Find out how to get Portuguese residency and citizenship through the Portuguese Golden Visa program
Portugal’s Golden Visa may not be Europe’s only residency by investment program, but it is arguably the most popular—and most successful.
Launched in 2012, the Golden Visa residency by investment initiative was introduced by the government during the height of Portugal’s financial crisis.
While the program was first established by a conservative government, the initiative was extended by the current socialist coalition after it took power in 2015.
By implementing the Golden Visa program, the Portuguese government hoped to attract a steady flow of capital from foreign property buyers and investors. The government believed these investments would help to reignite the country’s economy and real estate market.
Their plan worked. Since introducing the Golden Visa, Portugal has granted residency to more than 7,500 non-Europeans and generated €4.6 billion EUR ($5 billion USD as of October 4, 2019).
By driving a steady stream of investment – particularly into real estate – the program has helped fuel a property boom in Portugal. Record-high increases in investment, along with booming exports and climbing tourism rates, have contributed to Portugal’s economic resurgence.
The government has called the country’s unprecedented economic growth the most sustainable since 1995 as investment soars to the highest levels ever.
Portugal’s hugely popular program has inspired several European countries to follow their lead, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Perks like freedom of movement, tax advantages, and access to EU residency have made Portugal’s Golden Visa one of the most popular across Europe and around the world.
So what exactly is the Golden Visa, and how can investors obtain one? If you are seeking information about Portugal’s famed Golden Visa, this guide will help you navigate the program with information on benefits, eligibility requirements, the application process, and more.
What Is the Portuguese Golden Visa?
Portugal’s Golden Visa—also known as Autorização de Residência para Atividade de Investimento (ARI) or the Golden Residence Permit Program—allows non-EU/EEA citizens and eligible family members to obtain permanent residency and other benefits in return for a qualifying five-year investment in Portugal.
Eligible family members include your spouse and children who are under 18 or enrolled in studies and supported by you, as well as dependent parents or in-laws.
Once you have a Golden Visa, you and each of your family members receive a temporary residence permit in Portugal for one year that can be renewed for two-year periods after your first year.
After five years, you and your family can obtain permanent residence in Portugal. After obtaining permanent residency, you will all be eligible to apply for citizenship.
As a resident of Portugal, you can cross international borders without a passport or visa within the Schengen area, which includes 26 European countries.
The Schengen area currently consists of 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. Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Cyprus are currently in the process of joining the Schengen region.
As a citizen of Portugal, you can live and work anywhere in the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.
Portugal’s Golden Visa program sets itself apart because it only requires investors to spend an average of seven days in Portugal per year. And unlike many other Golden Visa programs, the program has not been blacklisted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Portugal’s Golden Visa requirements
Any non-EU/EEA or non-Swiss citizen who makes a qualifying investment in Portugal is eligible for a Golden Visa. Qualifying investments to obtain a Golden Visa typically fall into one of three categories: real estate, business, or capital contributions. Investment opinions include:
- Transferring at least €1,000,000 EUR ($1,095,890.00 USD) to Portugal.
- Creating 10 or more jobs in Portugal.
- Purchasing real estate in Portugal with a value of at least €500,000 ($547,945).
- Purchasing real estate in a Portuguese urban regeneration area that is at least 30 years old with a value of at least €350,000 ($383,561).
- Investing at least €350,000 ($383,561) in scientific research in Portugal.
- Investing at least €250,000 ($273,972) in arts productions or natural cultural heritage in Portugal.
- Investing at least €350,000 ($383,561) in a venture capital fund from a Portuguese company that is at least five years old and has a head office in Portugal.
- Investing €350,000 ($383,561) into an existing Portuguese company and creating five permanent jobs for a three-year period.
- Investing at least €500,000 ($548,595) in an environmental project involving eco-tourism, organic farming, renewable energy, or carbon neutrality.
To claim residency through the program, you must maintain your investment for a minimum of five years from the date your Golden Visa was established.
In addition, you must spend a minimum of seven days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) in Portugal during your first year. After the first year, you only need to spend a minimum of 14 days in Portugal over each two-year period.
Preparing to apply
Obtaining a Portuguese Golden Visa is fairly straightforward, but the process does require a fair bit of preparation and paperwork. Before you begin the application, you should complete the following steps:
1. Consider hiring a lawyer.
While not required, it is advisable to work with a Portuguese attorney when making your investment and applying for your Golden Visa.
