Launched in 2012 https://www.sef.pt/en/pages/conteudo-detalhe.aspx?nID=21, the Golden Visa is one of Portugal’s most well-known and popular visas. It offers residency, or the right to live in Portugal, to non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens in return for making an investment in Portugal.
While that investment can be in a business that creates jobs, it can be as simple as purchasing property in Portugal that’s worth €500,000 or more (or €350k and even €280k in some cases). And, who doesn’t want a property in Portugal?
One of its biggest selling points is that you only need to spend an average of seven days per year physically in Portugal (14 days in the first two years, for example https://www.henleyglobal.com/residence-investment/portugal). For those that either want an easy path to citizenship without really moving to Portugal or just want more flexibility than a standard residency visa offers, the golden visa is perfect. After five years, you can apply for both permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship.
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How to take part
There are a number of different ways that you can invest in Portugal, from property to venture capital funds.
Investing in property
Unsurprisingly, the most popular way to invest in the golden visa is by purchasing an eligible property. This usually means a property worth €500,000 or more, but in some cases it could be as low as €350,000 or even €280,000.
The property could be somewhere that you live in year-round, somewhere you visit for a few weeks of the year, or somewhere that you use as a rental.
As of January 2022, there have been some changes to the golden visa scheme and residential properties purchased in some parts of Portugal no longer qualify. This, unfortunately, includes places like Lisbon, Porto, large parts of the Algarve, and the Silver Coast. There are, however, still plenty of areas that qualify, most of which are inland but a selection of which are on the coast. Alternatively, commercial properties such as hotel investment schemes still qualify.
Besides location, another factor to consider is the cost. To be eligible a property needs to be valued at €500k or more, but there are cases where it can be lower:
- €400k if it’s in a low-density area
- €350k if the property is at least 30 years old or in a designated urban rehabilitation area
- €280k if the property meets the criteria for the €350k price and is also in a low density area
For those on a budget, and who’ve always wanted to renovate a house, the €350k and €280k options could be perfect for making that dream a reality. There are a lot of do-er uppers in Portugal, particularly rural Portugal, that could meet the golden visa requirements.
However, if you’re on the opposite end of the scale and you don’t want to spend a lot of time in Portugal (perhaps you’re still working full-time, for example) and you don’t want the hassle of owning a house in another country, one option that you could consider is investing in a hotel or resort. There are a number of schemes that allow you to purchase an apartment in a hotel or resort that’s marked for redevelopment, and many of these programs work out cheaper than investing in a house or apartment directly. Most schemes also allow you to use the apartment or hotel room for a few weeks of the year. There’s typically also a buy-back option after five or six years, should you wish to sell.
- Investment – An investment in a qualifying project or qualifying private equity or venture capital funds equalling at least €500k
- Capital transfer – Transfer of €1,500,000 to a Portuguese bank account
- Scientific Research – Investment in public or private scientific research amounting to at least €500k (€400k if in a low density area)
- Job creation – Creation of at least 10 jobs (8 jobs if in a low density area)
- Company incorporation – Transfer €500k and incorporate a company within Portugal
- Cultural Investment – An investment in the arts, culture, or national heritage of at least €250k (reduced to €200k if in a low density area https://www.edge-il.com/arts-cultural-heritage-first-golden-visa-issued-to-edge-client/)
A note on property
As property is the most popular form of investment, it’s worth adding some specific points to this.
Property takes many formats. Most people buy a second property, with some using it as a main residence, others using it as a second home, and others again renting it out. It’s also possible to invest in a hotel or resort, often in off-plan or being restored, and there are a number of programs which allow you to invest your money, earn rental income from the property, and take advantage of a buy-back option at the end of the five or six year period. You’re sometimes allowed to stay in the hotel or apartment for a few weeks of the year, but this is mainly an option for people who are looking for a more hands-off approach to investing in property and don’t want the challenges of owning another house.
As of January 2022, residential properties purchased in specific parts of the country (including Lisbon, Porto, and most of coastal mainland Portugal) will not longer be eligible. Non-residential properties in these areas will still be eligible, however, and many of the hotel schemes fall into this category.
The €350k amount (or €280k if in a low density area) can include the cost of the renovations as well as the property. For example, you could purchase a €300k property and spend €50k on renovations. However, the money needs to all have been spent before you submit your application. In many cases, this means pre-paying a construction company, which isn’t ideal. There isn’t this hurdle if the property itself costs the minimum amount (e.g. €350k). Regardless of whether your cost includes renovations or not, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s eligible for the golden visa program before signing anything.
Ideally, you shouldn’t leave it until this stage before you start seeking outside help. Having a lawyer is recommended and a buyer’s agent can really help too.
