6 European investor residency programs for real estate investors

Written by Andrew Henderson
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Last updated July 21, 2017

Dateline: London, United Kingdom

European passports are some of the most coveted second passports in the world. The good news is that many European countries offer investor residency programs to allow investors and entrepreneurs the opportunity to work toward a second citizenship in Europe in as little as five years.

Having an EU passport offers benefits most other developed countries can’t offer:

  • Citizenship in one EU country allows freedom of movement across all 28 countries, from the United Kingdom to Bulgaria
  • European citizens enjoy free or nearly free higher education at Europe’s universities
  • The best European citizenships have a more favorable image than countries like the United States and Australia
  • No European country offers citizenship-based taxation, although Hungary has done so in some circumstances in the past.

We frequently discuss the myriad of ways to obtain residency: starting a business, working as a highly-skilled employee, or even attending school.

However, perhaps the most low-risk way for a person of means to work toward European citizenship is as an investor in real estate.

Europe is actually one of my favorite places to invest in real estate now. Foreign real estate, on the whole, is an excellent asset class for its appreciation, currency diversification, and asset protection benefits. And Europe has some of the most undervalued property in the world right now.

For all of the talk about crisis investing in places like Russia or Myanmar, Europe has been so badly hit in some places that some properties are practically dirt cheap. One of my friends recently told me about a property on Sicily for $30,000.

There are several European countries that offer second residency to foreigners who wish to move there or simply work toward a second passport. It’s even possible to obtain a European residency without relocating.

Here are the most popular options:

1. Portugal

cheapest-second-residencies-eu-portugal

Porugal Golden Visa

Investment: €500,000
At the peak of the global recession, Portugal decided to open its doors to Chinese and Arab world immigrants in an effort to save its falling real estate market. The result was Portugal’s Golden Visa program under which any non-EU citizen can obtain Portuguese residency by investing in real estate valued at 500,000 euros or more.

The program worked: real estate prices in Portugal went up more than 80% in a matter of years, showing the more solid fundamentals in Portugal compared to neighboring Spain.

Portugal’s residency program is unique in several ways. First of all, there is no requirement to purchase only property; you can purchase as few or as many properties as you want, provided you hit the 500,000 Euro threshold. That means you can buy a luxury villa overlooking the sea, or ten small studio apartments in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Lisbon.

The Golden Visa program is also unique in that it has very easy physical presence requirements. To maintain your second residence, you must spend a mere seven days in Portugal the first year and fourteen days each subsequent year. After six years of residency, you may apply for Portuguese citizenship WITHOUT obtaining permanent residency status first.

The end result is that the Golden Visa program allows you to obtain citizenship in the European Union with zero or minimal tax hassles and no need to relocate.

2. Ireland

Ireland real estate

Investment: €950,000
One of my favorite countries in Europe, and an easy country for English speakers to adapt to, Ireland has a long tradition of allowing immigration. It also has a long history of its youth emigrating to find work overseas. The joke in Dublin is that Ireland’s biggest export is people.

However, Ireland is a great place to live and offers one of the world’s best and most respected passports, which you can obtain after five years of actual residence. To obtain temporary residence in Ireland, foreigners must make an investment of €950,000 in a hybrid of government bonds and real estate for their personal use, of which €450,000 should be invested in real estate.

There are a number of other options to obtain Irish investor residency, but real estate is among the most popular, even now that Ireland’s property market has somewhat recovered from the gutter.

Ireland is definitely more of an option for an investor who actually wants to live there, although there is no requirement to do so. The real estate program is designed for the purchase of an expensive single-family home. After five years of living in Ireland, you may apply for naturalization. You should expect to make Ireland your tax domicile before applying.

3. Latvia

Living in Latvia: one of the cheapest places in Europe for expats

Latvia’s charming capital city of Riga. The cost of living in Europe is never dirt cheap, but Riga offers much of the quaint romance of western Europe at a lower cost and with more opportunity.

