With the submission of the government’s final proposal to end the Golden Visa to parliament on April 14, we’re now one step closer to saying goodbye to Portugal’s popular residency-by-investment program.
“But wait a minute—didn’t the program end already?” you may ask.
Reading the reporting of most of the mainstream media over the past two months might have given you this impression. But it’s not the case, the program is still open. Applications weren’t “frozen” either—as other news articles reported. Not even for a day.
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But it’s not fair to lay all the blame for the confusion on the time-strapped “journalists” who are more focused on chasing clicks than ensuring the factualness of their reporting. The way in which this proposal has been rolled out by the ruling Socialist Party (PS) will make for a good case study of how not to govern a country.
Here’s a quick recap of the latest act of the Great Saga of the Golden Visa:
November 2, 2022
The Portuguese prime minister, António Costa, briefly mentioned to reporters that the Golden Visa program had served its purpose and should be reevaluated.
November 22, 2022
The Socialist Party (which currently has an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament) voted against a proposal to end the program, instead announcing that a commission would be formed to carefully evaluate its benefits before making a final decision.
February 16, 2023
The government unexpectedly announced its intention to end the program as part of a big housing package—seemingly without any evaluation of the program actually taking place as promised earlier.
The biggest bombshell for Golden Visa investors was that renewals of current permit holders would be conditional on them either renting out their properties in the long-term rental market or making it their own main residence.
In addition, the announcement was clear as mud and severely lacking in details. Initially, only a PowerPoint presentation was released, leading to an immediate meme in Portuguese media that the government was ruling by PowerPoint. To many, it sounded like the program had closed to new applicants overnight (despite a 30-day public hearing period also being announced), and it didn't help that many media outlets perpetuated this view.
March 4, 2023
The first draft of the law was released, with another bombshell being that seemingly only applications submitted prior to February 16 would be considered.
Even more panic ensues, despite Portuguese legal experts' attempts at reassuring investors that such retroactive effects would be unconstitutional.
March 9, 2023
The widely respected Portuguese president (who has the power to veto new laws) comes out strongly critical of both the specifics of the housing package and the way the government has been handling the roll-out.
The public feedback period was extended from March 10 until March 24 due to the actual draft law only being published more than two weeks after the initial announcement. The date when the council of ministers would vote on (and presumably announce) the final proposal was set to March 30.
March 30, 2023
More details were released in a press conference following the meeting of the council of ministers, again in PowerPoint format. The legal text was nowhere to be seen.
Some of Costa's statements make it sound like both new investors and those renewing may need to meet the regular physical presence requirements, which are 8-10 months in Portugal per year. Cue even more panic and frustration.
In the following days, a petition politely asking the government to get its shit together and end the program gracefully gets more than 4,500 signatures in a matter of days (which is significant given the ~11,000 Golden Visas issued so far).
Several Portuguese constitutional experts publish an opinion piece where they clearly state that the government's proposal to end the Golden Visa with retroactive effects is unconstitutional.
April 14, 2023
Late at night, there is finally some good news when the government submits the text of the proposal to parliament. They have clearly taken into account the flood of feedback and criticism they had received from a variety of sides, abolishing any attempt at introducing retroactive changes.
The proposal now also clearly states that all applications submitted prior to the law entering into force will be safeguarded and there's no mention of any additional requirements for renewal—neither in terms of physical presence or need to rent out your property with a long-term lease.
The April 14 announcement is a win on many fronts:
- It’s spelled out that conversion into a special type of D2 entrepreneurship visa upon renewal will not require more than the current 7 days average per year.
- There’s no longer any requirement to rent out your property to qualify for renewals.
- While many finer details of the conversion to D2 is still not known, it’s clear the government is not trying to screw over current investors. It seems the be a change in name mostly, although perhaps there will lead to some additional benefits, with some speculation that it may lead to an EU-wide permanent residence permit after three years.
- In addition to the possibility to apply for citizenship after five years, the special permanent residence option for Golden Visa investors will still remain. That means you will still be able get PR without the same stringent minimum stay requirements as you would have with the “regular” permanent residence permit.
- The cutoff date for accepting applications is no longer February 16, 2023, but whenever the new law enters into force.
That leaves us with an obvious question:
When will the law enter into force?
There’s unfortunately no simple answer, so let’s take a closer look at what needs to happen before that can happen.
