The 20 Best Places in the World to Buy Real Estate in 2024

The Best Places in the World to Buy Real Estate
The most in-demand destinations are walkable, urban, and coastal… and Los Cabos has it all.|©iStock/Ferrantraite

Baja California is in the early stages of a 30-year upswing. Lesser-known areas of central and northern Portugal are poised to boom. Demand is skyrocketing for high-end properties in walkable beach cities in France, Spain, and Mexico

Those are some of the takeaways from Real Estate Trend Alert’s (RETA) inaugural International Real Estate Index.

I founded RETA 15 years ago with one goal: to give like-minded folks a way to pool our buying power and profit from the best real estate deals—in the best markets—around the world.

Over the past decade and a half, my team and I have scoured the globe to find those markets and those deals.

Add it up, and we’ve spent months—sometimes even years—on the ground in world-class destinations, such as Cabo San Lucas, the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Portugal’s southern Algarve region, the Costa del Sol in Spain, and the south of France.

We’re also constantly looking for the "next places." In just the past year, we’ve scouted Portugal’s Azores islands, Montenegro, the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, and Spain’s "green zones," to name but a few.

Every December and January, we’re all bombarded with a cavalcade of end-of-year lists and forward-looking best-of rankings. In the real estate space and beyond, most are either thrown together by uninformed writers or researchers who look at macroeconomic trends… but have little to no firsthand market experience.

Property indexes will often rank major economic and financial centers like San Francisco, London, or Singapore. But established markets such as these typically have very high entry and holding costs and, as a result, low rental yields. Moreover, when capital appreciation does occur, it tends to happen incrementally.

That’s why, after 15 years of scouting, and delivering hundreds of RETA deals, I’m ready to unveil our first-ever ranking of the best places in the world to buy real estate… one that takes a different approach.

To create the RETA index, we looked at destinations that excel in at least two of the following areas: value for money… growth potential (and thus the potential to deliver strong capital appreciation)… strong appeal to short-term and long-term renters from home and abroad… and excellent quality of life.

Destinations were ranked based on 10 categories until we arrived at the top 20. (You’ll find the complete list of rankings by categories and our categories explained below.)

In every case, I or a member of my team has investigated the market in person. And for a considerable number of them, we predicted their rise

Today, I’m giving you an in-depth look at the top five real estate markets, starting with a few key patterns that emerge from the overall results…

Key Index Takeaways

Best Places in the World to Buy Real Estate in 2024
Portugal, But Not as We Know It

Portugal features prominently on the index, with three markets in the top 20, but absent are the Algarve and Lisbon, the country’s traditional bastions of foreign real estate investment.

There’s an important reason for this… After the global financial crisis, Portugal enacted a number of policies to attract foreign capital… such as offering golden visas and abolishing rent controls.

The Algarve, and even Porto, are now basically maxed out. You can still buy in these markets as lifestyle plays… but the days of affordable entry prices and rapid capital appreciation are largely behind us.

As a result, investors are now looking to alternative Portuguese markets such as the Silver Coast, the charming town of Caminha on the northern border with Spain, and the island of Madeira.

From Sea to Shining Sea… in Mexico

Two of the top three performers on the index, Cabo San Lucas and the Riviera Maya, are coastal resort destinations in Mexico. Their popularity derives in part from a much larger trend: the rise of the long-term remote worker.

Even before the pandemic, I met plenty of folks—especially from Texas and the West Coast—who would spend a few weeks or months working from Cabo. But the pandemic has kicked this work-from-anywhere revolution into overdrive.

Today, Cabo is so popular with remote workers and other long-term renters that the market is more closely aligned with California, and other property markets in the southern US, than surrounding Mexico.

It’s a similar story on the Caribbean side of the country, where the Riviera Maya now functions as an offshoot of the Florida market.

Owners can charge high prices for rentals in these markets, and prices will continue to rise as the so-called Zoom Boom becomes a more permanent staple of industry… and workers gain the flexibility to earn from anywhere.

Walkable, Urban, Beachy Destinations

As growing numbers of professionals are decoupled from the office, we’re seeing strong demand in smaller, affordable coastal destinations that offer a high quality of living.

