The International Persons Landholding Act, 1993
The repeal on the 1st January, 1994 of The Immovable Property (Acquisition by Foreign Persons) Act drew a sigh of relief from many attorneys and real estate agents. For years, these professionals had complained that the Act made the acquisition of land in The Bahamas by foreign persons cumbersome and that it acted as a deterrent to legitimate investment.
The International Persons Landholding Act 1993 encourages foreigners or companies owned by them to purchase a second home in The Bahamas as this area was thought to have the most significant potential. If a foreigner acquires a single family dwelling or vacant land to be used in the construction of such a dwelling then he no longer need obtain a permit from the Government (specifically the Investments Board) prior to the purchase. He need only register the acquisition subsequently with the Investments Board.
Permanent residents of The Bahamas and foreigners who inherit property in the Bahamas are now treated more kindly. In neither case are they to obtain a permit before acquiring land but must merely register subsequently.
The foreigner will require a permit however if (1) the property is undeveloped land and of five acres in size or larger, or (2) the property is not a private residence, or it is not intended for development as such.
Failure to obtain a permit will render the acquisition null and void but the foreigner will be entitled to recover all monies paid in consideration of the acquisition less any legitimate deductions. If a permit has been granted for the acquisition of land and the intended usage changes then the permit must be varied by the Board otherwise it will be invalid.
A registration certificate or permit must be included along with title documents to be recorded in the Registrar General's Office otherwise the recording will be null and void.
The new act is not intended to be a stumbling block for legitimate credit transactions. It provides that licensed banks, trust and insurance companies who acquire an interest in or take possession of property under a Court Order must register that acquisition or fact of possession. Acquisition by way of foreclosure under a mortgage or of land acquired by an authorized foreign state will not require a permit but must be registered.
In line with its policy of actively encouraging foreign investment, the government has included in this Act a provision that a foreigner no longer pays a double rate of stamp duty. He now pays the same single rate as a Bahamian.
Furthermore, a foreigner who owns a home in the Bahamas may now obtain an annual home owner resident card upon application and payment of a fee to the Director of Immigration. The Card authorizes the entry of the holder and his immediate family. Their stay in the Bahamas is authorized provided there are no restrictions for policy reasons or under the Immigration Act.
Schedule of Fees
Application for registration - $25.00
Application for permit - $25.00
Certificate of registration:
(a) the value of the property is $50,000 or less - $50.00
(b) the value of the property is over $50,000 but under $101,000 - $75.00
(c) the value of the property is $101,000 and over - $100.00
Home owner resident card - $500.00
Stamp Duties & Taxes
The Government Stamp Tax on Property Conveyances A graduated tax is payable on the conveyance of all real property in The Bahamas based on the value as follows:
Up to and including $20,000 - 2%
From $20,000.01 to $50,000 - 4%
From $50,000.01 to $100,000 - 6%
From $100,000.01 to $250,000 - 8%
Over 250,000.01 and over - 10%
The usual practice in the Bahamas is for the tax to be shared equally between buyer and seller unless otherwise agreed upon.
Real Property Tax
The statutes provide for a general assessment of real property by the Chief Valuation Officer of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. This applies to Bahamians and non-Bahamians owning real property in The Bahamas not exempt from taxation as indicated in "Remarks". "Bahamian" is defined as a citizen of The Bahamas or as a company registered under The Companies Act in which at least 60% of the shares are owned beneficially by Bahamians. The returns are due on or before December 31 each year and must be filed with The Chief Valuation Officer of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Owners are required to file a Declaration of Real Property.
The return must be signed by the owner and witnessed by an "authorized person", defined as a magistrate, attorney, registered medical practitioner, bank officer, minister of religion, justice of the peace or notary public within The Bahamas or similar person outside the Commonwealth. Such forms may be obtained from the Chief Valuation Officer. Property is assessed before October 15. The Chief Valuation Officer may, if it appears that any property subject to assessment has not been assessed, within the next 10 years, assess the property. The Chief Valuation Officer is also required to publish before October 15, (once in The Gazette and once in a daily newspaper published and circulated in The Bahamas), a notice, stating:
Copies of the assessment lists are available to the public at the Treasury and office of the Chief Valuation Officer;
Assessment notices for each owner of property liable to tax are available at places specified in the notice;
Five days after the notice's publication, a notice of assessment is deemed served on every owner of property subject to tax;
A notice of assessment may be sent by mail to any owner of property by the Chief Valuation Officer after publication in The Gazette;
Any other matters which the Chief Valuation Officer, with the Minister's approval, deems necessary.
Objection to a notice of assessment must be made in writing to the Chief Valuation Officer, within 30 days of service of the notice, stating grounds upon which the objection is made. The Chief Valuation Officer may request that the tax levied be paid in whole or in part at the time of objection.
Taxes are due within 60 days of the date on which the assessment notice is deemed to have been served. Also, payment of one or more quarterly installments must be made within those 60 days. These payments should be made to the Public Treasury in Bahamian or US dollars, preferably as a bank draft or international postal order. Personal cheques are not acceptable.
Rates of Taxes
Effective from January 1, 1994, the rates of tax on real property are as follows:
In respect of owner-occupied property:
The first $100,000 is tax exempt.
