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Europe’s Golden Visas: 5 Highly Pursued EU Residence Programs

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Residence by investment (RBI) goes by many names, including the golden visa and the investor program but, regardless of what you want to call it, one thing is true: the immigration investment industry has grown immensely in Europe. 

Portugal’s Golden Visa program launched back in 2012 and was one of the earliest EU Golden Visa programs, forming a major part of that country’s efforts to attract badly needed funds to rescue its struggling real estate market. 

Fast-forward to 2024 and Portugal’s parliament has just introduced legislation closing the path to Portuguese residence through property investment. Still, even though the real estate investment option has closed for supposedly exacerbating a housing crisis, Portugal’s Golden Visa program is still open, leaving many investors pondering whether this Golden Visa is still a promising option. 

The popular residence-by-investment program has generated over €700 million annually, and other European countries, having observed the success of Portugal’s program, are considering raising funds by introducing their own Golden Visas.

This means that, as an investor, you have options. In general, golden visas could be the perfect opportunity for Nomad Capitalists to get an EU residence permit, with all the lifestyle benefits they bring, as well as the potential for eventual citizenship down the road.

Curious to find out more? Is residence in Europe right for you? 

Well, if you’re considering moving to Europe but feel overwhelmed with the paperwork and legal requirements or simply have no idea where to begin, don’t worry: Nomad Capitalist can carry the burden and handle all the paperwork while you sit back and think of your future. 

 

 

European Golden Visa Flags

Why Get a Golden Visa?

1. Travel Perks

Becoming a resident of the EU means getting visa-free access to an entire region of world-class countries as residents of the EU’s Schengen area have the privilege to travel freely across 27 European countries.

2. New Opportunities

Open up new investment and lifestyle opportunities when you obtain your Golden Visa and become a resident. Programs potentially lead to citizenship and a second passport, some with no time on the ground required.

3. Plan B

Nobody knows what the future holds, so an additional residence can be a great way for you and your family to have a ‘Plan B‘ – a safe place to live and work legally. It’s worth remembering that a Golden Visa is not the only way to obtain residence in Europe: there are other options that require real estate investment, bank deposits, physical presence, offering a particular skill, savings and so on.

What is a golden visa

What is a Golden Visa?

Simply put, Golden Visas are European residency-by-investment programs that allow an individual to obtain a temporary or permanent residency in a given country. The ‘golden’ part is that you’re getting a top-rated EU residency permit quickly by making an investment with minimal hassle.  

European residency by investment is a golden opportunity to gain access to EU countries which offer a high standard of living and a familiar Western culture, coupled with the charm and history of Europe. 

 

On top of all that, you get to enjoy the perks of a powerful passport. Some European residency by investment programs can even lead to citizenship, though it’s not guaranteed. An EU investment visa only grants the holder the right to live in the country and work towards citizenship according to the country’s regular naturalisation timeline. 

Many of the residence-by-investment (RBI) programs available outside the EU are often erroneously promoted as Golden Visas. At Nomad Capitalist, all our strategies are 100% legal: we only focus on what’s legitimate, which includes Europe’s residence programs.

 

The Key Features of European Golden Visas

In coining the term, promoters have managed to cause confusion about the name ‘Golden Visa’. Technically, it is not a visa at all as golden visas are different from actual travel visas in these three key ways:

1. Fast

While a visa can take a really long time to obtain, a Golden Visa application process is streamlined. You can expect to get your residence permit in a matter of a few months.

For example, the Spanish Golden Visa program (which is changing) has a legal requirement that the application be processed in 20 business days or less.

2. Accessible

Whereas citizenship-by-investment programs have stringent due diligence processes and long lists of eligibility criteria, Golden Visas are much more accessible.

As long as you are a high-net-worth individual of good standing and reasonable health, no country is going to turn down your investment out of hand.

3. Straightforward

Simplicity and clarity are the key markers of a legitimate Golden Visa program. The more clearly its terms are laid out (usually on an official government website), the more likely it is to attract investors.

Even if multiple investment options are available to foreigners, there’s often an official source which clearly specifies:

  • The minimum investment sums
  • A schedule of all fees payable
  • The eligibility criteria for the main applicant, their spouse and dependents.

