Retirement

Killing The Golden (Visa) Goose

It’s officially the end of an era for golden visas in Europe.

In 2020, Cyprus closed its citizenship-by-investment program (similar to a golden visa but granting citizenship, not just residency).

In February 2022, the U.K. ended its foreign investment offer.

In January 2023, EU satellite state Montenegro closed its citizenship-by-investment program.

And now, the tide seems to have really turned, with Ireland and Portugal both suddenly ending their golden visas within a week of each other in February of this year.

Abruptly, on February 15, Ireland abolished its program.

Just a few days after Ireland’s announcement, Portugal declared that its program would be closed as well, and on July 19, Parliament approved the decision.

It still needs to be signed by the president to take effect, likely in September, but the death knell has tolled.

The Background

Golden visas are residency permits offered by countries for a price.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, several European countries set up these programs.

The concept was simple: Spend a chunk of money in the country, and you’d get the right to live and work there.

It could be in the form of a real estate investment (typically $500,000 or more), starting a business in-country, or putting cash in an approved fund.

The programs have been attractive to wealthy investors from outside the EU because they provide access to the whole Schengen Area—27 countries.

Portugal was the first to establish a golden visa program. Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Ireland, and others followed suit.

But now, it looks like this “golden age” of residency programs is coming to an end.

Why are these visas now under threat?

The European Commission—the EU’s governing “executive committee”—hates them and has done everything it can to discourage countries from establishing them while trying to shut down existing programs.

Portugal’s Final Decision

Portugal’s program is the biggest loss.

With this program, you could gain EU residency with as little as 250,000 euros—and you only had to spend one week a year in Portugal to maintain the visa.

After just five years, you could be eligible for an EU passport and live and work anywhere in the 27-country bloc without any restrictions.

Under the new law, there’ll still be several options available to investors to secure Portuguese residency, including investing 250,000 euros in Portuguese culture or heritage; 500,000 euros in scientific research; or 500,000 euros in a business that creates five permanent jobs. But purchasing property no longer makes you eligible.

This, of course, was by far the most popular part of the program—really the only reason the program ever attracted so much expat attention.

My attorney in Portugal, João Gil Figueira, told me a little about the closure of the Golden Visa and gave me the real story behind the end of the program.

The government’s story is that the Golden Visa property investment option was pushing up house prices.

But Golden Visa buyers are an absolutely tiny percentage of overall property buyers in Portugal—a tiny percentage, even, of foreign buyers.

It doesn’t make sense that they are a major reason for a big increase in real estate prices.

João told me: “Problems associated with a lack of affordable housing are in the news. The government has to push something forward in terms of affordable housing.”

The Golden Visa is basically being used as a scapegoat for Portugal’s big increase in home prices. The government has to be seen as doing something. Hence this new “More Housing” law.

“With the first proposal, the government said that all existing Golden Visa holders would have to abide by the new rules—that they would have to live in their properties full-time, or be forced to rent them out, or be required to stay in Portugal for more than 180 days per year, for example.

“The backlash was enormous.

“It would be a stain on Portugal’s reputation as a destination for foreign direct investment if you throw out a program like this all of a sudden without grandfathering in previous applicants.

“So the government backpedaled.”

The final version of the law that was recently passed allows Golden Visa property buyers to continue to hold their visas under the same terms as before, which is a big win.

And there are also still several options to gain residency through investment, but a property purchase will no longer be one of them.

There are still many good reasons to own property in Portugal, including potential cash flow. And if you choose to own property there and actually live in it, you can gain residency simply by spending time in Portugal. This also applies to renters.

Portugal’s popular D7 “retirement” visa is still on offer, and the country has also just introduced a new digital nomad visa for remote workers.

What’s more, if the government’s More Housing law actually has its intended effect and brings down property prices, we’ll see an exciting new moment to buy in one of Europe’s best markets.

The Golden Visa may be ending, but Portugal continues to shine as an overseas destination for many reasons.

There’s Still A Golden Opportunity

The repeal of these visas isn’t necessarily a negative if you’re interested in living and investing in Portugal or anywhere in Europe.

In fact, it could prove to be a net positive.

The abolition of golden visas may lead to a dip in the property market—a fantastic buying opportunity.

You may no longer be able to obtain residency with a property purchase, but you can still purchase for investment purposes or your own lifestyle and obtain residency through the traditional route of spending time in-country.

And there are still opportunities to obtain European residency through investment.

Greece brought in changes to its Golden Visa Program this year, which went into effect on July 31. The price of entry was doubled from 250,000 euros to 500,000 euros, but no plans to shutter the program have been announced.

Spain, too, continues to operate its Golden Visa program, as does sunny island nation Malta, along with Italy (though Italy has no property purchase option).

And Cyprus has a new Golden Visa program since its original citizenship-by-investment arrangement ended in 2020.

Time To Act

If you have money to invest and you want EU residency, several options have already been taken off the table this year, but Europe’s borders are still very much open for North Americans.

Now is the time to make your golden visa choice

before it’s too late.

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