One of the lesser-known routes to Portuguese residency (and eventually, Portuguese citizenship) is the HQA (Highly Qualified Activity) visa. This visa is aimed at entrepreneurs and investors who have an idea for a startup that they want developed over a 3+ year period in an incubation setting with the help of masters and PHD students from leading Portuguese universities.
Although this visa shares some similarities with other visas, like the golden visa, the D2 visa, or the startup visa, it is quite a unique visa and suited to a very specific type of person. If you are that type of person, however, it’s worth looking into as the visa is the fastest way to obtain residency in Portugal and that means it’s the fastest way for non-EU citizens to get to the citizenship application stage.
Is this right for you? Let’s see.
Note: We currently have slots available to discuss this visa in more detail. Please get in touch if you are interested.
With a few exceptions (e.g. citizens of Iran and Russia, currently) the HQA visa is open to all non-EU/EEA citizens. However, it is tailored to a very specific type of individual and not necessarily just someone who has €175,000 and wants a second passport.
Essentially, the HQA visa is tailored to investors, entrepreneurs, and high-earners with cash that they’re willing to invest in a startup idea. Many people are willing to invest €175,000 in something like a property or venture capital fund, but you generally have to be quite enteprenurially-minded to invest nearly €200,000 in the development of a business idea.
That idea also needs to be something that requires the input of students and researchers who can work on it for at least 3 years. You could pivot or you could bring it to market before then – you will be operating as a company from day 1 – but Portugal’s HQA visa program is more suited to projects that require a decent amount of research rather than something that can be brought to market immediately.
Examples of people this visa might suit:
- Entrepreneurs and investors with a burning idea, but without the time or resources to develop it.
- High earning professionals with a big idea, but that don’t have the entrepreneurial knowledge to develop it and get it off the ground.
- Professionals with an idea that requires a reasonable amount of R&D.
- Entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals without a specific million-dollar idea, but a keen interest to develop an idea in a particular field.
- Entrepreneurs interested in targeting European markets.
As you can see, the program isn’t limited to investors and entrepreneurs — you might be a professional within a field like medicine who has no business background, but has an idea for a business idea you want researched and development. However, regardless of whether your professional experience is in business or not, one of the key requirements is that you have a professional background and aren’t simply looking for a cheap way to obtain residency in Portugal.
Finally, regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur, investor, high-earning professional, or expert in your field, you will also need to see the value of launching your idea in Portugal and obtaining residency there in return for being part of this program. If you’re interested in being able to spend more time in Europe, take advantage of tax schemes like the NHR regime or have access to Portugal’s public healthcare system, and eventually want a Portuguese (EU) passport for you and your dependents (i.e. spouse and qualifying children), this could be the ideal way to kill two birds with one stone.
Maybe you also recognise the benefits of Portugal as a place to run a business? Portugal has a highly-educated workforce, where English is spoken to a level that’s often on par with native speakers. Salaries are low by western European standards, and there is a lot of demand for local career opportunities in innovative startups.
Essentially, this visa is aimed at high net worth individuals who have an idea they want developed or a market they believe is worth investigating*, most likely by someone else, and they also see the value of obtaining residency in Portugal.
*If you aren’t entrepreneurial, you don’t necessarily need a startup idea. If you believe there’s a segment of the market that has potential, the startup incubator can propose business ideas that would target that market.
There are a lot of benefits to this visa, which can be broken down into a few different categories.
Benefits of this particular visa
- Only requires an investment of €175,000 (vs €500,000 or more for the golden visa).
- Cost of adding a family member is around €2,500 per person (vs around €10,000 for the golden visa)
- Guaranteed decision within 30 days (vs many months for the D7 and golden visa)
- A full refund if your application isn’t accepted.
- Potentially low physical stay requirements if you have other professional commitments (vs 6-8 months of the year for most other visas)
- No need for you to become a tax resident in Portugal if you don’t want to (unique to this and the golden visa)
- Residency for immediate family members is allowed (although expect additional fees of around €2,000 per person).
- The HQA investor program hasn’t come under fire in the media (unlike the golden visa).
- Creating opportunities for students shows a strong tie to Portugal, which will be important when it comes to put in your citizenship application.
Benefits of this incubation program
- You own 100% of the company.
- You own the intellectual property.
- No requirement for your startup or idea to succeed or generate cash.
- No performance or ongoing investment requirements.
- You don’t necessarily have to be involved in the day-to-day running of the business: this can all be managed for you.
- Going the university route may provide opportunities for matched funding, increasing the amount of research money behind your idea.
Benefits of residency in Portugal
- Ability to apply for permanent residency and/or Portuguese citizenship after 5 years of residency.
- Ability to take advantage of Portugal’s NHR tax regime which, in many cases, allows you to be taxed at a flat rate of 20%.
- Ability to easily travel within the borderless Schengen Area.
