Several European countries offer the option of obtaining legal residence through investment—often investment in real estate—in the country. These so-called “Golden Visa programs” aim at offering citizens of non-European Union countries a legal (and easy) way to gain residence and access to the EU. Here are the programs in two popular countries.
Golden Visa in Spain
The main requirement of Spain’s Golden Visa is to invest a minimum of €500,000 in Spanish real estate. In exchange, the investor, his or her spouse, and dependent family members can all gain residence in Spain. Residence is optional, however: It’s not required to maintain the Golden Visa itself. Some investors prefer to live elsewhere, for instance, but use the visa to let family members (such as children) establish residence in Spain.
You can also get a Golden Visa by buying $2 million worth of Spanish government bonds, depositing $1 million in a Spanish financial institution, or buying €1 million worth of shares in Spanish companies
Applicants can apply for permanent residence after five years and for Spanish citizenship after 10 years.
Here are the details:
- The Golden Visa is initially offered for a year and is renewable. The applicant can be an individual or a corporation wholly owned by an individual. The investment can be made in one or several properties or land, including properties you rent out for income. But the total must be at least €500,000, paid in full without financing (that is, no mortgages or loans) or other encumbrances.
- In return, the applicant, spouse, any children under 18, and dependent parents can get a one-year temporary residence permit for Spain. They must show that they have public or private health insurance through a company authorized to operate in Spain. They must also prove they have sufficient funds to support themselves while living in Spain. For 2018, that “sufficient amount” is €2,130.04 per month for the main applicant and an additional €532.51 per month for each dependent.
- Once the Golden Visa has been granted, the applicant can activate the one-year temporary residence permit. Alternatively, the applicant can apply for a two-year residence permit. After the first two-year permit expires, a second two-year permit is granted. After five consecutive years of living in Spain, the applicant (and any dependents) can apply for a permanent residence visa. Until that is granted, the applicant must maintain the €500,000 investment. However, the actual properties making up that investment can change. (That is, you can buy and sell properties, as long as your overall property investment in Spain is at least €500,000.)
- Once the applicant gets a permanent residence visa, the €500,000 investment is no longer required. However, permanent residents must live half the year—183 days—in Spain. After 10 years, they can get Spanish citizenship.
You’ll need to actually make the investment—buy the properties or land—before you apply for the Golden Visa. But since 2015, married couples can make the €500,000 investment together. And thanks to Spain’s liberal co-habitation laws, unmarried couples and same-sex couples can also apply together if they are registered as a domestic partnership. (In Spain, this is called a pareja de hecho.)
Every visa has its pros and cons, and the Golden Visa is no exception.
First, this visa won’t work if you’re only interested in renting: Buying property is the key requirement that distinguishes the Golden Visa. (It was set up to buoy Spain’s then-faltering real estate market.)
But if you’re already looking to buy a home or otherwise invest in real estate—and you have the funds available—then this visa is worth considering. The cost of your personal home in Spain can count toward that total. (And a large apartment in central neighborhoods of Madrid and Barcelona can easily cost €500,000.) Buying a home that costs less than that? Then consider investing in rental properties to reach that €500,000 total…and earn income. In addition, the residence visa that you’ll get through your Golden Visa gives you the right to work in Spain, if you choose.
As a resident in Spain, you can travel visa-free in the rest of Europe.
The downside: After 183 days of residing in Spain, you are considered a tax resident and will need to declare your global income to the Spanish tax authorities. (U.S. citizens also need to declare this income to the IRS, although a tax treaty prevents double taxation.) Where and how much tax you pay will depend on your individual circumstances. But you’ll want to work with tax experts both back home and in Spain to determine the tax implications for you.
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Golden Visa in Portugal
By Tricia Pimental
Portugal also offers a Golden Visa program, designed to boost the Portuguese economy by attracting foreign investment from non-Europeans. So far, it’s been successful, bringing in over $4 billion in revenue since 2018.
Eligibility (Any of the Following)
- Capital transfer in cash or financial investment of at least €1.5 million.
- Creation of at least 10 jobs in Portugal.
- Purchase of real estate in Portugal worth at least €500,000.
(The most commonly used option is to buy several properties and rent them out.)
