Golden visas and how to get one – from Portugal to Greece

April 15, 2024

Telegraph Money reveals the most attractive golden visa schemes for UK expats

There is very little that money cannot buy – including a brand new passport, or the right to live in an overseas paradise visa-free.

Around the world there are more than 100 nations that would welcome you with open arms – in return for an investment in their national economy. Some are looking for entrepreneurs, start-up angels, philanthropic donors or big hitting business investors. 

Others simply want you to buy a home.

Interest in these property-contingent golden visa schemes (also known as residence or citizenship by investment schemes) has skyrocketed in the post-Brexit world, as Britons look to continue travelling around Europe visa free. Others want to take advantage of enviable tax breaks overseas, or simply enjoy a change of pace.

Here, Telegraph Money takes you through what you need to know and how to get the best golden visas available now.

What is a golden visa?

Typically a golden visa (conferring residence) or a golden passport (conferring citizenship) gives the buyer of a property, plus their dependents, the right to live, work and study in that country.  

In some cases the visas for European countries also confer the right to travel around the rest of the continent for extended periods without another visa (although not to settle there permanently). Passport holders can live anywhere in the union for as long as they like.

How do they work?

The world of golden visas is complex and fast-moving as countries open, close and alter the terms of their schemes, which offer a choice of either permanent citizenship or long term residency.

So far this year, for example, Greece has hiked the price of its golden visa while Australia has axed its scheme altogether. As of today, the following locations are your best options for a ticket to a new life in the sun.

Spain

Over Christmas Portugal killed off its golden visa by property investment scheme, complaining it caused house prices to soar beyond the reach of locals. That would have put Spain’s scheme into pole position in Europe, but for a sudden change in direction announced by the prime minister in April.

For now, in return for a property investment of at least €500,000 (£427,350) – which would buy you an apartment in Barcelona or three bedroom villa close to Malaga – you can follow in the footsteps of generations of second home owners and retirees and soak up the sun, full time.

The choice of lifestyles you can buy into is fantastic – indulge your passion for golf on the Costa del Sol, enjoy vibrant cities like Seville or Madrid, relax on your sun lounger on the Costa Brava, or get away from it all in the Catalonian countryside.

Andalucia offers many of the attractions that make Spain such a hotspot for British expats
Andalucia offers many of the attractions that make Spain such a hotspot for British expats.

Spain’s practical appeal includes plentiful and cheap flights from the UK, a low cost of living, the fact that English is widely spoken, safety, and good schools for relocating families. And a Spanish golden visa gives you the right to travel across Europe, a privilege lost to Brits post Brexit.

“The scheme has garnered significant interest among UK nationals, particularly following Brexit, which has altered their residency status in Spain,” said Mary Dunne, Hamptons International representative in Marbella. “The primary motivation for seeking a golden visa is the desire for regular access to Spain, often because individuals own a second home there.”

But if you want to live, work, or study in Spain your window of opportunity looks to be narrowing. The Spanish prime minister signalled his country will follow in Portugal’s wake and remove the property investment route to a three-year visa.

Pedro Sanchez said the scheme would be scrapped to make access to affordable housing for Spaniards “a right instead of a speculative business”.

Greece

A Greek golden visa brings many benefits beyond the promise of chilling out on white beaches while the sun blazes overhead.

There is also visa-free travel within Europe’s Schengen area and no requirement to live in Greece full-time. Within around three months you can apply for a residence permit, followed by citizenship after seven years.

Until recently the offer was also appealingly affordable, with a minimum property spend of €250,000 in part of the country.

However, in late March the government announced those minimums would be increased to €800,000 on popular islands and to €400,000 elsewhere. Investors must purchase a property of at least 1,292 sq ft.

Pantelis Leptos, chairman of Leptos Estates, said demand from British buyers “seeking to secure their seamless access to the EU” had escalated post-Brexit. Other buyers simply want to spend time enjoying the Grecian lifestyle, and know they can offset the expense by renting their property out when they are not in situ.

Portugal

In December 2023, Portugal ended its ‘golden visa’ that proved popular with British retirees. The scheme allowed expats to take up residence for five years in exchange for property purchases of €500,000 (£432,000) or more. After that period you could then apply for permanent residency.

Launched in 2012 as a way to encourage investment into the country, Portugal’s scheme has been a success and attracted more than €6bn in investment. However, critics say it has pushed up prices and made housing unreachable for many Portuguese nationals. In popular areas, such as the Algarve, house prices have gone up by 15pc. 

Portugal's golden visa requirements have changed, but the country remains popular with expats
Portugal’s golden visa requirements have changed, but the country remains popular with expats.

