Portugal has proved to be the most popular destination in Europe for investors seeking a golden visa. Full residency is granted but there is no requirement to reside. Citizenship can be applied for after six years.
The Portuguese golden visa is a central feature of the government’s drive for international investment. With the country returning to growth the real estate market offers exciting prospects for the years ahead.
Cyprus offers citizenship for investment levels of €2.5 million in real estate which is one of the big attractions of this programme. A Cypriot passport allows freedom to travel, study, work or live throughout the European Union.
Cyprus also offers residency through investment of just €300,000 allowing full family qualification. The investor visa is flexible with no requirement to live in the country.
Spain is a firm favourite for many clients considering real estate investment to obtain a golden visa. One of the larger economies in Europe offering an investor visa programme.
Invest from €500,000 in real estate to gain the Spanish golden visa. This provides a flexible residency option. Permanent residency and citizenship can be applied for at a later stage subject to certain stipulations.
Greece offers a residency visa through property investment but eventual citizenship is not available to foreigners. Greece is a member of the EU Schengen visa zone and has no minimum stay requirement.
Prospective investors need to carefully consider the status of the economy in Greece, the real estate market and related property taxes. Greece offers a higher risk investment than other European nations.
Malta offers an Individual Investor Program which is appropriate for our very high net worth clients. In addition to committing to a residence in Malta for five years the scheme requires investment in government approved funds and instruments.
The Malta visa scheme leads to citizenship within one year for suitable applicants, a passport from an EU country and hence the freedom to live anywhere within the EU. The total investment required is typically in excess of €1.2 million.
The citizenship by investment programme for Grenada is one of the newest programmes available to investors. The Grenada passport offers visa-free travel to over 70 countries including the UK.
Grenada offers a low investment threshold. Applicants need invest just $250,000 in a government approved real estate project and maintain the investment for at least 4 years.
The citizenship by investment programme for Antigua and Barbuda provides a second passport to investors offering visa-free travel to over 100 countries including the UK, EU Schengen zone and Canada.
There are several options for investment to gaining citizenship in Antigua including real estate investment of a minimum $400,000.
The St. Kitts & Nevis Citizenship by Investment Program is the oldest of its kind in the world. Established in 1984 the program grants citizenship through real estate investment to qualified applicants.
The government requires investment of $400,000 plus related government and due diligence fees. St Kitts offer visa free travel to over 120 countries. An ideal choice for a second passport.
The number of Portuguese Golden Visas granted this year has already exceeded the total issued in the whole of 2015.
That’s according to official figures issued by the immigration authorities in Portugal, SEF.
In total 821 Golden Visas have been approved so far in the six month period up to 30th June 2016. That’s more than the total for 2015 as a whole.
The 2015 figures took a hit when the government temporarily postponed the programme in mid 2015 while they put new procedures and rules in place to avoid a repeat of the visa issuing fraud that saw the resignation of the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Miguel Macedo. New rules were introduced by September 2015 and visa application processing started again. Investments and visits made by applicants never stopped throughout this period. It was just that the processing of subsequent applications was delayed while new procedures were introduced.
By early 2016 a new fast-track procedure was introduced whereby clients submitting their full documentation could be processed for a golden visa in under 3 months. La Vida clients who have invested this year have already benefited from this accelerated golden visa application process.
This year, 2016, looks set to break the previous record of 2014 when a total of 1526 golden visas were issued by SEF. To date 94% of all golden residence permit investments have been into real estate, the remaining 6% into venture capital funded investments or job creation. The programme has so far introduced 2.2 billion Euros in inward investment for Portugal since its launch in 2012.
Portugal remains the most popular programme for residency investment in Europe. A combination of low cost investment (€500,000), certainty regarding real estate ownership with 100% retained by the investor and no government donation along with a minimum stake of just two weeks every two years and the possibility of citizenship make it Europe’s most successful golden visa programme. Read more on the benefits.