Investment: €250,000
In the late 2000s, Latvia was mired in bad press in the midst of a global recession that hit Eastern Europe hard. The government responded by allowing foreigners — namely wealthy Russians living the next country over — to purchase real estate in Latvia and enjoy residence privileges.

The government was so open to foreign investment that the fee to process an investor residency application was barely $100. Times have changed (that government fee is now about $28,000), and Latvia is now the most livable of the fast-growing, business-friendly Baltic states. It also offers the cheapest investor visa program in all of Europe.

For a mere 250,000 Euros invested in Latvian real estate, non-EU citizens can obtain Latvian residency. The visa starts out as a temporary residence permit that must be renewed annually for five years. If you spend the majority of your time in Latvia — and subject yourself to taxation there — you can apply for permanent residency after five years and citizenship after another five.

Latvia is not a great choice for investors seeking a second citizenship without actually living in Europe, but it does make a good residency for those who want the privileges of European residency without actually making it their home. As long as you maintain your property, you can maintain your residency.

4. Spain

Spain and the freedom to choose

When we discovered we didn’t like our options living in Spain, we moved. That is the freedom that comes with a location independent lifestyle.

Investment: €500,000
Spain introduced its own Golden Visa program to compete with that of Portugal, but it hasn’t been as popular, nor is it as worthy a contender for obtaining a second passport.

Just like Portugal, the Spain Golden Visa program requires immigrants to purchase real estate valued at one half million Euros. Most investors use the program to invest in luxury property, although those numbers are a bit skewed because few passport seekers have any interest in the program to begin with.

Here’s why: becoming a Spanish citizen requires ten years of residence before applying. From there, the process can easily take two years. The Spanish Golden Visa program does not offer a “fast track” option for investors; it takes a high-value investor the same long ten year period as it does his or her maid on a work visa.

Spain is very fickle about handing out its citizenship, and those investors who choose to actually live in their properties for six months or more a year enjoy near-US levels of tax compliance burdens; not exactly the reason to get a second residency.

5. Greece

Greece real estate and Golden Visa

From Ireland to Greece, a growing number of European countries are offering “Golden Visas” to real estate investors seeking second citizenship

Investment: €250,000
Tied with Latvia as Europe’s cheapest real estate investor visa option, Greece offers all of the charm of sky-high property taxes and corrupt politicians with none of the benefits of future citizenship.

Greece has become rather isolated in recent years, not just in its astonishing attempts to default on its debt or demand Germany pay its creditors for it as retribution for World War II. Greece has also implemented a policy that disallows foreigners of non-Greek origin from becoming naturalized citizens, leaving Greece’s “Golden Visa” program as a pure residency play.

Residency without the prospect of future citizenship could be of use to some people, but I doubt many investors will find the prospect of property taxes increasing 700% to be worth it. If there was ever a country to vow “never to buy a green banana in”, Greece would be toward the top of the list. Stick to other options if you want to move to Europe.

6. Cyprus

Cyprus passport and citizenship by investment

The Cyprus government reduced the price for its citizenship by investment program in the past few years.

Investment: €300,000
If you’re looking for Mediterranean island living and actually want a base to live in, my money and I would choose Cyprus over Greece any day. While Cyprus is not part of the Schengen Area, it is part of the European Union and has become known for its quasi-favorable tax climate. That makes it particularly of interest to European citizens seeking a tax-friendly home base.

However, you can also qualify for residency with a real estate investment. Cyprus residency rules require you to purchase new property, which means resale options are not possible. The minimum investment is a rather reasonable €300,000, however, you must also pay VAT. If you plan to spend time in Cyprus and not rent your property, the VAT is 5%; otherwise, it is 19%. Paying €57,000 in what is essentially a stamp duty is far less appealing to me.

To claim a residence card, you must also place a three-year, €30,000 term deposit in a Cyprus bank, and prove an annual income of €30,000 if you’re single.

