European Golden Visa Programs: The Definitive Guide

Updated: 21 July 2023

The so-called “Golden Visa” programs gained popularity in recent years.  But, what are they?  Golden Visa refers to a temporary residence permit, obtained by making a qualifying investment in the host country.  The permit grants a number of rights to you, typically involving a right to live and work in the country, visa-free travel within a number of countries, among others.

The most popular European Golden Visa programs are offered by Spain, Portugal, and Greece.  In this article, we will take a closer look at each and compare the three programs across several criteria.

What You Will Find in This Article

What Is Golden Visa in Europe?

A Golden Visa is an investment-based type of authorization that offers a route to permanent residency or citizenship in a foreign country. 

Golden Visa programs are offered by many EU and Schengen Zone countries. Through EU Golden Visa programs, you can be eligible for EU residency and citizenship citizens by capital transfer, real estate acquisition, or through a donation. 

Target Market: Who Can Apply for a Golden Visa in Europe?

Technically, if you have a clean criminal record, and aren’t an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen, you can apply for the Golden Visa programs in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, as long as you make a qualifying investment.

The below groups of people typically find these residency by investment programs appealing;

Citizens from Developing Nations and Emerging Countries

Many people from the developing world have access to means, however, they desire access to opportunities, healthcare, education, safety, and stability in developed countries.

Europe Golden Visa programs hold the most benefits for this group of people.  The programs provide them and their families with the above luxuries, as well as hassle-free travel opportunities.  The programs even lead to European citizenship, as long as their requirements are met.

Investors and Business Owners

These programs are compelling for investors and business owners looking to spend a significant amount of time in Europe.  The programs in all three countries allow the applicant to get unlimited access in the EU Schengen countries.  So if your goal is to live, work, and travel in Europe, these permits may perhaps do the trick.

Hong Kong Citizens and US Citizens

Although neither country is a developing nation, investors from Hong Kong and the US are showing an increasing interest in the Golden Visa programs.

Their motives to get an additional residency or citizenship may range from taxation reasons, retirement, business relocation, a lifestyle change, or just an idealistic discomfort with their home country.  

British Citizens 

British people have started to show interest in Europe Golden Visa programs post-Brexit. Previously, they were free to stay in the EU countries for as long as they want. As the circumstances have changed, they’re trying to secure European residency and even citizenship at the end of a certain period.

Which European Countries Offer Golden Visas?

Before answering how to get Golden Visa in Europe, it’s important to list the European countries that offer Golden Visas.

Here are some of the most popular countries that offer Golden Visas:

  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • Portugal
  • Spain

1. Greece

Greece’s Golden Visa is one of the best residency by investment schemes thanks to its low investment threshold of €250,000. Plus, the country doesn’t require the Golden Visa holders to stay in Greece which is a great incentive if you’re not ready to commit yourself to live in Greece full time.

2. Ireland

Officially known as Ireland Immigrant Investor Program, Ireland Golden Visa is for those who are interested in making an investment in an English-speaking country in the EU. The minimum investment amount is €1 million while the donation option costs €500,000.

3. Italy

Italy’s Golden Visa program is suitable for those who are ready to make an investment in the Italian economy. The minimum investment amount is €500,000 which is through an investment in an Italian limited company. Also, if you live in Italy for 10 years, you can be eligible for citizenship. 

4. Malta

Malta has a residency scheme that is available either through a real estate purchase or leasing. Plus, you’ll need to make a donation to designated institutions. The minimum investment amount for Malta Permanent Residence Programme is €150,000. The highlight of the program is that you don’t have to live in Malta to maintain your status.

5. Portugal

Portugal’s Golden Visa is among the best residency by investment programs as it leads to citizenship in five years. Real estate, real estate related funds, or capital transfer are no longer qualifying options to apply for the program. However, you can still invest in Portuguese Venture Capital and Private Equity funds in order to qualify for a Golden Visa. The minimum investment amount is €250,000 which is available through donation in arts and culture. The stay requirement is only for seven days on average per year.

6. Spain

Spain offers a Golden Visa scheme that is available through real estate purchase, capital transfer, or business set up in the country. The minimum investment amount is €500,000 and the stay requirement is only for one day in a year.

Benefits: What Good Is a Golden Visa

All Golden Visa programs provide applicants with similar rights and benefits in general.

