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Top European citizenship-by-investment programmes

May 14, 2017

If you’re thinking of investing in second citizenship, why not consider Europe?

The Caribbean programmes might be the grandfathers of second citizenship but Europe is home to 15 of the 20 most desirable passports according to the 2017 Nomad Passport Index. This was based on the criteria of visa-free travel, taxation, global perception, ability to hold dual citizenship, and overall freedom.

Great news for Europeans. Not so great for the 90% of world citizens who are non-European.

But you don’t have to settle. And here’s why.

Unlocking Europe

If you have capital to invest, you can secure European citizenship for as little as EUR 250,000 – and enjoy the same freedoms and prestige as any other European citizen. You can live, travel or work across any EU member state. Your children can study in the world-class European universities. You can flit between the yachts of Monte Carlo and the runways of Milan at a whim. And if needed, you can seek medical care in any of the top healthcare systems (21 of the 25 world’s best) that happen to reside in the EU.

So let’s consider four of the top European citizenship-by-investment programmes. If you have business concerns in Europe, or hope to, these programmes could be a fantastic choice – giving you instant access to the lucrative European single market. Plus, the nations below all offer a stable home in the heart of Europe. It’s an enviable insurance policy, and one that’s well worth the price of entry.

If you have business concerns in Europe, or hope to, these programmes could be a fantastic choice – giving you instant access to the lucrative European single market.

So here’s what you need to know about the big four.

Portugal

The Portuguese ‘golden visa’ programme allows investors to secure Portuguese residency, and is a gateway to full citizenship further down the line.

As a Portuguese resident you can travel visa-free across the Schengen area, and as a citizen you can travel to 170+ countries easily, plus live or work anywhere in the EU.

The Portuguese golden visa programme is particularly attractive for those seeking a second home. The nation is historically rich, politically stable and boasts mostly-glorious weather. Portugal also offers a Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) programme, which earns you various attractive tax exemptions and preferential rates.

So how does the programme work? The process to secure residency can take as little as two months, and you have various investment options. Real estate is a popular choice – no doubt helped by real estate growth nearing 10% over the past year. Now is an especially good time to invest, as the minimum investment requirement has dropped to EUR 350,000 if you buy property that’s at least 30 years-old in urban regeneration areas.

Now is an especially good time to invest, as the minimum investment requirement has dropped to EUR 350,000 if you buy property that’s at least 30 years-old in urban regeneration areas.

Or, if real estate isn’t your preference, you can also secure residency by making any of these investments:

  • EUR 1,000,000 into a Portuguese bank account
  • EUR 250,000 into cultural or artistic activities
  • EUR 350,000 into technological or scientific research
  • EUR 500,000 into funds for the capitalisation of Portuguese SMEs

To maintain residency you must renew your card after one, three and five years, spend one week annually in Portugal – not exactly a hardship – and hold your investment for five years. Then you can apply for full Portuguese citizenship through naturalisation after six years.

Read more about second citizenship in Portugal

Bulgaria

The Bulgarian programme follows the same residency-then-citizenship path as Portugal, but it includes a fast-track option that’s very appealing. Let’s take a closer look.

To secure residency in Bulgaria, you’re looking at an investment of approx EUR 512,000 into secured government bonds, which you must hold for five years. There’s also a financing option where your initial output is lower, but non-refundable: approx EUR 195,000 to finance a loan. The process takes as little as six months, and you need visit Bulgaria only twice, to submit your application and to collect your residency card.

Once you’ve secured residency, you have two options, depending on your priorities:

  1. Wait five years, then apply for citizenship without any additional investment.
  2. Wait one year, then purchase additional bonds for approx EUR 512,000 (or finance approx EUR 195,000) and secure citizenship immediately.

Unlike Portugal, there are no residency or language conditions that must be met to secure citizenship here – making this a very low-requirement acquisition. It’s also a family-friendly option, due to its family reunification clause. Once you secure residency, you can apply to reunite your spouse and dependent minors with you. As a citizen, your children then qualify for citizenship under citizenship-by-descent laws – with no additional investment required.

But what do you get for your money? Full citizenship unlocks over 150 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms and, as with all European citizenships, you can live and work across any EU country. Bulgaria is currently negotiating for Schengen membership, so eventually movement could be even easier across those member states.