Three of the top 10 destinations on the index reflect this: Estepona in Spain, Montpellier in France, and Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya.

And then there’s our inaugural index winner…

1st Place: Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Buy Real Estate in Cabo

Cabo, a thriving boom town of 350,000 people, excels in virtually every category on the index.

In terms of Climate, Quality of Life, and International Appeal, this market is a no-brainer. Cabo boasts postcard-perfect shores lined with luxury resorts and residential communities. There are shopping malls, high-end restaurants, world-class marinas, championship golf courses, and an international airport that has expanded several times over the years to accommodate increasing visitor numbers. (Yet another record for visitors was hit in the first quarter of 2023, with over four million flying in.)

While Cabo has long been a haven of celebrities and the ultra-wealthy, it has evolved to attract what I call the "ordinary rich"… executives with work-from-anywhere jobs and wealthy retirees in search of perfect weather.

I spend some time in Cabo every winter. I own six properties here. There are all sorts of restrictions on building here, yet people just keep coming.

Today, luxury two-bed condos easily rent long-term and hassle-free for $3,500 per month and up. The short-term rentals market is also strong, given the constant influx of high-end tourists. That’s why Cabo scores a perfect 10 in Income Potential.

That said, the window of opportunity—meaning capital appreciation and big rental yields—is closing fast. Amid the property supply crunch, prices are skyrocketing.

The average sales price of a Cabo condo through September this year was $627,729, according to brokers using MLS data.

I figure the sweet spot for investing in luxury condos in Cabo is $400,000 to $600,000, but quality resales in this range are increasingly rare.

By leveraging RETA’s group buying power, I’ve been able to bring our members numerous opportunities in Cabo, including some spectacular recent deals. For instance, In July 2022, a condo with a RETA-only price of $249,000 was sold for $425,000—an increase of $176,000. A broker recently told me he figured these will be worth $500,000 plus on delivery.

But even with our insider connections, opportunities like these are becoming hard to find.

That’s why I’d recommend any investor interested in Cabo act sooner rather than later.

I’d also advise interested buyers to look at other emerging markets in Baja California. As Cabo gets maxed out, money will flow into less-visited coastal destinations on the peninsula, launching what I predict will be a multi-decade upswing.

Loreto, in particular, has major growth potential… which is why it places 17th on our index.

Real Estate Index Rankings 2024

2nd Place: Caminha, Portugal

Best Places to Buy Real Estate Caminha, Portugal
©Jeff D. Opdyke

The difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on our index couldn’t be starker…

While Cabo is world-famous, Caminha is virtually unknown, even among the millions of European vacationers who flock to Portugal each year.

Yet this small, charming town in the far north of the country offers the best value you’ll find anywhere on the Portuguese coast… which is why it scores a perfect 10 for Relative Value.

Caminha is about an hour north of Porto and is separated from Spain by only a river. It has a beautiful old town surrounded by verdant countryside on one side… and stunning Atlantic beaches on the other. When I visited recently, I found a four-bedroom condo at the center of town listing for just €140,000. For €395,000, there was a large 3200-square-foot house overlooking the river and Spain.

Then there were the real jewels of Caminha, the Casas da Índias—grand villas built from colonial wealth. All around town, I saw shells of these buildings sitting empty… waiting for someone to bring them back to life.

I figure Caminha is on the cusp of a boom. The wealthier visitors and second homeowners from Northern Europe and North America aren’t coming yet, but I believe they will… and when they do, they’ll drive prices higher.

3rd Place (Tied): Riviera Maya, Mexico

Riviera Maya Best Places to Buy Real Estate

For two decades I’ve been scouting the Riviera Maya, an 80-mile stretch of Caribbean coast in the northeast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. This region’s massive economic boom is built on one of the biggest tourism industries in the world. Last year saw a record-shattering 30 million people pass through Cancún airport, and 2023 is on track to exceed this high.

Over the years, a "Path of Progress" rolled south along the coast… reaching first Playa del Carmen and then Tulum.

Once a sleepy seaside village, Playa has been transformed into a chic resort city. This distinct atmosphere has made Playa a favorite of not just American visitors, but also Europeans, Latin Americans, and Mexicans from other parts of the country. It’s also a varied market, attracting snowbirds, part-time expats, extended vacationers, and the work-from-home crowd.