The road ahead
According to André Miranda, a specialist in public and regulatory law in Portugal, the proposal will work its way through the parliament with the following steps:
- General discussion and voting on the proposal in a plenary session—which
is unlikely to take place before May 10 due to the current agenda of the parliamentwill take place on May 19
- Assuming the proposal is approved, there will be a detailed (article by article) discussion in the economy and housing committee where the political parties can propose specific amendments
- Final approval in a plenary session
⚠️ May 19, 2022 update: The bill was today passed “in principle” as expected during the first plenary session in parliament. The government reiterated that they aim to improve the proposals during the discussion in the committee.
This process is likely to take at least one to two months, possibly even longer.
Once the bill receives final , it’ll make its way to president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has already stated that he’ll consider the bill carefully before taking one of the three actions available to him:
- Promulgating (approving) the bill, in which case it’ll take effect the day after being published in Diário da República
- Rejecting the bill on political or constitutional grounds, in which case it gets sent back to the parliament
- Referring the bill to the constitutional court, which will judge whether it’s unconstitutional or not
If he decides on direct promulgation, that’ll usually still take about 10 days or so. In this case it’s quite likely to take even longer.
If he sends the bill back to parliament that will understandably add take even more time as the parliament reworks the bill based on the president’s feedback, followed by another round of voting.
If the bill is deemed unconstitutional by the court it will require significant changes or a two-thirds majority in parliament to override their decision. That will clearly take even longer.
Most experts seem to think it’s unlikely that the law will enter into force before late June or even later, but of course that’s not guaranteed. Still, there’s a considerable likelihood that there will be a transitional period beyond this—especially since the constitutional court previously decided that a sufficient transition period was required in order to give investors time to submit their applications the last time the government made significant changes to the GV rules.
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Getting in before the program closes
If you had been considering applying for the Golden Visa in Portugal—or maybe even started the process—what should you do now?
When the first announcement was made on February 16, my advice was to get as ready by identifying your investment, getting your tax number (NIF), Portuguese bank account, and criminal background check from your home country (ideally including apostille). These are the things that tend to take the longest to get sorted, so by having these done you would be ready to finalize your investment and apply as soon as there was more clarity.
Well, the “moment of more clarity” is here. So if you already took my advice to get your ducks in a row, this is the time to execute your investment and get your application in.
What if you haven’t yet started the process, but would still like to apply?
As it stands now, it’s the only program available in the EU that has a path to citizenship with minimal physical presence. Unfortunately, with the current pressure from the EU, we’re unlikely to see any more such programs.
So if your goal is a path to citizenship in the EU—or even just a way to get a residence permit in Portugal that doesn’t require 8-10 months per year of physical presence—then yes, I think it’s worth going for the Portuguese Golden Visa.
Keep in mind, none of this is legal advice. Discuss your particular situation with your lawyer.
It is still possible to apply in time, even if you start from scratch today. But you need to act fast!
My current guess is that the eventual application deadline will be between the middle of June and the end of the year, so keep this in mind.
The good news is that you can get almost all the way to submitting your application without committing a significant amount of capital. You’ll only incur costs of about a thousand euros or so.
These are the steps your need to take immediately:
- Get your tax number (NIF)
- Open your Portuguese bank account (currently massive delays, often several weeks or months due to compliance checks—but there’s a workaround)
- Identify your (ideally refundable) investment (see our lists of real estate developments and investment funds)
- Find a lawyer
- Get the necessary documentation from your home country. E.g. in the US, it may take a couple of months to get FBI background checks and get them apostilled. Note: I’ve been told by lawyers that you can still submit your initial Golden Visa application without the apostille and still be “grandfathered” in to the current rules as long as you add the apostilled version afterwards.
As for the investment you choose, it’s important to note that some types take longer than others to get ready for application submission, notably the reduced real estate options (€280K and €350K) in case the project isn’t already supported by a valid construction works agreement. The same goes for investment or donations into cultural production if the project isn’t pre-approved by the government.
The fastest investments tend to be those into funds (but make sure it’s a fund that has already met its minimum investment threshold). Donations to a pre-approved cultural project could probably also be finalized quickly.
Property investments that don’t need additional construction agreements should also be reasonably quick but—in the case of residential properties—come with added uncertainty regarding renewals in case you weren’t planning on putting them on the long-term rental market or using it as your primary residence.
Once you have all the prerequisites sorted, you’ll be in a better position to judge if you’ll have time to finalize the investment and submit your application. By then we’re also more likely to know whether there will be a transitional period or not. And as long as you’ve chosen your investment and legal representation wisely you should be able to invest and get your application in in less than a week, meaning as long as the law hasn’t yet been passed to the president you still have a good shot at making it in time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What’s the application deadline for the Golden Visa?
- Can you make a refundable investment?
- What can you do to shorten the time to application submission?
- Which providers can get your Golden Visa application submitted the quickest?