These common rights include the right to live in the host country, the ability to travel within Schengen states without an additional visa, and the right to include dependent family members within their application.

The extent of these rights and benefits slightly differs between programs.  See the chart below for a quick comparison of the most popular ones:

  Spain Portugal Greece
Living Yes: right to live in Spain Yes: right to live in Portugal Yes: right to live in Greece
Working Yes: right to work in Spain Yes: right to work in Portugal No
Traveling Travel within the EU Schengen Area without an additional visa Travel within the EU Schengen Area without an additional visa Travel within the EU Schengen Area without an additional visa
Family Inclusion Yes Yes Yes

The stay requirement and the right to apply for citizenship are two important factors.  We will cover them in the coming sections.

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    “Stay Requirement”: How much time needs to be spent in the country for a Golden Visa?

    Once you obtain your Golden Visa;

    Spain does not require you to spend an extended time in the country; you merely need to enter the country once a year. Thus, it is interpreted as a one-day stay requirement per year.

    Portugal requires you to stay an average of seven days a year in the country to uphold your Golden Visa status.  If your Golden Visa permit is valid for a period of two years, Portugal requires you to spend a total of 14 days in the country within the two-year period.

    Greece doesn’t have any stay requirements.

    Investment: Which investment types qualify for Golden Visa in Europe?

    An investment has to be made in order to apply for the Golden Visa.  Spain, Portugal, and Greece each have a list of qualifying investments for their residency by investment programs.

    Below, you may find a comprehensive list of qualifying investments for the three Golden Visa programs.

    Spain Golden Visa Qualifying Investments
    Invest in a Real Estate in Spain with a minimum value of €500,000 
    Make a Capital Transfer of €1 million
    Invest a minimum of €1 million in a Spanish Business
    Invest a minimum of €2 million in Spanish Government Bonds
    Portugal Golden Visa Qualifying Investments
    Create a company that Employs ten (10) Portuguese citizens with full-time jobs
    Invest a minimum of €500,000 in a Qualified Fund in Portugal 
    Invest a minimum of €250,000 in National Heritage, Arts, and Culture in Portugal
    Invest a minimum of €500,000 in R&D in Portugal
    Greece Golden Visa Qualifying Investments
    Invest in Real Estate in Greece with a minimum value of €250,000
    Make a Capital Contribution of €400,000 in a Greek Government Bond

    Getting EU Permanent Residence Through Investment

    In general, Golden Visa EU countries offer a temporary residence permit at the first approval stage. After meeting the stay requirements and other criteria, you can get permanent residency in the EU.

    For example. Portugal Golden Visa leads to permanent residency after five years. If you manage to meet the stay requirement at the end of this period, which is around 35 days in total in five years, you can be eligible for permanent residency. 

    Citizenship: Does Europe Golden Visa Program Lead to Citizenship?

    Yes, Golden Visa indirectly leads to citizenship. A Golden Visa is a path to residency in a country.  Residency is a path to citizenship, provided that you meet the specific naturalization requirements of the country.

    Below, you will find the citizenship requirements of Spain, Portugal, and Greece, once you have a Golden Visa.

      Citizenship Requirements for Golden Visa Holders
    Spain 10 years of residing the majority of the year in Spain
    DELE A2 Spanish Language test 
    CCSE Spanish culture test
    Clean criminal record from home country
    Portugal Five years of residing an average of seven days per year in Portugal
    A2 Portuguese Language test
    No unpaid taxes in Portugal
    Clean criminal record from home country
    Greece Seven years of residing for more than 183 days per year in Greece
    Greek citizenship test
    Clean criminal record from home country

    Note on Spanish Citizenship: 

    Fast-Track to Citizenship is an Option for Citizens from Former Spanish Colonies

    Recent legislative changes in Spanish law allow citizens from a number of countries to qualify for citizenship earlier than the regular requirement.  Applicants from former Spanish colonies can apply for Spanish naturalization after two years of meeting the stay requirement in the country.  Please contact us for more details.

    How many countries can you visit with a Spanish Passport?

    Spanish passport holders can visit 190 countries without a visa as of 2021.

    How many countries can you visit with a Portuguese Passport?

    Portuguese citizens can travel to 188 countries without a visa as of 2021.

    How many countries can you visit with a Greek Passport?

