The Portuguese Golden Visa programme is one of the most popular both in Europe and the world, and for good reasons, writes Thomas K. Running on Nomad Gate - the community for digital nomads, perpetual travellers, remote workers and location-independents.
- You can choose from a range of relatively affordable investment options that will give you both permanent residency and citizenship in 5-6 years.
- Required time spent in Portugal average only 7 days per year.
- While a resident of Portugal you are allowed to travel freely in the entire Schengen area.
- Once you become a citizen, you can live and work anywhere in the EU/EEA and get the world’s 4th best passport for nomads and global citizens..
- The program is NOT blacklisted by the OECD, unlike many other Golden Visa programs.
- Portugal is a safe and stable country with an excellent and affordable quality of life, good healthcare and education options, well-connected airports, and the best climate in continental Europe.
Unfortunately, the information you find when searching about the Portuguese Golden Visa is often unreliable, biased or out-of-date.
That’s why, when writing this extensive handbook about the Portuguese Golden Visa, I enlisted the help of Alexander Dumont dos Santos - an independent lawyer with several years experience assisting clients with their Golden Visa applications.
History of the Portuguese Golden Visa
Established in 2012, Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit Program (ARI) enables non-EU/EEA citizens to obtain a special residence permit in exchange for a 5-year investment in Portugal.
What’s unique about the permit is that the investor only has to spend about seven days per year in Portugal to maintain the residency, while still reaping all the benefits of being an EU resident—including visa-free travel in the entire Schengen area.
While the program has benefited more than 6,500 foreign investors so far, it has also been beneficial for the Portuguese economy. As of this writing, the total investment into Portugal as a direct result of the program has reached a whooping €4,000,000,000. That’s four billion euros.
That’s great news for prospective investors, as the program has broad support from nearly all political parties in Portugal. While a conservative government introduced the program in 2012, the current socialist coalition government has even expanded the program since seizing power at the end of 2015.
By far the leading share of Golden Visas have been issued to Chinese nationals (although their share has been declining recently), followed by Brazilian, South African, Turkish, and Russian citizens.
Requirements for obtaining the Golden Visa
Who is eligible for the Golden Visa?
Any third country national - meaning anyone except Portuguese and EU/EFTA citizens - can apply for the Golden Visa after completing a suitable investment into Portugal.
The investment can be made as an individual or through a legal entity meeting certain requirements.
You will also need to meet the (minimal) physical presence requirements mentioned below.
Which requirements do you need to meet?
- Maintain the investment for a minimum period of five years.
- Spend a minimum of seven days in Portugal during the first year, then not less than 14 days in each subsequent 2-year period.
What are the available investment options?
Your investment needs to meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Transfer of capital of at least €1,000,000.
- Creation of at least 10 jobs.
- Acquisition of real estate with a value of at least €500,000.
- Acquisition of real estate with construction completed at least 30 years ago or located in an urban rehabilitation area, with the execution of rehabilitation works. The minimum investment is reduced to €350,000.
- Transfer of capital of at least €350,000, invested in research carried out by public or private scientific research institutions that are part of the national scientific and technological system.
- Transfer capital of at least €250,000, as investment or support for artistic production, or recovery or maintenance of national cultural heritage.
- Transfer capital of at least €350,000, destined to acquire units in investment or venture capital funds aimed at providing capital to companies that meet certain requirements.
- Transfer capital of at least €350,000, to incorporate or increase the share capital of a company with registered office in Portugal, together with the creation of five permanent jobs, for a period of three years.
For more details about the requirements, click here..
The application and renewal process
The initial application is now submitted online, including copies of the supporting documentation. After the request is approved by Serviço de Fronteiras e Estrangeiros (SEF), you will have to appear in person for an interview.
Initially, the interview would take place in the district where the investment was made. Nowadays, however, SEF will allow you to book the interview in any district of your choice. This change has helped reduce the waiting time overall, especially in the more popular districts such as Lisbon and Faro.
Usually, you complete the application through your lawyer, and it can take up to 6 months for approval. It is technically possible to do everything on your own, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
If you want to bring along your family members, their application is submitted simultaneously. A processing fee of €527.60 is paid for the first applicant and €82.30 for each of the remaining family members.
