Legal Disclaimer:This post is not financial advice. It is intended for educational purposes only. Consult with your financial advisor or a certified financial professional for guidance on investment choices.

Go on, then: Dream bigger with your aspirations to travel the world.

A golden visa lets you purchase residency and/or citizenship in another country by making a substantial investment into real estate or infrastructure. In the age of lifestyle design and digital nomadism, golden visas have become an increasingly popular life goal as more people live and work remotely.

Key Takeaways

  • Golden visa programs offer residency or citizenship in exchange for substantial investment in a country, either via real estate, government bonds or business ventures.
  • Eligibility for golden visa programs requires meeting certain criteria, including investment minimums.
  • Benefits include visa-free travel, but also potential access to amenities like healthcare and education.
  • Golden visa programs continuously evolve with changing economic and governmental policies.

Here’s what to keep in mind if living abroad is a part of your financial independence goals.

What Is a Golden Visa?

A golden visa is an immigration program in which applicants make significant investments in a country’s economy to potentially obtain residency or citizenship.

The concept of golden visas originated in the 1980s when certain countries began introducing special visa programs aimed at attracting foreign investment. Portugal was among the first nations to formally implement the program, further solidifying its structure and making it increasingly popular with investors and aspiring early retirees.

Nations like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Malta have been popular golden visa countries in the past. Portugal’s focus on attracting investment into its housing market became a particularly popular approach.

The golden visa program has since gained traction worldwide, with many countries implementing the program to stimulate their economies and appeal to foreign investors. The program has come to symbolize freedom, opportunity and global mobility, especially for digital nomads and people seeking strategies for early retirement.

There are two tiers of golden visa: “Residency by investment” (RBI) programs and “citizenship by investment” (CBI) programs.

Residency by Investment Programs

Residency by investment programs offer a ticket to temporary or permanent residence in a country through a qualifying investment. These investments are usually things like:

  • Purchasing real estate.
  • Investing in government bonds.
  • Establishing a business.
  • Investing in the local economy.

The duration for acquiring residency through investment can range from a few months to multiple years depending on the country and specific program. Residency by investment programs can serve as a stepping stone to citizenship, and you can reap the benefits of being a resident in a foreign country while also making strides toward permanent citizenship status.

Citizenship by Investment Programs

CBI programs are a way to acquire citizenship in a particular country through a significant investment that complies with the legal framework, regulations, and immigration policies of that country. These programs enable families to obtain alternative citizenship through investment and provide them with the travel and access advantages associated with that citizenship.

The road to citizenship usually involves meeting several prerequisites, such as having a clear background, being 18 years of age or above and fulfilling the specific investment criteria of the chosen program.

Both RBI and CBI strategies usually require a large upfront investment, so you’ll want to maintain a high savings rate and invest aggressively in the years leading up to your golden visa purchase.

Europe has long been a prime destination for golden visa applicants, and some countries have lower minimum visit requirements than others.

Portugal

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For years, Portugal’s golden visa was one of the most valuable because you could get it through a real estate investment. In 2023, that program closed when the Mais Habitação legislation was passed.

There are still other ways to secure residency, though.

  • Invest €500,000 or more in a non-real estate investment.
  • Invest €500,000 or more to form a company that has a minimum of five employees.
  • Make a donation of €250,000 or more toward a cultural restoration or preservation project.

The Portuguese golden visa program requires applicants to spend at least 14 days in the country over a two-year period. This makes it an attractive option for those who wish to balance their commitments in their home country with the benefits of Portuguese residency.

Greece

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Greece’s beauty makes it a popular golden visa option. Your price tag will vary based on investment type.

  • Invest at least €250,000 in real estate (more in urban areas).
  • Lease a timeshare in a tourist destination for at least 10 years.
  • Invest at least €400,000 in either capital expenditures or government bonds.
  • Deposit at least €400,000 into a Greek credit institution.

Spain

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Spain has one of the most flexible golden visas in that there is no minimum residency requirement, and it’s fast – as little as one month in some cases. The price tag, however, is quite steep.

  • Purchase real estate of at least €500,000 in value.
  • Hold at least €1 million in either bank deposits, investments, or company shares.
  • Buy at least €2 million on government bonds.

Italy

Credit: Artur Roman

You need a lot of money to secure a visa in Italy, and a real estate purchase doesn’t count as an initial option. But it is possible.

  • Put at least €500,000 into company shares or investments.
  • Donate €1 million to an Italian public service project.
  • Buy at least €2 million in government bonds.

The initial visa lasts for two years. If you hold the investment, you can extend your visa for another three years. At the 5-year mark, you can apply for permanent residency in Italy, and after another 5 years you can apply for Italian citizenship.

Non-European Countries

While Europe has become a hotspot for golden visa programs, it’s not the only region offering these opportunities.

The U.S., Canada and Caribbean nations also offer golden visa programs. These programs come with their own sets of investment requirements and opportunities, offering a different landscape for investors to explore.

Countries may also offer golden visas to individual entrepreneurs to try and attract future economic activity. For example, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was given Indonesia’s first golden visa in September 2023 to try and attract future foreign artificial intelligence investments.