On that portion in excess of $100,000 and less than $500,000 the rate of tax is 1% of the market value of the property;
On the portion in excess of $500,000 the tax rate is 1.5% of the market value of the property.
In respect of unimproved property other than unimproved property exempt by virtue of Section 39 of the Real Property Tax Act:
Upon that part of the market value that does not exceed $3,000 a fee of $30.00.
Upon that part of the market value which exceeds $3,000 but does not exceed $100,000 a tax rate of 1% per annum of the market value of the property.
In respect of any other property:
Upon that part of the market value that does not exceed $500,000 a tax at the rate of 1% per annum of the market value;
Upon that part of the market value in excess of $500,000 a tax at the rate of 2% of the market value of the property.
"Market Value is defined as the amount the property would realize, if sold in the open market, without any encumbrances or restrictions. If the return is not filed, the owner is guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof, may be fined up to $3,000. Persons knowingly making false statements may be liable upon conviction to a fine of up to $3,000 or six months imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment. If the tax is not paid on or before the last day the tax becomes due, a 10% surcharge is added.
In the case of an extension of time, the Chief Valuation Officer may postpone the date on which the tax is payable in a particular case, by notice in writing.
Property owned by Bahamians and situated in the Family Islands is exempt from property tax. Property approved as commercial farm land (by the Ministers of Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Finance) is eligible for property tax exemptions.
Also exempt from property tax are:
Unimproved property owned by Bahamians, meaning property without physical additions or alterations, or any works benefitting the land which have not increased the market value thereof by $5,000 or more;
Places of religious worship; school buildings and their gardens and playing areas;
Property owned by foreign governments;
Property owned by foreign nations used for consular offices or residences of consular officials and employees;
Property used exclusively for charitable or public service from which no profit is derived.
What are the costs involved in buying or selling property?
A typical sale, which is called a "Gross Sale", assumes that the vendor will be responsible for the payment of:
The real estate agents commission (if an agent is involved). The commission on the sale of residential developed property is 6% of the gross sales price. The commission on the sale of undeveloped property is 10%.
The Government Stamp Duty (Tax on the conveyance of real property). This is a graduated Tax. The total amount of the Tax is calculated as follows:
When the value of the consideration is less than $20,000, the rate is 2%
When the value of the consideration is equal to or greater than $20,000 and is less than $50,000, the rate is 4%
When the value of the consideration is equal to or greater than $50,000 and is less than $100,000, the rate is 6%
When the value of the consideration is equal to or greater than $100,000 and is less than $250,000, the rate is 8%
When the value of the consideration is equal to or greater than $250,000, the rate is 10%
This tax is split between the vendor and the purchaser
The vendor's legal fees. The legal fees on a sale or purchase are usually 2 1/2 % of the first $500,000, 2% of the next $500,000, 1% of the next $4,000,000 and 1/2% thereafter.
The Purchaser will be responsible for:
1/2 of the Government Stamp Tax as set out above,
The purchaser's legal fees as detailed above. This fee includes the lawyers Opinion on the title to the property.
Recording fees ($3.50 per page) on the conveyance and other closing documents which need to be recorded.
Payment of the permit under the International Persons Landholding Act if applicable.
In the event that the sale is a "Net Sale" the purchaser would be responsible for payment of all of the above-mentioned fees.
What You Need To Know About Immigration
Bahamian immigration rules are designed with the view that everyone wants to immigrate to the tiny Bahamas? which, if this were to occur, would sink under the weight. Consequently, while tourism and investment are encouraged, true immigration is possible but tightly controlled. Visas, work permits and residency permits are available.
Everyone entering The Bahamas MUST fill out an embarkation-disembarkation card usually provided by the travel agent, airline or ship. Non-residents surrender the specified part when departing.
VISAS & PASSPORTS NOT REQUIRED FOR:
Canadian citizens, United Kingdom subjects and those of British Colonies unless stay exceeds 3 weeks.
U.S. Citizens on regularly scheduled airlines, pre-cleared for return at U.S Customs and Immigration at Nassau International Airport. Proof of citizenship is required, however, and may include: U.S. Passport, even if expired; birth certificate, baptismal certificate bearing church seal; original naturalization certificates. Unacceptable documents (except as supporting information): Social security cards, voters registration cards, membership cards, drivers licenses. Visas are not required for U.S. citizens entering as bona fide visitors if stays are eight months or less.
NO VISA REQUIRED:
Persons possessing a valid Bahamian residence or work permit from the Director of Immigration; persons in transit including stateless persons with valid refugee and stateless person documents if they have tickets onward and stay no longer than three days.
Applications should be made to the nearest Bahamian or British Consular Office. Citizens of Haiti and South Africa ALWAYS require visas, even in direct transit by air.
VISAS & PASSPORTS REQUIRED:
All Communist countries, Dominican Republic except in transit, Haiti, South Africa. If in doubt, check with the Immigration Department, P.O. Box N-831. Nassau, The Bahamas. Tel. (242) 322-7530.
Eight months with proper documents including a return ticket and evidence of financial support. Those wishing longer stays may apply for temporary residence to The Director of Immigration Department, P.O. Box N-831. Nassau, The Bahamas. Tel. (242) 322-7530. Visitors and temporary residents may not engage in gainful employment while in The Bahamas.