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In recent months, much has been made of the end of the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) tax regime in Portugal, and it’s understandable. The popular scheme helped entice a great many people to obtain residency in the already desirable European country, and there have been fears that losing this advantageous tax arrangement coupled with the end of the real estate component of Portugal’s Golden Visa will stymie immigration by investment.

While a great deal of focus has shifted to utilizing the remaining investment options Portugal’s Golden Visa program still permits, there is a more advantageous avenue available to accomplished businesspeople who seek to obtain Portuguese residency and citizenship when it comes to tax concerns.

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Portugal's HQA Visa—a Good Alternative to Golden Visa?

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Benefits of the HQA Visa

Participants in the HQA Visa Program qualify for the same tax benefits formerly offered by the NHR by virtue of Portugal providing tax incentives for immigrants engaging in highly qualified activities in science, technology, and entrepreneurship.

Empowered Startups HQA Visa Program is a fast-track path to EU residency that allows transnational entrepreneurs the opportunity to seed an option on their future in Portugal while balancing the demands of running their businesses and lives internationally. The HQA Visa falls under the D3 Visa category in Portugal. This visa classification pertains to highly qualified professionals and their families and is treated as a priority by Portuguese immigration (AIMA, formerly known as SEF).

When compared to the lengthy processing times that currently accompany the Golden Visa, processing is far more efficient for the HQA Visa. Decisions on residence visas, which are required to travel to Portugal for residency permit appointments, happen within 30 days of application. Empowered Startups is able to secure a residency permit appointment with AIMA within four months of submitting a client’s HQA Visa application.

Portuguese law stipulates that a decision on the residency permit must be rendered within 90 days following the appointment. In practice, residency permits for HQA Visa Program participants are typically issued sooner than the law requires.  

For many, an attractive feature of Portugal’s Golden Visa is the low in-country stay requirement; Golden Visa holders need only an average of 7 days a year in Portugal to maintain their residency status. The HQA Visa Program offers its participants a similar benefit, as successful applicants qualify for an exception to Portugal’s in-country stay requirement. Portuguese law provides an exemption for those whose professional demands require them to operate outside the country, which is certainly the case for the accomplished businesspeople who qualify for the HQA Visa Program.

When it comes to required investment, the HQA Visa is significantly less than half of that required by most of the remaining investment options for the Golden Visa. To qualify for the Golden Visa program, a minimum of €500,000 must be invested either into a qualifying fund or a business that meets specific requirements. The only exception for the Golden Visa is through qualification by a donation of at least €250,000 to a project deemed to be of cultural or national heritage.

By comparison, the HQA Visa Program with Empowered Startups costs €175,000 and offers valuable tax incentives for incoming entrepreneurs. Revenue generated by the new start-up is subject to a flat tax rate of 20%, a substantial difference from Portugal’s progressive tax system which escalates up to 48% for those who choose to work in the country. When it comes to income derived in other countries, there is a 0% tax paid in Portugal on any foreign-earned income.  

Through its large network of partnerships with universities and polytechnics around the country, Empowered Startups pairs incoming businesspeople with leading R&D facilities and skilled researchers who will collaborate in launching new, innovative endeavors via the HQA Visa Program. As the country continues to invest in and incentivize the advancement of science and technology, it has clearly signaled its support for the growth of the HQA Visa Program. Empowered has successfully brought more than 65 transnational entrepreneurs to Portugal since the program’s inception and is the only government-endorsed delivery partner of the HQA Visa.

The Process

So, who qualifies for this program and what does the process look like?

Making Contact

Upon expressing interest in potential participation in the HQA Visa Program, an individual is contacted by an experienced member of Empowered’s Intake Selection Team to answer any questions about the program and to determine eligibility.  

Qualification for the HQA Visa Program is very straightforward. A successful applicant must have a proven track record of accomplishment in business; a demonstrable ability to provide strategic direction to an innovative venture with the potential for significant growth; and substantiated funds for admission into the program.

Assuming all three conditions are verified, the individual proceeds to meet virtually with Empowered’s Intake Selection Committee, which ultimately issues an invitation to participate in the HQA Visa Program to those who merit an offer. Accepting entry into the program immediately initiates the applicant’s journey toward Portuguese residency and launching their start-up. Empowered Startups has experienced professionals present and available at every step of the process, ensuring a smooth and efficient immigration experience. 

