Update: On April 14, 2023, the government’s final proposal was submitted to parliament, and it included some much needed good news for current and prospective investors. This article will not receive further updates and reflects the state of things prior to April 14.
I’ve lost count of how many times there have been talks of Portugal ending its Golden Visa (GV) program.
Usually, it’s sparked by some seemingly random comment to the media or an announcement severely lacking in details and timeline. This sparks an initial panic among current and prospective investors, eventual clarity of what the changes will entail, followed by a craze to get in before the rules are set to change (if they even do).
In a way, this time is no different. Yesterday’s announcement was clear as mud. Panic ensues. Hopefully, we’ll have some clarity soon.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, anyone?
Except, this time, one thing is definitely different. The announcement was clear that the Golden Visa program would end. For new investors, that is.
Renewals would generally not be affected. Except maybe if you invested in a property you’re not living in yourself. Then you’d have to make it available for long-term rentals.
Sorry, no Airbnbs—that’s the point. Keep in mind that the announcements were made as part of a package to increase the housing available for Portuguese residents to combat rapidly growing housing costs. (It’s a genuine issue. Whether the proposed measures are the most effective for fixing the problem is another matter.)
So is the wolf finally here? It sure seems like it, but it’s still too early to make any definitive conclusions.
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We don’t have much to go on other than a few statements in yesterday’s press conference (and the accompanying slides). To my knowledge, the draft law has yet to be made public.
What was actually announced
Reading the news coverage of this story is likely to leave you more confused than before. It’s full of contradictions and inconsistencies.
To help you understand what was said and what wasn’t, here are the full Golden Volden Visa-relevant quotes from the press conference (keep in mind these are only proposals, they do not necessarily reflect the final law):
The related and exact words of the Prime Minister were: “Two particularly important measures to combat real estate speculation - the first, the elimination of golden visas, or rather, the elimination of the granting of new golden visas. As for the golden visas already granted, their renewal, in the case of exclusively real estate investments, will only be renewed if they are the owner’s own or permanent home or of his descendant or if the property is placed, on a permanent basis, on the rental market.”
Later, within the clarifications requested, the Prime Minister said: “Meanwhile, a new immigration law for foreigners came into effect. This law already regulates in a very innovative way the granting of residence permits for special purposes, for the purposes of studies, investment, highly qualified, seasonal workers, for various circumstances. This regime must be the rule regime, not justifying, nowadays, what is the exceptionality of the golden visas. In fact, what we can see is that of the approximately 11,000 Golden Visas granted so far, more than 9,000 through real estate investment. Very low rate, not to say almost zero in job creation, and very low contribution to other activities. There are some gold visas that are active in the field of cultural patronage. What will happen (one thing is a decision not to have new ones, another thing is what happens to those currently granted). Those already granted, at their end, are subject to evaluation. If it is exclusively for real estate, there will be renovation, if the real estate investment is for permanent own housing, for descendants, or be placed on the rental market (and there we do not place the restriction of being placed on the affordable income market, it is purely and simply placed in the rental market). There are others that were granted for other purposes and, in this case, looking at the current law, it is possible to convert them depending on what the concession counterparts were, namely, in the area of cultural patronage, so there will be no disruption there, there will be a reclassification of the legal figure.”
Also questioned about the scope of the program termination, the Minister of Finances replied that: “The elimination regarding Golden Visas is general, regarding the entire model that is known because the assessment that is done even of the recent changes that have been made regarding the limitation to real estate were not sufficient regarding the continuation of the mechanism. And it has the following characteristics: (i) on the one hand, we are talking about new applicants, new candidates for golden visas, the system will close and will remain active in renewals under certain conditions and what Mr. Prime Minister referred is that under the new legislation regarding the entry, stay and exit of foreigners that there are mechanisms that allow this mobilization, namely, for investment purposes, which are carried out, namely, in the cultural areas and others that I mention. But the assessment we have so far of the use of the instrument is rather residual in other purposes than real estate and that is why this additional step is taken”.
February 20 update: Two documents adding a slight amount of detail was released for the purpose of the public hearing period. In the context of the Golden Visa program they basically reiterated what was said during the announcement of the proposal and didn’t provide any clarity.
March 4 update: The initial law draft was made available. The draft guarantees that any application made prior to February 16 will be considered in accordance with the existing rules. It does not state what will happen to later applications, nor does it mention a transition period. Portuguese lawyers I’ve spoken to state that it’s the law in effect on the time of submission that matters for your application. Any law applying retroactive effects would have issues with constitutionality.
March 9 update: The public feedback period was extended until March 24, and the council of ministers will now vote on the draft law on March 30. The new draft will then be sent to the parliament for discussion.
The road ahead
Over the next month, there will be a public hearing period where various stakeholders will provide their input. This will help shape the final proposal before being sent to the parliament on March
(Some parts of the bill may be enacted directly by decree on or after March
16 30, but the part relating to immigration policies—including the Golden Visa—is required to be sent to the parliament.)
