Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - As many as 1 million U.S. and Canadian citizens already call Mexico home, with more joining them all the time. Thanks to Mexico's large size, varied geography, and affordable real estate, prospective residents are spoiled for choice among silver-mining towns, fishing villages, beach retreats, and cosmopolitan cities.
Mexico has long been a top choice for North Americans buying property overseas, but there are misconceptions surrounding Mexican real estate. A new report from the editors at International Living sets the record straight.
"At IL, we quite frequently hear myths about buying Mexican Real Estate," says International Living Executive Editor, Jennifer Stevens. "It's a shame because people's misperceptions create a wholly inaccurate picture of what's going on there. In truth, Mexico offers great weather, beautiful scenery, and authentic Latin American culture - plus good-value real estate options for North Americans looking to retire on a modest budget. And just to be clear: It's absolutely possible - and legal - to own property in Mexico. Our new report walks reader through the specifics."
However, when it comes to buying Mexican real estate, the truth doesn't always prevail. Here are three myths debunked by International Living:
Myth #1: Foreigners Can't Buy Property in Mexico
Inside the restricted zones, foreigners can control land through Fideicomisos - bank trust agreements - again with the same rights and responsibilities as Mexican nationals. Alternatively, foreigners can hold land in these areas through a Mexican corporation. (However, if it's a residential property that the foreigner plans to use personally, rather than as a real estate investment, it should be held in a Fideicomiso.)
To break it down in plain English: If you're not Mexican, the title to property within the restricted zones must be held within a bank trust or a Mexican corporation - not directly. But understand: That trust is easily transferable when an owner is ready to sell.
This is a safe, legal, and extremely common vehicle for foreign ownership in Mexico. And, again, this restriction only applies close to shorelines and international borders. Outside the restricted zones, foreigners can own directly as an individual.
Myth #2: It's Best to Hold Title in Your Own Name
An article in the Mexican Constitution of 1917 states that no foreigner can own property in Mexico's restricted zones. In 1973, however, the government saw the economic wisdom of allowing foreign investment in the restricted zones and established the Fideicomiso, or bank trust, as an instrument to allow such investment in residential real estate.
Owning property through a trust deed offers several advantages. First, you can list more than one person as beneficiary. This means, for example, that a husband and wife can essentially be "co-owners." You can and should structure this in such a way that if one partner dies, the other has immediate, 100% control over the property.
Second, you can list an "heir." This means that, should both co-owners die, a new beneficiary is already in place - a beneficiary who, incidentally, needn't be related to the original co-owners. Essentially, you write a letter of instruction to the bank naming this heir. When presented with the death certificate(s), the bank immediately and seamlessly passes title to him or her without his having to be in Mexico. For gay couples, friends who own a property jointly, or for couples in a second marriage with different children, this is a very desirable option.
All this is important because it allows the simple and easy transfer of control over the property and avoids the messiness of sorting out ownership in the Mexican courts. It is also a method of bypassing inheritance taxes. Trusts are issued for renewable 50-year periods. If you are buying property currently held in a trust, you can either establish a new trust for the next 50-year period or take over the existing trust deed.
Myth #3: The Mexican Government Can Seize Your Land
"Yes, there have been cases - such as in Baja California a number of years ago - when the Mexican government has 'repossessed' property from foreigners," says International Living Mexico Editor, Glynna Prentice. "But in these instances, the property titles these expats held didn't hold up to scrutiny-they were essentially fraudulent. These expats were defrauded, but not by the government; the government was simply correcting the fraud, applying the law, and returning title to the rightful owners," she elaborated.
"But cases like these are good reminders that you need a competent, honest lawyer protecting your interests in a real estate deal... someone who can make sure a property title is legal, clear, and unencumbered. But if there is a problem, you are protected as fully under the law as a Mexican citizen would be. Mexico's legal system does work, despite bureaucracy and the occasional corruption. There is a saying in Spanish, 'The mills of justice grind slowly, but very, very fine.' This pretty much sums up Mexico's legal system."
To learn more about buying property in Mexico, check out Timothy Real Estate Group's Mexican Real Estate FAQs, right HERE on BanderasNews.com.With more than 200 correspondents traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate and investment, InternationalLiving.com has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities for 37 years.