Golden Visa And Golden Passports Explained

Expats holding a Golden Visa

A Golden Visa is a way for expats to invest in a foreign country and acquire residence or citizenship rights in return. Its also known as a Golden Passport or Citizenship By Investment.

Investors need to inject cash into the local economy, with different golden visa programmes stipulating varying minimum thresholds and options to contribute via, for example:

  • Giving to charity
  • Investing in government bonds
  • Starting a business
  • Buying a home

These schemes aim to attract wealthy individuals to live in another country or travel freely with a second passport.

Many expats apply for a golden visa to send children to high-performing educational systems or might be looking for stability in a politically and economically secure country.

The UK also has several similar schemes, such as the Tier 1 Investor Visa.

What Is A Golden Visa?

Golden visa terms and conditions vary significantly between countries.

Generally, a golden visa allows wealthy individuals and their dependent families to live in another country. Many European Union countries offer golden visas, which are usually valid for five to ten years with the chance to renew indefinitely.

Most golden visas offer similar investment options, such as making a donation or buying a property.

However, the rules differ.

Some nations will require golden visa holders to retain their investment assets for much longer than others, but most won’t require applicants to live permanently in the country if they don’t wish to.

Who Can Apply For A Golden Visa?

It’s vital to look at the terms for any golden visa scheme, but most demand:

  • You have no criminal record
  • Evidence of investment funds
  • Keeping an investment for the requisite period.
  • Showing where investment funds have come from
  • A minimum net worth or a certain amount of cash in the bank

The best way to decide which golden visa to apply for is to start by looking at how much you can invest and what you want from your new home country.

There are many country-specific criteria, so you might need to be within a certain age bracket or earning a minimum amount a year.

Another factor to consider is timing. Golden visa applications can take between two and nine months, so it’s not an instant process if you need to move quickly.

The Three Types Of Golden Visa Programme

There are three main types of golden visas:

  • Citizenship by investment
  • Residence by investment
  • Immigration by investment

While they sound similar, the risks and rewards vary.

Citizenship by investment

Citizenship by investment means investing in the host country’s economy and obtaining dual citizenship and a passport.

If you are looking for dual nationality, this process is usually faster than a conventional immigration process and means you can move forward quickly.

Example citizenship by investment schemes include:

CountryMinimum Investment (EUR or USD)Minimum Investment (GBP)
Antigua and Barbuda$100,000£72,000
Austria€3 million£2.57 million
St. Lucia$100,000£72,000

Residence by investment

Residence by investment is slightly different from citizenship by investment because you do not automatically mean you gain citizenship and hold a second passport.

Most residence permits run for an initial period, although you can renew some indefinitely, and many switch to permanent residence after a fixed period.

As with citizenship by investment, applicants need to contribute financially to a government-approved scheme and often add family members to their application.

Some famous residence by investment schemes are:

CountryMinimum InvestmentMinimum Investment (GBP)
Canada1.2 million CAD£685,000
Greece250,000 EUR£214,000
Malta600,000  EUR£513,000
Portugal500,000 EUR£428,000
Switzerland250,000 CHF£197,000
Thailand600,000 THB£13,200

Minimum investments depend on meeting specific terms, which might include requirements to rent a property in a designated area for a minimum number of years, economic contributions, administrative charges or charitable donations.

Follow this link to read our guide to Portugal citizenship by investment

Immigration by Investment

The third option is immigration by investment, enabling foreign nationals to gain permanent residency in another country and start a new life abroad.

Applicants need to prepare for changes to tax liabilities, finding work in their new host country, and enrolling children in a local school.

Immigration by investment is typically the most complex process out of the three programs. However, it is possible to apply for a more straightforward residency by investment programme and then progress to citizenship after a set number of years.

Therefore, an increasing number of global expats decide to invest in residency, often with lower financial requirements and wait until they can apply for full citizenship.

Golden Visa Benefits

Each golden visa has pros and cons, but some of the primary benefits include:

  • Travel to a broad range of countries visa-free
  • Fast application processing, with some permits issued in just one month
  • Opportunities to invest in fast-growing markets
  • Whole family visa or passport eligibility
  • Flexible options to progress to full citizenship following a residence by investment application.

The critical factor is to define your aspirations, such as whether you want to ultimately move abroad, and match those requirements with the advantages of a golden visa scheme

Golden Visa Global Statistics

Golden visas are relatively new to global immigration, and there aren’t any overarching statistics that help us understand how prevalent they have become.

However, the Portuguese government publishes a monthly and cumulative report showcasing the popularity of its programmes.

  • In May 2021, Portugal golden visas generated investments of €27 million in the local economy, a drop from April 2021 when the total reached €51 million
  • The total raised stands at €204 million since the scheme launched.

Around 5.5 million British nationals live permanently overseas – almost one in ten of the population, and Eurostat reports that as of January 2020, 23 million non-EU citizens were living in European member states.

Malta saw the immigration of 56.23 people per thousand residents, and Portugal a respective 7.07 foreign nationals in 2019.

Greece has also seen a significant rise in foreign investors taking up Golden Visa programmes, with approvals peaking in 2019 at 3,535. You can find more information in our buying property in Greece guide.

Golden Visa And Golden Passports Explained FAQ

What is the difference between a golden visa and a golden passport?

The core difference between a golden visa and a golden passport is that a visa doesn’t necessarily grant permanent residency rights.

Conversely, a passport means that the holder now has dual citizenship and a second passport that they can use for international travel.

However, golden visa programmes offering residence by investment usually allow applying for citizenship or permanent residency status after a certain number of years.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted golden visa programs?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on global mobility and golden visa schemes.

Due to border closures and strict travel restrictions, there is a pent up demand for second passports from wealthy people who want to move countries.

In the years ahead, we’ll almost certainly see continuing changes. For example, some countries will restrict golden visa quotas or redirect investment criteria to address their economic areas of greatest need.

Portugal, for example, is raising the minimum investment thresholds from January 2022 and limiting eligible property purchases to less popular areas where foreign investment is most lacking.

Other countries will likely introduce new golden visas to help inject economic support to help plug the financial gap caused by the healthcare crisis.

Which golden visa programme is right for me?

It’s impossible to recommend one golden visa programme since the terms and benefits differ for every prospective expat.

However, an independent golden visa ranking for 2021 assessed schemes based on investment options, processing times, passport visa rights and the type of residency awarded.

The top rankings were:

1. Portugal
2. Ireland
3. Greece
4. Spain
5. Italy
6. Tie between Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Luxembourg

How much do I need to invest in a golden visa?

The exact amount you’ll need to invest into a golden visa scheme varies greatly, with the lowest amount starting from $100,000 (£72,000).

It’s critical to assess other costs, such as application processing charges, renewal fees and legal costs on top of the investment value itself, as these can double or treble the investment.

How many expats move abroad through a golden visa program?

It’s tricky to quantify exact take-up figures for golden visa schemes since not all nations publish these statistics.

But we know that over 300,000 people leave the UK each year for foreign shores.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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