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Exploring The World’s Most Popular Golden Visa Countries

Feb 3, 2024 | Human Resources

The allure of obtaining a second residency has led many to seek out popular golden visa countries, offering a blend of investment opportunities and lifestyle benefits. These programs, designed to grant residency—and sometimes citizenship—in exchange for significant financial contributions, have become a favoured route for affluent individuals looking to expand their global footprint and access new markets. From the bustling crossroads of the UAE to the tranquil shores of Portugal, each golden visa country presents a unique set of perks tailored to the discerning investor.

This exploration delves into the specifics of the world’s most sought-after golden visa programs, scrutinising their investment requirements, benefits, and the strategic advantages to expatriates and host nations.

What Is A Golden Visa?

A golden visa is a residency-by-investment program that lets individuals and their families live and potentially become citizens in a foreign country by making a significant financial investment into that country’s economy. This investment often involves buying real estate, investing in government bonds, or contributing to other approved investment vehicles. The term “golden” reflects the valuable benefits that come with the golden visa application, such as the freedom to travel within the host country and possible tax advantages.

What Attracts Expats To Golden Visas

Expatriates are drawn to golden visas for a variety of reasons. The chance to gain permanent residency in a country with the potential for citizenship is a big lure. This residency status often extends to family members, allowing them to live, work, and study in the new country.

The freedom to travel within the host nation is another big draw. It’s particularly enticing for those wanting to explore or do business without the usual restrictions. Access to education and healthcare are additional perks; many golden visa programs offer entry to the country’s public schools and universities and local healthcare services.

Tax benefits are a major consideration too. Some countries offer golden visa holders lower personal income tax rates or exemptions on foreign income. But there are risks to weigh up. These include the volatility of the investment, political instability, and complex tax implications. So, it’s crucial for potential applicants to do their homework on the golden visa program and to seek professional advice to navigate the complexities involved.

How Do Golden Visas Benefit The Countries Of Application

For the countries offering them, golden visas are a strategic way to attract foreign direct investment. These nations funnel capital into their economies by setting a minimum investment threshold. This can be especially helpful in times of economic downturn, like the recovery period after the COVID-19 crisis.

The investments made through these investment programs also can help create jobs, boost the real estate market, and generally support economic growth. However, the impact of golden visas on a country’s economy can vary. While they can bring in significant revenue, sometimes they account for just a tiny fraction of GDP.

The effect on real estate markets is also mixed. In Greece, the influx of investment through golden visas has been significant enough to influence the market. In other countries, the effect is minimal compared to investments from other sources, like EU citizens.

It’s important to note that golden visa programs can change. Governments may alter or cancel them with little notice, often due to shifts in the political climate, economic needs, or concerns over the misuse of the system. As a result, countries benefit from managing these programs carefully to ensure they meet economic goals while maintaining integrity and security.

UAE Flag

The UAE Golden Visa

Investment Requirements

In the UAE, the Golden Visa scheme is designed to attract investors, entrepreneurs, and professionals by offering them long-term residence. Valid for up to ten years and renewable, it provides a stable base for those looking to invest or work in the UAE. Entrepreneurs are required to have a project with a minimum value of USD 136,150 (AED 500,000), as appraised by an accredited UAE auditor, to qualify.

For real estate investors, the threshold is the property worth at least USD 550,000 (AED 2 million), which must be retained for a minimum of three years. The program has broadened its scope to include individuals with specialised skills in various sectors, outstanding students, and humanitarian workers. The UAE aims to become a global tech hub and intends to grant golden visas to 100,000 top coders worldwide.

The program’s design reflects the UAE’s strategic position as a central hub connecting multiple continents.

Benefits Of The UAE Golden Visa

Holders of the UAE Golden Visa can reside, work, and pursue education in the UAE autonomously without the need for a local guarantor. This autonomy is particularly beneficial for business owners, allowing them to retain complete control over their enterprises within the UAE.

The absence of several taxes, including personal income and capital gains taxes, is a significant incentive. These fiscal advantages can result in considerable savings for residents.

Additionally, the visa permits the sponsorship of unlimited domestic staff. It provides residency for spouses and offspring, regardless of their age. Holders are entitled to the Esaad privilege card, granting discounts at a multitude of businesses both within the UAE and abroad. This card, introduced in 2022, exemplifies the UAE’s commitment to enriching the lives of its residents.

Beneficiaries also enjoy the UAE’s exemplary healthcare and educational systems, enhancing their family’s well-being. The visa’s multiple-entry nature facilitates effortless international travel for business or leisure.

Unique to this program is the absence of restrictions on the duration Golden Visa holders can spend abroad, allowing for considerable flexibility for those with international commitments. Since its inception in 2019, the program has seen substantial uptake, with Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs having issued approximately 152,000 golden visas by November 2022. This popularity underscores the program’s success in attracting individuals seeking stability, high-quality services, and an outstanding lifestyle. The UAE Golden Visa serves as a portal to long-term residency by investment, integrating individuals and their families into the UAE’s dynamic economy and culture.

Portuguese Flag

The Portuguese Golden Visa

Investment Requirements

Launched in October 2012, the ARI has been instrumental in channelling funds into the Portuguese economy. To be eligible, investors can choose from several options, such as a USD 543,676 (€500,000) subscription to a qualifying Portuguese fund, the creation of a minimum of 10 new full-time jobs within their own Portuguese business, or a USD 271,838 (€250,000) contribution to the country’s national heritage or research sector. Since October 2023, real estate investments are excluded from the list of qualifying contributions.