- Will those who already applied but are waiting for approval still get their Golden Visa?
- What is the likelihood that the measures will pass as proposed?
- What are the alternatives to the Portuguese Golden Visa?
What’s the application deadline for the Golden Visa?
It has yet to be set. It all depends on the time it takes to make its way through the relevant commission and the parliament and being signed into law by the president. It could take six weeks or six months. Once approved, it is somewhat likely that there will be a transitional period, however this isn’t guaranteed.
Is it possible to make an investment that is refundable in case you don’t manage to submit the application before the end of the program?
Yes, there are several providers offering this. I know of Mercan Group, Spark Capital and Rossio Palace in the commercial real estate category, and Prima Europe in the funds category.
Open-ended, exchange-listed mutual funds, such as Optimize Portugal Golden Opportunities, can also be exited at any point at market value (which updates daily).
What can you do to shorten the time to application submission?
If you are in the process of applying, the most important thing is to get a tax number and open a bank account in Portugal as soon as possible, as well as choosing an investment that will quickly get you all the necessary documents for submitting your application. Using a law firm that has capacity and experience to get everything put together quickly is also a must.
You also need to request your criminal background check from your home country as soon as possible, as without this your application will be rejected.
It’s used to be faster to open bank accounts in person than remotely, so flying to Portugal for a few days and going to a handful of different bank branches were previously recommended. However, it seems most of the delays in account openings these days are related to the compliance departments at the various banks, so going in person probably doesn’t help that much anymore.
The good news is that given the difficulty in opening accounts, some real estate developers catering to Golden Visa investors (e.g. Mercan Group and Rossio Palace) have set up a system accepting the investment transfers directly from foreign bank accounts in the investors’ name. This speeds things up considerably!
The Portuguese banks receiving these foreign transfers will of course still conduct due diligence before letting the transfers through. But even though the documentation often is the same as for account openings, the transfers are usually accepted in a matter of days, not months (which is currently the case for account openings).
Note that you’ll still want to open a Portuguese account in your name eventually, but by going this route it wouldn’t hold up your entire application process!
Which providers can get your Golden Visa application submitted the quickest?
This is hard to tell, but in general terms, you’re likely better off going for one of the larger, more established players who has experience processing loads of investments and application submissions.
For example, Mercan Group and their partner law firm IAS reached out to me and explained what they are doing for investors wanting to get in before the Golden Visa program closes for good:
- The upfront IAS legal fee is just €500 (which will let the lawyers start opening bank accounts, get tax number etc ASAP), with the rest due when application is submitted (which can also be reduced if contacting them here)
- For those who are willing to fly in and open the bank account (which is much faster than doing it remotely + you can apply for several at once and then use the one that activates first) they will provide free hotel accommodation for two nights
- Deed can be issued within three days or less from the transfer of investment funds, application submitted and “locked” within 24-48 hours after that — in other words 5 days from making the investment until the application is submitted to SEF
- Criminal records from your home country is needed for the application, however the apostilled version can be submitted later
- If the effective law changes after the issuing of the deed and before the valid submission of the application, the investor will be refunded by the developer
- This program runs for a limited time so they have capacity to help everyone that’s interested (so reach out today if interested)
Rossio Palace also offers what they call a “fast track” application process which enable clients to submit their GV application in less than two weeks:
Here’s the overview over the documentation required for each applicant:
For all I know other firms may be capable of achieving similar timelines, but these are the ones I know about. Feel free to add others in the comments below if you hear of any.
There are also firms helping in other ways, by offering refunds if you’re not able to apply in time or other measures.
Will those who already applied but are waiting for approval still get their Golden Visa?
Yes, the announcement was clear about the Golden Visa ending for new applications only.
What is the likelihood that the measures will pass as proposed?
It’s almost certain that there will be some adjustments, even from the text that was presented on April 14. While the proposal now has a better legal standing, it’s clearly still not polished enough to be passed into law. But that’s what the parliamentary and legislative process is for.
While there’s still an active lobby trying to retain the Golden Visa in some form (e.g. only in Madeira and the Azores islands), I wouldn’t bank on their efforts succeeding.
What are the alternatives to the Portuguese Golden Visa?
It depends on what your goals are. If you have passive income and want to live in Portugal close to full-time, then the D7 visa is another option worth considering. There are also other alternatives available in Portugal.
If you are planning on moving full-time to somewhere else in the EU, there are probably other immigration paths available to you there, too. But if you want to work towards EU citizenship without committing to spending nearly the full year on the ground, then the Golden Visa may be the last chance of doing that.
- Updated on April 27 to add the actual date of the first plenary session in parliament.
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