When your application is approved you pay an approval fee of €5,274.40 for each applicant. After ten to twenty days, you should receive your residency card valid for one year.
Your residence card will allow you to travel freely within the Schengen countries (you also need to bring your passport), without applying for any visas.
In this first year, you must spend at least seven days in Portugal.
To renew your residence permit and receive a new residence card, you need to go through a renewal process about one month before your current residence card expires.
During the renewal process, you have to retake biometrics (fingerprints, etc.), provide up-to-date criminal records, and pay a fee of €2,637.20 for each applicant. Additionally, the processing fee is again €527.60 for the first applicant, and €82.30 for other applicants (family members).
Your new residence card is valid for two years. During this period you need to be in Portugal for at least 14 days (consecutive or non-consecutive).
At the end of year 3, another renewal process takes place. It is virtually identical to the process at the end of year 1.
You now have another residency card, valid for another two years. Again, you need to be in Portugal for 14 days, consecutive or non-consecutive.
After the fifth year, you can apply for permanent residency followed by citizenship.
Note: While you now qualify for permanent residency and citizenship at the same time, you cannot yet apply directly for the citizenship, without getting the permanent residency first. However, it will likely be possible within a year, pending some new regulations that are making its way through the political system at the moment.
How to prepare and apply for the Portuguese Golden Visa
While the process isn’t very complicated, it does involve gathering a lot of documentation—both in Portugal and in your country of origin. It will be beneficial to work with a native Portuguese speaker if you don’t already know the language.
The steps for the initial application look something like this:
- Get a Portuguese fiscal number (NIF) and open a local bank account..
- Identify and make your investment (and make sure to consult a local independent lawyer before finalizing anything)
- Gather all required documentation from your country of origin (at most three months before submitting your application).
- Have it all legalized and translated into Portuguese.
- Gather necessary documentation in Portugal (your lawyer can help with this)
- Fill out and submit the application for the Golden Visa (typically through your lawyer).
- Pay the processing fee.
- Wait until you hear back from SEF with a preliminary approval.
- Pick a date, time, and place where you will meet in person for your interview.
- Bring along the originals of the documentation that was submitted with the application to your in-person interview.
- Wait for final approval.
- Get your residence card.
- Repeat a substantial portion of the same process at the end of year 1 and 3.
Let’s take a closer looks at some of the steps.
Getting a NIF and opening a Portuguese bank account
I won’t go into details on the process in this article since I already explained it in great detail in two other articles (how to get a NIF and how to open a bank account in Portugal as a non-resident).
The reason why you need those things is that you need a Portuguese bank’s confirmation that you have transferred the funds and made your investment. You need a Portuguese fiscal number (NIF) to open the bank account.
It’s not a complicated process and can be done in less than a day. To get a NIF as someone without a fixed legal address in the EU/EEA, you will need a Portuguese representative for the tax authorities. This can be your lawyer.
Identifying and making your investment
So far I’ve glossed over the fact that to make a suitable investment, you also need to find one.
While initially nearly all Golden Visa investors chose to invest in real estate, that is gradually changing as more investment options have been made available (such as investment funds).
Still, a real estate investment might make sense for you. Particularly if you plan to buy a property where you intend to live yourself.
Buying property in Portugal is open to anyone, with no restrictions on your nationality or residency. You’ll still need to get your Portuguese tax number first.
You can always start out looking at the websites of real estate brokers (agências imobiliárias), such as:
Keep in mind that in Portugal, brokers usually work for the seller. While you don’t pay them a fee directly (it’s covered by the seller, and based on sales price), they are strongly incentivized to sell properties for as much as possible.
You can also take a look at aggregator websites. In many cases, they can put you in touch with the sellers directly. Here are some examples:
No matter if you search for properties through an aggregator or a traditional broker I highly recommend hiring your own independent broker. Having someone working for you—someone who doesn’t get a cut of the sales price and only have your best interests in mind—that’s one of the best investments you can make.
While it might cost you some euros up-front, you are likely to save much, much more by finding a better property, at a better price.
If you want any independent broker recommendations, let me know and I’ll make an introduction to someone I know and trust.
Also have your lawyer look over contracts and other legal aspects of the investment, before signing anything.
But what if you’re not currently interested in investing in Portuguese real estate?