On the 23 June 2016 the UK electorate voted to leave the EU. So how does this affect immigration investment programmes in Europe that can lead to residency in the United Kingdom?
European Union citizens are free to travel, work and live in any other EU country. This means for countries such as Cyprus and Malta who issue citizenship and second passports through investment, that any investor in these programmes who gains a passport of that country, is free to live anywhere in the EU, including the UK.
It is important to understand at this point that the UK has not left the EU. The UK population has voted 52% to 48% to leave. But the referendum result is not legally binding and it is now down to the UK Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the European Union. Once invoked this starts a two year process for the UK to leave the European Union. David Cameron the current UK Prime Minister has gracefully passed this task on to his successor, whoever that may be.
The degree of Euro sceptism among potential candidates for Prime Minister varies with talk of potentially re-negotiating Britain’s position within the EU or maintaining many of the benefits and restraints within a new deal. Writing this just a few days after the referendum there seem to be many ways this could now play out, and varying timescales as to when it will eventually be resolved.
But let’s for the moment assume that the UK does invoke Article 50 and the UK leaves the EU.
One of the key principles of the European Union is the free movement of people. And that is the key question that concerns us when it comes to residency or citizenship by investment in any of the other EU countries. All EU members have to abide by this. In addition other countries gaining access to the single market such as Norway are also required to comply.
Until Article 50 is invoked and for the two year period afterwards then the UK remains part of the EU. This means that for the next two years, nothing will change. Any EU citizen can live in the UK or anywhere else in the EU.
For those EU nationals already living in the UK at the time of the UK leaving the EU (2018 possibly 2019) we suspect the chances of being allowed to remain are very high.
There are 3 million EU nationals living in the UK currently and 1 million UK nationals living elsewhere in the European Union. We expect an undignified 3 for 1 swap across the English Channel is unlikely. We also believe that there will be no distinction between those who entered post referendum or even post Article 50.
The reason being that such residents entered the UK completely legally under rules and laws at the time. Not only would it be difficult for a government to send back or “deport” such residents we expect it would not be in the government’s interests to enter into any political row with it’s European neighbours.
Our advice to anyone seeking UK residency through investment in the EU is to act now. Gaining residency in the UK directly through investment under the Tier 1 programme is virtually impossible in the current climate. Residency through a EU passport, as explained above, is the only viable option and one that is likely to remain an option for the next two years. The only countries through which an EU passport can be gained by investment within this timescale are Malta and Cyprus.
The earlier such investment is made, the earlier UK residency can be undertaken and the more likely it is that such residency will not be affected upon the UK leaving the EU.
Several countries in Europe offer residency through investment in real estate. Some of these country programs may lead to citizenship and a European passport.
The key to these schemes, unlike traditional immigration programs is that the investor gains the right to travel and reside in the country without the requirement to live there and become tax resident.
Check our summary below for details on the five main programs in Europe that will lead to residency through real estate investment and follow the links to more detailed guides on each program.
Invest €500,00 in real estate. This gains residency in Spain for 5 years with renewals:
Read More: Golden Visa Spain
Invest €500,00 in real estate. This gains residency in Portugal with the potential for citizenship and a second passport after six years, without the requirement to become resident.
Read More: Golden Visa Portugal
The ultimate program for those High Net Worth Individuals seeking quick citizenship and a European passport within three months.
Read More: Citizenship by Investment Cyprus
A lower cost option for citizenship in Europe for those prepared for a lengthier application process and willing to make a donation.
Read More: Citizenship by Investment Malta
The low cost option for residency in Europe. Invest just €250,000 in real estate. A Schengen country but future citizenship will only arise through 7 years of residency.
Read More: Investor Visa Greece
The investment immigration program in Cyprus has proven to be the most popular route for High Net Worth investors seeking a second passport in Europe. Since inception the investment programme has boosted the
economy by over €2 billion, according to Minister of Interior, Socrates Hasikos.
