When it comes to applying for a residency visa in Portugal, a lawyer isn’t always essential but it is a good idea. This is especially true for the golden visa where you’re spending several hundred thousand pounds on an investment – definitely somewhere where you want a professional looking over your shoulder.
Even if you’re investing in something simple like a residential property, there are a lot of questions that you need to ask. For example, does the property meet the golden visa requirements, is everything about the property above board and legal, is the asking price market value or has it been inflated to meet the golden visa requirements (it’s not unheard of for a property that’s valued at around €450,000 to be priced at €500,000 for example).
If you’re investing in funds, property, commercial property such as a hotel, anything, you want to know the terms of the scheme. What are the fees and are they fairly priced? How will you get your money back (and hopefully any return on your investment) once the 5 or 6 years are up?
Basically, you’ll probably have a lot of questions, and you want a competent lawyer who can answer them for you.
Choose a lawyer before investing in anything
You’ll naturally want to find your investment before you begin research law firms. After all, that’s the interesting part, especially if it’s a property that you’ll be spending a lot of time in.
However, don’t leave finding a lawyer until the last minute. If you’re buying a property, for example, you don’t want to start looking for a lawyer right when you’re about to put in an offer – especially if there are other people bidding as well. Despite the money involved in lawyer fees, it can surprisingly take a while – a few days, at least – to get a reply from a law firm, set up a phone call, and sign up as a client.
Don’t be afraid to shop around
You may have a good idea of which lawyer you want to work with. Perhaps they were recommended to you or maybe you had a good feeling from reading their materials or watching a webinar they were in. First impressions aren’t always accurate, unfortunately. Sometimes a company comes across very professional, but when you email them it can take them days and even weeks to respond – despite the possibility of you paying them thousands of euros in lawyer fees.
It’s also worth mentioning that you shouldn’t expect much from your initial email with a lawyer. You may have some questions and are planning to judge potential lawyers based on their answers, but most will only try to get you booked into a phone call. You’ll have an opportunity to ask some questions there, but you may struggle to get answers to the ones you ask via email.
Take advantage of free calls
Most golden visa lawyers offer a free phone call – usually between 15 minutes and 30 minutes in length. This is a good opportunity for you to get a feel for them and to ask them some questions.
These free calls are tricky in any business. You’ll want to get answers to as many questions as possible and to size up your potential future lawyer. Lawyers, on the other hand, prefer to give out as little information as possible – they get a lot of people looking for free information who were never going to sign up – and simply want to turn you into a customer.
Given that, it can be hard to judge a company by this initial call but sometimes that’s all you have. And sometimes a company comes across fantastically during the call, simply because they’re good at sales, but when you become a customer, you find that their customer service skills are very lacking. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know in advance what a company is like, particularly if you can’t find an unbiased review of them.
Consider additional help
While a lawyer who specialises in the golden visa can help with the application, they’re not necessarily experts on investments. They can highlight certain terms and conditions that they think are cause for concern, but they’re less able to tell you whether an investment is a good idea or not.
If you can, it’s worth seeking additional input. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exist for all the different types of investments, but if you’re buying a residential property you can also worth with a buyer’s agent.
A buyer’s agent is an estate agent who works on your side, the buyer, rather than with the seller (they’ll likely have their own agent). They can check the property is accurately priced, check the documents to make sure the property has been legally built or renovated, and even accompany you to viewings. They can also suggest a price to negotiate at.
Weigh up the fees
There are quite a few costs involved in the Portuguese golden visa. Some of these, like the government fees, are fixed and some, like the lawyer’s own fees, vary from law firm to law firm.
Don’t simply go with the cheapest option – this isn’t somewhere where you want to scrimp – but make sure your prospective lawyer’s fees are fairly priced as well. Check if they’re significantly above other law firms. Also check whether they charge excessive amounts for things like the NIF and fiscal representation or opening a bank account, both of which can be done for a few hundred euros through companies like Bordr and E-Residence.