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The provisions related to owning of an immovable property outside India by a resident Indian, are governed by the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
Owning an immovable property
The FEMA restricts Indian residents from owning any immovable property outside India, without a specific or special permission from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). However, this restriction is not applicable to two types of resident Indians, who are allowed to own an immovable property. The first category consists of people, who are not Indian citizens but reside in India and own an immovable property outside India. The second category includes residents of India, who acquired the property on or before 8th July 1947.
Fresh acquisition of immovable property by an Indian resident
The RBI has given permission to certain categories of people to acquire immovable property outside India. The immovable property can be acquired either through gift or inheritance, or it may be purchased for a consideration. All residents of India are allowed to receive the immovable property, either through gift or by way of inheritance, from a person who has purchased it on or before 8th July 1947. Similarly, a resident is also allowed to receive an immovable property from a person, who had either acquired such property while he was resident outside India, or had inherited the same from a person who was resident outside India at that time.
Indian residents are also allowed to purchase immovable property outside India, subject to certain conditions on the payment of the consideration. The consideration for the purchase can be paid by the Indian resident, from the balance held in his Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) account. A resident Indian is also allowed to buy an immovable property of any value outside India and remit the consideration, within the limits laid down under the Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS). The quantum of remittance under the LRS should not exceed USD 2.5 lakhs, every year. This limit is applicable to all the transactions taken together, like overseas education, travel, maintenance of relatives outside India, expenses on medical treatment outside India, etc., and includes the purchase of immovable property.
Lease and other avenues
A resident of India is also allowed to acquire an immovable property outside India under a lease, for a period that does not exceed five years at a stretch. The property so acquired by a person who is resident in India, can be gifted to any of his relatives, including spouse, brother, sister and any lineal ascendant or descendant of the person. If your case does not fall in any of the above categories, you can still buy an immovable property outside India by taking a special permission from the RBI.
Who is a resident of India?
The definition of a ‘resident’ under the FEMA is different from that in the Income Tax Act, 1961, where the period of actual stay determines your residential status. In the FEMA, the intention to stay is the determining factor. A person becomes a non-resident on the day he leaves India, if he leaves for the purpose of employment, business, or for any other reason with an intention to stay outside India for an uncertain period. Likewise, a person coming to India will become a resident, irrespective of his citizenship, if he comes for the purpose of employment, business or for any other reason with an intention to stay for an uncertain period.
(The author is a tax and investment expert, with 35 years’ experience)