You certainly don’t have to, but should you choose to live in Bulgaria you’ll enjoy the 14th lowest cost of living in the world plus an enviable tax environment. In fact, at only 10%, Bulgaria boasts the lowest personal tax rate in Europe. The programme doesn’t offer the same attractive real estate option as Portugal, but the fast-track route and lack of language or residency requirements make this a popular route into Europe.

Should you choose to live in Bulgaria you’ll enjoy the 14th lowest cost of living in the world plus an enviable tax environment.

Cyprus

The biggest benefit of Cypriot citizenship is speed: you can secure full citizenship in only three months. That puts this programme on a par with the Caribbean programmes, with the added advantage of unlocking Europe. And unlock Europe you do. Citizenship here is an obvious choice for the travel aficionado, because you’ll enjoy the 17th strongest passport in the world, allowing travel to 159 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms.

Should you make Cyprus home, you’ll enjoy a high quality of life with a pleasant climate, beautiful landscape and well-developed infrastructure. As of 2016, Cyprus features in the top five when it comes to the safest countries in the world by crime rate. You’ll also enjoy highly favourable tax conditions, including a 12.5% rate of corporate income tax, and various exemptions.

So how do you secure citizenship? The process is more costly than the likes of Portugal, but the pay-off is citizenship in a fraction of the time. First you must own a Cypriot residence in which you’ve invested at least EUR 500,000. Then you have several options:

  • Invest EUR 2 million into real estate
  • Invest EUR 2 million into Cypriot business
  • Hold a personal fixed term deposit of EUR 2 million in a Cypriot bank
  • Any combination of the above, to the tune of at least EUR 2 million

Your initial EUR 500,000 can count towards your total EUR 2 million investment, and you can also include up to EUR 500,000 of government bonds. There’s a huge amount of flexibility in how you invest in Cyprus, but the principle is the same: EUR 2 million investment, held for at least three years. In return, you get all the benefits of a born EU citizen in only three months.

Read more about the Cypriot citizenship by investment programme

Malta

The Malta Residence and Visa Programme (MRVP) is highly reputable and holds considerable prestige – plus you can expect a decision within three months. As a Maltese resident, you can travel freely across the Schengen area, and also live and work in Malta. It’s particularly suitable if you do not want – or cannot have due to your country of origin – dual citizenship. What we’re talking about here is just residency rather than citizenship, but with it comes many advantages.

The World Risk Report 2015 ranks Malta as the second safest country in the world from natural disaster, and the nation is politically stable and economically well-developed. To put that into context, the Human Development Index 2015 ranked Malta as the 33rd most developed country in the world.

The World Risk Report 2015 ranks Malta as the second safest country in the world from natural disaster, and the nation is politically stable and economically well-developed.

Aside from that, there are many other reasons to consider Malta. A stunning coastline and a rich social and cultural tapestry serve as a backdrop to glorious sunshine, so it’s not surprising to see Malta ranked 10th on the 2017 Annual Global Retirement Index. As a resident you’re also likely to qualify for tax incentives under the Maltese Global Residency Programme, and Maltese residents are automatically exempt from foreign-source capital gains tax.

Let’s talk more about finances. Your investment would be made up of three parts:

  • Non-refundable government contribution of EUR 30,000
  • Plus, EUR 250,000 as specified by Identity Malta – normally stocks or bonds
  • Plus, EUR 300,000 into real estate (EUR 270,000 in South Malta or Gozo) or proof of annual rent of EUR 12,000 (EUR 10,000 in South Malta or Gozo).

The real estate element is particularly attractive, as Malta has enjoyed robust property price growth in recent years. If you’ve got an eye for opportunity, you’ll likely be particularly drawn to Valletta – very much a city on the up.

Read more about citizenship-by-investment in Malta

Choose a better life, with European second citizenship

Whether you’re looking for personal freedom or professional opportunity, luxury retirement or a sun-drenched second home, European second citizenship is a smart choice. And the four programmes above are flexible enough to cater to every investor’s priorities, so there’s really no excuse. What are you waiting for?


 

About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman of Virtugroup  

With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit. NGE is owned by Virtugroup.


 

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