The best way to get started

Investor visa programs change all the time; as mentioned above, the cost of a Latvian visa increased about 27,000% overnight several years ago.

It’s true that more countries in Europe and around the world are offering residence permits to foreign investors, but prices and requirements are increasing, even with increased supply. With so many people in the Middle East, Russia, and East Asia seeking their “get out of jail free card”, I expect most European countries to raise the stakes on immigration and naturalization in the next few years.

If you’d like to learn more about fast track second citizenship programs, you can learn about second passports here.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Jan 16, 2020 at 12:41PM

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16 Comments

  1. Tenio Latev

    The quickest and most affordable way to become an EU citizen is Bulgaria. 22months, and no need to buy overpriced properties with no resell options..

    Reply
    • Archie

      What are the requirements?

      Reply
      • Tenio Latev

        Simply buy two government bonds within 18 months, hold them in your personal account and you will be granted citizenship within 22months. After you recieve your citizenhip, you would have to hold the bonds another 24 months. Bond interest is between 1.4 to 3.5% p.a.
        The bonds have a daily price and can be sold at any time after holding period.

        Reply
        • Archie

          And how to go about buying Bulgarian government bonds?

          Thanks.

          Reply
        • Mattia Settimelli

          So where to “almost one million in 22 months” evaluation above come from? 7k is for real estate, then which other investments are requested?
          Thanks for your time
          best

          Reply
          • Ive Churko

            Bulgaria warning government tax + mafia tax, and mafia is everywhere.

            Reply
    • Ludwig Rothbard

      Assuming that Bulgaria Citizenship by Investment is legitimate, for the 22month track it looks like the total cost would be around one million Euro’s. At that rate, you may as well go with the Malta program – around the same price, better tax policy, more stable government, and it only takes one year instead of two.

      Reply
      • Tenio Latev

        In malta you lose over 750k Euro. That money is gone.
        In Bulgaria you buy government bonds and you get interest.
        How stable which government is, is not a question here, because you become an EU citizen and can go live in the Uk or where ever you like. By the way bulgaria has a flat rate tax regime of 10% for individuals and corporates.
        I dont mind waiting a few extra months become a citizen of the EU, when i know that i can get my investment back with a profit. You should do your research before posting things on forums.

        Reply
  2. Babundo Omordia

    I guess citizen based instead of residecy based taxation

    Reply
  3. Vijit

    i need to get PR in EU countries .i m a srilankan living in botswana for 12 yrs .

    need to chat with you …..

    Reply
  4. Solar

    Bulgaria offers a way in. Buy cheap real estate, for as little as $7,000, which then gives reason for visa (visiting your property). Then apply for long and multiple visas. Start a business/show commitment to the country and apply for citizenship after 5 years. No need to shell out a lot of money for their fast track option unless you’re in a hurry and can afford to tie up capital for some time.

    BG is also nearest to a tax haven Europe’s got (except v expensive principalities like Monaco), with flat 10% corporate and personal tax (after expenses like travelling to BG). Companies can be set up easily and cheaply. They also have a modern satellite based property register.

    One note of caution: the authorities there are very leery of immigrants from middle East, following recent Islamic terrorism in Europe.

    Reply
  5. J.

    There remain residency & citizenship options in Singapore if you have at least $100-million to invest and you meet their ultra-high net worth and entrepreneurial requirements for admission. The economic stability, low taxation and strong financial position of Singapore and its wonderful banks are a stark contrast to the insolvent, tax-hellholes of Western Europe and its ailing banking sector.

    Reply
  6. J.

    The two Immigrant Investor programs to buy a property or a property + bond in Ireland no longer exist.

    Reply
  7. KG

    One question:

    When you invest in Schengen/EU real estate – say Spain for example with 500k euros – does it have to be 500k euros cash, or can it be, for example, 250k euros cash and 250k euros mortgage?

    Reply

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