Portuguese law can be complex, particularly if you don’t speak Portuguese. Because you are working with a significant investment, it is a good idea to secure legal assistance from a lawyer—preferably one with experience in Golden Visa investments.
During the investment process, your lawyer can make recommendations, review contracts, and make sure everything is in order from the legal side of things before you finalize.
Your attorney can also help you obtain the required documents relating to your investment. Your attorney can even file a Golden Visa application on your behalf as your legal representative.
2. Obtain a NIF.
A Número de Identificação Fiscal (NIF) is a tax identification number required to conduct certain transactions in Portugal—including opening a bank account, buying property, and signing up for phone and utility services.
You can obtain a NIF by dropping by your nearest tax office (called “Finanças”) with your passport and proof of address. This could be proof of your address either inside Portugal or in your home country if you are not yet a registered resident.
Note that if your home address is not located in the EU/EEA, you will need to provide the name of a Portuguese attorney, friend, family member, or accountant that tax authorities can communicate with on your behalf.
3. Open a Portuguese bank account.
If you don’t already have one, open a Portuguese bank account. A local bank account is needed to provide confirmation that shows you have transferred funds and made the required investment to complete your Golden Visa application.
The process may vary depending on the bank you choose and where your country of residence is, but you will typically have to provide your NIF in addition to proof of address and income and (ideally) your profession.
You are usually required to make a €250 ($274) deposit via cash or money transfer when you first open the account. Portugal has an excellent banking system with many reputable institutions; we recommend checking out Novo Banco, Banco CTT, or CGD.
4. Make your investment.
You will need to make your investment before you can begin your Golden Visa application. If you are going the real estate route, note that buying property in Portugal generally requires between one and three months to finalize.
5. Collect, translate, and certify required documents.
To apply for a Golden Visa application, you must submit personal documents and proof of investment(s) including:
- Your valid passport or another official and valid ID
- Proof of your legal entry into Portugal
- A certified background check from your country of residence that has been issued within 90 days of submitting your application
- A form authorizing Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service or Serviço de Fronteiras e Estrangeiros (SEF) to access your criminal record in Portugal
- Proof of health insurance that covers your stay in Portugal that has been issued within 90 days of submitting your application
- A declaration that states you have met the investment requirements
- Proof of compliance with Portuguese Tax and Customs Authority and Social Security obligations issued within 45 days of submitting your application
- Proof of investment and commitment to maintaining it for five years, such as a deed for a real estate purchase or bank statement for a financial investment
Documents must be translated into Portuguese and certified by a Portuguese notary or Portuguese consulate in their country of origin. Because gathering, translating, and certifying documents can take some time, it’s a good idea to start this step as soon as possible.
5. Create an online account.
Before you can begin your actual application, you must pre-register online by creating an account with the SEF website.
To create your online account, you will need to provide basic information about yourself and the type of investment you have made. If your lawyer is completing the application on your behalf, they can register you here.
The application and interview process
Once you are ready to apply, you (or your legal representative if they are submitting an application on your behalf) can log into your online account on the SEF website. Using the online portal, you can complete your application and upload the necessary documents directly to the site.
In addition to submitting your completed application and documents, you will have to pay the processing fees and provide proof of payment with your application.
This includes a processing fee of €514.80 ($564.89) with an additional €80.20 ($88) per family member. These fees are payable directly to the SEF.
After your initial application has been received, the next step is to attend an in-person interview at a SEF office.
Note that the waiting list for a Golden Visa interview may be several months in bigger cities like Lisbon or Faro, so you may want to consider booking an appointment in a smaller district.
At your interview, you will meet with an immigration official. Any family members who are applying should be in attendance. In addition to interviewing you, the official will gather your biometric data from you and your family, including fingerprints.
After submitting your application and completing your interview, your application should take between three and six months to be processed.
Acceptance and renewal
Once your Golden Visa application has been approved, you’ll pay a Golden Visa fee of €5,147.80 ($5,648.60) for yourself and each family member.
After paying the fee, you will each receive a temporary residence card that is valid for one year. During that initial year, you must spend a minimum of seven days in Portugal.
At the end of the first and third years, you will need to renew your residency card. You should start the renewal processes around one month before the card expires.
The process includes resubmitting biometrics and providing updated criminal records for you and your family members. The cost to renew your residency is €2,573.90 ($2,824.30) per person.
During years two through five, you must spend a minimum of 14 days in Portugal for every two-year period.
