+44 2084610699 Passport enquiry
Home » blog » Golden visa programs analyzed: Portugal vs Spain vs Greece (2024 Guide)

Golden visa programs analyzed: Portugal vs Spain vs Greece (2024 Guide)

Investors are increasingly looking to secure residency and potentially citizenship in Europe through investment, with the Golden Visa programs of Portugal, Spain, and Greece being prominent choices. While these programs share the core concept of offering temporary residency in exchange for a qualifying investment, they diverge significantly in various aspects. From work rights to investment thresholds, each country’s Golden Visa program presents unique opportunities and challenges for investors seeking to establish a foothold in the European market. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for making informed decisions and maximizing the benefits of these sought-after residency schemes.

European residency by investment and golden visa schemes

European Golden Visa programs gives individuals the chance to obtain residency in a foreign country through substantial investments like real estate purchases or financial contributions. Countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece Italy, Malta, and Cyprus are prominent for these schemes. These programs cater to various individuals seeking residency or citizenship in Europe, providing benefits such as visa-free travel within the Schengen Area and the ability to live and work in Europe. Recent regulatory changes and concerns raised by the European Union regarding citizenship by investment schemes have prompted some countries to amend their programs to address issues like property speculation and security risks. The Golden Visa process involves making a significant investment in a host country, with investors choosing from various investment routes that suit their needs while enjoying benefits like borderless travel in the Schengen Area and family reunification. Each country’s program has unique requirements, but generally, applicants must be non-EU citizens, make the required investment, have a clean criminal record, meet residency obligations, and not have ties to prohibited countries.

Program origins

Portugal was the first to act. It launched its Golden Residence Permit Program in October 2012. This was amid the European debt crisis. The program got a €78 billion bailout. It aimed to boost investment, especially in property. It would do this by giving residency permits for investments. This would happen under changes to its Foreigners Law.

Approvals were slow at the start, with just 154 visas in 2012. But, they surpassed 1,000 in 2014 and 6,000 in 2019. Chinese investors dominated at first. But, they were later joined by Americans, Brazilians, Turks, and others. By 2022, over 20,000 golden visas had been issued contributing €6.5 billion.

Spain rolled out its “Ley de Emprendedores” visa program a year later, in September 2013. It did through Law 14/2013. The economy was mired in recession. Unemployment was over 20%. The housing market was in freefall. The legislation aimed to revive these areas. It did so by encouraging foreign investment in real estate and business.

After granting just 115 visas in 2013, yearly approvals peaked over 2,000 in 2018. But, stricter processing has cut recent volumes to around 1,000 a year. Most applications came from the US, China, Russia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Overall, around 20,000 visas drove €10 billion in investment by 2022.

Greece started its residency-by-investment program in 2013. But, the reasons for starting it are unclear in the economic context. Recent proposals would disqualify real estate investments. They would do so in high-density areas like Athens. They are concerned about over-tourism.

Real estate investment thresholds

One of the primary investment routes for golden visas is through purchasing real estate in the host country. Here are the minimum real estate investment levels required:

CountryReal Estate Minimum
Portugal€280,000 – €500,000*

*Portugal’s minimum is €280,000 in low-density areas, but €500,000 in high-density areas like Lisbon and Porto.

Greece offers the lowest real estate threshold at €250,000, while Spain and Portugal are aligned at €500,000 except for lower-cost regions in Portugal.

Other investment options

Beyond real estate, each program allows alternative investment vehicles as summarized below:

Investment TypePortugalSpainGreece
Capital Transfer€1.5M€1M€400K
Govt/Public Debt€2M
Investment Fund€500K
Business/Job Creation10 jobs€1M business or €500K project

Portugal provides the most diverse routes including capital transfers, investment funds, job creation, cultural assets and more. Spain is focused on company/business investments plus real estate and public debt purchases. Greece only recognizes capital transfers outside of real estate deals.

Application process

Spain and Greece have fast golden visa timelines. These are faster than Portugal’s.

  • Spain: 1-3 months
  • Greece: 2-4 months
  • Portugal: 12-18 months

But, Portugal allows a €527,600 bank deposit guarantee. This is instead of the full investment during application.

All three require similar core documents like passports, background checks, and residential information. But Spain asks for more ancillary certificates. They relate to areas like education and finances.

Residency requirements

Once approved, each country has different physical presence obligations for maintaining legal residency:

Days Per Year7 in year 1, then 14 every 2 yearsNoneNone

Spain and Greece do not enforce annual stay requirements. But, Portugal mandates investors spend at least 7 days in their first year then 14 days every 2 years after that.

Taxes and incentives

Portugal has one of Europe’s best tax incentives for new residents.