The Benefits of Golden Visas

Streamlined Process

It takes less time to process than citizenship, usually 2-3 months.

No Frills

There are no language exams, no interviews and no hoops to jump through.

Bring The Family

Every Golden Visa program lets you bring your spouse and children.

No Residence Requirement

You don’t need to live in the country of your residence to retain your permit.

Eventual Citizenship

Stick ‘around’ for long enough, and you will most likely be able to apply for citizenship.

Why Opt for a Golden Visa?

What differentiates a Golden Visa from other immigration programs is that it essentially removes all the extra requirements.

If you’ve ever looked at the immigration requirements for many wealthier English-speaking countries, they can be very strict. The Golden Visa removes the need to have a job offer, start a business (which comes with complex business plans, requirements to pay social security tax and other hassles) or even be married to someone.

It even removes the headaches like a stressful language exam. However, if you’re someone who’s getting a residence program in the hopes of applying for citizenship in the future, then you can expect to meet extra requirements in the future, including an exam. 

But this ease of process that makes these programs a ‘golden ticket’ for high-net-worth individuals who have the kind of wealth keenly desired by these countries.

What Are the Main Drawbacks of the Golden Visa?

It’s should be borne in mind that Europe’s Golden Visa programs do not waive the taxation requirements for investor residents.

Still, if you simply obtain the residence without physically moving to the country, no Golden Visa country will tax you. That’s because most countries will only tax you if you live there long enough to become a tax resident in the country. Some even offer tax incentives that allow you to live in the country and only pay tax on the money that you make within its borders, exempting any income generated abroad.

But know this: if you spend enough time in your new country of residence to qualify as a tax resident – generally, 183 days a year in any of these countries – you will be taxed.

Even in countries where it is possible to minimise taxation, your life and business affairs must be structured properly. You can’t just put your company in a zero-tax jurisdiction like the British Virgin Islands and then go to Portugal and expect a tax exemption.

That’s precisely why it’s so important to have a holistic plan to protect your assets. With proper planning, even if you don’t spend enough time in the country, there’s a way that you can legally pay low taxes while being a European resident.

There’s a lot to consider in undertaking this kind of approach. In this case, the catch is that you are unlikely to be able to work towards obtaining citizenship if you don’t reside in the country. In all Golden Visa countries, you have to spend actual time there to qualify for the country’s citizenship and, as a result, be subject to local tax obligations.

Having a holistic and smart tax strategy will address all these issues. We are here to help you.  

What is a Golden Visa and How to Live in Europe
European Golden Visas

Which Countries Offer Golden Visas?

Plenty of elements make Europe an attractive destination for investment immigration.

From its fascinating history and architecture to its rich culture, foods and heritage, the ‘Old World’ has a lot working in its favour. There are mountains, beaches, islands, rivers, cities, architecture, countryside and more – literally something for everyone.

Many of us have travelled to Europe and, in recent years, more and more people from all over the world have decided to make it their home.

There are many ways to do that, but obtaining a Golden Visa is the easiest and fastest by far. The other routes to becoming a European citizen are more costly and take far longer in comparison. Golden Visas can have you living in Europe in just a few months. Plus, you’ll be able to work towards European citizenship.

The European continent offers diverse programs and below is a comparison of the top European Golden Visa programs. 

Greece Golden Visa Ultimate Guide

Greece

Greece has one of the most popular Golden Visas available and, despite the government’s move to raise investment costs, it remains one of Europe’s most affordable golden visa options. 

Currently, Greece’s Golden Visa scheme requires a minimum investment of €250,000 or €800,000 in real estate, depending on the region where the property is located. Certain sought-after areas previously cost approximately €500,000 in investment costs but the nation announced in February 2024 that this would increase in areas like Athens and Thessaloniki. As of March 2024, you can expect to pay a minimum investment of €800,000 in real estate investments in these areas.

Even though the costs have gone up, Greece’s golden visa remains one of the most desired for several reasons. Greece’s Golden Visa investment options are highly flexible so you have options.

