Can I Get a Mortgage if I Am Not a U.S. Citizen?

By Gina Pogol
Mortgage Credit Problems Columnist

Niles Asks: Dear Gina, I have been working in the United States for some time and expect to continue to do so for several more years. I'd like to take advantage of the low prices for American real estate and buy a home. Is is possible for me to get a mortgage in the U.S.?

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Gina Says:

Dear Niles,

Yes, non-citizens of the United States are allowed to buy real estate, and there are mortgages for them called foreign national home loans. These loans work very much like standard U.S. loans except that the required down payment is likely to be larger, about 30%, and you may need to go to either a large bank or a niche lender to get your mortgage. However, foreign nationals can also get FHA mortgages, with only 3.5% down. To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

1. Citizenship and Immigration Status. Citizenship of the United States is not required for eligibility. When a mortgage loan applicant indicates on the loan application that he or she holds something other than U.S. citizenship, the lender must determine residency status from the documentation provided by the borrower.

2. Lawful Permanent Resident Aliens. For those borrowers with lawful permanent resident alien status, FHA will insure the mortgage under the same terms and conditions as U.S. citizens. That means that you can finance a property in the U.S. with as little 3.5% down and do not need to have a credit rating in the U.S. to be eligible. Evidence of lawful permanent residency is issued by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) within the Department of Homeland Security. You have to produce documentation of your lawful status.

3. Non-Permanent Resident Aliens. Here is where you come in, Niles. FHA will also insure a mortgage made to you, a non-permanent resident alien, if the property will be the your principal residence, you have a valid Social Security number, you have a satisfactory 2-year credit history, and you are eligible to work in the U.S. (evidenced by an Employment Authorization Document issued by BCIS). If your authorization will expire within one year and a prior history of residency status renewal exists, the lender may assume that continuation will be granted. If there are no prior renewals, the lender will have to determine the likelihood of renewal based on information from the BCIS.

One problem many foreign nationals have in the U.S. is that, while they may have a Social Security number, they may have no trade lines on their credit reports. That's okay, no credit is better than bad credit. Your mortgage lender can build a credit report from your payment history with utility companies, landlords, and any other accounts that you have. It costs more to get a credit report of this type, but it's possible to get a mortgage with one. So it's even more important for you than for U.S. citizens to be prompt with your telephone, rent, and electricity payments--your mortgage may depend on it!

Not a lawful U.S. resident? Sorry, non-U.S. citizens with no lawful residency in the U.S. are not generally eligible for mortgages here. You could try to get something from your own country in that case. Good luck with your house hunt, and thanks for writing.

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