As in Cabo, these folks aren’t looking for cheap. They want amenities… and to be by the beach. And they’re willing to pay $2,000… $2,500… or more to get it.

Trouble is, there just aren’t enough properties. And that situation isn’t changing any time soon. As scarcity meets growing demand, prices are rising, creating an opportunity for investors.

Supply-wise, it’s a similar tale farther south in Tulum.

The spectacular coastline of Tulum first drew hippies who drove through Mexico in camper vans to frolic naked in the surf. Even when I first visited in 2004, it was tiny and undeveloped. Today, Tulum is one of the world’s trendiest destinations, a favorite of models, socialites, influencers, celebrities… and anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of them.

As in Playa, the challenge here is a lack of developable land. North of Tulum lies Parque Nacional Tulum, and the spectacular Mayan ruins that draw millions of visitors each year. To the south is the vast 2,039-square-mile Sian Ka’an Biosphere. More visitors will come. The Mayan train is under construction… it’s a mega-project bringing tourists and renters from Cancún down to Tulum in huge numbers. And a new Tulum airport is scheduled to open in 2024 with a capacity for four million passengers.

The best days still lie ahead for this market.

3rd Place (Tied): Estepona, Costa del Sol, Spain

Best Places to Buy Real Estate Estepona
©iStock/Paola Giannoni

The Costa del Sol in southern Spain has it all: The weather is amazing (it has 320 sunny days each year)… the beaches are stunning… and it boasts historic towns and cities, incredible locally produced food, world-class golf courses, and shopping and entertainment.

In the pre-2008 boom years, development came hard and heavy to this region. Huge condo blocks and pricey vacation homes sprang up. Now, many of the most popular locations west of Málaga have been completely overdeveloped. Even the upmarket towns of Marbella and Puerto Banús have been impacted.

So, vacationers with money are looking farther down west…

Estepona, just 30 minutes from Marbella, is the next place in line to benefit from the Path of Progress. On my last visit, I was blown away by how much this picturesque, whitewashed town—one of the prettiest on the entire Costa del Sol—had come to life.

It offers great restaurants, the beautiful old town, and the beach. There’s a palmlined waterfront boardwalk, botanical gardens, and a glass-domed orchidarium.

And it still retains its traditional Spanish charm in a way that many other towns along this coast have not.

Prices in and around Estepona are rising fast, but it’s still possible to buy ahead of the Path of Progress if you move quickly.

3rd Place (Tied): Rocha, Uruguay

Real Estate in Rocha

In recent decades, tiny Uruguay—wedged between Brazil and Argentina in South America—has quietly become a strong real estate investment, thanks to its safety and security, top-notch infrastructure, and democratic, business-oriented leadership.

Uruguay’s real estate market has long been centered on the luxury resort destination of Punta del Este, sometimes called the "Monaco of South America."

Today it draws huge crowds of everyday folks who want to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. In high season, the city’s population swells from 20,000 to 400,000.

The "in crowd" is looking for alternatives. That’s why many are heading to Rocha

Rocha is located about one and a half hours east of Punta. Unspoiled nature is Rocha’s most important asset. It has the longest oceanfront coast in Uruguay, with 110 miles lined almost entirely with beaches. Inland, you’ll find nature reserves, lagoons, and forests. Yet despite its rural charm, Rocha still has modern infrastructure and conveniences.

Recent infrastructure improvements, like an airport, have made getting to Rocha much easier. And that means those seeking out a low-key destination are flocking here.

I heard about Rocha from connections in Uruguay’s business community… and people with beach homes in Punta. Many of them have told me they plan to build a beach home, or a second beach home, in Rocha. Those with a beach home already in Punta are building in Rocha to earn rental income. That explains why land along the immediate coast is already getting more expensive…

Rocha is squarely on the Path of Progress heading out of Punta… and this market is in the early stages of a multi-decade run.

Video: Top 10 Places to Buy Real Estate in 2024

How We Determined The Winners

For the inaugural Real Estate Trend Alert International Real Estate Index, destinations were judged across 10 equally weighted categories on a scale of one to 10.

