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Top 10 international places to invest in real estate

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If you could buy prime beachfront property at a bargain price, wouldn't you?

Finding a steal in the U.S. is probably not going to happen. Housing affordability is diminishing, and in some markets homes are even less affordable now than they were in the heyday of the housing bubble. So investors, retirees and adventurous buyers are looking internationally for options that offer a better bang for their buck.

Homebuyers open themselves up to more options and a larger range of price points when they're willing to look in countries other than the U.S. Plus, if a foreign market is experiencing rapid growth, there's a greater likelihood that buyers will get a large return on their investment.

But house-hunting abroad comes with its own set of hurdles. Namely, home financing is a very different process outside our borders. Interest rates can be higher and in some places down payments need to be larger. Also, buyers used to scrolling through listing websites won't find as much luck finding properties as they would in the U.S. -- many other countries don't have the multiple listing service to catalog available properties. And of course, there are language and legal barriers to face.

If you're considering an international investment property, step one is to find a good real estate attorney who understands the country's laws, especially if you're not fluent in the local language.

But if you're ready to take the plunge, consider these 10 places where your return on investment could be as nice as your coastal view. We worked with Live and Invest Overseas, a publication and research company specializing in international living, to determine the best international property buys for 2014. In culling the list, the firm considered many factors, including market events, currency fluctuations and tourism.

Take a look at this list before you start packing your sunglasses.

Algarve, Portugal

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The Algarve region of Portugal offers low real estate costs compared to the rest of coastal Europe. But if spending a few million euros is your aim, there are plenty of opportunities. Algarve's diverse property options mean you could spend €6.2 million (a little over $8 million) on a seven-bedroom oceanfront home or less than €165,000 ($215,000) if you're willing to have a less-than-optimal view of the water.

With no foreign ownership restrictions, stunning cliffs and picturesque beaches, Algarve has become a prime waterfront spot for international homebuyers.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

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On Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize, there aren't many homes you wouldn't consider "beachfront." Its mild weather, tropical landscape and numerous recreational opportunities make it a highly sought-after destination for real estate investors and vacationers.

Ambergris Caye has recovered from the global housing crisis, but has retained prices that are still less expensive than similar Caribbean locations. You could snag a two-bedroom beachfront condo for around $250,000 or a one-bedroom condo just off the beach for $150,000 or less.

Cayo, Belize

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If the beach isn't your thing, consider buying property in the Cayo district of Belize. The mountainous area with lush jungles has condo prices that are usually half as expensive as the ones on Ambergris Caye: Two or three-bedroom houses can cost less than $100,000.

Housing developments geared toward American retirees have also been popping up in the area, with homes starting at around $130,000. These feature amenities many people in the U.S. are looking for, like well-paved roads, underground utilities, air conditioning and high-speed internet.

Granada, Nicaragua

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Founded in 1524 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, Granada is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. Its rich history, warm weather, freshwater lake and low cost of living combine to create a charming region for travelers and full-time residents to enjoy.

Many of Granada's historic homes have been converted into condos. A two-bedroom condo conversion could cost you around $169,000 in the area, and fully renovated colonial homes range from approximately $100,000 to $400,000. If you're willing to put in some sweat equity, you could purchase an un-renovated Spanish colonial hacienda for as little as $50,000.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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It's expensive to rent a home in Puerto Vallarta. That's bad news for renters, but it makes the city an interesting option for homebuyers who want to own a vacation property and rent it out for the majority of the year.

Puerto Vallarta draws visitors and residents alike with its thriving art scene, close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and Sierra Madre Mountains and its world-class food. It may not be the cheapest place to buy property on this list, but it's a much better deal than looking in comparable U.S. regions like Southern California.

Panama City Beaches, Panama

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Buying beachfront property on the Pacific west coast of Panama City gives you a good chance of gaining appreciation and rental income. The area has grown a great deal in the last decade and is a thriving, modern and vibrant city. But be cautious: Buyers could have issues with property titles on the Panamanian coast, because some beaches are nationalized.

Prices in Panama City are stable, if not a complete steal. A brand new, full-amenity condo on the water is likely to cost less than $300,000. Resale properties often cost less than $250,000.

Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic

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The Samaná Peninsula, which jets out into the Atlantic Ocean from the northeastern Dominican Republic, draws visitors and investors with its pristine beaches, whale-watching and nightlife. It also has pretty great real estate prices.

While there isn't too much potential for a high rental yield, homebuyers can typically find a one-bedroom apartment for less than $100,000 that is likely to grow in value. High-end developments with lots of amenities will run you a bit more, usually just over $200,000.

Abruzzo, Italy

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The Abruzzo region of Italy is a great place to look for an overseas investment property. Italy has some of the best real estate prices in Europe and this specific area has a lot to offer -- from outdoor recreation to delicious food and local festivals.

If you're interested in taking on a renovation project, you could buy a home for less than €35,000 ($45,000). Otherwise there is a wide array of affordable condos and small homes on the market.

Medellín, Colombia

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Medellín, the "city of eternal spring" in Colombia, is still trying to overcome its association with the now-deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar. The good news for homebuyers is that this unfortunate history kept the city's real estate prices low compared to the rest of the country -- and now it's a lot safer to live there. Despite the fact that prices are increasing an average rate of 5 to 8 percent each year, you can still find nice one or two-bedroom apartments for less than $100,000.

The incredible transformation of Colombia's second-largest city is garnering attention from both adventure-loving tourists and retirees. It's a great time to invest in real estate there, particularly in the El Poblado neighborhood.

Istanbul, Turkey

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The large and cosmopolitan city of Istanbul, Turkey, is in the middle of a major real estate boom. A growing economy and a young population -- 50 percent of Istanbul residents are under age 30 -- are raising home prices there, so buyers should act quickly if interested.

In the meantime, it's possible to buy a one-bedroom condo for as little as $50,000. If you're looking ahead two or three years, contracting for an off-plan condo could allow you to lock in a good price and access developer financing.

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