A Primer on Buying Property in Fiji

A great number of readers have inquired about purchasing real estate in Fiji and becoming a resident. As the Australian, New Zealand and North American Baby Boomer cohort eases towards retirement and individuals seek second homes far from the beaten path, Fiji has become increasingly popular. This is in large part due to Fiji's comparatively inexpensively priced land vs. that of destinations such as Tahiti and Hawaii.

It's easiest way for a foreigner to purchase land in Fiji is to become a permanent resident. (This does not mean giving away your passport). You don't have to be a permanent resident (you can actually stay in the country for up to 6 months just on a tourist visa) but it's the most expedient thing to do if you plan to spend long periods of time there. Most foreigners who own property can obtain a renewable 3-year permanent residency.

Fiji may still be one of the better land investment opportunities in the Pacific despite prices having gone up significantly over the past four years.

There are three types of land in Fiji: native trust land, crown land, and freehold. Native land can be leased but never sold, and as such, it is usually considered a can of worms to develop anything on native land. Crown land is basically government land. Freehold property is the same as fee simple; it can be bought and sold freely and owned forever. Whenever looking at freehold land, however, always insist on seeing the Freehold Title and researching through a competent attorney here whether the title is indeed free and clear, with no caveats, mortgages, or other legal hassles attached to it.

If you're going to purchase freehold property it's a good idea to go through a reputable real estate agency, or a real estate development company where you have the security of both freehold ownership and assistance in the buying process. The last thing you want to deal with in Fiji is a legal dispute. Chances are, you're not going to come out on top.

Only about 9% of all land in Fiji is freehold, but Vanua Levu and much of the North is blessed with a large amount of that freehold land. (When the British were in power in Fiji, they created large chunks of freehold land to entice "European" farmers to Fiji to help colonize and farm; many of those freehold plantations were located on Taveuni, Vanua Levu and some of the outlying islands.) There is quite a bit of land for sale particularly in Vanua Levu, the second largest of the Fiji Islands with a wide variety of prices, accessibility and acreage. On Viti Levu's Coral Coast there are residential parcels available that even have electricity supplied to the lots.

Here are some key factors to consider when buying land in Fiji. Based on these factors, it might be helpful if you think about your priorities:

1. Utilities vs. no utilities: While looking at land, remember that the farther away from a large town the property, the less likely to have access to any utilities. Most people who live 10-90 minutes out of town must deal with collecting their own water (through rainfall or by finding springs); and generators. There are a few notable exceptions where developments provide electricity as part of the purchase. If you're fortunate enough to live close to an influential member of government you may be lucky enough have all utilities you need.

2. Proximity to town, shopping, and airport: There is a plethora of beautiful property available in Fiji but some of it is an hour or more away from town. This becomes a fairly daunting factor given the deplorable condition of some of the dirt roads. Going to town for shopping or merely socializing with friends who live any distance away can be a real journey.

3. Large vs. small property: There are entire islands for sale here (US$1.5 million and more), large 300+ acre coconut plantations (US$750,000 and more), then down to the one-acre lots that have been chiseled out of larger properties (with prices ranging from US$30,000 per acre to $80,000).

4. Remote vs. nearby civilization: Some properties are located near towns or even cities whereas others are quite remote from anything except traditional Fijian villages or settlements. While the dream of living on a remote island is tempting, many buyers decide after some research that for part-time living or to own a vacation home that can be rented out, it is better to live in or near a more populated place, where logistics are manageable and costs are lower.

5. Beach vs. hill/view lots: Most people THINK they want beachfront, but it is not always the most desirable. By law, no beach is considered private in Fiji; indigenous people always have a right of access to beaches. A friend of mine has a house on beachfront property, and while he has fenced the property, he often has other folks on his beach. (Obviously, this would depend on how close you live to a native village: if your beachfront property were far away from other communities, this wouldn't be the case.) Furthermore, beachfront property tends to be buggier and can be hotter. Some of the hillside properties available, however, offer more privacy, seclusion, cooling trade winds, less mosquitoes and other insects, and yet still might be only a few minutes' walk to the nearest beach.

6. Home vs. land purchase: While it would be perfect to just find that already built house on the beach, the dire shortage of homes in Fiji means that you'll always pay somewhat of a premium for a house that is already constructed. In many cases (if you are not under time pressure) it is easier and much less expensive to buy the land and have a local company build a custom or kit home for you. Most builders are from Australia and New Zealand and know their trade well.

7. Accessibility: Land is sometimes sold that has no legitimate road access to it. The question of access should be addressed on the back of the Freehold Title by way of a legal easement that sets forth your way of access. Without this, you could be in for trouble. This is especially important when looking at the more remote properties. This problem can be circumvented when you purchase from a development company that guarantees road access to your property, and in many cases provides road maintenance for the development.

Vintage Fiji Tourism Posters courtesy of Dame Jane Resture.

A Primer on Buying Property in Fiji, Robert Bryce