Yes, expats can own a home in Mexico. You may directly own rural or urban land in the interior of Mexico, with certain limitations on specific agricultural tracts. In what is called the restricted protected zone, a Trust Deed is used. These protected areas include 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from all natural borders, 50 kilometers (j31 miles) from coastlines and all of Baja California. Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay is primarily in the restricted zone.
The Trust Deed is established through a Mexican bank giving foreign buyers rights and privileges of ownership. Since 1994, the Foreign Investment Law has allowed these deeds to be established for a term of 50 years and renewable upon termination. This public deed is called an escritura.
In the restricted zone, title can be held in one of two ways: 1) The Mexican bank trust is for residential property or 2) A Mexican corporation can hold non-residential real estate. Foreign nationals can be the sole and exclusive stockholders of the corporate stock that holds the title to this nonresidential property within the restricted zone.
If you hold property as residential and claim it as a residence in Mexico, you can be eligible for a partial exemption of capital gains tax. Certain restrictions do apply.
The public notary (Notario) in Mexico is responsible for the transfer of real estate. The notary’s responsibilities are much greater than what we are familiar with in the United States. The notary in Mexico is appointed by the governor of the state and the executive branch of the federal government of the particular state. A notary is an attorney who has additional specialization and has passed an extensive exam. He/she is appointed for life.
The deed (escritura) is prepared from the purchase-sale agreement. The escritura, as well as all closing documents, is in Spanish. English translations are courtesy translations, only.
Prior to closing, the notary examines the documents of the seller to verify title. A search of the public records is done to determine further status of the title and the existence of liens against the property. The notary is responsible for the collection and payment of property taxes and government transfer taxes. If a seller owes capital gains, that is determined by the notary. This tax is collected and paid by the notary, when due.
The escritura, or public deed, names the seller conveying and the buyer receiving the property, in addition to the legal description. The terms of the bank trust (fideicomiso) agreement are incorporated into the escritura. There should also be a description of the metes and bounds of the land, and a plat. In the case of construction, there should also be a floor plan or footprint of the building on the land.
A buyer should also receive evidence that utility services, trust feeds and property tax on the property have been paid to the date of closing. At closing, the notary meets with the buyer and seller to formalize the transfer by requiring appropriate signatures upon execution of the deed. The escritura is then recorded with the public registry where the property is located.
The buyer pays closing costs, with the seller paying any capital gains taxes and real estate fees. Closing costs are typically higher than costs for buyers in the United States and Canada. Costs include approval and formation of the 50-year-renewable bank trust, tax appraisal, no lien certificate, real estate transfer tax and notary services.
This article is based upon legal opinions, current practices and my personal experiences in the Puerto Vallarta-Bahia de Banderas areas. I recommend that each potential buyer or seller of Mexican real estate conduct his/her own due diligence and review.