What Is a Golden Visa?

What is a golden visa? What countries issue golden visas to foreign applicants? How can you acquire such a visa? What advantages does it bring to the holder? What traps and pitfalls should you avoid when applying for a golden visa? Please read on to find the answers to these and other related questions.

Before we go on, however, we must issue a warning: you will have to bring a clean criminal record when applying for a golden visa. This type of visa is unavailable to persons with a criminal past.

A golden visa is an immigration instrument. It is effectively a residence permit issued to a foreign national in exchange for an investment. Investments can be active or passive.

Golden Visa

You can invest in a number of different assets including real estate, a business venture, government bonds, company shares, etc. The essential condition is that the property shall be located in the host country (the country that issues the golden visa).

The practice of issuing golden visas was first adopted in the middle of the 20th century but the name ‘golden visa’ came into use after the Portuguese residence-by-investment program (Autorização de Residência para Investimento; ARI) was launched in 2012.  

Local media would often use the expression ‘vistos gold’, which is the Portuguese for ‘golden visas’. Because the ARI program turned out highly successful, the term began to be applied to other residence-by-investment programs available in Europe and other parts of the globe.

Before 2012, such programs used to be referred to as ‘investor immigrant programs’. For instance, the US EB-5 visa is an investor immigrant visa. This is the most popular residence-by-investment program in the world and it has been available since the 1990s when the US Congress passed the corresponding bill.  

You have to realize that a golden visa does not automatically lead to citizenship of the foreign country. The investor shall meet certain requirements to qualify for foreign citizenship. For instance, in most cases the golden visa holder shall reside in the foreign country for some time (usually five years) and pass the local language test.

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How many golden visa programs are available?

Dozens of countries issue golden visas to foreigners. You can find residence-by-investment programs on all continents with the exception of Antarctica. Below we list the most popular golden visa programs and the required amounts of investments.

Golden Visa in Europe

  • Greece – from 250,000 euros;
  • Portugal – from 250,000 euros;
  • Ireland – from 500,000 euros;
  • Netherlands – from 1.25 million euros;
  • Luxembourg – from EUR 500,000;
  • Bulgaria – from 250,000 euros;
  • Cyprus – from 300,000 euros;
  • Latvia – from 250,000 euros;
  • Italy – from 1 million euros;
  • Great Britain – from 2 million pounds;
  • France – from 300,000 euros;
  • Spain – from 500,000 euros;
  • Malta – from 250,000 euros (half of the amount can be covered by a loan);

Golden Visa in the Americas

  • USA – USD 900,000 (EB5);
  • Brazil – 500,000 reals;
  • Paraguay – USD 5,300;

Golden Visa in Asia

  • Singapore – USD 2.5 million;
  • Hong Kong – HK $ 10 million;
  • Malaysia – USD 125,000;
  • South Korea – USD 250,000;

Golden Visa in Oceania

  • Australia – AUS $ 1.5 million;
  • New Zealand – NZ $ 3 million;

Golden Visa in the Middle East

  • United Arab Emirates – 10 million dirhams;
  • Jordan – USD 282,000;
  • Egypt – USD 100,000.

What advantages does a golden visa bring?

The main advantages that a golden visa brings include an instant residence permit in a foreign country, the right of abode there all the year round, access to top-class educational opportunities (for children and adults), access to advanced healthcare systems, higher living standards, and an increased level of personal security. In addition, the golden visa holder can become a tax resident of the foreign country if he/ she wishes. On the other hand, it is not a requirement and living in the country is also unnecessary to preserve the golden visa. Finally, a golden visa holder can qualify for full citizenship of the foreign country after a few years.

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What golden visas are the most popular ones?

Below we list the most popular residence-by-investment programs starting with the top one (the popularity ranking is based on the number of residence permits issued to foreign investors). The list should not look surprising at all, as the countries listed below are the best states where you can live, work, and engage in business activities. Besides, these countries have the most powerful passports, from the international travel point of view.

  • USA;
  • Canada;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Australia;
  • Ireland;
  • Greece;
  • Portugal.

Which golden visa is the least expensive one?

Paraguay issues the least expensive golden visas. You can acquire a legal residence permit in the country if you deposit US$ 5.2 thousand in a local bank or if you start a business venture there. Speaking about European golden visa programs, we should note that acquiring legal residence in Malta is less expensive than in any other European country. You can invest 125,000 euros of your own money plus take out a loan of the same amount to qualify for the Maltese golden visa. The investment shall be made in state bonds in Malta.  

What disadvantages do golden visa programs have?

Some countries administering golden visa programs levy high taxes on their fiscal residents. In some cases, extending the golden visa may cause trouble and entail costs, because you have to pay a personal visit to the country to get your visa extended. A golden visa does not allow quickly obtaining citizenship of the foreign country and neither does it guarantee that citizenship can be obtained after a few years. When applying for a golden visa, you will have considerable additional expenditures such as legal service fees, administrative fees, notary service fees, and so on. When paying for professional services, you will also be subject to taxation (you will have to pay the VAT, for example).

Citizenship by investment and a golden visa: what is the difference?

When you acquire citizenship of a foreign country, you almost instantly obtain a second passport that you can use for international travel. On the other hand, a US or Canadian residence permit will only let you move freely across the countries but not beyond their borders. Similarly, a Greek or a Portuguese golden visa will let you move freely within the Schengen zone with it but not beyond.

What assets do applicants for golden visas usually invest in?

