If you’re exploring different possibilities for immigration, you might have noticed that many visa options require a job offer in a host country. This may represent an obstacle if you’re not looking for a job but would still like to secure a second passport or relocate abroad to enjoy a better quality of life.
We have good news, though; there’s another golden option for you. A golden visa, that is.
As more countries launch golden visas, the term is entering the mainstream consciousness of globally mobile and high-net-worth individuals — but what is a golden visa, exactly?
Below, we provide a comprehensive overview of golden visas, including their origins, benefits, the countries that offer them, and more.
A Golden Handshake Between Governments and Investors
Overall, the term golden visa refers to those granted to foreign investors who make significant investments in a particular country.
The investment requirements and overall application criteria do vary from country to country, though. While golden visas have garnered more attention in recent years, they may be older than you think. The first country to introduce a golden visa was the small Caribbean dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984.
Over time, governments around the world saw the potential that programs like these have to attract a certain type of resident. Foreigners meeting the criteria for a golden visa are likely to contribute tax revenue, jobs, and other economic opportunities to their host countries.
As opportunities to live abroad on a visa predicated on wealth grew, investors and high net-worth individuals eager to live and invest abroad enthusiastically engaged with them.
Benefits of Having a Golden Visa
Some of the benefits that a golden visa offers holders include:
Golden visas offer an attractive pathway for individuals seeking extended residence in a specific country. This facilitates both living and conducting business activities within the country’s borders, providing a stable foundation for personal and professional pursuits.
Beyond residency, many countries with golden visa programs provide appealing tax incentives. These schemes may include favorable tax rates, exemptions, or deductions, presenting a significant financial advantage for visa holders.
Golden visa holders often enjoy enhanced mobility privileges, leveraging visa-free travel agreements and the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area or other regional arrangements. This unrestricted travel can significantly facilitate international business ventures, as well as leisure.
Access to social services & public programs
In addition to residency rights, golden visa holders frequently gain access to a host country’s social services and public programs. This encompasses healthcare systems, pension plans, educational institutions, and other vital public services, ensuring a high quality of life for visa holders and their families.
Property purchases & real estate investment
Holding a golden visa streamlines the process for foreigners interested in property purchases within the host country. This may involve simplified bureaucratic procedures, reduced investment thresholds, and eligibility for tax incentives related to real estate transactions. Such benefits not only promote investment but also contribute to economic growth and development.
Golden visa programs often extend benefits to the education sector, granting visa holders access to prestigious educational institutions and facilitating educational opportunities for their dependents. This can be particularly advantageous for families seeking quality education options abroad.
Golden visas can contribute to business expansion and international entrepreneurship. By providing a secure legal framework and residency status, these visas empower individuals to establish or expand their businesses within the host country and tap into new markets with confidence.
Beyond economic advantages, golden visas help with cultural integration and cross-cultural exchange. As a golden visa holder, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the host country’s culture, language, and society, fostering mutual understanding and enriching your personal experiences.
Many countries require you to spend a certain amount of time in that country throughout the year to be eligible for this visa. Some, however, only need you to be present for your visa renewal.
Potential Risks for Golden Visa Holders
Changes in regulations
Golden visa holders are subject to any changes in regulations in the host country. These regulatory modifications, such as alterations to visa requirements, investment thresholds, or residency criteria, could impact the validity or benefits of the golden visa.
Many golden visa programs require substantial investments in the host country’s economy, typically in real estate or other specified sectors. These investments carry certain financial risks, including market fluctuations, depreciation of property values, or unforeseen economic downturns, which could affect the return on investment for visa holders.
Golden visa holders may be exposed to political instability or shifts in government policies within the host country. Political unrest, changes in leadership, or geopolitical tensions could potentially impact the security and stability of residency rights conferred by the golden visa.
Dependence on visa renewal
Golden visas are typically granted for a fixed duration, subject to renewal upon meeting specified criteria. Visa renewal is not guaranteed and may be contingent upon factors such as continued investment, compliance with residency requirements, or changes in immigration policies, posing uncertainties for visa holders.
An Example: What Is a Golden Visa in Portugal?
One of today’s most well-known golden visa programs is Portugal’s. Launched in 2012,2 the Portuguese government created this visa to stimulate the economy in the wake of sluggish economic growth, high government debt, and the 2008 financial crisis.
Typically, the visa grants holders a two-year residence permit that can be renewed every two years in exchange for certain types of investments, donations, contributions, capital transfers, or the creation of a minimum number of jobs.
Recently, the Portuguese government has eliminated several previous golden visa investment routes. This comes in response to growing concerns about housing affordability and cost of living increases. Real estate investments (in both low- and high-density areas) and capital transfers to a Portuguese bank account will no longer allow investors to qualify for the golden visa. However, there are still several ways to fulfill the investment requirements:
- Invest at least €500,000 (~$545,618) in a qualifying Portuguese venture capital fund.
- Create at least 10 full-time jobs through a Portuguese business you own.