Most people choose to invest in real estate, which can be one or multiple properties. You can also buy a villa and share the costs with someone else, with both of you now eligible for residency. A great bonus here is that Greece has no physical residence requirement, allowing you to have the benefits that a second residence provides without any of the drawbacks.

You are also able to work towards Greek citizenship, which you can apply for if you spend at least seven consecutive years in the country. However, it’s worth noting that military service is mandatory for males up to 45 years of age with Greek citizenship, potentially making it less appealing to some. 

A flat-tax arrangement makes Greece even more enticing. If you live in Greece for more than six months and become a tax resident, you can pay a flat tax of €100,000, regardless of how much foreign income you generate in a year.

Read more about the cheapest Golden Visa Europe has to offer in our ultimate guide

PORTUGAL GOLDEN VISA: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

Portugal 

You might know Portugal as the home of Port Wine and Cristiano Ronaldo, but we know it as a Golden Visa superstar.

As we mentioned in the introduction of this article, Portugal’s immigration program was one of the trailblazers. Portugal had some excellent real estate and came up with the idea of offering it to foreigners in exchange for residence. 

Even with the real estate option ending in 2024, you can still invest €500,000 in equity or venture capital funds, donate €500,000 to research activities or donate €250,000 to arts-based organisations.  

As a bonus, you become eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship after five years. Unlike other countries, you can get citizenship there even if you don’t physically live there, and that’s a real plus. 

If you’re interested, then check out our detailed guide on the Portugal Golden Visa program.

Latvia-Golden-Visa

Latvia

This Eastern European country isn’t on many people’s radar, but it’s one of the cheapest places to live in this part of the world.

That means you can find some great deals on properties and you can obtain residence by starting a company, something you can’t do in every Golden Visa country. A minimum investment of just €50,000 in a Latvian company (plus a €10,000 fee) is required to become a resident of Latvia.

You can learn everything you need to know about the Latvia Golden Visa program by checking out our article.

Note: Russians and Belarusians are now excluded from Latvia’s Golden Visa program. Although Latvia may consider Russian and Belarusian residents under certain programs, they remain barred from the RBI program.

 

Why a Cyprus bank confiscation may be coming

Cyprus

Although Cyprus is part of the European Union, it’s not yet a member of the Schengen zone. On the other hand, it’s an English-speaking island in the Mediterranean and who doesn’t like that?

Cyprus no longer offers a citizenship-by-investment program but you can take advantage of their residency-by-investment program, which could lead to citizenship after seven years.

You can take the straightforward RBI path to residency in Cyprus by investing at least Є300,000 in commercial or residential real estate or by making the same contribution in a Cypriot business. 

This is the fast-track option for investors, though there are also slower methods, such as purchasing or renting a property that investors may re-sell after obtaining their residency card.

You must also have €30,000 in annual income as the principal applicant, €5,000 for a spouse and €5,000 per dependant. 

Click here to read our guide to residence by investment in Cyprus.

How Spain lost all respect for capital

Spain

Not to be confused with its Citizenship-by-Investment (CBI) program – which has been discontinued – Spain originally launched its RBI Golden Visa program as a way to revitalise its struggling economy by selling off its real estate surplus and creating jobs for many of its unemployed.

With a minimum investment of €500,000, it’s essentially on par with other European countries, and offers a viable option for non-EU investors seeking residency.

So, why Spain?

Well, for a start Spain needs little introduction. Its culture, standard of living and rich history are just a few of its many benefits. Its connections and proximity to Europe, North Africa and Latin America mean it’s ideal if you’re interested in investing in or starting your own business. With residency here you get the freedom to travel in the Schengen area .

Do note that, if you become a Spanish resident, you could be liable to pay tax on income generated abroad. But with some smart tax planning, that can also be legally avoided. 

Read our detailed guide on Spain’s Golden Visa to gain a deeper understanding of the program. If you think it is the one for you, reach out to our team today and create your own holistic action plan.

Who is a Golden Visa For?

As discussed here, ‘How to Become a European Citizen,’ Golden Visa programs are ideal for certain individuals. But who exactly are these programs most attractive to and are they a good fit for you? 