Certain categories are subjective.

For instance, the chic resort town of Juan-les-Pins—located in the city of Antibes, on France’s southern Mediterranean coast—scores a perfect 10 on Quality of Life, since it has everything: beaches, mountains, luxury shopping, fine dining, art galleries, cinemas, and golf courses.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s Southern Zone scores a lower score of seven because fine dining and entertainment options, while available, are far more limited.

However, some may prefer the secluded, natural environment of the Southern Zone to the bustling promenade of Juan-les-Pins.

The point being, examine the category definitions and determine which factors are most important to you. Those categories are:

Relative Value: This can be summarized as "bang for your buck." Most destinations listed in the index offer exceptional value when compared to major markets in the US and Canada, with 16 of the top 20 recording an eight or above.

Take, for instance, Umbria, Italy—one of six markets that scored a perfect 10. I’ve seen 10-bed villas with swimming pools listed there for less than €300,000 ($315,000). Consider what a similar sum would buy in most major US cities.

Climate: For this index, higher-scoring markets are warm and sunny, but not humid… the kind of places where you don’t typically need either heating or air conditioning.

International Appeal: This category measures a destination's popularity among foreign tourists, expats, and the work-from-anywhere digital nomad crowd.

This category also considers how internationalized a market has become, covering such factors as flight connections, internet connectivity, and visa requirements.

Path of Progress Indicator: A "Path of Progress" is any infrastructure that makes a place easier to get to (new roads, airports, or bridges) or more desirable (a five-star resort in a place that previously had only cheap hostels).

If a Path of Progress is moving toward or through a market, it’s a strong indicator of future growth.

Income Potential: This is how much you can expect to earn from renting out a property short or long-term, relative to the amount invested.

For example, Cabo and the Riviera Maya score very highly here, as high-end rentals are in huge demand in these markets, and well-heeled vacationers, expats, and work-from-anywhere professionals are willing to pay top dollar to get them.

Quality of Life: This category considers the availability of dining, shopping, transportation, healthcare, and entertainment.

Also factored in are natural attractions such as beaches and hiking trails, and overall appeal as well as the general environment. For instance, are public spaces and facilities safe, visually appealing, and well-maintained?

Ease and Cost of Transaction: This measures how difficult, time-consuming, and expensive the process of purchasing a property is for overseas buyers.

Umbria and Estepona are lower down the list here since the process of purchasing properties in Italy and Spain can be slow and expensive. Panama City scores highly since it’s a major global financial center, meaning real estate industry professionals are accustomed to working with international clients.

Stability: This covers political, economic, and social risk. Is the political environment stable, and is it likely to remain so? Is the economy strengthening or weakening? Are crime, corruption, or fraud prevalent?

Note that scores in this category reflect the particular market in question, as factors like crime levels and economic performance can vary widely within countries.

Availability of Bank Finance: This considers whether banks will provide mortgages to foreign buyers, and if so, how difficult accessing this credit is, and how favorable the terms are.

Holding Costs: This ranks costs associated with owning a property in this market, such as local or national taxes, insurance prices, and common ranges for HOA fees.

RETA Deals in Top Locales

RETA Deals in Top Locales

From Los Cabos to southern Spain, I’ve brought RETA members excellent deals in many of the leading destinations on our index. A few examples…

  • In April 2015, I bought my two-bed, two-bath Cabo condo alongside RETA members in Copala, in the master-planned gated golf community of Quivira. The RETA price was $336,156. Then, in January of this year, an identical condo two floors above me was listed for $725,000.

  • In 2020, I recommended condos in a community called Adega in Lagos in Portugal’s Algarve. One RETA member bought a condo there for €480,000 and has since sold it for around €700,000.

  • In 2022, RETA members could buy in The Village at Corasol, a beach community in Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya, from $258,600. A condo available to RETA members for $296,400 was later listed at $368,209.

Editor's Note: Ronan McMahon is IL’s international real estate expert. If you’ve been thinking of buying property overseas, but could use help with your search, consider joining Ronan’s Real Estate Trend Alert. Thanks to group buying power, members get access to best-in-class pre-construction properties in the right locations—at below-market pricing.