While the country has removed the home ownership route to residency, the investment options are still available. In order to qualify you need to invest €500,000 into a Portuguese investment or venture capital funds, into an existing company, or creating a new company that creates or maintains five permanent jobs for at least three years.

You could make an investment into a business that leads to the creation of 10 jobs. Other options include a €250,000 donation to a project for the maintenance or production of Portuguese national heritage.

The good news is that if you meet the conditions you will be entitled to the same five-year benefits as those who used the residential property route and the ability to travel within the Schengen zone. 

You can also include a dependent in your application. This covers a spouse, children or parents. And you don’t even need to spend that long in the country if you choose not to – the requirement is just seven days a year.

Dubai/ United Arab Emirates:

The hottest of global property hotspots, Dubai’s modern apartments have seen prices jump 20pc last year alone.

And anyone prepared to spend AED 2m (around £430,000) in this futuristic holiday resort with guaranteed sunshine, through an investment fund or buying property, will get some substantial golden visa benefits and a low tax environment with no personal income, capital, net worth or withholding taxes.

Dubai apartment prices rose 20pc last year, but the emirate has been accused of being soulless
Dubai apartment prices rose 20pc last year, but the emirate has been accused of being soulless.

From a lifestyle point of view, Dubai has pros and cons. Beaches aside, there are endless fancy bars, restaurants and boutiques to browse – and very good schools. There is also an opera house, contemporary art galleries, regular film and food festivals and major sporting events to enjoy.

On the other hand, over the summer months average temperatures exceed an insufferable 40°, the traffic is a nightmare and some find the ambience soulless.

Stuart Wakeling, managing partner at golden visa specialists Henley & Partners said some recent applicants have seen Dubai’s stellar price growth in recent years and simply want a piece of the action. “They can see themselves living there, setting up a business,” he said.

Peter Ferrigno, director of tax partners at Henley & Partners, said Dubai is particularly popular with people looking to cut their tax bill. “I have got a guy at the moment who has persuaded his employers it is better for him to be based there,” he said. “You get a break from the rain for a few years, and you can save a bit of cash.”

Malta

This peaceful Mediterranean paradise is often overlooked by tourists, second home owners and expats, who prefer southern Europe’s bigger, better-known destinations.

But if you like good food, white sandy beaches and history then Malta could be a winning option. Although it is not a budget friendly choice as the scheme was established to bring an influx of wealth to the island.

Historic Malta is not a budget option, but citizenship is open to anyone spending €700,000 on a property
Historic Malta is not a budget option, but citizenship is open to anyone spending €700,000 on a property.

If you want a new passport Malta’s citizenship by investment programme is open to anyone able to spend €700,000 on a property. If you opt for permanent residency instead you must spend €350,000 on a home, plus around €70,000 in administration fees and contributions to the Maltese economy.

Either way, you get the right to travel in Europe’s Schengen area without a visa.

Jersey

You might love the idea of rubbing shoulders with the jet set on balmy Jersey, but you will need deep pockets to join this particular club.

In order to join the island’s residency-by-investment scheme you will need to buy a property priced at a minimum £1.75m. And, said Wakeling, you have to contribute tax of £250,000-per-year to qualify, which means you need annual earnings of around £1.25m.

Saint Aubin, Jersey. Moving to the Channel Island is strictly for those with deep pockets
Saint Aubin, Jersey. Moving to the Channel Island is strictly for those with deep pockets.

“It is very restricted,” said Wakeling: “The government offers about 15 applications each year to high net worth individuals.”

The chosen few also have to meet moral criteria. Those who apply for a golden visa will be judged on their track record for voluntary work, any media coverage of their business or social life, awards and achievements, and cultural interests or skills.

Costa Rica

Fancy life in a tropical paradise?

Costa Rica is an astonishingly beautiful slice of Central America where you can hang out on unspoiled beaches and surf to your heart’s content. Its national slogan is pura vida – pure life – and it’s the place to be if you’re into wellness.

For the more adventurous, Costa Rica is cheap and beautiful – but with the drawbacks associated with a less developed nation
For the more adventurous, Costa Rica is cheap and beautiful – but with the drawbacks associated with a less developed nation.

The minimum property investment is appealingly low – $150,000 (around £120,000), and participants in its residence-by-investment scheme get some great financial advantages, since they are only taxed on income earned within Costa Rica.

But now for the bad news. You will need a little bit of pioneering spirit because Costa Rica isn’t as developed as western nations, turnkey property is hard to find and there are half a dozen active volcanos to contend with.

The Foreign Office adds a sobering note of caution, warning of muggings, theft, drink spiking and car jackings, particularly on the Atlantic coast.

Original Soure: The Telegraph UK

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