It’s important to note that while applicants must have a successful background in business, they do not need to have expertise in a particular area of innovation or research. Though some successful applicants are domain experts in the start-ups they choose to launch, the vast majority of entrepreneurs who enter the program are not specialists in the specific subject matters their start-ups will be based on.

Empowered Startups has partnerships with more than a dozen universities and polytechnics in Portugal, each of which is engaged in a variety of innovative research endeavors. Empowered pairs the business acumen of successful HQA Visa applicants with agreed upon projects at partner institutions in Portugal.

This arrangement creates immediate and future benefits for both the entrepreneurs and the institutions as well as for the skilled researchers and students who will actively engage in the R&D. The technical and scientific aspects of the project are handled by research professionals, liberating the entrepreneur to focus on the eventual commercialization of the innovation.

Ideation Phase

Earning residency and getting a start-up off the ground through the HQA Visa Program is facilitated by a dedicated legal and operational team in Portugal.

During the ideation phase, Empowered’s Portuguese team collaborates with the entrepreneur to finalize the scope of the innovative R&D project that will become the basis of their new start-up. This includes a determination of which higher institution is best equipped to provide the necessary R&D resources for the start-up during its three-year incubation with Empowered Startups.

Currently, there are thirteen universities and polytechnics throughout Portugal that belong to Empowered’s network, including University of Coimbra, University of Algarve and University of Beira Interior. This network of institutions continues to grow and offers a multitude of attractive research and development options in various regions of the country for incoming entrepreneurs.

Concurrent to the ongoing evolution of the start-up, the entrepreneur will be taking steps toward obtaining a residency permit for themself and their family, if applicable.

At the direction of an accomplished immigration lawyer in Portugal, applicants gather all necessary documentation and expressions of support for their innovative R&D project as well as any requisite biographical documents. The lawyer secures an appointment with Portuguese immigration (AIMA) for the entrepreneur, who now has a tangible timeline to plan around.

Typically, a confirmed appointment with AIMA falls within four months of the initial acceptance of an offer to pursue an HQA Visa with Empowered Startups.

Taking Flight

Having been in frequent communication with members of Empowered’s team, the entrepreneur travels to Portugal for their appointment with AIMA. Prior to the appointment, the entrepreneur meets with members of Empowered’s legal and operational team to sign a finalized R&D contract.

An immigration lawyer accompanies the entrepreneur to the appointment with AIMA, which is the final step in earning a residency permit in Portugal. Following the appointment, processing for the HQA Visa is remarkably quick; applicants are guaranteed a response within 60 days of the appointment, but in reality, approval is usually granted within 30 days of meeting with AIMA.

Once the residency permit is granted, the entrepreneur begins their three-year incubation with Empowered Startups and the higher education institution that will partner on the innovative R&D start-up.

The initial residency permit is valid for two years after being issued after which it may be renewed for up to three years. Both the process of obtaining the residency permit and the renewal process are included in the service provided by Empowered Startups during incubation. For those interested in obtaining Portuguese citizenship, it can be pursued after a five-year period of residency.

Presence in Portugal

For many transnationals, one of the most attractive features of the HQA Visa Program is the flexibility it offers with respect to physical presence in Portugal. While many entrepreneurs relocate to Portugal for a variety of reasons, the HQA Visa allows them the ability to choose where they balance the various demands of their business and personal lives.

Portuguese law stipulates that the holder of a residency permit should not be outside Portugal for more than six consecutive months (or eight non-consecutive months) while holding that residency permit, however, the same legal article provides an exemption to the in-country stay requirement for those whose professional, business, or cultural obligations require them to be outside of the country.

By the very nature of their qualifications, applicants deemed eligible for the HQA Visa Program most certainly have professional and business obligations in foreign countries and, thus, meet the criteria for this exemption.

In simpler terms, HQA Visa clients need not worry about the burdensome in-country stay requirements that accompany some of the other immigration pathways to Portugal.

The HQA Visa Program is a fast, direct path to obtaining residency in Portugal that includes obvious business and financial advantages for transnational entrepreneurs. Reach out today to find out if you qualify.

⚠️ Webinar alert

Portugal's HQA Visa—a Good Alternative to Golden Visa?

Hosted by: Empowered Startups on Apr 24, 2024

🙌 Register for the webinar
Cover image credit: Empowered Startups