Foreign Investors Acquiring Property
Acquisition of Real Estate in Trinidad
In Trinidad, the Aliens (Landholding) Act, Ch. 58:02 was repealed in 1990 and the Foreign Investment Act, 1990 relaxed the restrictions on ownership of real estate by foreigners and improved the conditions for foreign investment.
Generally, the Foreign Investment Act, 1990 (sections 6 & 7) allows foreign investors in Trinidad (including individuals and companies) to purchase without a foreign investment licence:
- up to one (1) acre of land for residential purposes; and
- up to five (5) acres for commercial purposes.
In addition, a foreign investor may do the following without a foreign investment licence:
- incorporate a private company in Trinidad and Tobago to hold the real estate; or
- acquire all the shares in a private company incorporated in Trinidad and Tobago where the sole asset that the private company owns is real estate once such real estate does not exceed the limit set out above.
However, the legislation requires that the purchase price for the acquisition by the foreign investor must be paid in an internationally traded currency through a bank or other entity authorized by law as a dealer in that currency. One exception to this is in the case of a company incorporated in Trinidad and Tobago where such consideration is financed out of capital reserves or retained earnings.
Additionally, the foreigner must, through his Attorney/Agent, deliver to the Minister of Finance, a Notice specifying the particulars of the transaction, including:
- the foreigner’s name;
- nationality and any former nationality;
- the purpose for which the property is acquired;
- the name and address of Vendor;
- the date and registration particulars of the deed and/or instrument by which he became the owner of the property; and
- evidence of his/her payment in foreign currency.
It should also be noted that the Minister of Finance may by Order prescribe areas in Trinidad in which a foreign investor may not acquire land without obtaining a license pursuant to section 6(2) of the Foreign Investment Act, 1990. Currently, however, no areas in Trinidad have yet been identified. Foreigners may exercise the option to acquire either leasehold or freehold title to land sought.
There are additional exemptions under section 8 of the Foreign Investment Act, 1990 which prescribe those instances where land may be acquired by a foreign investor in Trinidad without a license; these are as follows:
- on an annual tenancy or for any less interest for the purposes of his residence, trade or business but not exceeding five (5) acres of land in all;under an intestacy, or as a beneficiary or executor under a Will, for a period of one (1) year from the date of the death of the testator or intestate, or for such extended time as the President may grant;
- in pursuance of his/her rights to foreclose or enter into possession as a mortgagee for a period of one (1) year from the acquisition of such land or for such extended time as the President may grant;
- as a judgment creditor for a period of one (1) year from the date of his acquisition of the land or for such extended time as the President may grant; and
- jointly with his spouse, where that spouse is a citizen of a Caricom member country who is resident in Trinidad and Tobago within the meaning of section 5 of the Immigration Act, (Chapter 18:01).
Mortgages are granted primarily upon satisfactory evidence as to the value of the property and the fact that the title to the property is free from all encumbrances.
If a foreign investor wishes to purchase land in excess of the stipulated acreages mentioned above, (s)he must apply for a licence from the President of Trinidad and Tobago in order to do so.
This application must indicate inter alia the proposed land use and must comply with the controls and restrictions of the relevant planning and environmental authorities. The application form for a License is available for download from the website of the Ministry of Finance and can be found by clicking on the following link: “Application Form to Hold Interest in Property under the Foreign Investment Act, 1990”.
Acquisition of Real Estate in Tobago
All foreign investors desirous of purchasing any land in Tobago are required to obtain a licence effective as of February 16, 2007 pursuant to The Foreign Investment (Tobago Land Acquisition) Order, 2007.
In the 2009/2010 Budget, the Government indicated the need to spur foreign investment and economic activity in Tobago. The Government held extensive discussions with the Tobago House of Assembly and other stakeholders with a view to:
- protecting the land ownership rights of nationals of Trinidad and Tobago; and
- reducing the processing time for the grant of licences.
Six regions on the island of Tobago were designated as tourism-related development areas:
- Arnos Vale and Culloden Estate;
- Bacolet Estate;
- Buccoo and Golden Grove Estate;
- Englishman’s Bay;
- Lowlands (including the Tobago Plantations Development) and Diamond Estate; and
- Mount Irvine and Grafton Estate.
In these areas the application process is known to be very lengthy.