    The citizens of Greece can visit 186 countries as of 2021.

    Wait Time and Validity for European Golden Visa

    How Long Does It Take to Get a Golden Visa and How Long Is It Valid?

    The wait times to receive your EU Golden Visa varies depending on the country and depending on how busy the immigration office.

    As of 2021, the average wait times after making your investment and applying for the Golden Visa are listed in the table below.

      Spain Golden Visa Portugal Golden Visa Greece Golden Visa
    Wait Times Six Months Seven Months Three Months

    Mind you, these are assuming that you have no travel restrictions to the host country, thus you can visit the corresponding immigration offices to provide your biometric data in a timely manner.  

    Nevertheless, it is best to get an update from your law firm regarding the most recent wait times at the time of your application.

    Once you receive your Golden Visa card, how long is it valid for?  The table below lists the current validity periods of the three different residency by investment programs.

      Golden Visa Cards Validity Periods
    Spain Initial Permit Valid for One Year; within that year, applicant must visit Spain to get the Two-Year Permit
    Second Permit Valid for Two Years
    Third and the rest of the Permits Valid for Five Year Each
    Portugal Initial Permit Valid For One Year (changed in 2020 to Two-Years)
    Rest of the Permits Valid for Two Years each
    Greece Permits Valid for Five Years at a Time

    Portugal used to issue the first permit as a one-year card.  In 2020, due to a legislative change in relation to COVID-19, they started issuing the first card for a validity period of two years, just as the rest of the cards to follow.

    Application Costs for Europe Golden Visa

    How Much Does It Cost to Apply for a Golden Visa for Europe?

    Apart from making the qualifying investment, applying for a Golden Visa requires fees to be made to the corresponding government.  These fees are typically paid per applicant and per dependent.  

    In the chart below, you will find how these fees differ between Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

      Golden Visa Application Fees
    Spain €87,57 per person at initial application and at each renewal
    Portugal €533.90 per the main applicant and 83.30 Euro per family member as an initial processing fee
    €5,325 per person at the initial application
    €2,663 per person at each renewal
    Greece €2,000 per the main applicant and €500 per family member older than 21 and €150 per family member under 21 at initial application and each renewal

    Tax: What Are the Taxation Consequences of Golden Visa Europe Programs?

    Taxation has little to do with a Golden Visa, it has everything to do with tax residency.  If you have a Golden Visa from Spain, Portugal, or Greece, it doesn’t automatically make you a tax resident in any of these countries.  And as long as you aren’t a tax resident in these countries, you only have a tax obligation on your income that you generate in the host country.  You have no tax obligation on your foreign income.

    If you choose to spend the majority of your year and become a tax resident in these countries, you will be faced with the below tax rates.

      Spain Portugal Greece
    Income Tax 19% to 45% 14,5% to 45% 9% to 44%
    Corporate Tax 25% 21% 24%
    Inheritance & Gift Tax 1% to 7%
    * varies by region
    0% 10% to 40%
    * varies by relation
    Tax Incentive Program for Foreigners Spain does not have one Non-Habitual Residence Program (NHR); exemption for ten years Greece is debating to have one; 7% flat rate for ten years

    The Non-Habitual Residency (NHR) Program in Portugal is a tax scheme designed for foreigners looking to become tax residents in Portugal.  It is one of the most attractive tax programs in the European Union.

    Greece is working on a similar program, which will provide foreigners looking to relocate or retire in Greece with a flat tax rate of seven percent for the initial ten years of their residence in the country.

    Golden Visa Europe Comparison: Which Golden Visa Europe Program Is the Best?

    It’s not fair to label one Golden Visa program as “the best”, as they each have their own pros and cons.

    All three Golden Visa programs of Spain, Portugal, and Greece provide a basic set of advantages that is stable for all.  These include:

    • The ability to live in the host country,
    • The ability to travel within the European Schengen countries without an additional visa,
    • The ability to add family members to the application,
    • The luxury of having an association with a beautiful, sunny country with low crime rates and lovely people near the Meditteranean.

    Besides these, there are small details that differ between the three programs.  We categorized each three according to these small, but essential differences;

    The Highest GDP Option: Spain Golden Visa

    The Spanish Golden Visa program, which was introduced in 2013, gives access to a large economy, with flourishing business opportunities. It is estimated that close to 600 million people speak Spanish in the world. Investors, who are interested in actually moving to Europe find Spain to be a vibrant, hip, yet relaxing country to pursue.  The downside is that the Golden Visa program does not lead to citizenship unless you choose to live there significantly.

