Understanding the Worldwide Marketplace
In many ways, buying timeshare units outside of the United States is a lot like buying them inside the nation's borders: You need to make sure you are doing business with a reputable company, you need to do your homework about the resort — and the particular unit — that you are buying, and you need to buy at a price point that makes sense in comparison with the expected ten-year price range for hotel rates in your chosen destination. Having said that, the broader worldwide marketplace does present such a varying array of timeshare options that you would be wise to do a bit of extra research before buying.
Overseas Legal Considerations
For starters, as with any timeshare unit purchase, you need to consider how you plan to use your vacation property. If you intend to return to the same location year after year, you will want to choose a destination that, at a minimum, has a stable government and some sort of legal protections in place for timeshare buyers.
For instance, if you want to buy a timeshare unit within a country that is a member of the European Union (with France, Spain, and Italy being popular options), you can rest assured that those nations have been in existence for centuries, and that their governments — and thus legal systems — are unlikely to be upended by military coups anytime in the near future.
Also, timeshare developers in the European Union are required by law to give buyers the same kind of rescission, or cooling off period, that buyers in the United States are entitled to receive. In fact, in the European Union, the law states that you, the buyer, must not be asked to pay any money at all before or during the ten-day cooling off period, which, in theory, allows you at least a few extra days to go over the clauses of your signed contract in the most detailed way possible before any cash changes hands. If you change your mind about the deal during the rescission period, you can — by law — get out of the contracts that you signed.
European Union law also states that you, the buyer, have the right to receive a brochure and written contract in the language of your choice, as well as in the language of the country where your timeshare unit is located. That's a significant right — especially if you're looking to buy a timeshare unit in a nation such as Greece, where every word of the contract could be spelled out in the Greek alphabet.
These types of assurances are not always available for timeshare purchases in some other parts of the world. In fact, in many nations, you cannot even make a deeded timeshare purchase. Some places offer only right-to-use timeshare deals, which expire after a given time period or a given number of uses and leave you with no legal right to your unit (as explained in Chapter 2). This is not always a bad thing — and can sometimes make a timeshare option more affordable in general — but it is important that you understand what you are buying and what protections the local and federal law will give you should problems arise.
Beware of overseas timeshare developers who refuse to give you anything but a local-language copy of their brochures, contracts, or other important paperwork. If you cannot get copies of documents in English, or in another language you understand, you would be wise to walk away from the deal before signing anything.
Your best bet, no matter which nation you choose for your timeshare purchase, is to check with the federal and local agencies that regulate consumer purchases. Some good places to start include the U.S. Embassy in the nation where you are considering a purchase. A list of worldwide embassies is available at the U.S. Department of State's Web site,
While you're on the U.S. Department of State's Web site, you might also check out its travel and living abroad section,
In addition to researching your timeshare's nation through the United States government, you also may consider contacting attorneys and timeshare experts in the overseas nation of your choice. These people will have a more in-depth understanding of the complexities of timeshare law in their own nations, and thus may be able to provide you with more detailed information than a federal-level government agency. If your overseas resort has an office on United States soil, that can be a good place to start when seeking out overseas experts.
Overseas Financial Issues
Foreign currency rates are another thing that can have a major impact on your overseas timeshare purchase. For starters, there is the exchange rate. In some cases, you will be asked to pay for your timeshare unit in the currency of the nation where it is based, instead of in United States dollars. Over a mortgage term of ten or fifteen years, the exchange rate can add up to major savings, or major extra expenditures.
The United States dollar has traditionally been strong throughout the world, but in recent years it has experienced weakening against the European Union's euro and the United Kingdom's pound. This has made taking vacations in that region more expensive for United States citizens, while in other nations, such as the South Pacific's Fiji, the dollar remains strong, worth almost twice as much as a local dollar — making vacation purchases there relatively less expensive. In still other worldwide locations, including the Bahamas, the local currency is linked to the United States dollar at a one-for-one rate, meaning expenses there will cost about the same as they would at home.
Be sure to check the strength of the United States dollar compared with the strength of the currency in the nation where you want to purchase a timeshare. A good way to do this is by using the free Universal Currency Converter at
Also keep in mind that when you are using your foreign timeshare, you will have to purchase sundries, food, drinks, and everything else during your vacation with the foreign currency, as well. You also may be taxed differently than local citizens might be, again adding up to either additional savings or additional expenses during the course of your timeshare contract. The average timeshare vacationer spent about $210 per day in U.S. currency during Caribbean vacations in 2003, most of it on dining and shopping, according to a report by Resort Condominiums International. Imagine how that amount could rise or fall in accordance with the strength of the U.S. dollar.
No matter which country you are considering for a timeshare unit purchase, be sure to compare the long-term expenses of buying goods and services with the foreign currency against the power of your earnings in United States dollars. The last thing you want is to lose the potential savings power of your timeshare to a dollar that is traditionally weak in your vacation nation of choice.
