The housing market in the United Kingdom is made up of a broad range of property types, from contemporary, new-build homes and apartments to historic, period properties that are hundreds of years old.
As a non-British national, you may enjoy visiting the United Kingdom on a frequent basis and have considered buying property in which to spend time on holidays. You may be moving to the UK for a new job, family ties, or studies. You might even want to purchase a flat or house in the United Kingdom as an investment property. All of these reasons are acceptable and legal reasons to be interested in buying a home in the UK.
Whatever your plans, this guide takes you through key factors to consider about property ownership in the UK as a non-British national relocating to the UK.
What are properties like in the United Kingdom?
Homes in the United Kingdom are generally split between houses and apartments, known as ‘flats’. Houses and flats across the UK generally fall under one of the following categories:
- Detached houses – houses that are not joined together with another house
- Semi-detached houses – two houses that are joined together with separate entrances
- Terraced houses – multiple houses that are joined together with separate entrances
- Flats – single unit inside a larger building, usually on one floor
Properties in the United Kingdom may be similar to properties in your home country, or they may be unfamiliar. If you intend to move with pets, children, or large pieces of furniture, certain factors such as personal preferences and family circumstances will need to be considered when choosing a property. Here are important facts to remember about houses and flats in the United Kingdom:
- Houses and flats in the United Kingdom could be smaller in size than what is common in your country, particularly ‘new build’ properties.
- Few houses and flats in the United Kingdom have ceiling fans and air conditions due to the mild year-round climate.
- Commonly, houses and flats in the United Kingdom will only have a clothing washing machine and come without a clothing tumble dryer. The clothing washing machine is frequently provided as a built-in feature in the kitchen.
Should I buy or rent property in the United Kingdom?
The decision to buy or rent property in the United Kingdom will depend upon your specific circumstances. If you are planning to live in the UK for a short amount of time or find it difficult to find an appropriate flat or house for your budget and personal circumstances, you may want to rent a property for the time being. If you are planning to live in the UK long-term, want to have ownership over your own flat or house, and have the funds available to put down a deposit on a home, you may want to purchase a property. This is a personal decision that should be tailored to your needs and finances.
Remember also that if buying a property, you should carefully consider the rights and obligations of being a homeowner.
Can I buy property in the United Kingdom as a non-British national?
A foreigner can buy a house or flat in the United Kingdom as there currently exist no legal restrictions preventing foreign nationals from purchasing property in the country. As a non-British national, you can purchase property as a primary home, a secondary home, a home for a family member, or an investment property.
Additionally, it is important to note that purchasing property in the United Kingdom does not automatically grant you immigration permission to live in the UK. You should not expect to be able to gain the right to live in the UK through the purchase of a property and note that you could potentially be denied the right to enter the country at any time by a border agent if they so choose. Therefore, you should consider all of the pros and cons of buying a house or flat in the United Kingdom as a foreigner if you do not have the proper immigration permission to reside in the country.
British citizens living and working outside the United Kingdom who want to return to the UK or purchase a flat or home from abroad as an investment may face complexities in the process of purchasing a property. This could include factors such as a lack of residence history, little evidence of a UK credit score, or lack of a permanent job in the UK. However, it is fully possible to purchase a property with the assistance of a specialist conveyancer or solicitor and a knowledgeable mortgage broker or lender. Please note that issues regarding the right to residence will not apply in the case of British citizens living abroad as British citizenship allows for full rights of residence in the United Kingdom.
How much do flats and houses cost in the United Kingdom?
House prices in the UK are subject to a number of different factors, including location. You will need to consider where it is you want to live and then look at the kind of properties that are available within those areas for your price range.
The following locations are considered the cheapest cities in which to buy property in the United Kingdom:
- Aberdeen, Scotland
- Belfast, Northern Ireland
- Liverpool, England
- Glasgow, Scotland
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
Conversely, the following locations are considered the most expensive cities in which to buy property in the United Kingdom:
- Cambridge, England
- Brighton and Hove, England
- London, England
- Oxford, England
- Edinburgh, Scotland
Whilst you can find good deals on properties in most places, you will need to consider your budget and personal preferences when choosing a house or flat to purchase. Please be aware that the housing market in the United Kingdom is currently experiencing highly inflated prices in most locations.
How much do I need to earn to buy a flat or house in the United Kingdom?
The amount of money you need to earn to buy a flat or house in the United Kingdom will depend on the price of the type, size, and location of properties that suit your needs. It will also depend on if you choose to obtain a mortgage to purchase property or have the means to buy the property outright at the point of purchase.
In general, a mortgage lender in the United Kingdom will allow you to borrow the amount of 4.5 times your annual income. In the case of couples, this can be your combined income. For example, if you and your partner earn a combined annual income of £75,000, you will be eligible to borrow up to £337,500 towards the purchase of a house or flat. For some individuals and families, this will be more than enough to buy a property. For others, this will not meet housing prices in a given location. Options for this situation include making offers on less expensive properties in the area or putting down a larger deposit to minimise the required mortgage funds. As the funding required to purchase a property is one of the most important aspects, you should consider this well in advance of putting down an offer.
Professional advice through the house buying process
Several specialists can provide advice and assistance during the home-buying process:
- A lender is someone who can lend you money to buy a house.
- Insurer – can supply you with the building insurance policy you’ll need to buy a house and the contents insurance you’ll need to protect your possessions.