- Access to Portugal’s public healthcare system.
- Ability for your children to study at Portuguese universities (and once they have citizenship, to easily study at other European universities).
There are a few requirements to consider:
- You will need to invest €175,000.
- You will need to be at least 18 years of age.
- Your project will need to be approved and accepted.
- You will need to show a CV that shows an experienced business background or expertise in the area you wish to invest in.
- You will need to take part in the program for at least 3 years.
- You will need to show proof of legally-sourced investment funds.
- You will need to have a clean criminal record.
The program is open to citizens of most countries, however some restrictions apply. For example, citizens of Russia, Iran, and Syria currently cannot apply for the program.
In terms of requirements, the main requirement to think about is whether or not you have a solid idea or interest in a market which you feel has entrepreneurial opportunities. There is a strict vetting process, which is designed to weed out those that just want to buy their residency (and eventually, citizenship) for €175,000. Although there is obviously a financial benefit for Portuguese universities and institutions, another key benefit is that this program will bring interesting projects for students, researchers, and potentially employees to work on.
Certain dependents can be included on the application:
- A spouse (or partner, if you can show evidence of a long-term relationship)
- Parents above the age of 65 (or under the age of 65 but financially dependent)
- Children under the age of 18
- Children over 18 years (studying or financially dependent on the main applicant)
The following is a rough time frame from pre-approval to Portuguese citizenship.
Pre-Approval & Approval
- Present credentials to the program intake committee.
- If accepted, receive offer.
- Accept offer and provide funds.
- If accepted onto a program, you will then need to prepare your immigration application for AIMA (previously known as SEF).
- Travel to Portugal to attend an interview with AIMA and secure your residence permit.
- Begin the 3-year concierge incubation program.
During this period you will establish a Portuguese company and monitor the research project. In many cases, you are only required to monitor the project and can delegate a lot of the day-to-day to someone else.
At the 2 year mark, you will need to renew your residency permit for another 3 years.
The 3-year incubation period comes to an end and you can decide whether to invest more cash into R&D, take it to market, wind it down, or whatever else you choose.
Depends on the route you chose at year 4.
After 5 years of residency, you will be able to apply for permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship.
Costs & Figures
The program requires an investment of €175,000. Adding dependents (such as a spouse or partner or children) typically costs around €2,500 per person.
€55,000 of the €175,000 goes into your new Portuguese company. €43,000 of that, including VAT, goes directly to the research institute. If there’s an EU grant for your particular area, ideally offering matched funding, then you have the opportunity to double (or at least increase) the amount of research funding behind your idea. The remaining €12,000 of that €55,000 goes towards business expenses over the upcoming three years, such as accounting costs.
The remaining €120,000 primarily goes towards the business incubation costs and corporate legal costs for the three year period.
This visa is often compared to the D7 or golden visa, as they are two of the most popular ways for non-EU citizens to move to Portugal, but it’s probably more similar to the D2 or startup visa.
Comparison to the D2 or Startup Visa
|HQA Visa||Startup Visa||D2|
|Physical Stay Requirement||None||Yes||6-8 months p/year|
|Tax Residency Requirement||None||Yes||Yes|
|Application Decision||30 Days||Several months||Several months|
There are some similarities to the D2 or Startup Visa, both of which aim at at attracting entrepreneurial talent to Portugal.
The Startup Visa is aimed at entrepreneurs that want to launch a startup in Portugal. Unlike the HQA Visa, the startup must show potential to create jobs and generate a turnover. There is no tie to R&D, so it would suit entrepreneurs who are ready to hit the ground running.
The D2, on the other hand, is more aimed at entrepreneurs that want to start and personally run a business in Portugal. Unlike the startup visa, the business doesn’t have to be in a particular field. There is also no tie to R&D, so it would suit entrepreneurs who are ready to hit the ground running.
Comparison to the D7 or Golden Visa
|HQA Visa||Golden Visa||D7|
|Physical Stay Requirement||None||7 days p/year||6-8 months p/year|
|Tax Residency Requirement||No||No||Yes|
|Application Decision||30 Days||Several months||Several months|
Other visas like the D7, golden visa, and digital nomad visa are quite different to the HQA visa. Both the D7 and digital nomad visa, for example, are aimed at those that want to physically reside in Portugal (6-8 months of the year) and that means being tax resident here too (although you can become a resident and tax resident under the HQA visa if you wish). The D7 is aimed at those with a passive income, such as royalties or a pension, whereas the digital nomad visa is aimed more at remote workers or freelancers.
There are some similarities to the golden visa, namely both involve investment, and the HQA visa is often marketed as a cheaper and better version of the golden visa. However, most applicants opted to invest in real estate, which is a very different type of investment to the one the HQA offers and as such, the HQA visa isn’t really a golden visa alternative. This visa is for entrepreneurs, investors, and HNW individuals who see the value of investing in R&D.