The Cyprus program offers full EU citizenship and a second passport to an investor and his or her family (including dependents up to age 28) within just 90 days and with no residency requirement currently. Although pressure from the EU may change this in the coming year. The scheme has a very high approval rate and the process and requirements are very straightforward. Unlike certain other programs in Europe such as Malta, the funds are invested, not donated, and Cyprus offers an exit strategy after just 3 years.
Cyprus Commerce Minister, Giorgos Lakkotrypis recently commented on the efficiency of the Cyprus citizenship program. “The process” he says. “Very simple.” Applicants fill out a three page form, invest €2.5 million in a villa, and pay €7,000 in fees. Then, as long as they’re able to produce a Certificate of Clean Criminal Record, “within 90 days, they can get their European passport.” “Within 90 days,” he repeats. “Lately, we even achieve 70 days. It’s a very fast and easy process and has very high approval rate.”
Rumours of changes to the program have circulated in recent months and change is expected in 2016 under pressure from the European Union for Cyprus to ensure applicants have greater ties with the island and potential residency requirements prior to approval of a passport. Such changes would not apply in retrospect to those investors who had already gained their passports.
It is now possible to gain permanent residency through investment in a European country without the need to live there and become tax resident. Countries offering permanent residency visas through investment include Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece Hungary, Bulgaria and Malta.
Permanent residency gives the right to live in a country and is distinct from citizenship whereby a second passport can be gained. In Europe there are several countries offering temporary residence that later leads to permanent residency (PR) or alternatively permanent residency outright from the point of investment. In all cases where the applicant invests either in real estate or government bonds, there is no requirement for the applicant to reside in the country but they have the right to do so if they wish. There are also four Caribbean countries offering permanent residency as part of their citizenship programmes. They include St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica and Grenada.
Invest €500,000 in real estate plus related costs and taxes to gain residency. After five years applicants and their families can apply for permanent residency in Portugal.
Invest €500,000 in Spain to gain residency and apply for permanent residency after five years. Investors have to live in Spain during that time.
You can gain permanent residency in Greece through investing €250,000 in real estate. Taxes and fees on property are high in Greece, as much as 27% on top of the property price. Permanent residency can apply to three generations in Greece, that is parents and children
Invest €300,000 in government bonds in Hungary for permanent residency. The bonds pay zero interest and are refunded to the investor after five years.
Invest €512,000 into government bonds in Bulgaria to gain permanent residency. Investors can increase this to €1,024,000 to gain fast track citizenship in Bulgaria.
Permanent residency through investment in Malta is achieved through the citizenship programme. This requires a total investment of around €1.2 million.
Permanent residency can be obtained in Cyprus through investing €300,000 in real estate. Applicants can apply for citizenship by increasing this to €3 million.
A key objective for many of our clients is the gaining of a second passport and citizenship by investment of another country.
This is a step on from residency and the right to live in a country. It is often the next stage after a period of residency or through higher investment in a golden visa programme.
Below we list those countries in Europe and the Caribbean that offer second citizenship and a passport. Note that these are only countries offering such a facility through investment and without the requirement to live full time and become tax resident.
Portugal is one of the most popular programmes in Europe. Invest €500,000 in real estate plus related costs and taxes to gain residency. This gives freedom of travel throughout the EU Schengen visa zone. After six years applicants and their families can apply for citizenship and hence a second passport allowing you and your family to travel, work, live and study anywhere in Europe.
Spain offers similar costs and benefits to Portugal but with one major difference. It is not possible to get citizenship and a second passport unless you reside in Spain for 10 years full time. It is why Portugal is currently issuing 2,000 golden visas a year compared to less than 100 in Spain.
Greece is the most affordable scheme in Europe but clients must be careful of the additional costs and the economic situation. You can gain residency through investing €250,000 in real estate. Taxes and fees on property are high in Greece, as much as 27% on top of the property price. Also the programme in Greece is residency only and does not lead to citizenship and a second passport currently except for applicants of Greek origin.