Luckily there are more options. This year, the option to invest in a fund that meets certain qualifications has gained popularity. In this case the minimum investment amount is €350,000.
Since this is a relatively new option, there aren’t too many funds available yet. This fund managed by Lince Capital is one example. It’s a relatively conservative fund, investing in (secured) real estate debt, regulated low-risk financial products, and private equity (mezzanine loans). It’s paying a fixed rate of 1.5% annually and has a maturity of 6 year.
Check with your lawyer for other recommendations.
Here are the things you always need to gather for your application:
- A valid passport
- Evidence that you are legally present in Portugal (your visa, entry stamps, etc.).
- Proof that you are covered either by the Portuguese public health system or that you have private primary health insurance that will cover you for the length of your residency in Portugal (or for a shorter period, but with automatic renewal).
- Your criminal records from your country of origin, and/or from the country (or countries) where you have been living for more than a year. It’s essential that the extract of the criminal records are issued within 3 months of the online application, and are certifiably translated into Portuguese.
- Completing a form authorizing SEF to get an extract of your Portuguese criminal records.
- A sworn statement declaring that you will comply with all the minimum investment requirements (amount and 5 year period).
- Documents showing a good standing with the Portuguese Tax and Customs Authority and Social Security system. These can at most be issued 45 days prior to your online application.
- A receipt showing that you already paid the application processing fee.
- Specific documentation relating to your investments (see below).
Again, all documentation (unless otherwise noted) needs to be issued within 90 days before you online application.
Anything issued by a foreign entity has to be legalized (e.g., with an apostille if your country of origin has signed the Hague convention).
Moreover, anything that’s not in Portuguese needs to be translated and certified.
For anything you need to collect in/from Portugal, your lawyer can help you out a lot, including for the documentation relating to your investment.
What type of additional documentation you will need depends on your chosen form of investment. Click each investment type for more information:
- Capital transfer of an amount equal to or above 1 million Euros
- The creation of at least 10 jobs
- Acquisition of real estate property of an amount equal to or above 500 thousand Euros
- Acquisition and execution of works of real estates, on the amount equal to or above 350 thousand euros
- Capital transfer on the amount equal to or above 350 thousand euros for investing in research activities
- Capital transfer on the amount equal to or above 250 thousand euros for funding/supporting the arts or restoring/maintaining the national cultural heritage
- Capital transfer of the amount of 350 thousand euros for the acquisition of units of investment funds or venture capital funds
- Capital transfer of the amount equal to or above 350 thousand euros for the establishment/reinforcement of a commercial company with its head office in Portugal
- Family reunification
Submitting the application
The easiest and safest option is to let your lawyer handle and guide you through the application process.
However, if you insist on doing it yourself, these are the steps:
- Go to the SEF application registration form
- Fill it out, and upload all the supporting documentation (legalized and translated). Make sure that everything is correct to avoid extra costs and wasting precious time. If you have a lawyer, have him or her look over everything before submitting.
- Once SEF has analyzed the application and the documentation, pay the application processing fee(s).
- A few weeks after the payment, you may select a date and location for the personal interview (it’s done through an online calendar on SEF’s website). If you’re not already based in Portugal, you should make sure to pick a date when you and your family (if applicable) can all travel to Portugal.
- Show up for your interview on the agreed date and time. Make sure to bring the original versions of all the documents you submitted online as part of your application.
- Wait a few months until SEF notifies you that your residence permit can be issued. At this point, you pay the remaining application fee (€5274,40 per person).
- Shortly thereafter you can pick up your residence card(s).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Portuguese Golden Visa
What are the advantages of the Golden Visa?
In short, you can:
- Enter Portugal without a special visa
- Live and work in Portugal
- Bring your family with you
- Apply for permanent residency and/or Portuguese citizenship after five years
- Access the Portuguese healthcare and education system (on the same basis as Portuguese citizens)
- Travel freely in the entire Schengen Area:
The Schengen countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The EU members Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania, are all required to join the Schengen area in the future, but as a Portuguese resident, you can already travel there visa-free.
How much does it cost to obtain the Portuguese Golden Visa?
You pay a €527.60 processing fee when submitting your application (plus €82.30 for each additional family member), followed by €5274.40 per person for the initial issuance of the Golden Visa.