The parliament is expected to take at least a couple of weeks to approve the measures.
As Portugal has a semi-presidential system, any decree law or bill approved by parliament needs to be signed into law by the Portuguese president.
The president could also veto the law, for example if he thinks it’s potentially unconstitutional, or send it back to the prime minister for “political” reasons. But what’s the chance of that happening?
The current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa—or just Marcelo as the Portuguese usually call him—has a track record of relatively frequent formal and informal vetos. During his nearly seven years in office, he has used 25 “political” vetos (four for decree laws). In addition, he has sent five laws to the constitutional court for review.
He’s a constitutional law professor by trade and has a political background in the center-right Social Democrat (PSD) party. Still, his role is more that of a mediator and guardian of the constitution, meaning he doesn’t just approve laws that PSD would support.
As Marcelo is hugely popular among the Portuguese people, the way in which he often wields his influence is by being outspoken on issues while lawmakers are drafting their bills, which quite often makes the final bill take his concerns into consideration outright, with no need for an official veto.
In the case of the potential end to the Golden Visa he specifically opted not to comment, stating:
“[The end of the Golden Visa regime] was approved in successive State Budgets and then postponed, I’m not going to pronounce on the reformulation. It’s a matter that parliament will have to vote on and then, when it gets into my hands, I’ll see if there are conditions to sign or not.”
In my rather unqualified opinion, it’s most likely that—barring any constitutional issues—he will accept the amendments outright. But, depending on the bill’s details, there may be a transitional period before the program closes to new applicants. And even though that has been the case for changes to the program (and similar programs) in the past, it’s never guaranteed.
March 9 update: Marcelo publicly stated that he’s critical to the housing package being too rushed and that he will evaluate the law not only on constitutionality, but also of whether the measures are likely to be effective.
And even if he were to use a political veto, the Socialist party (PS) could technically force the law through the parliament again since they currently enjoy an absolute majority—although, in most cases, it would still mean that they would make some modifications.
If the law is deemed unconstitutional by the court, however, it would require a two-thirds majority in the parliament to be forced through.
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?
First, I’m not the guy who should tell you what to do. It’s something for you to decide on with your lawyer’s advice.
That said, I’ll give you my two cents anyway. Just keep in mind that this is not legal advice!
If you already started the process
If you’ve already made your investment in Portugal and are currently collecting the documentation needed to submit your application, then definitely try to get everything ready as soon as possible. Of course, before March 30 is the safest, but even if that’s not feasible (perhaps you’re waiting for apostilled documents), try to have everything ready as soon as possible.
If you have started the process but have not yet finalized your investment, I’d say it depends on your risk tolerance and how important it is for you to get the Golden Visa. 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.
In case you decide to hold off on the investment until the law and all its details are ready, try to get all your other ducks in a row now so that you can apply as fast as possible once you do.
If you haven’t started the process but still want to apply
If you’re more in the exploration or early planning stage but still want to apply for the Portuguese Golden Visa program before it closes to new applicants for good, you likely need to act fast.
My guess is that the application deadline will be between the
end of March middle of April and the end of the year, so keep this in mind.
At the very minimum, you should find a lawyer, get your tax number (NIF), and open your Portuguese bank account as soon as possible. In-person account openings can happen on the spot; remotely, it typically takes 3-4 weeks.
You should also get all 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.
Again, whether you proceed with an investment before the final law is known depends on your risk tolerance and calculation.
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. The only thing that’s certain at this point is that the program is open for applications until at least March 30 (when the final proposal is due) plus whatever time it takes to make its way through the relevant commissions and the parliament and being signed into law by the president. It could take weeks or 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?
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 also faster to open bank accounts in person than remotely, so if you have the possibility to fly to Portugal for a few days that can help a lot.
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 home country is needed for the application, however the apostilled version can be submitted later
- If the 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 (I believe until April 1, so they have capacity to help everyone that’s interested)
For all I know other firms may be capable of achieving similar timelines, but it’s the one 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 helping finding long-term tenants if you choose to rent out your residential property.
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. However, there may be changed renewal requirements for certain investment categories, particularly residential real estate. The final details are not yet known, however.
What is the likelihood that the measures will pass as proposed?
It’s almost certain that there will be some adjustments. The proposals—while seemingly popular with many voters—have been heavily criticized by many within Portugal, ranging from mayors to the tourism industry.
According to Inês Costa Moura, manager of the legal department at International Atlantic Services (IAS):
“All the measures announced have been received with very significant criticism by the municipalities, with the mayors of Lisbon and Porto – supposedly the municipalities where the housing problem is more relevant, have been very vocal about being against these measures.”
But it’s not only mayors that are critical. She continues:
“The same from relevant associations, from every quadrant of the Portuguese society, namely from touristic entities. Given that tourism represents, in many regions of Portugal, about 20% of the PT GDP, the secretary of state of tourism already came to clarify that the announced measures are up for discussion and, therefore, are not final.”
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.
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