    The Easiest Path to EU Citizenship: Portugal Golden Visa

    The Portuguese Golden Visa program, which was launched in 2012, only requires the Golden Visa applicants to spend an average of seven days in Portugal in a year.  After five years, it is pretty straightforward to apply for Portuguese citizenship, which practically gives you all the perks of being a European Union citizen.

    The Cheapest Way to EU Residency: Greece Golden Visa

    The Golden Visa Greece program, which was launched in 2013, only requires the Golden Visa applicant to spend a minimum of €250,000 on any real estate in Greece.  This is enough to qualify for the Greek residence permit for the main applicant and a generous menu of family dependants.  Furthermore, there is no requirement to spend any time in Greece.

    There are many moving parts when choosing the right residency or citizenship by investment program.  Each Golden Visa program went through many changes since its emergence.  The most important part is to come up with your priorities and find the right program that fits your search criteria. We strive to do exactly that.  Please feel free to contact us and we would be glad to give you further information on the programs, and answer any and all questions you may have regarding the details.

    Get Golden Visa: Who We Are and What We Do

    Get Golden Visa is a full-service investment immigration agency & investment advisory company.  We provide end-to-end solutions on residence and citizenship by investment programs in numerous countries worldwide.

    We have local offices in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the UK with legal professionals and licensed real estate professionals in our team.

    We work with clients from all around the world, interested in obtaining Golden Visas or in making real estate investments internationally in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey.

    Contact us and talk to one of our experienced team members to help you with any and all your questions.

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      Frequently Asked Questions on Residency by Investment in Europe

      Which European countries have Golden Visas?

      Golden visa programs exist in several EU and Schengen nations, allowing foreign investors to become permanent citizens. Greece, Malta, Portugal, and Spain are some of the European countries that offer Golden Visas. You can also check out Italy Golden Visa.

      Who is eligible for Golden Visa?

      The eligibility for Golden Visa varies depending on the country. But in general, you have to meet the following eligibility criteria:

      • You’re over 18 years old
      • You have a clean criminal record
      • You have sufficient funds to make the required investment 

      How much do I need to invest to get a Golden Visa?

      The investment you need to make depends on the program you choose. For example, in Portugal, the amount is €250,000 for the donation option. For real estate acquisition in Spain, the required investment is €500,000. 

      What is the best Golden Visa in Europe?

      The answer to this question depends on your needs. If you want to get citizenship without fully relocating to the country, Portugal can be a good option as its stay requirements are very flexible – only seven days on average per year. 

      Can I buy citizenship in Europe?

      If you want to buy citizenship in Europe, you can check out the Malta citizenship by investment program. The minimum investment amount starts from €690,000 and it offers citizenship between 12 to 36 months.

      Do you get a passport with Golden Visa?

      Golden Visa is not a direct route to getting a passport. However, if you meet the requirements, at the end of a certain period, you can be eligible to apply for a passport.

      Why should I get a Golden Visa?

      There are many reasons why you should get a Golden Visa. Its benefits include the following:

      • More mobility
      • Tax benefits
      • Business opportunities
      • Education 

      Can you work on Golden Visa?

      Working on a Golden Visa depends on the country. For example, Portugal allows Golden Visa holders to work in the country. However, Greece doesn’t grant such rights.

      Which countries give citizenship if you buy a property?

      There are many countries in the Caribbean that offer citizenship in exchange for property investment. St.Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica are some of these countries. Malta and Turkey are two other countries that give citizenship if you buy property.

      Which country gives citizenship easily?

      Below countries give citizenship easily if you meet the requirements:

      • Malta
      • Antigua and Barbuda
      • Dominica
      • St.Kitts and Nevis
      • Turkey

      How to get a Golden Visa in Europe?

      Although the route to getting a Golden Visa differs depending on the countries’ regulations, it is mainly done through real estate acquisition, capital transfer, or company formation. The other requirements usually include proving the source of your funds and presenting a clear criminal record.

      What are the cheapest Golden Visa Europe countries offer?

      Malta Permanent Residence Programme is among the cheapest in Europe, with a minimum investment amount of €150,000.

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