1. US Citizens

US citizens who plan to renounce their US citizenship now or in the future and who want a Tier A passport are good candidates for European citizenship. 

These individuals may be getting a second passport now that is not as powerful (for example, a Caribbean passport) and decide they want to work towards EU citizenship to increase their future travel options.

In general, the end game of getting a European Golden Visa is not just to secure residence but the possibility of eventual obtaining European Union citizenship once all the criteria are met and the required time is put in for naturalisation.

Citizens of the US may want to expand their financial stability and diversify their travel and residence options. Some may hope that Europe’s residence-by-investments program will automatically give them an ‘out’ if they’re planning renounce their US citizenship, but that’s not the case – that would require a citizenship program.

Fortunately, some of these programs have citizenship options after several years of residence, although these are not fast tracks to citizenship and usually have physical presence requirements. 

2. Emerging-world citizens

Citizens who have second or third-tier passports may want access to the EU for education and other opportunities or high levels of security and stability. Whatever their motivation, these folks will probably benefit from these residence programs.

3. Business owners and investors

Business owners looking to spend time in Europe make good European Golden Visa candidates.

Some European Golden Visa programs require you to live in the country to eventually get citizenship, but others do not.

So, if your goal is to be able to live, do business and eventually travel to the EU beyond the visa-free access period that you may have on your current passport, an EU residence may be ideal for you.

The European Golden Visa program may not be the ultimate solution for everyone in these three groups, but many people stand to win if they obtain European residence. The group that really benefits from the Golden Visa program are those with weaker passports who cannot travel to Europe without the never-ending hassle of getting visas.

Remember too, that while the focus of this article is not on specific tax strategies, there are certain European Golden Visa countries where it may be possible to avail of tax incentives. This is why it is so important to have a comprehensive plan.

Alternatives to the Golden Visa

Besides the Golden Visa program, there are other ways to become a resident of European countries.

In fact, some of the alternatives may be a better option for you. For example, we’re currently helping someone with a program in Portugal that allows them to demonstrate certain assets without having to invest them all and still get a residence permit.

You can also get a residence permit in all these countries if you get a job there, are married to a citizen or can prove you’ve been in a committed relationship with a citizen of the country. Some English-speaking countries tend to have a point system and certain nations grant residence if you start a company. Either way – whether you’re required to start a business or take another route – you can expect some sort of requirement. 

The point is that there are numerous ways to get immigration permission to become a resident in different countries. But they all set their own terms, which are often onerous to comply with. As a result, it’s our opinion that the Golden Visa is typically the easier and more straightforward option on the table. 

 

Golden Visa EUR

How to Qualify for a Golden Visa 

As we discussed earlier, a Golden Visa program in Europe is an exchange between the investor and the country and government officials will grant you a residence permit if you make the necessary financial investment.

But what does that entail?

Luckily, you aren’t confined to just one type of investment when it comes to most of the Golden Visa programs in Europe that are available right now. Depending on their economic and strategic needs, the various countries offering golden visas will set out the criteria for allowing a foreign investor to qualify for residence.

These are some of the most popular options available: 

1. Real Estate

By far the most popular investment option and the most prevalent one, real estate is the bread and butter of Golden Visas.

When you think about it, it’s the perfect way for a country to sell its real estate surplus, often at premium prices.

There are many reasons as to why the surplus happens in the first place with one explanation being that real estate prices simply escalate until they are out of reach for the country’s own citizens.

Another explanation is that developers get some artificial stimulus to build more with favourable borrowing rates or a simplified permit process. Then, a few years down the line, the government wakes up to a massive surplus of real estate, developers who are in a considerable amount of debt, and no one to buy any of the properties.

The investment required in real estate is often the lowest but Golden Visa requirements can vary when it comes to real estate investment.

For example, some countries such as Greece will allow you to buy multiple properties of any kind (think residential, commercial and agricultural) as long as the total amount spent reaches the minimum amount. You can also split an expensive property with someone else and still obtain your residence permit.

Meanwhile, other countries will only let you buy in a certain area and just a single property. This usually occurs with governments which are trying to prop up their country by artificially inflating the minimum investment amounts.