Hungary is a very popular and affordable programme. Invest €300,000 in government bonds which is refunded after 5 years. Costs for the programme are €60,000 for a full family. This grants Permanent Residency in Hungary. Citizenship and a second passport in Hungary can be applied for after 8 years with a language test. Hungary is a member of the EU and Schengen zone which also means visa free travel to the USA and Canada. You gain visa free travel throughout the EU Schengen area and can apply for a European passport after 8 years. Hungary is a straightforward residency programme and in most cases will not require a visit to the country.
Bulgaria is the most affordable route to citizenship of the EU. You can gain a second passport in Hungary within 21 months allowing you and your family to live, work, travel and study anywhere in Europe. This can be done for a total investment of €1,024,000 in government bonds which are repaid in full after 5 years. But a big benefit is that these bonds can be financed for a total outlay of €280,000. Although there is no return of capital this significantly reduces the cash outlay and is a popular choice. Costs under either option amount to around €30,000 for a family of 4.
Malta has a citizenship programme leading to a second passport within a year. However there are a number of restrictions with Malta, in particular showing ties and commitment to the island, maintaining a property and screening interviews. For those willing to maintain such connections citizenship is available at a total cost of around €1.2 million. But note €650,000 of that figure is a “contribution” to the government. That money is not returned.
Cyprus is the ultimate choice for High Net Worth individuals seeking a second passport. Investment of €3 million in a real estate portfolio gains a Cypriot and hence European passport within 2-3 months. This investment can be reduced to €500,000 after 3 years. An interesting fact for Cyprus is that a single investor is normally €5 million under government rules. However La Vida has the access and ability to group submit a minimum five applications regularly. Under this arrangement the investment requirement reduces to €3 million.
There are currently four programmes in the Caribbean offering citizenship, a second passport and visa free travel to many countries worldwide.
St Kitts is the oldest second passport programme by investment. Applicants investing $400,000 in government approved real estate projects (plus costs) gain citizenship. This grants visa free access to over 100 countries including the UK and Schengen zone. It is also possible to make a government contribution of a reduced amount depending on family size. Processing is slow taking typically 9 months.
Antigua offers a similar second passport programme to St Kitts. An investment of $400,000 in government approved real estate projects plus costs gains citizenship. There is visa free travel to over 100 countries including the UK, Schengen zone and Canada. Processing is fast, typically 4 months.
Dominica has just amended its citizenship programme to include a real estate option. You can now invest just $200,000 in real estate to gain citizenship and a second passport. Although offering slightly less countries for visa free travel than St. Kitts or Antigua (over 70), Dominica is a much reduced investment option.
Grenada is a new second passport programme and is popular as it has no country restrictions for who it will issue passports to. There are of course strict due diligence checks on each applicant. Invest just $250,000 in real estate to gain visa free travel to over 70 countries including the UK and with the Schengen zone likely to be added soon (expected Q2 2015). Grenada is the only country offering citizenship to parents of any age as long as they are dependent. Processing is fast, within 4 months.
There are government fees and associated costs with each of the Caribbean programmes. As a guide these will range for a family of four from $130,000 up to $210,000. La Vida can give a more accurate assessment based on the make up of your family and the particular programme. Please complete your client details here if you require this.
Popular countries in Europe for second passports include the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Holland. However these countries do not offer second passports through investment alone but through other means such as creating and investing in a business. However it is important to note that citizenship and a passport from any EU country allows the holder to live and work anywhere in the European Union.
Cyprus has begun preparations to join Schengen which it hopes to achieve by August 2016. Before the island becomes a full member of the visa-free area there are a number of assessments that need to be completed including air boarders, visa control, police co-operation and personal data protection.
The Schengen Agreement has led to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. Currently, 22 of the 28 EU member states participate in the Agreement. Of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, four – Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Cyprus, are legally obliged and wish to join the area, while the other two – Ireland and the United Kingdom maintain opt-outs.
