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How do you buy a private island?

Easter Island Image Gallery In the Caribbean and South Pacific, even the most modest private island typically costs $1 million or more. See Easter Island pictures.
DC Productions/Thinkstock

It's probably safe to say that most of us have never seriously contemplated buying our own private island. We associate the idea with the very rich and the very famous, who may seek an escape from the public eye or a vacation spot to de-stress from a high-powered career. Case in point: Marlon Brando famously spent his later years in near solitude on his own private atoll in French Polynesia, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis frequently stole away to the Greek island of Skorpios, owned by her impossibly wealthy husband Aristotle [sources: Thompson, Maxim]. Even Johnny Depp has his own solar-powered slice of paradise in the "out islands" of the Bahamas [source: Private Islands].

But maybe you've recently won the lottery, inherited millions from a great aunt you never knew existed or made up a story about buying a secluded island getaway to impress a new friend. Suddenly, the idea of buying an island doesn't seem so crazy. Now where to begin?

Surprisingly, you can still find a small island in the northern United States or Canada for less than $500,000, but in the Caribbean and South Pacific, even the most modest private island typically costs $1 million or more. This price might not sound bad compared to the cost of beachfront property on the mainland, but such low-priced islands may be unsuitable for development or are otherwise undesirable, and their availability is limited. At the other end of the spectrum are properties like the 14-acre (5.7 hectare) Isla de sa Ferradura off the coast of Spain, with its grand 130,000-square-foot hacienda, lush gardens, panoramic views and an estimated value of nearly $40 million in 2006 [source: Clemence].

While the very mention of the words private island evokes images of palm trees, hammocks and frosty umbrella drinks, some of the most inviting and affordable islands can be found on lakes and rivers in much cooler climates. So before you buy your own private escape, one of the first things to consider is your end goal: Do you want a tropical retreat, a prime fishing spot, fabulous snorkeling and scuba diving, a sustainable eco-paradise, or just a private and enduring family home? You'll want to think about these questions and many more before you commit to such a major purchase, so read on to find out how to buy your own private island.