and transfer their accounts to the new plan. With this change, I took my time and taught myself everything I needed to know using the new online portal and internet. I tried, trained, and ended up putting quite a bit of money into my 401(k) account for the next few years. A 401k provider gives consumers the ability to view and control their account through an online portal. Monthly contributions, as well as account balances, payments and data are disclosed. Other services must be requested through your human resources department or the plan provider. The Problems The biggest problems came when I started wondering what would happen to my money if I left my job. Unfortunately, the answers from both my human resources department and the 401(k) plan sponsors ended up being wrong or non-existent. One of my two options was to transfer my money into an IRA, but unfortunately that means my money would remain inaccessible in an American account for the next 30 years. The other option is to move my money from my current 401(k) to my new American employer's 401(k). Since it was clear to me that I would not work for another US employer, this idea was also out of the question. When the time came and I left my employer, I needed access to my money. I requested the payout through my HR department and kept my fingers crossed for several weeks with no feedback. Eventually I got my checks in the mail and had to pay the 10% penalty on earnings on my next tax return. The Outcome So, what are your advantages and disadvantages of paying into a 401(k), especially if it’s not until retirement? Here are my personal views on the two sides: The Benefits of a 401(k) Temporary tax benefits: With a traditional plan, your contributions are paid from your paycheck before income taxes are deducted, so your current tax bill is lower. However, taxes are then due at the time of withdrawal. Getting free money: You get "free" money from your employer in the form of matching contributions that are being added to your funds – but under certain conditions. Later tax benefits: You could save on taxes when withdrawing money because you might be in a lower tax bracket, but also vice versa. The Disadvantages of a 401(k) Low Matching Contributions: Your company's matching contributions might be small or non-existent, so it would basically just be another savings account for your money. Paying fees: Your plan typically comes with annual fees which are automatically deducted from your balance and there is nothing you can do about it. No choice in plan: You don’t get to decide what plan or plan-sponsor you want to invest in and what fees or rates you agree to - your employer does. Few investment options: The plan usually only offers around 20-25 mutual funds to choose from, which is low compared to other investment options. The free money isn't always yours: Your employer decides how long you have to work for them to completely own their contributions, as the amount vests over time. Unqualified Withdrawal Nightmares: It can be difficult to access your funds early as there are penalties and strict procedures for unqualified withdrawals. Higher Tax Risks: If the money is taxed at the time of withdrawal, you may owe more taxes since the tax bracket is difficult to determine at that point in the future. Paying penalties: Even if you don't have to pay any penalties on your contributions for an unqualified withdrawal, you still have to pay a 10% penalty fee and tax on your earnings. Tips for your 401(k) Tip #1: Ask questions about the offer. Every 401(k) plan is different. It is important to understand the individual details in order to make the right decision. What is my employer's matching rate? What is the vesting schedule? What are the penalties? Depending on these answers, that particular 401(k) may or may not be beneficial for you. Tip #2: Do your own research. Unfortunately, since most experts are not trained for foreign situations and employees from abroad, there is not always enough support from the employer or provider. Your own research is extremely important here, so that you don't give away your money because of the ignorance of others. Tip #3: Represent your own interests. Remember, a 401(k) is just one way to invest your money. It's up to you how you prefer to save and invest. If you prefer other options, skipping the 401(k) is no problem. If you are unsure whether you will retire or take up another position in the US, make sure you have all the information you need before investing in a 401(k). Since this is a legal matter, asking an expert for assistance can give a peace of mind. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- How to get the U.S. driver’s license
In Germany, everyone over the age of 16 has an identity card and, if necessary, a passport. The german driver's license serves – who would have thought it – as a driver's license. In the U.S., all this is summarized in one document: the American "Driver's License". The driver's license, a government-issued identification document, not only entitles the American to drive a vehicle, but also serves several additional purposes. Among other things, it can prove whether you are an organ donor, whether you can legally buy tobacco or alcohol or go to clubs. It is also required for flights within the USA, for visits to authorities, when taking out insurance or when applying for a loan. Each state has its own driver's license, which differs slightly in appearance and requirements. After moving, the state gives you a grace period of usually 30-90 days in which you can drive with your foreign driver's license. US driver's license application Required Proof The Process The Renewal Tips US driver's license application The application and exams take place at the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). It is best to call ahead of time to find out which office issues driver’s licenses, whether you need an appointment and if any other documents (than those listed below) are required. There may be slight differences by state, but there is usually plenty of useful information online, like here for Texas, North Carolina, and California. Required Proof Legal residence (e.g. valid green card, foreign passport with visa & I-94 form or valid work permit document EAD) Legal Residency in the state (e.g. copy of the rental agreement, utility bill, insurance contract or bank account) Identity (e.g., original or certified copy of