- Invest at least €500,000 (~$545,618) in an existing Portuguese business that will create at least five new full-time jobs in the next three years.
- Donate at least €250,000 (~$272,800) toward a project that helps Portugal preserve its national heritage, with select projects in remote areas requiring only a €200,000 (~$218,254) donation.
- Contribute at least €500,000 (~$545,618) toward a scientific research program.3
General requirements to obtain a golden visa
Golden visa requirements differ by country, so it’s important to verify the criteria for the specific visa you’re interested in. There is typically, however, a good amount of overlap in eligibility across different countries, with some of the most common requirements including:
- A clean criminal record in your home country and the one you’ll be moving to
- No prior history of violating immigration rules
- Investments of a minimum amount and a certain type from your own funds (e.g., not a loan)
- Sufficient funds to support yourself and any family members you might bring with you
- 18 years of age or older
- Private health insurance (we recommend Safetywing)
Popular countries offering golden visas
Currently, there are dozens of golden visas in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas (even in the United States). Some of the more popular options include:
- Minimum investment: €250,000 (~$272,800) donation toward a cultural project, or €200,000 (~$218,254) for select projects in remote areas
- Recent updates: Investment by real estate and capital transfer eliminated
Minimum investment: €250,000 (~$272,800) real estate purchase outside of certain popular areas (Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, etc.)4
Recent updates: Minimum qualifying price for real estate purchases in most popular areas bumped up to €500,000 (~$545,618)
Minimum investment: CAD 250,000 (~$146,011) toward a Canadian business you will create, own, or operate5
Note: The figure above references the federal entrepreneur visa — some provinces have dedicated programs with investment thresholds as low as CAD 50,000 (~ $36,503)
Recent updates: N/A
Minimum investment: Membership fee of 900,000 Thai baht (~$25,575)6
Recent updates: Prices for different visa options increased between 50% and 500%
Minimum investment: $100,000 toward select reforestation projects or real estate purchases7
Recent updates: N/A
Minimum investment: €500,000 (~$545,618) real estate purchase8
Recent updates: Reports of government considering restricting or eliminating the program as of May 2023
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Minimum investment: 2 million AED (~$544,588) real estate purchase or public investment9
Recent updates: Additional information on visa requirements recently released
Keep in mind:
Many countries require you to be physically present for a certain amount of time in order to maintain or renew your residency, which will require you to plan your stay accordingly. Requirements vary — one country might require just 14 days of physical presence in two years, while another may require 183 days per year or more.
Notable countries with a golden visa program and no residency requirement
However, certain countries offer golden visas without prior residence in the country. This is especially true for countries that offer citizenship by investment programs — sometimes referred to as golden passports — such as:
Minimum investment: Not strictly defined, but typically €3 million ($3,273,922) minimum10
Key benefits: Safety, strong economy, low taxes for the European Union, excellent schools, great healthcare system, ability to live and work anywhere in the Schengen Zone
Minimum investment: $400,000 real estate purchase11
Key benefits: Lower cost of living, rich culture, Mediterranean climate, delicious and healthy food, good public transport
Minimum investment: $100,000 toward the St. Lucia Economic Fund12
Key benefits: Tropical climate, beautiful beaches, no inheritance or capital gains taxes, laid-back island living
Assessing your investment options
Although obtaining a golden visa offers many benefits, it likely won’t exempt you from your US tax obligations. That’s because all US citizens and permanent residents who meet the minimum income requirements — no matter where they live — must file a federal tax return.
So, when considering whether or not to pursue a golden visa, keep the following in mind:
- You may have to file a tax return in your country of residence as well as the US — and while tax treaties help you avoid double taxation in theory, tricky clauses often limit their benefits for US expats.
- Investments in foreign mutual funds are often taxed at a much higher rate than investments in US-based mutual funds.
- FATCA requires Americans to report foreign assets valued over $200,000 USD by the end of the tax year — or over $300,000 at any point in the tax year — on Form 8938.
- Americans who hold $10,000 in aggregate in foreign financial accounts must file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR)
The good news is, though, that Americans abroad may be eligible for special tax breaks, such as the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC), Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), Foreign Housing Exclusion, and more.
- A guide to golden visas
- Portugal Property Market Recovery, Golden Visa and Non-Habitual Residents
- Portugal Golden Visa – a Complete Guide 2023
- Greece Golden Visa Remains at €250.000 Except in Major Cities
- How to Get the Golden Visa in Canada | 2023 Requirements & Programs
- Thai Elite Visa
- Panama Residence by Investment Program
- Investor visa
- Golden visa
- Austria Citizenship by Investment
- Acquiring Property and Citizenship
- Saint Lucia Citizenship by Investment (CIP)
Disclosure: Some of the links on this website may be affiliate links, which means that we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase or take any action through those links. We only recommend products and services that we have personally used or thoroughly researched. Your support through these affiliate links helps us continue to provide valuable expat tax services. Thank you for your support!