I'm a Noncitizen Interested in Buying a Home in the US. Can I Get a Mortgage?

For noncitizens living and working in the United States, home ownership is not quite so farfetched a prospect as you might think.

Let’s assume you’ve gotten all of the basic documentation requirements taken care of—that you’re a law abiding, taxpaying permanent resident in possession of a valid green card, or a law abiding, taxpaying non-permanent resident in possession of a valid work visa. (Mortgage lenders, it should be noted, will look none too kindly on applications for financing without those essential documents in tow.)

With either of these essential documents in your possession, what are your next steps? How do you go about getting a mortgage here in the US as a noncitizen?

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Explore a range of lending options before you commit

We’d like to begin with a recommendation, one that’s applicable to virtually every homeowner, not just those who happen to be noncitizens.

It’s always a good idea to do a bit of research, to explore what lending options are available through local and regional mortgage providers, as well as organizations that offer mortgages nationally and internationally. In essence, what we’re saying is this: don’t commit too soon.

You want to find a lender that understands your unique needs as a homebuyer, one that is amenable to financing your project, in spite of any limitations you may have—whether those limitations involve an abbreviated credit history, no credit history, a lack of income-establishing documentation available in English, or some other concern.

Start with a community-based lender—a small bank or credit union located in an area with a high immigrant population. They will have experience dealing with past clients in your situation and will be better equipped to address your unique needs as a homebuyer.

Get all of your other required documents in order

You’re going to want to have your passport handy, as well as your Form I-551 (colloquially known as a “green card”) or your work visa, of course. But what else do you need, aside from proof of your lawful residency status, in order to qualify for a mortgage on your home-to-be?

  • Credit reports – These can be difficult to secure for recent arrivals to the US. But without a report furnished by one of our three major credit companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), you could face an uphill battle securing that mortgage.
  • Proof of assets – This is another tricky bit of documentation. Unless you do business with an international bank that has branches in the US, establishing proof of assets—not to mention proof of income, without something like a W2—will also be difficult, particularly if the documents in question aren’t available in English.
  • An appraiser’s report – These aren’t always required, but are fairly easy to secure, compared with the other reports and required documents listed above. Banks typically ask that you get an appraisal of your home-to-be so they have an idea of the property value before they issue, or begin to consider issuing, a loan.

Additional tips, pointers, and recommendations for noncitizens considering mortgage options

Immigrants and their families own 11.2% of homes in the US, a percentage that seems to be increasing steadily with every passing year. (The numbers back this up: according to a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly 40% of the net growth in homeowners from the years 2000 to 2010 was the result of immigrant populations.)

You’re joining a vibrant, economically empowered, and rapidly expanding population here in one of the greatest countries on earth—you have good reason to be excited. Here are a few final tips, pointers, and recommendations to bear in mind as you pursue your mortgage options here domestically:

  • There are mortgage options available for immigrants through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), but you will have to supply them with a valid Social Security number as well as an Employment Authorization Document to qualify—things that a private lender might not necessarily require
  • Another thing about that FHA mortgage option: you do not qualify if you are only going to use the home infrequently, as a vacation spot; this mortgage option is intended for those purchasing primary residences only
  • Expect a substantial down payment requirement from your lender, regardless of where you intend to live or who you’re borrowing money from—lenders are not able to sell off these noncitizen mortgages on secondary markets, so they recoup their losses by asking for sizable payments upfront (for the record, some sources report down payment requirements from their lenders as high as 30% or more)

It may be difficult, but it’s worth it. Owning a home is one of the most secure and satisfying ways to invest in your future, and your family’s future. Best of luck on your adventure in American home buying!