The following three investment options are the most popular ones: purchase of real estate in the foreign country, purchase of state bonds, and a fixed-term bank deposit. Many investor migrants consider the first option the most transparent and the most secure.

What are active investments and passive investments?

Some countries require that applicants for their golden visas make active investments, others require that they make passive investments, and some countries give the investor a choice. Let us clarify what the difference is between active and passive investments.

Active investments: In some countries, you will qualify for a golden visa if you create several new jobs for the local residents. Cleary, when you invest in a business enterprise, you make a high-risk investment in all cases. Active investments are beneficial for the host country’s economy rather than for the investor. The British Tier 1 investor visa, for instance, as well as the American EB-5 visa require active investments.

Passive investments: Passive investments are long-term low-risk investments in such asset types as real estate of state bonds, for example. Applicants for Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish golden visas are welcome to make passive investments in the countries’ economies. This said, however, the countries offer alternative routes to legal residence to foreign investors. The Portuguese golden visa program in particular allows making a fixed-term bank deposit, among other things.

The difference should also be made between investing in residential property, on the one hand and commercial property, on the other one. Investments in residential property are passive as they create no jobs and bring no additional income to the host country’s national budget. Investments in commercial property can be considered active because they potentially provide for new employment opportunities, which means that the host country can count on some additional tax revenues from such investments.

Can a golden visa holder acquire citizenship of the foreign country?

Yes, a golden visa holder is eligible to apply for full citizenship of the country after a few years. Moreover, citizenship can be obtained for all members of his/ her core family. Below please find an incomplete list of countries whose citizenship you can obtain after obtaining a golden visa. We also show how many years you have to hold the visa before you can apply for citizenship.

  • Paraguay – 3 years;
  • Canada – 3 years;
  • Portugal – 5 years;
  • USA – 5 years;
  • Great Britain – 5 years;
  • Ireland – 5 years;
  • Greece – 7 years;

You should bear in mind that you normally have to spend the best part of each calendar year in the country to qualify for its citizenship. In addition to that, you may have to pass a language test and a history test, in some cases. Besides, you should behave while holding the visa: you cannot break any laws, you must pay all the due taxes, etc.

What European golden visa is the least expensive one?

As we have noted above, the least expensive golden visa is available in Malta if we speak about European countries. The local MVRP residence-by-investment program requires that the applicant for a golden visa should invest only 125,000 euros of his/ her own money in state bonds. You will not have to purchase real estate in Malta if you decide to apply for a residence permit in the country but you will have to have residential accommodations there. This means that you will have to rent a place that costs not less than 10,000 euros per year. Here are some other advantages of the Maltese golden visa:

  • Legal residence in the Schengen zone;
  • Permanent personal presence is not required;
  • Free movement across the Schengen zone;
  • A permanent residence permit;
  • Legal residence for all members of the family;
  • No age restrictions for children added to family applications for residence;
  • The main applicant’s parents and grandparents can be included in the family application;
  • Citizenship of Malta can become available after five years;
  • Application for residence processing timeframe is 6 months.

What is the most attractive golden visa program in Europe? 

Some countries will allow investing in real estate in order to qualify for their golden visas. Now, real estate is the type of property that will almost inevitably grow in value, in the long run. For this reason, we recommend that you should consider the countries that provide for this opportunity before you turn to other countries. Consider Greece, for example.

An applicant for legal residence in Greece can invest only € 250,000 in real estate in the country (you have to add legal costs and taxes to this amount: about 10%) and let the property on a lease straight away. The rent will bring a passive income and you can count on selling the property back at a considerably higher price after a few years as the real estate prices have been steadily growing in Greece over the recent years. The local golden visa program does not require that the foreign investor spend any amount of time in Greece, which means you do not need a place to stay there.  

Which golden visa will make the holder qualified for EU citizenship?

If you acquire a golden visa to Malta, Portugal, or Ireland, you can count on becoming an EU citizen by naturalization in the fastest possible way. Below we show the timeframes of acquiring European citizenship by naturalization in different countries:

  • Portugal – 5 years;
  • Malta – 5 years;
  • Ireland – 5 years;
  • Greece – 7 years;
  • Latvia – 10 years;
  • Spain – 10 years.

Please bear in mind that most countries allow dual citizenship while some do not. If you acquire a Spanish golden visa, for example, you will have to live in the country for ten years before you can apply for citizenship. And when you do, you will have to renounce any citizenship that you have if you want to become a subject of the king of Spain. (Exceptions apply to citizens of some Latin American countries that used to be Spanish colonies.)

What is the difference between a tourist visa and a golden visa?

First, tourist visas are normally valid for 90 days and golden visas (legal residence permits) are valid for one, two, or more years. Second, you have to apply for a tourist visa to the foreign country’s embassy in your home country while legal residence permits can be extended at the immigration bureau in the foreign country.

What rights does a golden visa bring?

The golden visa holder enjoys almost the same rights as native-born residents of the country have. He or she cannot vote in the elections but he/ she will have the same access to the educational and healthcare services available in the country. Some countries also give tax breaks to new residents.

Where do applicants for golden visas usually come from?

According to the official statistics, people from the following parts of the world invest the largest amounts of money in golden visas: China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, India, and the Middle East. If you would like to apply for a golden visa, please seek our advice! Our economic immigration experts will answer all your questions and help you choose the best option. Please write to info@offshore-pro.info or use any other means of communication to contact us. We always reply swiftly!

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