Table of Contents
Owning a vacation home means any time can be vacation time. But with real estate prices and mortgage rates surging in the United States, your dream second home might be waiting for you outside the country’s borders.
Investing in a residence abroad might initially have its legal challenges — always work with a local certified real estate agent and lawyer on closing the deal. But it also comes with many perks: being exposed to a new culture, always having a private place to vacation that you don’t have to share with anybody, and in some cases, you could also get a second citizenship. Not to mention that investing in real estate abroad can also bring in some additional income should you decide to rent it.
To help you narrow down your search for an affordable vacation residence abroad, we spoke to professional brokers around the globe and rounded up eight of the best, most affordable, and dreamiest destinations to focus your house hunt on.
Over the past few years, Portugal has become a vacation hotspot. The country receives over 300 days of sunshine and treats visitors to picture-perfect golden sand beaches, delicious cuisine (and wine), charming small villages, and fascinating culture. The country’s Algarve region in the south has emerged as a top second-home vacation destination thanks to its stunning landscapes, modest cost of living, and many outdoor recreational opportunities.
“The most popular areas for real estate investment in the Algarve are typically in or near coastal places like Vilamoura, Carvoeiro, Lagos, and Albufeira, where there is a high concentration of resorts, golf courses, and other amenities. However, there are also many smaller towns and villages in the region that offer more affordable options for buyers looking for a quieter lifestyle,” Sandra Vicente of Portugal Sotheby’s International Realty told Travel+Leisure, adding that potential buyers will find a variety of property types — from older houses to modern new apartments and villas.
Divided between France and the Netherlands, this picturesque Caribbean island offers an eclectic blend of cultures and traditions, set against the stunning backdrop of its white sand beaches and lush mountains. (The island is known as St. Martin in English, Saint-Martin in French, and St. Maarten in Dutch.) But for those who’d like to visit St. Martin beyond the occasional weekend getaway, the island offers a lot of options to buy a vacation home without breaking the bank. St. Maarten Sotheby’s International Realty agent Harrison Drouin-Reed told T+L there are a few reasons for this, including a high inventory of properties, competition between the markets on the island’s two sides, and tax incentives.
“According to data from the Caribbean Real Estate Association, the median price of a single-family home in St. Maarten is around $550,000, which is lower than other popular Caribbean destinations like the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands,” Drouin-Reed told T+L. He explained that potential buyers could find condos for as low as $200,000 on the Dutch side of the island and about $107,000 for a small studio on the French side, where prices generally tend to be a bit higher.
As Greece’s largest island, Crete offers plenty of picture-perfect sea vistas, dramatic landscapes, and off-the-beaten path destinations where vacationers can enjoy privacy and tranquility.
“Crete is also renowned for its rich, varied history and cultural background, and it is also home to some of the most impressive ancient ruins in the world and museums and cultural attractions guaranteed to satisfy the more culturally inclined,” Marios Pavlakis, an Athens-based real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, shared with T+L, pointing out that Knossos, dubbed Europe’s oldest city, sits just outside Crete’s capital city Heraklion.
Pavlakis explained that even though the island’s real estate market is experiencing a surge in interest, you can still find a bargain, especially in areas such as the south of Crete that draws fewer crowds. According to him, the median price per square meter is 6,429 euros (or about $636 per square foot) but can go as low as 2,727 euros (or $270 per square foot).
This small east-European country — it is roughly the size of Tennessee — is steeped in history and is home to over 230 miles of scenic Black Sea coastline, stunning mountain ranges (including the highest peak on the Balkan peninsula), and one of Europe’s oldest wine regions. The country is part of the European Union but has not yet joined the eurozone (the national currency is the Bulgarian lev), and it offers the second most affordable cost of living in the EU. And that includes real estate.
According to Hristo Angelkov of Bulgaria Sotheby’s International Realty, the country has the lowest average price per square meter in Europe — between $1,200 and $3,500, which converts to about $140 to $325 per square foot depending on the type and location of the property. Some popular areas are along the northern and southern Black Sea coast (in the vicinity of the towns of Burgas and Varna), as well as the winter resorts of Bansko, Borovets, and Pamporovo. (Bansko is a particularly sought-after destination as it is home to world-class ski facilities and is only a couple of hours away from the capital Sofia and about the same distance from some of Northern Greece’s most beautiful beaches.)
“In Sicily, and especially in the west, there is a lot of interest in small villages, where time is marked by a much slower rhythm, different from the big city, the cost of living is lower, but the quality — in some respect — is better,” Diletta Giorgolo, head of residential Italy Sotheby’s International Realty, told T+L, adding that authenticity, unspoiled nature, culture, and its distinct cuisine mark life on the Mediterranean’s largest island off the coast of southern Italy.
He explained that real estate prices for city properties tend to be lower than those for out-of-town residences, offering more privacy. Emerging markets such as Menfi, Sciacca, and Cefalù are more budget-friendly than the more established ones in Noto, Taormina, and Palermo.
“In the city, prices start from 2,000 to 3,000 euros per square meter, and a 150-square-meter property can range from 350,000 to 500,000 euros,” he added, which is between $372,870 and $532,673.
According to a report on emerging second-home markets, Eastern Europe, including Montenegro, sees an unprecedented increase in property sales. And it’s easy to see what makes one of Europe’s smallest countries a vacation haven, especially for sailing enthusiasts and yacht owners.
“Along with its stunning scenery and unique combination of sea and mountains in a very small area, Montenegro offers great weather and a relaxed lifestyle with an emphasis on the outdoors. In the spring, it is even possible to swim in the sea and ski in the mountains on the same day,” Niko Laković, managing partner at Montenegro Sotheby’s International Realty, told T+L.
The country’s breathtaking swathe of Adriatic coastline and its top-notch Porto Montenegro marina in the Bay of Kotor has transformed it into one of the best-emerging sailing destinations in Europe. And with several high-end developments launched in recent years — most notably, Luštica Bay and Portonovi, now home to a One&Only resort — Montenegro is quickly becoming a go-to vacation destination.
Laković added that you are better off searching outside major developments to find a budget-friendly property. For example, a 1,044 square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with unobstructed sea views and a private rooftop terrace in the coastal town of Tivat will set you back 360,000 euros, or about $383,240.
Our southern neighbor is a true second-home haven with its white-sand beaches, vibrant dining scene, rich culture, and history. The Cancun and Playa del Carmen regions have long been a magnet for vacationers, but they are now also home to a growing community of vacation homeowners and ex-pats thanks to the easy access from the U.S. (multiple airlines have daily direct flights to Cancun International Airport), growing inventory, good infrastructure, and overall excellent quality of life that doesn’t come with an eye-popping price tag.
“Every year, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum generate around ten thousand transactions, ranking as one of the ten fastest growing real estate markets worldwide,” Liszett Torres, general manager of Riviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty, told T+L, explaining that properties in the area make for an excellent investment.
She added that studios go for as low as $150,000, while one- and two-bedroom apartments start in the $200,000 to $280,000 range, and houses start around $500,000.
With over a thousand picture-perfect islands dotting the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam, Thailand is the epitome of a picture-perfect beach destination. Add to that the fantastic food, friendly people, investor-friendly laws, and low cost of living (and real estate), and you get why so many expats have made it their second home.
Here, prices for vacation homes vary based on location and amenities, but Miss Abhista “Maeo” Patintu of List Sotheby’s International Realty explained that buyers can find a villa with a pool in the famous Samui islands starting from $202,000. She added that another sought-after destination by U.S. citizens is Phuket.