Advantages of the golden visa
- Only requires you to spend an average of seven days per year in Portugal, which is ideal if:
- You don’t actually want to live in Portugal, but just want a route to an “EU passport”
- You have commitments elsewhere (e.g. a full time job)
- You want to spend the majority of your time travelling
- You want to maintain your tax residency somewhere else but still maintain residency in Portugal
- Requirements (e.g. purchase a property worth €500k or more) are more black and white than other visas like the D7 or the D2, so you have a better idea of where you stand when you apply
- The golden visa has higher fees than most other residency visas
- Requires an investment of between €250k and €1.5 million which, even if it is a personal property, may be more than you can afford
- As of 2022, there are new restrictions on buying residential property in places like Lisbon, Porto, and most of coastal mainland Portugal (which is an issue if you want to have your main residence in somewhere like Lisbon)
(These advantages apply to most Portuguese residency visas)
- Citizenship through naturalisation application possible after just five years https://www.athenaadvisers.com/buying-guides/portugal/golden-visa/, which is much better than Greece where it takes seven years or Spain where it takes ten
- Once you have Portuguese citizenship, you can easily live, work, and study anywhere else in the EU
- There are no language requirements for residency. However, if you want to apply for permanent residency or citizenship after five years, there is a language requirement
- The language requirement for citizenship is only the A2-level of Portuguese https://www.athenaadvisers.com/buying-guides/portugal/golden-visa/ (which is the upper-beginner level)
- Portugal recognises dual citizenship (unlike Spain, which only recognises it in certain cases)
- Golden visa residents are eligible for Portugal’s Non Habitual Residency (NHR) tax regime
- Gives you the freedom to travel within the Schengen Area (and to enter and leave the Schengen Area without needing to get a Schengen Visa each time)
- Allows residency for multiple family members across several generations
- Gives you access to Portuguese healthcare, education, and the right to work in Portugal
Note: Some countries, like China, don’t recognise dual citizenship http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/ywzn/lsyw/vpna/faq/t710012.htm, so, in year give, you may decide not to apply for Portuguese citizenship but simply to just have permanent residency in Portugal instead. You won’t have a Portuguese passport but you will still be able to live in Portugal and travel freely within the Schengen Area. You won’t, however, have the same ability to live, work, and study in another EU country as you would if you had Portuguese citizenship.
And don’t forget…
- Portugal is considered to be a very safe country
- It has some of the best weather in the world (more than 300 days of sunshine in the Algarve)
- It’s generally very tolerant of people moving here
Family members are welcome too
As well as the main applicant, the following family members are also eligible for residency (note: there is a fee for each family member). Family members that can apply include:
- Spouse (or common law partner)
- Dependent minor children
- Dependent minor adopted children
- Dependent children aged 18+ if studying or financially dependent on parents
- Parents over the age of 65 (or younger if dependent)
- Dependent siblings under the golden visa holder’s guardianship
- Other relatives if certain dependency requirements can be proven
During the renewals that take place during those five years, your children should meet the same requirements (namely that they’re under 25). This means that any children under the age of 21 at the time the visa is initially granted won’t have any issue, but older children will eventually need to move onto a different visa.
One of the benefits of the golden visa over other visas is that the main applicant only needs to be in Portugal for 14 days every two years, but his family members can spend as much time in Portugal as they want. This is ideal if the main applicant is still working outside of Portugal, but the other family members want to live or study in Portugal. Of course, everyone in the application is allowed to spend as much time in Portugal as they like.
Note: The freedom is to travel within the borderless Schengen Area does not include the freedom to move to another EU country. Most EU countries allow you to stay for around 90 days before becoming resident, which is enough for most people. If you want to move to one of those countries, you would need a visa from that country.
The following are the main requirements of the golden visa:
- Make a suitable investment (e.g. purchase a qualifying property)
- Hold that investment for at least five years
- Be from outside the EU, EEA, or Switzerland (this is not an option for Germans or French, for example)
- Have a clean criminal record
Is there another visa that’s better for you?
The golden visa has a lot of advantages over other Portuguese visas, as well as golden visas from other countries, but if your goal is to live in Portugal for the majority of the year (6 months or more), and you have a passive income such as a pension or even a salary from a remote job, the D7 could be a better option simply because it’s cheaper. Anecdotally, and ironically given the cost of the golden visa, the D7 also seems to get processed faster than the Golden Visa. Of course, it does mean spending 6+ months in Portugal which may not suit everyone.
If your goal is to start a business in Portugal, on the other hand, you may find the D2 a better option. Not only is the minimum investment criteria very low (around €5k), but there’s no job creation requirement.
However, if you want Portuguese residency and later citizenship, and want to spend as little time in Portugal as possible, the Golden Visa is the right choice for you.
The Golden Visa isn’t cheap, which is why it’s really best for those that want a path to permanent residency or citizenship but don’t want to live in Portugal. Not only does it include the main investment cost (e.g. a €500k property or €250k investment in the arts) but it also comes with fees and, most likely, lawyer fees as well.
You may be planning to purchase a €500k (or €350/€280k property anyway) so what other costs are involved?