Overseas Vacation Patterns
Another factor that will affect the success of your overseas timeshare unit purchase is worldwide vacation patterns. If you are considering buying a timeshare unit that you will return to year after year, this factor will not be as important to you as it will be to a buyer looking at a timeshare unit to be used for exchange. If you are considering buying a unit overseas that you can trade for other vacation destinations around the globe, vacation patterns become a primary concern.
Why? Just as there are hot spots within the United States where you can buy a timeshare to maximize your exchange power, there are also hot spots around the world where you will get more exchange power than if you buy elsewhere. Some of these destinations, and others that seem to be growing into the hot-spot category, include:
• Dominican Republic
• Netherlands Antilles/Greater Caribbean
• Coastal Spain
• U.S. Virgin Islands
• South Africa
Each of these destinations is growing in general tourism numbers — not just in American tourism numbers — which makes it logical that an increase in timeshare demand would follow. That's what understanding worldwide vacation patterns is all about.
Consider, for instance, the city of Paris, France, which upward of forty million people a year visit during their vacations. That's a staggering five million people more than live in the entire state of California, making Paris the type of worldwide destination hot spot that Orlando, Florida, is in the United States.
By contrast, you might look into the tourism statistics for Fiji, which boasts lush tropical islands and has always been a dream destination for travelers from around the globe. It might be a place you have always wished you could visit, the kind of place you keep posters of and watch television shows about every chance you get. Still, though, even with its romantic reputation, Fiji draws only about 500,000 tourists a year (not counting cruise-ship passengers). That's a fraction of the number of people booking vacations in Paris on an annual basis.
Thus, when you compare Paris with Fiji, you can see that as a potential timeshare unit owner looking to make exchanges, you are likely going to have more demand for a unit you purchase in the City of Lights than you will for a unit in the exotic South Pacific, even if the timeshare in Fiji is bigger, better-outfitted, and, perhaps, in what you consider to be a more paradisiacal setting.
If you really enjoy visiting Fiji and want to return every year, a timeshare unit there might be the right thing for you to purchase. However, if you're hoping to trade your timeshare vacation time for another unit elsewhere in the world, you will probably have a better chance of getting what you want if you can offer other vacationers a timeshare unit in Paris, where demand is far stronger.
Do keep in mind that if you want to return to the same place year after year, there are worldwide deals to be had in emerging timeshare regions. South Africa, for instance, had about 180 timeshare resorts as of 2004 — and a unit's per-week price was only about $2,700 (one of the lowest averages for new timeshare purchases anywhere in the world, according to Resort Condominiums International). This means that if you enjoy a resort in South Africa and want to keep going back, you can do so for far less expense than you might find when purchasing a similar timeshare unit in the more developed markets of the United States and Europe.
If you are purchasing an overseas fixed-week timeshare that you hope to trade for other vacations, keep in mind that holidays and special events are often key to worldwide vacation demand. If you own a week in Cannes, France, during the middle of winter, you will have less luck trading for the vacation of your choice than if you owned a fixed week in mid-May, when the Cannes Film Festival takes place.
Overseas Weather and Geography Concerns
Last, when considering an overseas timeshare purchase, you must keep in mind the resort's geographical location and all that it brings with it.
The Caribbean, for instance, has a wonderful reputation as a warm-weather destination of choice for vacationers from all over the world. However, some of the islands in the Caribbean are better developed than others, which means they have better infrastructures and businesses in place. If you want to eat fresh fruit at your timeshare resort for breakfast every morning, remember that it will probably cost you more to buy it up in the hills on the far side of Antigua, for instance, than it would in downtown St. Martin, near the airports where planes full of fresh produce land.
Geography is also a key concern in terms of weather. Again, a good example is the Caribbean, where hurricanes tend to devastate several different islands each year. Purchasing a timeshare unit in Grenada, for instance, might sound like a good deal nowadays because there are many properties to be had. Dig a little deeper, though, and you learn that the reason there is so much availability is that the island is rebuilding from the battering that came with Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. More than 85 percent of the island's buildings were damaged or destroyed, meaning many timeshare owners — if they owned right-to-use timeshares instead of insured, deeded properties — were left with absolutely nothing from their investment. You may not want to pick up with an investment where those poor souls left off.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, your timeshare's chance of suffering a direct hit by a hurricane in the Caribbean during the month of September is anywhere from 2 to 12 percent, with the chances increasing the closer you get to the center of the Caribbean Sea.
Last, when considering geography in your overseas timeshare purchase, you would be wise to factor in the cost of your family's transportation to and from the resort. As fuel prices continued to surge worldwide in early 2006, discount airfares were becoming harder and harder to find. A round-trip ticket from New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport down to Bermuda, for instance, was in the neighborhood of $700 per person.
If you're considering buying a timeshare unit in a place with limited airport services, keep in mind that prices for plane fare will continue to rise along with worldwide energy prices. Those costs could easily take a big chunk out of the overall savings you can expect to enjoy by purchasing a timeshare in the first place.