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Escape to Florida for Winter Sunshine

Florida boasts over 128 clear and sunny days per year and many more partially sunny days where the sun is only interrupted by brief rainstorms before shining down again.

With winter having the most glorious, ambient temperatures, it’s easy to see why Florida remains a top destination for Brits to visit whether for a week or a winter.

Add a laid-back lifestyle, relatively low cost of living, a common language, and relative ease in direct travel, and it is no wonder that many British overseas property investors look to Florida to spend their money and their winters.

Florida Realtors Association reports that $1.5 billion (£1.16 billion) of Florida real estate was snatched up by British buyers last year, so where are the best places to buy, and how do you go about it?

Central Florida (Orlando, Kissimmee, Clermont, Davenport) is always a popular place as many British buyers purchase holiday homes after perhaps staying in an Orlando area villa and realizing that the cost to purchase a property is still often within budget.

Resort condos range between $140,000 and $380,000 and a 3000+ square foot luxury detached villa with a private pool and all the luxuries you may want can be had for somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000.

Being relatively close to Disney also gives the opportunity to offset costs by placing the villa in a short-term rental programme (as a fully furnished holiday home) to other holidaymakers when not enjoying it themselves.

Another popular option for Florida living is by the beach and because Florida is a peninsula surrounded by water, options are plentiful and based on your taste and budget.

Beachfront towns and cities divide between the West Coast (of Florida) which is on the Gulf of Mexico and home to many quaint laid-back towns and cities with powdery white sandy beaches and calm blue water with few waves.

New Port Richey – a sleepy gulf beach and riverfront town close to Tampa and Sarasota has great shopping and restaurants but retains a small-town feel, while if you travel further south to Naples the prices of property start to rise.

If you want waves, the east coast on the Atlantic is slightly less expensive than the west coast, with the obvious exception of Miami.

There are many options on both coasts including riverfront and on the intra-coastal waterway that can be more affordable options than direct beachfront and just as fantastic.

Property Type

There is a range of property types available in Florida, from detached villas with private pools to resort-style condominiums with shared pools, or even townhouses or semi-detached in between.

It may be worth deciding which Florida area appeals to you first, as that could decide the type of property widely available. Semi-detached or detached villas are most likely to come with a garage if a car is required.

You should also bear in mind that not all cities and communities allow for short-term rental (less than six months usually and in some areas less than one month) so if you need this rental income to help offset bills, check on any restrictions.

You can always do a long-term rental but then you cannot enjoy the property yourself. In most resort areas, there are management companies that can advise on both options and assist with the booking of the home.

Visa Requirements

If planning to spend between one and three months in Florida each year in your new property, then usually the standard 90 days per visit visa waiver (ESTA) will be enough.

However, should you be thinking of escaping the winter for longer periods, it would be advisable to consult with an immigration attorney up front to ensure that you are clear on the rules and understand what is required for such extended stays.

One other consideration when purchasing property in the USA is that you will be required to file income taxes each year, just as any American would.

If you are simply purchasing a holiday home and renting it when you aren’t there, it is a simple form and you should ask your realtor to introduce you to a tax specialist that is accustomed to filing tax returns for non-US residents.

It will cost just a few hundred dollars per year and can be considered part of the running costs of a home. If you are intending to spend extended periods of time in the US (six months per year), then it is advisable to meet with a Certified Public Accountant to determine how best to structure your stay to ensure that you don’t accidentally enter a higher tax bracket.

For British overseas property investors considering a winter retreat the whole process should be relatively simple, and you could soon throw off your winter coat and boots to be replaced with swimsuit and flip flops in the Florida sunshine.

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