birth certificate, valid foreign passport) Social security number (US social security card). When all documents are approved, you submit a “Driver's License Application” (here an example for Florida) that can be downloaded and filled out prior to the appointment. The Process Photographs and fingerprints will be taken along with paying the fee (usually around $35-$55). After passing the vision exam, you take the theoretical test digitally and have the results displayed immediately. Then it is on to the practical driving test. In contrast to Germany, this is not too difficult. If you can drive reasonably well, you do not need to worry here. After successfully passing the test, a temporary driving permit is issued, and the actual, official driver's license will be sent by mail within the next 4 weeks. The Renewal The DMV can only issue the driver’s license for the duration of your legal residence. So, if you have a two-year I-94 or EAD, your driver's license will also only be valid up to the expiration date. In order to renew your license, you return with all your documents to the DMV, including proof of the new length of residency. However, only the vision test is required for renewal. Tips Tip #1: Understand a foreign culture. Local authorities are often unaware of differences in international mentalities or regulations. Don't be surprised if someone shows impatience or rudeness. I have experienced situations in which my questions, language barriers or misunderstandings have led to problems. It helps if you have a local to accompany you! Tip #2: Know alternatives. If you don't have or don't want to have a driver's license, you can apply for an identification card (ID card) from your responsible DMV, which then fulfills the identification function. All you have to do is fill out an application form, get fingerprinted and photographed, and pay the fee. If you do not have the documents mentioned above, or other problems arise, you may still get the driver's license. It is important to do research and to know the individual situation. Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help.
- Car Registration in the U.S.
Having a car in the US is a necessity unless you live in a well-developed metropolitan area. There is rarely a well-functioning public transport network and only occasionally will you find a short stretch of cycle or pedestrian path. So, if you are in a smaller town or even in a rural area, you cannot avoid a vehicle. Buying a car is one thing, being able to legally drive it is quite another. Especially if you are new to the area and might still be setting up all your paperwork, it can be confusing as to what to do first. In this post I will cover the registration part. All other documents such as a driver's license or car insurance must already be available. Buying a car in the US from a dealership Buying a car in the USA from a private person Inspection Registration Renewal Tips for the US car registration Buying a car in the US from a dealership If you have just moved to the US, you are unlikely to buy from a dealership (unless you are buying the entire car for cash). But if that's the case, the dealer usually takes care of all the paperwork and administrative work. You only pay the fees as part of the total price of the vehicle, including license plate and registration fees and sales tax. After the successful purchase, you can drive off in your new car with a short-term license plate and will receive a new license plate and registration sticker in the mail a few weeks later. Buying a car in the USA from a private person If you bought from a private person, you have the pleasure of doing all that yourself. Some of the requirements differ from state to state, but the following info is usually the base requirements. Inspection First off, your car needs to pass the state inspection at a certified place (most mechanic shops are). Give them a call before you go, since depending on the state, you might need to bring your proof of insurance. Registration Next come the license plate and registration sticker, which you can obtain from the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Each state has its own DMV office, for example North Carolina, Texas or California. Again, I recommend calling ahead to find out which office handles registrations, if you need an appointment, and if any additional papers (than those below) are required. You usually need to bring the vehicle inspection report, US driver's license, proof of insurance, notarized vehicle title and the bill of sale. As some offices do not accept card payment, also bring some extra cash to pay the sales tax on the vehicle. In some cases, you get the plates immediately (if you do not request a personalized one), in other cases you get a temporary plate and must wait for the official one and the stickers in the mail. Renewal The registration (and inspection) is valid for one year. Typically, three months before the expiration date, the annual state tax bill and registration renewal reminder will be mailed. Note: Your car was entered into the state system when it was first registered. This way, the workshop carrying out your inspection can simply upload the results and when you renew your registration it is easy to do online via the DMV website or app. Bottom line is, once you have done it, it makes sense, but the first time can be tricky! As mentioned earlier, do not be surprised when you experience confusion or annoyance, since many people are not used to foreigners. Tips Tips #1: Accept a foreign culture Local authorities are often unaware of differences in international mentalities or regulations. Don't be surprised if someone shows impatience or rudeness. I have experienced situations in which my questions, language barriers or misunderstandings have led to problems. It helps if you have a local to accompany you! Tip #2: Geographic Differences. The process is slightly different depending on where you buy your car, as some U.S. States have different laws and regulations. I would always recommend checking not only with your state but also with your county for specific regulations. Tip #3: Know local costs. Google the average inspection and repair costs in your area, as some garages may rip off their inexperienced customers. Since this is a legal matter, asking an expert for assistance can give a peace of mind. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'm happy to help!
