Foreign Sellers: Doing Deals with Non-U.S. Taxpayers


Ever found yourself navigating the intricate process of purchasing property from a foreign seller? If yes, you’d agree that the journey is often filled with many complexities and legal intricacies, not least because the seller is located in a different country with a unique legal and financial system. From getting documents signed and validated, ensuring they’re correctly recorded, to managing tax obligations, there’s a lot to juggle. In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into these critical stages to help you understand what to expect and how to handle real estate transactions with foreign sellers smoothly.

Getting the Documents Signed

In the international world of real estate transactions, the validation of documents is crucial, especially when they involve foreign sellers. The seal and signature of a Notary on a document need to be validated so they can be accepted in a foreign country. This is where apostilles and authentication certificates come into play.

Apostilles, used when public documents are transferred between countries that are party to the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961, serve to streamline the traditionally complex process of authenticating documents. This Apostille is issued by the Secretary of State’s office or Notary commissioning agency, then attached to and sent along with the notarized documents. Notaries themselves do not issue Apostilles, and this process occurs post-notarization without requiring further action.

For example, if you’re a U.S. citizen purchasing property in France, a country that is a member of the Hague Convention, the documents prepared by the French Notary would need an Apostille to be accepted in the U.S. This is to ensure that the document is recognized as valid in both the originating and receiving countries. One alternative is to visit a local embassy in the foreign country to have the documents executed, ideally through a notary appointment. However, acquiring an embassy appointment can be challenging due to limited slots. Therefore, planning ahead is crucial to secure these appointments in time.

Getting the Documents Recorded

When it comes to recording these documents, the County Register of Deeds plays a significant role as they are the ultimate authority on what they will accept. Before a foreign seller executes any documentation, it’s wise to consult with the Register of Deeds to ensure the paperwork’s acceptability for recording. This approach mitigates the risk of having the documents rejected after they have been notarized and helps circumvent any potential setbacks.

Withholding Taxes

A complex aspect of real estate transactions with foreign sellers is handling taxes. In usual transactions, the attorney will send a 1099 to the IRS, notifying them of the proceeds of the property sale. However, when the seller is not a U.S. taxpayer, the buyer is tasked with withholding the taxes, making them essentially the withholding agent. The buyer then must withhold 15% of the sale price and fill out special forms before submitting this amount to the IRS within 20 days of closing.

Foreign sellers might not favor this arrangement, but the U.S. law mandates it. If sellers disagree, they must apply for a U.S. taxpayer ID and file the necessary paperwork with the IRS. Sometimes, sellers may not make a profit from the sale or may need to provide additional funds to meet these obligations due to this withholding requirement.

Understanding these aspects is critical when navigating real estate transactions with foreign sellers, ensuring smooth processes and compliance with the law.

Conducting real estate transactions with foreign sellers is a multifaceted process that requires careful planning and a keen understanding of international protocols. From securing the right documentation, notarizing them correctly, to handling taxes judiciously, every step matters. While the journey may seem daunting, being equipped with the right information and a clear roadmap can streamline the process.

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Thomas & Webber Law at the Lake

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