Real Estate for Expats: Understanding Property Laws in the UK & UAE

The pay gap at the UK’s largest companies, which measures the difference in earnings between pay packets for chief executives and average employees, rose last year despite upward pressure on wages across the economy.

The excitement of relocating to a new country as an expat is often accompanied by questions about navigating local real estate markets.  The UK and UAE, both major expat hubs, have their own distinct property ownership laws and regulations.

You can look for several popular choices as expats seeking a convenient and lower-maintenance lifestyle in these vibrant urban centres. This article aims to clarify these complexities and empower expats to make well-informed decisions when investing in real estate.

Real Estate Laws for Expats in the United Kingdom

Understanding the UK Property Market

While the UK property market has historically seen strong price growth, however, recent cost of living increases have started to cool things down. Figures from the Land Registry show average prices fell by 1.1% in 2023 according to Wise. Overall, it remains a competitive market, but conditions are improving for buyers.

Freehold vs. Leasehold

When buying property in the UK, you’ll encounter two main ownership types: freehold and leasehold. With freehold, you own the building and the land it sits on outright. Leasehold means you own the right to live in the property for a long period (like 99 years), but the land itself belongs to a freeholder. Leasehold properties often come with additional costs like annual ground rent and service charges for maintaining shared areas. It’s crucial to understand the distinction, as leaseholds can be harder to resell or get mortgages for, especially with shorter remaining terms. Always consult a UK property solicitor for guidance before purchasing a leasehold property.

Foreign Buyer Friendliness

The UK welcomes foreign investment in real estate, with generally minimal restrictions on expats buying property.  However, special permissions might be needed in specific cases like buying a listed (historical) building.

Cost Considerations: Taxes, Fees, and Additional Expenses

Beyond just the purchase price, buying property in the UK comes with many additional costs that can add up. Here are the current cost considerations according to Get Golden Visa.

  • A tiered Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is payable on property purchases. Expect to pay stamp duty land tax on any purchase above £150,000, ranging from 2% to 12%.
  • A deposit between 5-40% is typically required if obtaining a mortgage.
  • Legal and solicitor fees also apply. Budget 1-2% of purchase price.
  • Factor in mortgage arrangement, booking, and valuation fees.
  • Land registry fees are required to transfer deeds to the new owner.
  • Total buying costs often range from 8-12% on top of the sale price.
  • An annual local authority tax (Council Tax) based on the property’s value.
  • Capital Gains Tax is also potentially levied on profits if you sell the property for more than your purchase price.


The UK has a welcoming approach to foreign property investment. Generally, there are minimal restrictions on expats buying property. However, in some specific instances such as buying a listed building (those of historical interest), special permissions might be required.

Buying Property in the UAE as an Expat

Understanding the UAE Property Market

The UAE offers a well-regulated property market for investors.  Expats should understand both freehold and leasehold property options, along with the potential for off-plan purchases, which have their own considerations. Recent changes in rules for foreigners buying property have further opened up opportunities,

Freehold vs. Leasehold

  • Freehold: Expats can own freehold property in designated zones within each emirate. This grants full ownership of both the property and the land it occupies.
  • Leasehold: Ownership for a specified period, typically up to 99 years. Leasehold grants rights to use and profit from the property, but not ownership of the land.
  • Other Ownership Types: Musataha (right to build on land) and usufruct (right to use the property) offer additional options, especially in certain emirates.

Emirate-Specific Regulations

Each emirate has its own rules for expat property ownership.  Always verify a property’s location and the applicable regulations. Here’s a summary according to Bayut’s property ownership guide:

  • Abu Dhabi: Expats mainly purchase apartments and villas. Freehold areas include Yas Island and Saadiyat Island. Ownership options range from usufruct rights to 99-year ownership deeds.
  • Dubai: Known for flexible rules. Expats can buy freehold property ranging from a 1 bedroom apartment to luxurious villas in designated zones like Downtown Dubai.
  • Sharjah: Expats primarily have usufruct rights (up to 100 years) in designated areas with special permissions.

Cost Considerations: Taxes, Fees, and Additional Expenses

Buying property in the UAE comes with costs beyond the purchase price.  Here’s a breakdown of typical expenses as per Bayut’s property ownership guide:

  • Registration Fees: Registration fees for UAE real estate usually fall between 1% and 4% of the property value, depending on the specific emirate. These fees are paid to the relevant land department (e.g., Dubai Land Department). Here’s a summary of registration fees in major UAE emirates:
    • Dubai: 4%
    • Abu Dhabi: 2% (May have additional municipality fees)
    • Sharjah: 2%
  • Agent Fees: Standard commission is usually 2% of the purchase price.
  • Mortgage Fees (if applicable): Arrangement, valuation, and processing fees vary by lender.
  • Legal Representation: Essential for navigating paperwork and local laws. Budget 1-2% of the purchase price.


While the UAE is known for its lack of income tax, expats should be aware that rental income, capital gains on the property, and other real estate-related income might be taxable in their home country.  It’s crucial to consult with tax experts in your home nation to understand potential liabilities.


  • Freehold Zones: Expat ownership is largely restricted to specific freehold zones within each emirate. Diligent verification is essential.
  • Visas and Residency: Property ownership may, under certain conditions, qualify an investor for specific types of residency visas.

Visas and Residency Considerations for Expats in the UK

  • Impact on Eligibility: Whether you’re on a work visa, student visa, or other type, understand how your visa affects your ability to buy UK property. Some visas may not have restrictions, while others could limit your options.
  • Potential for Change: UK visa and residency rules are subject to change. Consult the official UK government website ( or an immigration specialist for the latest updates
  • Visa Opportunities: While the UK currently doesn’t offer property-based investor visas, keep an eye on policies as they might evolve.

Visas and Residency Considerations for Expats in the UAE

  • Impact on Eligibility: The UAE links property ownership rights closely to visa status. Carefully research which visas allow purchases in specific emirates and what type of ownership is permitted (freehold vs. leasehold).
  • Potential for Change: Visa policies in the UAE can change quickly. Always refer to the official UAE government portal ( or consult immigration specialists for up-to-date regulations.
  • Visa Opportunities: Property ownership in the UAE, at specific investment levels, may qualify you for the Golden Visa program. This offers long-term residency (5 or 10 years) and potential benefits like the ability to sponsor family members. Thoroughly investigate the current requirements and thresholds, as these are updated periodically.


Successfully purchasing property as an expat in either the UK or UAE necessitates a thorough understanding of the respective legal systems. By carefully considering the factors outlined in this guide, expats can make confident and informed decisions about real estate investments in their new home country.


Q:  Can I purchase property in the UK as a non-resident?

A: Yes, there are usually no restrictions based on residency. However, mortgage options and tax implications might differ.

Q: Are there areas in the UAE where expats cannot buy property?

A:  Yes, freehold ownership is limited to designated zones. Always confirm a property’s freehold status before proceeding.

Q: Can my property purchase in the UAE lead to a residency visa?

A: Yes, if you invest in a property worth GBP 430,000 or more, you may be eligible for the UAE’s Golden Visa. This visa offers long-term residency (up to 10 years) and benefits such as:

  • Eligible to live, work or study in the UAE
  • No need for a local sponsor
  • Ability to live outside the UAE without losing visa status
  • Eligibility to sponsor family members

Remember: Property laws are subject to change. Always consult the latest official government resources and qualified professionals for the most up-to-date information.