- How to find real estate in the U.S. from abroad
Finding legitimate information for the American housing market is often not that easy from abroad. How the local Americans find their new home may differ from what is often found in the German web results. As a German, I have been living in the USA for over 6 years and have rented many homes, as well as bought property myself. There are important differences between the German and American process of becoming a tenant and finding the right rental property. The actual buying process is also different than in Germany and the process is important to understand before moving forward and investing money. In any case, it is important to remember – if you are not sure, it is better to hire an expert! Because fraud and loss must be avoided. But how do you find legit property in the US in the first place? Through online portals Through the realtor Through the real estate company Through private offers Through auctions and short sale Through online portals Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, Homes, Redfin, Movoto - the range of American real estate portals are endless. Most are national, some local, but each portfolio is stunning and unfortunately often too good to be true. In short, I do not look anywhere else but Realtor. Through my real estate agent/realtor, I know that even the professionals work with this portal. The site is powered by broker organizations and the local broker network and is therefore the one that can be trusted the most. Not only are listings always up to date, but also first go through strict controls before they are posted. This ensures that no false or modified information appears. Other sites tend to be run by private companies or the property owners themselves, and therefore sometimes show outdated or inaccurate information. The risk of running into a complete fraud trap is also more likely here and can become dangerous. If you have successfully found your dream property online, you can make an inquiry directly through the portal. It is important to know that every listing is represented by a seller’s agent. Without having a buyer’s agent, you may not be noticed as a potential buyer. Through the realtor If you are unsure about what is shown online and prefer to trust the personal method and insider ability, you can get information through a buyer's agent instead. When you have found your realtor of trust, you give him the requirements of your search and personal preferences and then simply wait for the results. The realtor not only knows the local real estate market and real estate companies, but also rules and laws. In addition, he is trained in negotiating prices and reaching a good deal. Therefore, the results are pulled through a filter before going to the buyer. The real estate agent works explicitly for the buyer and is also available throughout the further process until the key is handed over. Finding the right real estate agent and other necessary contacts (insurances, lawyer, title company, appraiser, inspector, tax consultant, notary, etc.) can be difficult from abroad. Here, too, you can find some frauds or many professionals who unfortunately only work with Americans. It takes a bit more to look after a foreign customer. To find the right contacts, including CIPS Realtors, I recommend consulting an expert. Through the real estate company A real estate agent works for a real estate agency, which represents various properties. The agency then advertises them on the portals mentioned above, but also displays them on their own website. If you have already had good experiences with a specific real estate company, you can search directly through them instead of through third-party portals. This ensures authenticity and quality and avoids fraudulent traps. Sometimes you even stumble across properties that have not been listed on other portals. In addition, the agencies also offer open houses, guides, and loan calculators. Some of the best-known real estate companies in the US are RE/MAX, Coldwell Banker and Century21. Nowadays, German companies are also active in the American market, such as Engel&Völkers. As in other scenarios, the same problems apply here – not everyone offers support for foreign customers. The transaction process outside the United States is unfamiliar to many Americans or not well supported. Here is an intermediary needed to fill this gap. Through private offers If a seller does not want to hire a seller’s agent or does not want to join the chaos of big online portals, there are a few other options. With “For Sale by Owner” offers, private individuals can put their properties up for sale and manage the process themselves. This way you can save a lot of money as a seller and as a buyer (professionals cost money), but you do not have the expert opinions of a real estate agent at hand, either. Examples of private portals are Facebook Marketplace or forsalebyowner.com. Zillow also offers a category for private sellers. If you do not know the seller or the property personally, I would not recommend going with this method. Unfortunately, fraud is often unavoidable in this market since many swindlers want to make quick money and there are hardly any regulations or controls on offers or providers. Through Auctions and short-sale If someone cannot pay off their house, it goes back into the hands of the bank that issued the loan and they put it up for sale through an auction. Foreclosed properties are usually cheaper than others but are often in poorer condition because the owner ran out of money. In addition to auctions, there is short sale property, which is offered by the owner just before it goes back to the bank. This is usually the last chance for the seller before it goes into foreclosure. Such a sale is usually faster, but often not much cheaper than others on the market. Some foreclosure sites are HUDforeclosed and Auction.com, but some online portals also offer these categories. Because these properties often need more repairs, I would not recommend buying without seeing it. If you need to hire craftsmen from abroad, it can quickly lead to headaches and large losses. To avoid any disaster, do not try here without specialists. All in all, finding your dream property from abroad is possible. Stay aware of the traps and gaps and keep in mind that there are local experts that are more than happy to help you. If you want to learn more or need more details, I'll be happy to help!