- Purchase of real estate in Portuguese urban regeneration areas. The property must be at least 30 years old and have a value of at least €350,000.
- Investment of at least €350,000 in scientific research in Portugal.
- Investment of at least €250,000 in Portuguese arts, culture, and heritage.
- Investment of at least €500,000 in small or medium-sized businesses in Portugal.
- As of January 2022 residential property in Lisbon, Porto, the Silver Coast and the Algarve no longer qualify for the Golden Visa.
- Receive a temporary residence permit for one year, renewable for two-year periods.
- After five years, may apply for permanent residence.
- After six years, may apply for citizenship by investment if all other legal requirements —such as proof of income and accommodation, criminal record requirements, and basic-level knowledge of the Portuguese language—are met.
- Permitted to live and work in Portugal, based on residence in the country for at least seven days in the first year of residence and 14 days each subsequent year (For Retirement Visa holders, the requirement is a minimum of 183 days a year.)
- Not liable within Portugal for taxes on worldwide income providing the residence requirement in the previous point is fulfilled, and applicant does not reside in Portugal more than 182 days per year.
- Entitled to “family reunion.” That is, certain family members can also get Portuguese residence. These include a spouse; minor dependent children, natural or adopted; children who have reached majority but who are still students; dependent parents of the Golden Visa holder or spouse; and minor dependent brothers or sisters who are under the guardianship of the Golden Visa holder. (For Retirement Visas, each individual must apply for their own residence visa.)
- Family members receive the same rights as the Golden Visa holder, and will also be eligible for permanent residence after five years and citizenship after six years.
- Permitted visa-free entry to Schengen area countries of Europe.
- Entitled to access Portuguese healthcare and education.
- Must meet residence requirements as mentioned above.
- The investment established for the Golden Visa must be maintained for at least five years from the date when the Portuguese Golden Visa is established.
The Portuguese Golden Visa application can be submitted online via the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service’s (SEF) website. (See: Sef.pt.) An online pre-registration is required.
You can also deliver your Portuguese Golden Visa application in person (either the applicant or an appointed legal representative) to the closest Regional Directorate or local branch of the SEF. Before visiting, you must make an appointment.
Along with the Golden Visa application, you’ll need to submit:
- Passport or valid travel ID.
- Proof of legal entry into Portugal.
- Proof of health insurance (issued within the last three months).
- Criminal record certificate from country of origin/residence (issued within the last three months).
- Evidence of compliance with tax and social security registration obligations.
- Receipt for payment of the Portuguese Golden Visa fees.
- Evidence of commitment to maintain the investment for at least five years, plus proof of the investment —a bank statement for financial investment, employment contracts for job creation, or deeds of purchase for real estate investment.
Portugal’s Golden Visa program holds the most benefit for those whose country of citizenship does not require them to declare (and pay taxes on) their global income. And the United States is not one of these countries. U.S. citizens are required to file a tax return every year, declaring their global income. If you’re from the U.S., you can certainly take advantage of the Golden Visa, but whether it’s the best option for you depends on your personal tax obligations.
A better program for U.S. citizens may be the Non-Habitual Tax Resident visa. This visa permits reduced tax obligations in Portugal, and there is no requirement to pay taxes on worldwide income in Portugal for 10 years.
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Golden Visa VS. Other Residence Visas: What’s Best For You?
It’s possible to get residence in Spain without plonking down €500,000 in a real estate investment. Spain offers a variety of residence visas, including visas for residence without the right to work (appropriate for retirees, for instance) and combined work-and-residence visas.
In general, for all these visas—unless you’re getting work and residence through an employer—you’ll need to show that you have the funds to support yourself and any dependents, and that you all have health insurance valid in Spain, among other requirements. (For North Americans, this will mean private health insurance.)
It’s possible to get a work-and-residence visa as a self-employed individual—for instance, as a freelancer or consultant. You’ll need to show proof that your business earnings can support you, or that you have the funds to support yourself until your business is up and running. But your right to residence in Spain will be tied to your business’ success.
For this reason, some experts advise that you apply ﬁrst for residence without the right to work, and prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself. Once you have legal residence, you can then apply for a work visa as a self-employed individual. This way, your right to reside in Spain doesn’t depend on the success or failure of your business, because you’ve qualiﬁed for residence independently.
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