Investors must prove that the capital used for the investment originated from outside Portugal and have a clean criminal record in both their country of origin and Portugal. They must also show proof of the investment and keep it for the duration of their residency. After obtaining permanent residency or citizenship, the investment can be sold.

Benefits Of The Portuguese Golden Visa

The ARI offers numerous advantages, including a low requirement for physical presence—just seven days on average annually. This program provides visa-free access to the Schengen Area and the possibility of obtaining Portuguese citizenship after five years, which is among the quickest pathways to citizenship in Europe. Portuguese citizenship allows for the right to live, work, and study in any EU country and visa-free entry to 188 countries globally.

Portugal is known for its high quality of life, with a safe environment, reasonable cost of living, excellent climate, and strong health and education systems. For those considering moving, Portugal’s NHR program provides tax benefits for the first ten years of permanent residence here.

The Portuguese Residence Permit for Investment Activity (ARI) also facilitates family reunification, allowing the main applicant to include family members in their application, streamlining the residency process for the entire family.

While residency does not necessitate becoming a tax resident, those who do and spend more than 183 days per year in Portugal may benefit from the NHR program’s tax incentives.

Greek Flag

The Greek Golden Visa

Investment Requirements

Launched in 2013, the Greek Golden Visa program offers a path to residency for non-EU citizens through various types of investments. The primary method is through property acquisition, with an initial minimum investment of USD 271,838 (€250,000). However, since July 31st, 2023, the requirement has increased to USD 543,676 (€500,000) for properties in high-demand locations such as select areas in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos, and Santorini. The original initial investment and amount remain applicable in other regions of Greece.

Alternative investment options include purchasing government bonds or shares with a minimum value of USD 434,947 (€400,000). Investors must retain their investment to renew their residence permit every five years. Those investing via a legal entity must possess full ownership of the company shares.

The application process allows for remote submissions, eliminating the need for a physical presence in Greece to initiate the process. The processing time ranges from 3 to 5 months, and applicants must provide a valid passport, biometric photos, and medical insurance coverage.

Benefits Of The Greek Golden Visa

Recipients of the Greek Golden Visa gain the ability to reside in Greece and travel visa-free within the Schengen Area. The program extends to the investor’s immediate family, including their spouse, all dependent children under 21, and parents from both sides, without requiring additional investment.

Greece’s real estate investment market offers potential for profitable investment returns, particularly for those who choose to lease their properties. The government has introduced tax incentives aimed at attracting foreign residents, such as retirees and remote workers. Under the double taxation treaty, income generated outside of Greece may not be subject to Greek taxes.

By 2023, the program had granted over 31,000 permits to primary applicants and their dependents, contributing more than USD 2.8 billion to the Greek economy. It has found favour among nationals from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.

While the Greek Golden Visa does not provide an immediate path to citizenship, it does offer a naturalisation option after seven years of residency. Applicants seeking citizenship must be tax residents, have no criminal record, pass a language test, and show significant cultural ties to Greece.

Maltese Flag

The Maltese Golden Visa

Investment Requirements

The Maltese Golden Visa provides a pathway to residency and then citizenship by investment in Malta, with specific financial prerequisites. For those opting for a standard route, a minimum investment of USD 652,428 (€600,000) is required after a 36-month residency period. Alternatively, for an expedited 12-month residency, the investment increases to USD 815,547 (€750,000).

Prospective residents must engage with the Maltese housing purchase real estate market by purchasing a property valued at a minimum of USD 761,184 (€700,000) or by leasing for an annual rent of no less than USD 17,398 (€16,000), both held for at least five years. Additionally, applicants are asked to make a charitable donation of USD10,874 (€10,000) to a sanctioned entity.

Investment choices include contributions to the National Development and Social Fund, which finances various local initiatives, or a donation of at least USD10,874 (€10,000) to a registered charity, reinforcing Malta’s commitment to social welfare.

Benefits Of The Maltese Golden Visa

The full Maltese citizenship or Golden Visa confers the privilege of residing, working, and studying in Malta and throughout the EU, ensuring lifelong residency for the holder and their family in an EU member state.

The educational benefits are substantial, with access to public educational institutions on par with Maltese nationals. The University of Malta presents an opportunity for tertiary education without tuition fees for citizens.

A Maltese passport grants visa-free entry to more than 180 countries, facilitating global mobility for personal and professional reasons.

The right to reside in any of the EU countries provides a versatile living and visa-free travel experience, with exposure to diverse cultures and economic environments.

Malta’s healthcare system, recognized as one of the top globally by the World Health Organization, offers extensive coverage, including hospitalisation, prescriptions, maternity services, and specialised care, ensuring citizens’ comprehensive health safety net.

Charting Your Path to Residency

The allure of golden visas cannot be understated for those seeking the combined benefits of enhanced mobility, quality of life, and investment opportunities. Each program, from the sands of the UAE to the shores of Malta, has unique advantages tailored to the sophisticated investor and discerning expat.

As you consider your options, remember that these programs are more than just a transaction—they are a gateway to new horizons and lifestyles. Whether it’s for the warm Mediterranean climes or the bustling marketplaces of Dubai, the right golden visa could be a golden ticket to your future.

Carefully weigh the offerings, and let prudence guide your choice. With strategic planning and informed decision-making, the world’s most coveted destinations could become more than just a travel itinerary—they could be your next home.

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