The Australian Government (based in
Canberra, Australia’s capital city) is aware of the fact
that some of Australia’s citizens are cautious about foreign
individuals or companies buying residential real estate
(defined as all Australian real property, including vacant
It wants to ensure that the foreign real estate ownership
it does allow is of benefit to the community and in keeping
with the community’s needs. Therefore, the Australian
Government insists that all applications from foreign
citizens or companies to buy residential real estate (either
already developed - such as houses and apartments - to be
developed, to be redeveloped or existing only at plan stage)
are put before the
Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), one of its
This advisory board, which reports to Treasury, looks at
all applications by to purchase residential real estate, no
matter what the value of the intended purchase is, by anyone
who is NOT an Australian citizen, an approved migrant, a
permanent resident of Australia, a foreign national holding
a permanent visa or a person who, despite being a foreign
citizen, is entitled to permanent residence status in
Australia, should they take it up, such as a citizen of New
Zealand. These people are holders of "special category
There are many different classes and categories of visas.
Click here for an overview of the various visa classes which
can be applied for by foreign citizens.
There are usually no problems when the foreign spouse of
an Australian citizen applies to be allowed to purchase
property with his/her spouse on a 50/50 or "Joint Tenant"
basis, but there still must be an application to the FIRB.
How long does an FIRB review take?
Thirty days is needed for an application to be looked at
by the FIRB. There are no "general" approvals available. An
approval can only be granted on a specifically nominated
property. Therefore, real estate contracts with foreign
citizens must contain a clause saying that going ahead with
the purchase is conditional upon getting FIRB approval and
that 30 days must be allowed for that approval to be granted
What influences an FIRB decision?
If the FIRB feels that the residential real estate in
question is only being purchased by a foreign citizen or
company just for the purpose of renting it out, or because
the purchaser wants to speculate on the property’s future
value, permission to purchase will be refused.
On the other hand, approval IS usually granted to foreign
applicants in the following circumstances:
- A. Where the applicant is residing in Australia on
the basis of a Temporary Entry Visa (with more than 12
months validity) and is wanting to buy a residence for
themselves - as long as the property is sold when the
person no longer lives in Australia Applicants who are
entitled to purchase on these terms include students
over 18 studying at a recognised tertiary institution
for more than one year who need accommodation, but a
general limit of $300,000 applies to the value of any
such property acquired by a student temporarily resident
in Australia. Other applicants entitled to purchase are
long stay retirees and people in Australia for work
reasons who need accommodation. Again, any property must
be sold when these categories of buyers no longer live
This category does not cover people with visitor or
- B. Where a company from a foreign country wants to
provide housing for its senior executives while they are
posted to Australia for more than 12 months - again, as
long as the property is sold when the employee is no
longer living in Australia. These senior executives have
to be specifically named. Usually, the purchase of two
houses per company are permitted.
The purchase of another residence, such as a "weekender"
for recreational use, is not approved under any of the above
Buying a property from a developer
Apartments or townhouses in a proposed development, or in
a development which has just been completed but has not yet
been occupied or sold, can be sold to foreign investors as
long as the developer applies in advance for this to be
allowed. If a foreign citizen buys a property in this way
(often called "buying off the plan"), the property, when
built, can be rented out, sold or used by the purchaser.
However, foreign interests cannot hold more than half the
apartments or townhouses in any one development.
You should ask to see a copy of the developer’s approval
letter to ensure that FIRB approval exists for sales to
You should be aware that, on purchase of any apartment,
new or old, you are liable to pay regular levies (payable
weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually) to cover the costs
of the property and grounds that all the residents use. A
group known as the body corporate, made up usually of your
fellow owners, is responsible for collecting levies for two
funds, called an Administration Fund and a Sinking Fund.
These funds go towards servicing the lifts, repainting the
building, lighting the hallways - the various maintenance
jobs that benefit all residents. If you are buying into an
apartment block with, for example, a gym, swimming pool,
rooftop tennis court and so on, levies will be comparatively
If you are planning to buy an apartment, your legal
representative will need to make a Strata Records
Inspection. This will outline how much the levies are at
the time of purchase. Such an inspection will also tell
you the rules governing use of common facilities,
whether or not pets are permitted as so forth.
Purchasing within a resort
If the Australian Treasurer nominates that a particular
resort is an Integrated Tourism Resort, then both residences
and vacant land can be purchased within that resort by
anybody without any FIRB assessment taking place. The seller
of any such property would make this status known to all
To be considered an Integrated Tourism Resort, a place
must fulfil certain conditions, such as covering at least 50
hectares of land within defined boundaries, have extensive
recreational facilities, and so forth.
Commercial real estate
FIRB approval must be sought by any foreign individual or
company which wants to purchase existing commercial and
non-residential real estate valued at $5 million or more.
They are normally approved unless considered "contrary to
the national interest".
If the commercial and/or non-residential real estate in
question does not yet exist but is at the development or
major redevelopment stage, permission to purchase is usually
given, unless the purchase is considered "contrary to the
Construction must start within a specified period of
Migrating to Australia?
If you are interested in buying property in
Australia because you want to migrate to Australia on a
Permanent Residence Visa (with a view to taking up
Australian citizenship at a later date), it is perhaps
premature to investigate the purchase of property before
your eligibility for a PRV is assessed. PRVs are only
granted after assessment of many factors. Some of these are
nomination by an employer, affiliations with family members
already living in Australia and the business skills you can
Applications to FIRB
Applicants must write to:
The Executive Member
Foreign Investment Review Board
c/- The Treasury
Canberra ACT 2600
and request a Form 3 Notice under Section 26 of the
Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975.
The type of information required by FIRB includes your
name, address, nationality, type of property you are
interested in, a copy of the contract, your passport number
and other details relevant to the type of category of
purchase you want to make.
If, for example, you want to buy under one of the
temporary resident categories outlined before, the FIRB will
want to see a signed statement that the residence will not
be rented out, and will be sold to Australian or other
eligible purchasers when you leave Australia.
Your legal advisor can let you know exactly what
information is required by FIRB, or you can make a general
enquiry by phoning 61 6 263 3795 or faxing 61 6 263 2940.
If FIRB approval is given for a foreign citizen or
company to buy vacant land, or an existing property which is
to be converted into residential property (eg a former
factory or warehouse), the purchasers must start the
building or refurbishing work within a year of receiving
approval to purchase and there would need to be proof that
the building/refurbishing will be of assistance to the
community and its housing needs.
Fines on individuals of up to $A50,000 and on companies
of up to $A250,000 can be imposed if there is no
notification for prior approval received by the FIRB and
property is nevertheless bought.