At the end of five years, if you have maintained your investment and met residency requirements, you can apply for permanent residency.
Applying for citizenship
Once you achieve permanent residency, you are eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship and passport. A recent amendment to the Portuguese Nationality Law allows you to apply for citizenship after being a legal resident for five years as opposed to the previous six years.
To do so, you must pass a language test that demonstrates sufficient knowledge of Portuguese.
If you are approved for Portuguese citizenship, you can apply for a Portuguese passport. The cost of a passport is €65 ($71), and it is valid for five years.
Portugal’s passport was recently ranked as one of the most powerful in the world, allowing you to travel visa-free or with a visa on arrival to 185 countries around the world.
Special considerations for Americans applying for a Golden Visa
The process of becoming a Portuguese resident through the Golden Visa program is fairly straightforward for EU/EEA citizens. However, if you are applying for a Golden Visa as a U.S. citizen, there are a handful of special considerations to keep in mind:
- Apply from within Portugal. Several key pre- and post-application steps like opening a bank account and participating in an interview must be completed in Portugal. Before you begin your application, it’s highly advisable to relocate to Portugal to simplify the process and get to know the country. You can book direct flights to Lisbon from New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Miami through carriers like Tap Air Portugal and United.
- Comply with U.S. and EU/EEA travel restrictions. Processing a Golden Visa application will likely take several months. While waiting for your application to be processed, you can enter Portugal or any of the 26 Schengen-area countries without a special tourist visa for stays of up to 90 days. To enter Europe as a U.S. citizen, you must have a passport with at least two blank pages that is valid for at least six months.
- Travel restrictions are changing. It is worth noting that the European Council is changing the rules for American citizens traveling in the EU in 2021. Although you can now travel the 26 Schengen-area countries without a visa for up to 90 days, you will have to register online through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (E.T.I.A.S.) and pay a small fee beginning January 1, 2021. The E.T.I.A.S. registration is good for three years and permits an unlimited number of entries. If you plan to travel to Portugal to apply for a Golden Visa after January 1, 2021, you must first obtain E.T.I.A.S. registration.
- Work with a local. When applying for your NIF, you will need to provide the name of a Portuguese tax representative who tax authorities can contact on your behalf. This could be your attorney or accountant or a friend or family member. If you do not speak Portuguese, it is recommended that you work with a tax representative who does speak Portuguese to streamline local processes like opening a Portuguese bank account and making your investment.
- Consider how you will show proof of address. When opening a bank account in Portugal, you may be required to provide proof of your address—such as a customs form, SIM card delivery receipt, utility bill, or rental contract. While many banks in Portugal will allow you to apply using details of your U.S. address, it is easier to open an account if you can show proof of a Portuguese address.
- Translate your documents. When submitting your applications, any English-language documents—such as health care documentation and U.S. background checks—must be translated into Portuguese and certified. Translating and certifying can be completed in the U.S. or in Portugal.
- Become a dual citizen. If you successfully obtain a Golden Visa, you are eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship. Unlike other countries, the U.S. allows dual citizenship, which means you do not have to renounce your U.S. citizenship to become a Portuguese citizen.
- Comply with tax regulations. If you do keep your U.S. citizenship, you will likely have the same U.S. tax filing obligations, whether you reside in America or Portugal. The good news is that because Portugal has signed a double-taxation treaty with the U.S, you may not have to pay Portuguese taxes on qualifying income from the U.S.
- Learning Portuguese is recommended, not required. In major cities like Porto and Lisbon, the vast majority of locals under 40 speak both English and Portuguese. To obtain a Golden Visa in order to visit and live comfortably in Portugal, learning Portuguese is not required, but it is certainly recommended—especially if you want to learn more about the local culture and have the opportunity to travel to the nation’s rural areas. In addition, if you do plan on eventually applying for citizenship, you must pass a language test that shows you can read, write, and speak adequate Portuguese.
U.S. citizen or not, we encourage you to reach out to our team at Lifeafar with any questions about the Golden Visa process or real estate investment opportunities in Portugal.
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NB: All currency exchange rates are as of October 4, 2019.
The information included in this release should not be interpreted as or be considered a substitute for proper legal advice and such information is provided for informational purposes only. Interested persons should consult with their own advisers with respect to the matters discussed in this release and such persons acknowledge and agree that Lifeafar and its affiliated entities and persons are not making any warranty, express or implied, with respect to any of the foregoing.
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