- Legal representative/conveyancer — capable of performing the legal work required to purchase a home.
- A surveyor can analyse the property’s physical condition and provide an unbiased valuation.
Mortgage broker or adviser – can help you decide which mortgage is right for you. Specialist professional or tradesperson – can help you with any maintenance or construction issues that are discovered during the survey.
- Energy assessor – knowledgeable about the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
- The estate agent will assist you with the purchase process and will collaborate with other parties to expedite the sale. But keep in mind that their primary goal is to assist the seller in selling their home.
Under UK anti-money laundering rules, estate agents, lawyers and mortgage lenders have to check your identity in order to perform work for you. ID documents usually include:
- Passport, driver’s licence, or EEA member state identity card are all acceptable forms of identification.
- Valid driver’s licence, a bank or credit card statement, or a utility bill (not more than 3 months old). Phone bills are not accepted as proof of address.
- Proof of finances – including your past three months’ payslips; your employer’s P60 form; and, if you’re self-employed, your tax return and other documents.
- Proof of sources of funds such as sales profits from other properties, savings, inheritance funds, and financial gifts from family and friends.
Checking this information is a legal requirement. Failure to provide the required ID documentation may result in unwanted delays in the home-buying process.
Can I access mortgage financing in the United Kingdom?
The mortgage financing system in the United Kingdom is comprised of more than 50 mortgage lenders across the country, each with their own fees, rates, and conditions of funding.
Mortgage lenders are willing and able to offer mortgages to a wide variety of individuals and their accompanying situations. As a foreigner, you can also obtain a mortgage to purchase a property if you have a satisfactory credit history. However, non-British nationals who are unemployed, do not have a UK bank account, or have less than two years of residency within the United Kingdom could face more obstacles in purchasing a house or a flat in the UK. Please note that it can take between 18 to 40 days for your mortgage application to be processed through a mortgage lender.
What is the process to buy a flat or house in the United Kingdom?
Please note that the processes of buying property in Wales, Northern Ireland, and England differs from the process in Scotland.
The process of buying a flat or house in the United Kingdom entails a number of steps, so you will need to be organised and patient. First, you will need to consider all of the important factors such as location, budget, size, amenities, and aesthetics of a flat or house. You should also consider whether you want to purchase a flat or a house at this time per your personal and financial circumstances.
Next, you should choose a UK-based mortgage broker or mortgage lender who explicitly works with non-British nationals and British citizens living abroad. Your mortgage broker or mortgage lender will be able to give specific financial information relevant to your situation before putting an offer on a property.
Then, you should research and ideally tour properties you might want to buy. Once you find a flat or house, you should make an offer on the property. Due to the current housing market, it is likely that you will not have your offer accepted from the offset. You may need to negotiate with the seller or place offers on several properties before you receive an accepted offer.
After your offer is accepted for a property, you should select and hire a UK-based conveyancer (in Wales, Northern Ireland, or England) or solicitor (in Scotland) who will undertake the necessary legal work involved in the sale of the property. These fees will range between £500 to £1,500 plus Value Added Tax (VAT) fees.
Next, you will need to arrange a property survey to assess the condition of the property. Property survey fees range between £300 to £500 and upwards, depending on the type of survey. If the surveyor determines that the property has significant issues, you may be able to reduce your initial offer on the property or ask the seller to fix issues before the sale finalisation.
After the survey, you will need to submit your final offer, pay the deposit fees, and finalise your mortgage with the mortgage broker or mortgage lender. This is the final stage in the process where you can back out if you decide not to go ahead with your purchase, so consider carefully if you are ready to buy the flat or house.
Finally, your conveyancer or solicitor will exchange contracts with the seller’s conveyancer or solicitor. You will decide upon the time and date to exchange keys and then sign the contract. Congratulations on the purchase of your new property!
How long does it take to buy a flat or house in the United Kingdom?
The process of purchasing a flat or house in the United Kingdom is not always fast, but with proper planning and assistance from qualified professionals, you can find, purchase, and move into your dream home. In general, it takes between two to six months to purchase a property in the UK as a foreign national. You should allow for plenty of time to assure you meet all legal requirements when purchasing a home in the United Kingdom.
How to buy a house in the UK FAQs
How much money do you need to buy a house in the UK?
Your housing options will depend mostly on what you can afford to spend on a property, as well whether you will buy the property outright or if you will need to apply for a mortgage, which will mean you need to provide a deposit and make the monthly mortgage payments.
Can a foreigner buy a house or flat in the United Kingdom?
A foreigner can buy a house or flat in the United Kingdom for residence or investment. You may be able to access a mortgage to purchase the property. However, the purchase of property in the UK does not provide a path to residence as you will need to have proper immigration permission to live in the United Kingdom.
What is the first step to buying a house or flat in the United Kingdom?
The first step to buying a house or flat in the United Kingdom is to determine all of the important factors such as location, budget, size, amenities, and aesthetics of a flat or house. You should also consider whether you want to purchase a flat or a house at this time per your personal and financial circumstances.
How much money do you need upfront to buy a house or flat in the United Kingdom?
The amount of money you need upfront to buy a house or a flat in the United Kingdom will depend upon the price of the property you want to buy. In general, you will need to put down a minimum deposit of 5% of the total property price. For non-British nationals and British citizens living abroad, this is usually a higher percentage.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.