Comprehension Check:Golden visas are “residency by investment” programs that enable individuals to acquire a temporary or permanent residence permit in a foreign country through a substantial investment.

Eligibility Criteria and Investment Options

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Choosing the right golden visa program involves understanding the eligibility criteria and exploring the range of investment options. Some of the popular investment options for Golden Visas include:

  • Real estate investment.
  • Government bonds investment.
  • Business investment.
  • Job creation investment.
  • Innovation and research investment

Knowing these requirements and options is crucial in making an informed decision about which golden visa program is best suited to your needs and financial capabilities.

It’s not just about having the means to invest; it’s about making the investment that aligns with your long-term goals and maximizes your benefits.

Benefits and Advantages

The allure of European golden visas lies in the myriad of benefits and advantages they offer. One of the most attractive benefits is the ability to travel visa-free for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period.

Beyond the freedom of movement, golden visa holders in Europe may also have access to public healthcare systems, as seen in countries like Portugal and Spain. This means not just having the right to live in these countries, but also being able to enjoy the high quality of life and healthcare standards these countries offer.

Education is another significant advantage. Golden visa holders can gain access to high-quality education in Europe by acquiring citizenship or residency in a European country. This not only opens doors for the investor but also for their children, offering them a brighter future with superior educational opportunities.

Criticisms of the Golden Visa

Not everyone is happy about the golden visa.

Some critics argue that golden visas drive up home prices through gentrification. Housing price increases are the main reason Portugal ended its real estate golden visa in 2023.

On the regulatory side, a golden visa allows investors to sidestep sanctions placed on their countries, creating a loophole in geopolitical efforts. There are also concerns that a golden visa makes it easier to engage in money laundering or tax evasion, since you’re moving money between countries and positioning yourself for a shift in citizenship.

How to Choose a Golden Visa Program

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Different golden visas have different perks and different investment thresholds. Remember that it’s not just about finding the best bargain, but rather selecting a program that aligns with your long-term goals and personal aspirations.

The right golden visa program for you is the one that offers the best match for your personal and financial needs. When choosing a golden visa program, there are several key factors to consider.

Residency, Citizenship and/or Work Authorization

Do you actually need citizenship, or is residency sufficient? And will you need to work domestically while in this new country? Consider these two initial factors first.

Upfront Investment

Some golden visas will grant you citizenship for as little as $100,000, whereas others require several hundred thousand dollars of upfront expenditure. You’ll want to research these numbers first so that you can establish a financial goal.

The numbers may also vary based on whether you want to invest in real estate, business investments, venture capital funds or government bonds.

Location and Amenities

Consider program benefits like accessibility and residency perks. Are you seeking visa-free travel, access to quality healthcare and education or a pathway to citizenship?

Each golden visa program offers a unique set of benefits, so be sure to choose a program that delivers the benefits that are most important to you.

3 Important Points About Golden Visas

There are several misconceptions about Golden Visas that can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Here are three hot tips to keep in mind.

No. 1: Citizenship Isn’t Granted Immediately

One such misconception is the idea that acquiring a golden visa results in immediate citizenship in the host country.

In most cases, a golden visa only secures residency, but you then become eligible for citizenship after a certain number of years of residency have passed.

No. 2: It’s an Investment Minimum, Not a Net Worth Minimum

Another common misconception is that golden visas are exclusively intended for individuals with substantial wealth. While it’s true that golden visas are accessible to a wider spectrum of individuals, the upfront investment — usually six figures — is the biggest barrier for most.

You can’t finance a golden visa as easily as other milestone investments.

No. 3: Work Authorization Is Still Separate

A third misconception is that obtaining a golden visa results in automatic authorization to work in the host country. While a golden visa can provide a pathway to residency or citizenship, it does not automatically grant the right to work in the country.

For instance, Portugal’s golden visa program requires residency in the country and compliance with minimum stay obligations. This means that while the program offers numerous benefits, it also comes with certain obligations that need to be fulfilled.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What Is a Golden Visa?

A golden visa is an immigration program that offers residency or citizenship to applicants who make substantial investments in a country's economy.

Who Is Eligible For a Golden Visa?

The eligible individuals for a golden visa include investors, entrepreneurs, and researchers. Anyone who can prove acquired funds legally and is at least 18 years old may qualify.

What Types of Investments Are Eligible for Golden Visa Programs?

Investments eligible for golden visa programs can include real estate, government bonds, establishing a business and investing in the local economy. The eligible investment types will vary from country to country, so be sure to check your desired program’s specific requirements.

Which Country Has the Best Golden Visa?

The most popular golden visa programs are offered by countries like Portugal, Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus due to their attractive scenery and higher living standards. These countries have programs that are highly sought after for various factors such as quality of life, processing time and total cost.

How Much Is a Golden Visa in Greece?

The cost of a golden visa in Greece is €500,000, but it will increase to €800,000 in 2024 for real estate in high-demand areas.

The Takeaway

Golden Visas offer the chance to live, work, and study in some of the world’s most desirable locations.

If locational independence is part of your definition of wealth, the investment strategy can truly be a golden ticket to global mobility and fulfillment. ◆

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