Cyprus, the third largest Mediterranean island, is a former British colony that achieved independence in 1960.
Differences between its ethnic Greek and Turkish communities subsequently led to separation of the island between the Turkish north and Greek south ( which also involved a land grab from owners caught on the 'wrong side' of the dividing line). A UN buffer zone now separates the two halves of the island.
A UN attempt to reunite the island was rejected by Greek Cypriots (who make up 77 per cent of the population) in a 2004 referendum. However, a month later the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus joined the EU: meaning that EU laws now apply to the south side of the island.
The (Nothern) Turkish side of the island does not have international recognition.
Despite the island's political difficulties, its economy relies heavily on tourism. The climate is Mediterranean in nature, but Cyprus suffers from a water shortage and there is a moderate risk of earthquakes.
The 1960 Constitution provided for a presidential system of government with independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a complex system of checks and balances, which included a weighted power-sharing ratio designed to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. The executive, was headed by a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president elected by their respective communities for 5 year terms, each possessing a right of veto over certain types of legislation and executive decisions. Legislative power rested on the House of Representatives, also elected on the basis of separate voters' rolls. Since 1964, following clashes between the two communities, the Turkish Cypriot seats in the House remain vacant.
Property prices in the Republic of Cyprus remain low compared to European standards but have been moving up rapidly in recent years. As the land available is limited and EU membership is likely to bring greater prosperity, this is trend likely to continue.
Cyprus has an array of property laws with title is based upon registration. The Land Registry also records charges and encumberances on the property.
Foreign nationals may acquire property and are in fact encouraged to do so. Both foreign investors and retired people who settle permanently in Cyprus are offered a number of incentives including duty free facilities and very low taxation of overseas income.
However the law requires foreign property buyers to obtain permission from the Council of Ministers before the property can be registered in their name. Investors often take possession of property while this process is underway as permission is usually granted in the case of single properties.
The Exchange Officer of the Central Bank of Cyprus should be notified once permission has been obtained so that a certificate verifying the amount paid in money brought into the country can be certified (this certificate will be needed in the event of a sale when there are restrictions on the amount that can be repatriated). At this point transfer fees of up to 8 per cent become payable by the buyer. Stamp duty of up to 0.2 per cent is also payable before ownership can be registered.