In addition, all four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland – have also signed the Schengen Agreement, even though they are outside the EU. One of the main benefits of being part of the agreement is that people can move freely across the boarders without the need for separate visas or passport checks. In the past, tourists entering the EU would have needed a separate visa for each country they wanted to visit. It was designed to promote trade and integration between different nationalities as well as encourage tourism from emerging markets such as China and India.
It is important for any prospective investors to take careful professional advice on the programmes available before committing to an investment. There are many programmes on the market from differing countries, but not all of these lead to citizenship through investment.
The likes of Hungary, Greece and Spain are difficult or unlikely, sometimes requiring residence in the country. Portugal is far easier and Cyprus can be gained immediately with the right investment.
So what is citizenship and what benefits does it bring? Citizenship of any particular country within the European Union means a passport and importantly citizenship of the EU. So for example, if you gain citizenship in Portugal through real estate investment then you become an EU citizen. Similarly if you gain citizenship in Bulgaria through investment in government bonds you can also gain citizenship of the EU even though Bulgaria is outside the Euro and Schengen visa zone.
Every person holding the nationality of an EU country is automatically a citizen of the EU. This allows that person to move freely within the EU. To work, study and live wherever they wish within the European Union countries.
It is important to draw the distinction between the EU countries (there are 28) and the Schengen visa countries (there are 26). There are 22 EU countries participating in the Schengen visa zone and there are an additional 4 countries not part of the EU.
Residency in the Schengen visa countries allows freedom of travel throughout the Schengen area. But citizenship of an EU country provides the right to live and work within the EU countries. For example the United Kingdom and Ireland are EU countries, but not part of the Schengen visa zone.
Whichever country an investor targets for citizenship, there are sometimes faster, cheaper and easier options to gain permanent residency allowing them to live, work and study in that country by gaining entry through an alternative EU country.
It is possible to achieve citizenship through investment in real estate in Spain but the investor will need to live in Spain for 10 years before applying.
Citizenship can be applied for in Portugal six years after investment of a minimum €500,000 in real estate.
Citizenship is available in Cyprus within 2 – 3 months on investing a minimum €2.5 million in real estate.
Malta has an investment visa programme with a comination of investment and contribution totalling around €1.2 million with citizenship taking approximately 12 months.
Citizenship in Greece through its real estate investment programme will be possible following changes to legislation (2015).
Changes to legislation in Hungary mean the investor visa bond programme could lead to citizenship after 5 years rather than the current 8 years. (2015)
The investment bond programme in Bulgaria can lead to fast track citizenship by doubling the bond investment from €512,000 to €1,024,000.
For reference the EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
The law allows tax exemption for foreign-source income (pension, rental, income, capital gains, interest, dividends, as well as other
investment income), provided certain conditions are met.
In general terms, a person is deemed to be tax resident in Portugal if he spends more than 183 days in Portugal during the calendar year.
The legislation provides for exemption on foreign pension income subject to satisfying certain double taxation criteria.
The scheme is also popular with Europeans looking to minimise taxation on pensions and retirement income by spending most of the year outside higher taxation countries.
Perhaps one of the most sought after and immediate benefits of certain golden visa programmes in Europe is the granting of a Schengen visa.
The Schengen Visa represents a total of 26 European countries that have mutually decided to eliminate passport and immigration controls at their joint borders. Holders of a Schengen visa can travel freely throughout the Schengen visa zone.
Many investors see this as a key benefit. No need to continually be applying for a Schengen visa to visit Europe, as with the right programme this comes as part of the investor visa package.
But investors and their families need to check each programme carefully and in particular whether that country is part of the Schengen visa area.
For example, Cyprus offers residency through an investment of €300,000. But Cyprus is not part of the Schengen zone. Cyprus also offers citizenship through a €2.5 million investment in real estate. That grants citizenship of Cyprus and hence citizenship of the EU and hence an EU passport. A Schengen visa is no longer needed.
Investors and their families buying real estate to the value of €500,000 in Spain and Portugal will gain a Schengen visa. Likewise Hungary and Greece through their programmes.
The Schengen area countries are currently Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.