- Processing fee for the main applicant: €533
- Processing fee per family member: €83.30
- Residency permit fees for the main applicant or family member: €5,325 per person
- Renewal fees for the main applicant or family member: € 2,663
While the fees vary, most lawyers charge an additional fee of around €5,000 to handle the application and renewals for you. Most charge an additional amount per family member, but it isn’t always as much as the main applicant.
With some companies this includes the NIF (Fiscal Number) and the opening of a Portuguese bank account. If this is not included, you should factor in a few hundred Euros for this as well (here’s how to get a NIF and here’s how to get a Portuguese bank account, for example). Note that the NIF is a fiscal number required for a lot of purchases, including property and to open a bank account. Obtaining a NIF that’s registered to a foreign address doesn’t necessarily make you a tax resident in Portugal.
There’s also the cost of travel to Portugal for the biometrics as well as the cost of getting the necessary documents together.
For a single applicant and no family members, all of this could mean more than €10,000 on top of the property purchase cost.
There are quite a few stages to the golden visa process and it can actually take almost a year to get your residency permit granted (around 8-10 months on average).
Step #1: Decide what you want to invest in
Because you have to stick with one investment, it’s important to make sure that this investment is a good one. For most people, the investment will be property but it could be any of the other investment routes (such as funds, scientific research, or job creation).
Step #2: Choose a law firm
You don’t have to have a law firm handle your application, but most people choose to. There are no shortage of companies that offer golden visa applications as a service, but they vary in terms of quality and cost. Research is essential.
If you’re purchasing a property, it can be a good idea to work with a buyer’s agent (an agent who works on the buyer’s side). Ideally, it’s best if this is someone you’ve found yourself and not someone your lawyer has recommended to you.
Step #3: Make the investment
What’s a little bit awkward about the golden visa is that you actually have to make the investment before you make the application. Basically, when you make the application, you need to have evidence that you’ve already purchased a property, invested in a fund, or started a company with ten jobs, depending on the route you’re taking.
Only once the money has been invested in Portugal are you eligible. This means that if you pay a 10% deposit of €50k on a €500k property you won’t yet be eligible until you complete. If, however, the property costs €5 million and you put in a 10% deposit, you would be eligible.
To make the investment, you need to first transfer the money to your Portuguese bank account. If you’re using a lawyer, they can probably help you set one up but you can also do this yourself. The money must come from a whitelisted country and not a country that Portugal considers a blacklisted tax havenhttps://www.pwc.pt/en/pwcinforfisco/tax-guide/2021/blacklisted-jurisdictions.html. You will probably be asked to prove where the money came from (salary, inheritance, etc).
At this stage, you should also gather all of the necessary documents. If the documents are in any language other than Portuguese, you should get them translated/apostilled. This often includes documents in English.
Step #4: Submit the documents for initial review
The next stage is to submit the documents. While you can do this yourself, most people have a lawyer handle the process.
There are two types of documents required:
- Documents about the investor (or family members)
- Documents about the investment
Documents about the investment are fairly straight-forward e.g. the deed to the property you’ve purchased or a confirmation from the fund you’ve invested in.
The documents the applicant and family members will need include:
- Copy of passport that’s valid for more than one year
- Health/travel insurance to cover you while you’re in Portugal
- Criminal record (translated and apostilled) for your current country and any other country you have lived in
- Personal declaration
- Declarations showing you don’t owe anything to the Portuguese tax office and Portuguese social security office
- Declaration from the Portuguese bank confirming where your money came from and where it went
At this point, there’s a fairly small fee of €533.90. After this, there’s a waiting period, which is usually around 2-3 months.
Once you get the confirmation that everything is okay, then you move onto the “real” part of the application process. This is where the documents are really inspected and where a higher fee is required.
Step #5: Come to Portugal for biometrics
The next step in the process is to attend an interview with SEF, where they will take your photo, fingerprints, and signature. This biometric data will later be put into your card. At this point you will also pay the main €5,325 fee and SEF will really analyse all of your documents.
Once your fee is paid, the next stage of the process can take around 3-6 months.
Step #6: Approval
Once approved, SEF will send your residency permit out around 3-4 weeks after approval.
The five-year temporary residency period
Next you will need to spend an average of seven days per year in Portugal. For example, the visa is normally granted for two years initially and you will need to spend 14 days in Portugal across those two years. The days do not have to be consecutive. During the renewals, you will also need to provide evidence that you have maintained your original investment (e.g. property purchase).
If you are planning on applying for Portuguese citizenship in year five, it’s recommended that you start gathering your documents in year four and have passed the language exam so that you don’t delay your application once you become eligible in year five.
Permanent residency & citizenship applications
After five years of temporary residency, you will be able to apply for permanent residency and/or Portuguese citizenship. While the benefits of permanent residency are similar to the benefits of temporary residency, at least permanent residency only has to be renewed every ten years. And, it can be done without the high fees of the golden visa program.
Once your citizenship application has been submitted, you should expect to wait 12-24 months before being approved.