  • Portugal: non-Habitual Resident (NHR) program offers a 10-year exemption on most foreign-sourced income
  • Spain: tax residents pay up to 47% income tax on worldwide earnings over €700K. Non-residents pay 19% flat rate on Spanish income only.
  • Greece: proposed a flat 7% tax for new residents’ first 10 years, but not yet formally implemented.

The NHR allows qualifying foreign nationals to move to Portugal and save on income taxes. The savings are especially large for those with lots of passive income from abroad.

Spain and Greece lack similar tax-friendly regimes for new tax residents. But, Greece may soon roll out a flat 7% tax.

Path to citizenship

One of the biggest differences is the time to get full citizenship. This is after entering as a golden visa holder.

  • Portugal: you can get citizenship after 6 years. This is 5 years of temporary residency, then 1 year of permanent residency.
  • Spain: eligible after 10 years total (5 years temporary residency, 5 years permanent)
  • Greece: eligible after 7 years of residency

Portugal offers the fastest path at just 6 years until citizenship eligibility. Greece follows at 7 years, while Spain requires a full decade.

Family and quality of Life

All three nations permit spouses and children to join the main applicant. They also get residency. However, Portugal has stricter financial requirements for admitted dependents.

In terms of quality of life, Spain ranks highly. This is across metrics like healthcare, infrastructure, and education. But Portugal scores better for safety and peace. Life outside major cities is also cheaper there.

Greece has advantages, like allowing parents-in-law as dependents. But, it lags in areas like economic output compared to Iberia.

Each investor’s language skills and global business ties may sway their preferred destination.

Evaluation of investment options

When evaluating the investment requirements across the three programs, investors should carefully consider their objectives and preferences. Those strictly interested in real estate may be drawn to Greece’s low €250,000 minimum property purchase, undercutting Portugal and Spain’s standard €500,000 thresholds.

However, investors seeking more diverse options like investment funds, business ventures, job creation schemes, or cultural projects will likely find Portugal’s program most appealing. Its wide array of qualifying investment routes provides flexibility to align with different goals and risk appetites.

Spain sits in the middle ground, offering real estate alongside paths like business investments above €1 million, public debt purchasing over €2 million, or sponsoring “projects of general interest” from €500,000. This caters to investors prioritizing active commercial opportunities within Spain over passive investment vehicles.

For those simply seeking the lowest capital outlay upfront, Greece’s €400,000 capital transfer minimum stands out as the most economical route amongst the three nations, though lacking the versatility of its counterparts.

Family reunification policies

Each program allows the main applicant’s spouse and kids to get residency too. They can do this through family reunification. But, policies around extra dependents like parents and in-laws differ.

Portugal has strict rules for qualifying dependents beyond the core family. They have to be financially self-sufficient. This aims to prevent sponsoring excessive family members. They may lack their own means of support.

In contrast, Greece’s program is more lenient. It extends residency rights to the applicant’s parents and in-laws. It does so without strict dependency checks. This flexibility enables easier reunification of the extended family compared to Portugal.

Spain falls between. It generally allows parents to qualify. But, it scrutinizes “dependency” status and does not approve all parental additions.

It’s the best option for investors with big families or desires to host parents and in-laws.

Processing timelines impact

Beyond requirements. The length of the application pipeline can impact an investor’s experience. It should be weighed accordingly.

Spain’s 1-3 month processing timeline is fast. It provides a seamless and rapid experience for qualified investors. They aim to secure residency promptly. Similarly, Greece’s 2-4 month timeframe provides a reasonably efficient process as well.

Portugal requires more patience, though. The processing ranges there are lengthy. They span 12-18 months now. This long wait could be a problem for investors. They have tight relocation timelines or need to confirm their European residency.

But, Portugal’s unique option is to start with just a €527,600 refundable bank deposit. This is instead of the full investment. This flexibility lets people start the process. They can do this while gathering the full funds over the long processing period.

In the end, those prioritizing haste may favor Spain or Greece. They have more streamlined systems. But, investors with time could better handle Portugal’s yearlong approval cycle. They can do this by using their initial deposit alternative.

How AptCitizenship can you get golden visa

To get a Golden Visa through AptCitizenship, you must meet the visa program’s requirements of the country. This usually involves a big investment in the country. This could mean buying real estate, giving to a government fund, or investing in a local business. Also, you may need to meet certain residency or language proficiency requirements. AptCitizenship can guide you through the process. We will help with the application and make sure you meet all criteria for getting the Golden Visa.

Living in Spain, Greece and Portugal

Exploring the work rights within the Golden Visa programs of Spain, Greece, and Portugal reveals a notable divergence in opportunities for investors, with Spain and Portugal offering the unique privilege of working during their stay, setting them apart from Greece’s program that lacks provisions for working while residing in the country. This work privilege not only enhances the overall appeal of these programs but also opens doors to various industries and sectors for economic growth, professional development, and business expansion.

cbi and rbi