The two renewals (at the end of year 1 and 3) are charged at €2637.20 each, per person. You also pay the €527.60 processing fee when submitting each renewal (plus €82.30 per dependant).
In addition, comes the cost of hiring lawyers, as well as any costs of legalizing and translating the supporting documentation.
Should I work with a lawyer to obtain the Portuguese Golden Visa?
I would definitely recommend that you do. You’re making a sizable investment to gain Portuguese residency (and eventually citizenship), so I wouldn’t recommend taking any chances during the application process. While the lawyer fees aren’t insignificant, they are much cheaper than making some formal error, making a bad investment, or one that ends up not qualifying.
Most law firms charge upwards of €5,000-€6,000 for the primary applicant, with discounts for any dependents. Most firms offer some discounts for the renewal of the Golden Visa (at the end of year 1 and 3).
Expect to pay about €30,000 in lawyer fees for a family of four (for the initial application and the two renewals) when hiring one of the larger firms.
Alternatively, you can hire an independent lawyer specializing in Golden Visas. The price will likely be much more competitive, and you can expect better and more personal followup.
I’d recommend checking with Alexander Dumont dos Santos who helped me write this article. He is offering Nomad Gate readers an additional 10% off his already competitive rates. Get the discount by clicking here..
Should I avoid certain firms offering Golden Visa services?
While this might be a leading question, the answer is definitely YES!
Some (law) firms are taking advantage of Golden Visa applicants by offering investment options (typically in real estate) that both look nice on paper and meet the minimum investment amounts. What they fail to mention, however, is that they are selling it far above the current market value.
It’s not uncommon to see firms offering properties to Golden Visa applicants for the convenient sum of €500,000 that in reality is barely worth €400,000-€450,000.
That’s how these firms might offer you a great “deal” on their legal fees. However, in reality, you’re paying much more than you would if you sourced the investment independently and used an independent lawyer or law firm for your application process.
Can I bring my family with me when issued a Golden Visa?
Yes, you can! You can bring your spouse, as well as your kids (as long as they are younger than 18 at the time of application, or enrolled in studies and being supported by you). In certain circumstances, you can even bring your parents and/or in-laws, as long as you can demonstrate that you are supporting them.
Should all supporting documentation be translated into Portuguese?
Yes, anything that’s not in Portuguese needs to be certifiably translated (in addition to being legalized). Not even documents issued in English are accepted.
It can be a good idea to do this in your country of origin, but it’s also possible to get it done in Portugal.
Do I have to pay taxes in Portugal?
Legal residency and tax residency are independent concepts, and you don’t necessarily become a Portuguese tax resident by utilizing the Golden Visa.
Even if you don’t become fully tax resident in Portugal, you will probably have to pay tax related to your investment in Portugal.
In either case, becoming tax resident in Portugal can be quite lucrative, especially for the first ten years thanks to the Non-Habitual Resident tax scheme..
According to PwC, you will become tax resident in Portugal if you fulfill either of these conditions:
- Spends more than 183 days, consecutive or not, in Portugal in any 12-month period starting or ending in the fiscal year concerned.
- Regardless of spending less than 183 days in Portugal, maintains a residence (i.e., a habitual residence) in Portugal during any day of the period referred above.
Do I have to register and pay Social Security contributions in Portugal?
No, it is not required. Although, if you don’t, you have to cover many health care costs yourself. In that case, it might be prudent to get private health insurance instead.
How long is the wait/processing time for the Portuguese Golden Visa?
While it might vary over time, the processing time is currently around five months. It used to take longer, but the ability to book interview appointments online at offices outside Lisbon has helped cut the wait time significantly.
How long does it take before I can acquire Portuguese citizenship and passport?
Due to a change in the Portuguese Nationality law in 2018, the required period of residency before you can apply for Portuguese citizenship has been reduced from six years to five years.
While the application for citizenship may take a while, once granted the application for a Portuguese passport generally only takes about six working days. Per 2018, an ordinary passport costs €65 and is valid for five years.
Can you make the investment through a limited company?
Yes, in addition to making your investment as an individual, you can make the investment through a legal entity, e.g., an investment or holding company. It is essential that you are the only owner or member of the company, and that it is based in either Portugal or another EU member state.
Thomas K. Running, December 2018