Of course you can purchase property while on a study VISA. Anyone can buy property. I strongly believe in keeping real estate as an investment. But if you do decide to sell, part of your money will be held by the IRS for tax purposes to make sure you pay what you owe. This money, about 3.3%, is held until you pay taxes for the year in which you sell the property. Any money left over is refunded to you.
Purchasing property can be done quite quickly or not - depending on how long it takes you to find the "one" for you. Escrow can take as little as a few days or as long as 30-45 days. Most Sellers prefer the faster escrow period of 2 to 3 weeks.
Would you be getting a loan? With the banking problems these days, it can take longer ot get a loan and most Sellers realize that. You should be talking to a lender now if you are planning to buy in the near future.
Are you looking at new construction? If you are, each developer has 3 banks from which to choose and you must use on of them. Not to worry, they are major banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase etc. If you are not buying new construction, hook up with a mortgage broker as good ones have their fingers on over 100 different loans.
I have a First Time Buyers booklet which helps explain the whole process. I can also give you referrals of clients from England and Scotland who I am sure would be willing to talk to you about the whole process of buying property as a foreign national. They also can give me a reference (19 years in the business) if you want to ask about me.
I welcome your call. If not, I am sure you will hook up with a good realtor!