2. Business and Enterprise 

While not all countries allow foreigners to set up their own businesses, others are only too happy to allow overseas entrepreneurs to invest in a local business or even set up their own enterprise.

Spain, for example, has long struggled with high unemployment rates. The country doesn’t even set a minimum investment to become a resident as long as you create work opportunities for the locals. Basically, what they are after are innovative IT or tech companies but, if you have a more local or regional business in mind, that would be considered too.

The good news is that most Golden Visa countries offer business or enterprise investment options.  

3. Financial Instruments

Golden Visa applicants have access to a variety of financial instruments in which they can invest such as bonds, stocks, funds and bank deposits.

Most Golden Visa countries offer options to invest in financial assets but the application process becomes slightly more complicated. Financial assets like bonds won’t accumulate any interest though others like stocks and investments in funds might.

That means, in theory, that in certain countries you could actually be getting paid to become a resident by investment.

Each Golden Visa country has its own specifications as to when you can divest your money. Usually, it’s at the five-year mark when you could apply for permanent residence or even citizenship.

4. Donation 

Governments that need a direct injection of foreign capital may allow their Golden Visa applicants to make a donation. It’s not always an option but, in some Golden Visa countries, residence in exchange for a donation is still a possibility.

One important point to note here though is that, while Golden Visa countries have clear rules as to when you can divest from an investment, a donation is treated differently. When you make a donation, that money is gone for good.

How Does the Golden Visa Process Work?

The idea behind the Golden Visa is that the process should be fast and painless in comparison with other options available to investors.

For example, many countries offering RBI Golden Visas don’t require applicants to learn the language to become a resident, but do require it of people wishing to become citizens. Similarly, the fact that you’re not subject to requirements such as securing a job offer or acquiring a business partner is supposed to put you at the front of the queue to get in to a particular country.

The reality is that getting an RBI Golden Visa is not always smooth sailing. Approval times for some programs, like the Portugal Golden Visa, have become very slow while certain other countries simply do not follow their own mandated laws on how quickly they are supposed to process applications.

Simply put, this process can take longer than promised. A Golden Visa is not the kind of residence permit where you can go in, fill in a form, pay a US$200 fee and get your residence card.

In fact, the opposite is true in many cases with substantial fees often involved. This should surprise no-one – after all, the entire Golden Visa concept was dreamt up to make money for the governments involved. They know their target audience is made up of wealthy investors who want a European residence and are willing to pay for it.

Bulgaria, for example, recently decided to raise the processing fees for its Golden Visa substantially. They knew they could do it because they also happen to be the only program that offers to fast-track the naturalisation timeline for applicants. In some cases, Bulgaria citizenship can be yours in as little as two years, while the standard timeline is actually five years. Other European countries have typical naturalisation timelines as long as five to ten years.

In a similar vein, Portugal has adjusted one of its naturalisation requirements but has not reduced the timeline itself. Instead, they’ve reduced the amount of time that you have to spend in the country each year in order to qualify for citizenship.

So, if you are considering a Golden Visa, it is important to be aware of, and account for, these differences. Golden Visas are not the type of program where you simply wave a bunch a cash and get a passport quickly.

Create a Holistic Strategy

As with every decision in life, especially one that will have financial and personal implications, it pays to weigh up your options.

Although we’ve touched upon the main European countries offering Golden Visas right now, that’s not enough to understand where you should plant your flags. No single program is the best Golden Visa option in Europe, so you need to find one which works for you, your investment choices and your lifestyle.

Financial planning to create a life of freedom and prosperity is our speciality here at Nomad Capitalist. We understand the tools and strategies you have at your disposal when it comes to optimising your tax, building your wealth and giving yourself (and your family) the best quality of life. We will examine your individual situation and create a personalised plan for where you can live, invest, bank and hold passports.

Our team at Nomad Capitalist consists of experts located all over the world who can help you decide where to go to be treated best. Our experts located all over the world are constantly researching and analysing 70+ citizenship programs so we can help our clients take advantage of what works in the real world, not in theory. Become a client today, and let us help you create your holistic plan for the future.

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