Squatter’s Rights And Adverse Possession In Foreign Markets
“I have been told that there are several countries, including Panama, where squatters can gain rights to your property if you leave even for a short time. Can you tell me if this is true? My husband and I are very interested in living part-time outside the United States but have these concerns.”
— Robyn C., United States
Resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon replies:
“The only place I know where squatters gain rights in a very short time is Costa Rica, where someone can gain minimal rights after as little as 30 days on the land. Other countries, including the United States, have adverse possession laws, whereby rights accrue over many years, typically 10 to 15. The rules vary country to country. You should clarify them for the country where you’re buying with the attorney helping you through the purchase process.
“Generally, adverse possession occurs with vacant land effectively abandoned by the owner. Someone comes along and builds a house or starts farming the property. This isn’t as much of an issue for a house on a small lot or an apartment. If you invest in a vacant piece of land, however, where you aren’t living full-time yourself, you should engage a caretaker, someone who is physically present year-round. This can cost very little (maybe US$200 or US$300 per month, plus a small caretaker’s house where he can live). Indeed, it’s a good idea to have someone looking after your house or apartment for you, as well, whenever you can’t be there yourself.”