If you are a national of a non-EEA country (a country that doesn’t belong to the European Economic Area), you must apply for a residence permit to live permanently in an EU country. Golden Visa programs are designed to fast-track the process. However, each European country has its own unique flavor of the Golden Visa program. Let’s take a look to see which one is right for you.
Whether you come from the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, China, Russia or any other non-EEA country, you must go through the same immigration procedures and comply with the requirements set by EU members for non-EEA citizens.
How to Become an EU Resident
To become an EU resident, you have to meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Your close family members are legal EU residents
- An EU company in the EU territory employs you
- Your employer is relocating you to an EU branch
- You are a person with enough passive income to qualify for a visa that expressly prohibits local employment or any paid work
- You have the means to go through a Residency by Investment or Golden Visa scheme
Following routes 1 – 4, if you meet the requirements, you will first have to apply for a visa and then a short-term residency permit, which you will need to renew once or twice depending on where in the EU you are applying, before being able to apply for permanent residency.
Although the details of the requirements vary among the European countries, they all have one thing in common: the paperwork is tedious, the applications take time and effort, and they are not the most accessible paths to permanent residency in the EU.
Golden Visa schemes – the easiest way to get permanent residency in Europe
The easiest way to obtain permanent residency in the EU is to buy a qualifying property or make qualifying investments in an EU country that runs a Golden Visa scheme.
EU countries that run Golden Visa programs:
Each of the above countries requires investments in either property or government bonds with minimum connection to the country. Regardless of the country you choose, in addition to residency, you will also gain visa-free travel throughout the rest of Europe.
Although not yet in the EU, Montenegro can be a great option, considering the country has widespread support among EU members and is on the path to joining the EU by 2025.
Other countries, such as France and Austria, run special residency programs for active investors that require applicants to have close ties with the country and the businesses they invest in.
Which EU countries give you residency via buying a property?
You can get EU permanent residency by buying a qualifying property with no other co-payments or investments required in the following countries*:
Cyprus – from €300,000. You can find more details in our Living In Cyprus guide in the residency section.
Greece – from €250,000.
Spain – from €500,000. For more information, read our guide on Spain Residency, Registration On A Padron, NIE And Other Paperwork.
Portugal – from €280,000. Find out more in our Living In Portugal guide in the residency section.
*The prices don’t include VAT, applicable property taxes, and legal services.
Which EU country gives the fastest permanent residency through Golden Visa?
This is how fast your application is approved in different EU countries when you buy a qualified property through the Golden Visa program:
Greece – up to 2 months
Cyprus – up to 6 months
Spain – up to 2 months
Portugal – up to 3 months
Malta – up to 4 months
Citizenship by Investment or Residency by Investment?
To decide whether you need a residency in the EU or European citizenship, ask yourself how restrictive the passport that you hold right now is.
If you need visa-free access to more countries than you have now, then you may need second citizenship. If you need a permit to reside in the EU on a permanent basis and are quite happy with the passport you currently hold, then EU permanent residency might be what you need.
Obtaining citizenship through Investment programs is, as a rule, much more expensive. You will pay a lot more if you want to obtain a second passport as fast as possible.
For example, you can get a Maltese passport in just one year if you contribute €750,000 in qualifying investments. Or for a minimum of €150,000, you can get permanent residency in Malta, which you can renew every five years as long as you hold a Maltese address.
Another thing to remember is this: if you hold a permanent residency in an EU country, there will be an option to apply for citizenship after a certain period, providing you qualify.
One of the main requirements is that you have actually been living in the country for more than 183 days a year and can demonstrate close connections to the country. The conditions tend to vary between EU members, but the main point remains – holding EU permanent residency is a valid path to EU citizenship.
Deciding on the best option for your needs might not be straightforward. There are so many options available when it comes to second citizenship that it’s easy to get confused. If your circumstances are complex and you are looking at improving your travel, business, and personal access to as much of the world as possible, you need to consult a professional.
Contact us for a free, no-obligation chat about your needs and circumstances. We might be able to find an optimal solution for you.
What is the cheapest EU country to buy citizenship in?
The cheapest route to becoming an EU citizen is to go through Greece’s Golden Visa program.
Although in urban areas the minimum investment is €500,000, you can still acquire a property and the Golden Visa for at least €250,000 if you look outside Athens, the Municipality of Vari-Voula-Vouliagmeni, the Municipality of Thessaloniki and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini.
With this, you can get a 5-year residency permit that you can renew every five years, provided you still own the property.
There’s no minimum stay requirement, so you can stay for as long or as little as you want; it won’t affect your residency renewal.
However, if you plan to apply for citizenship, you must actually live in Greece and pay taxes for seven years before you can do so. You will also have to prove that you have ties to the country and at least a basic knowledge of the language and culture.
You can find more information on Greece Golden Visa and other residency routes in our guide on Visa & Residency Options In Greece.
The fastest European Union citizenship route
Comparing European countries offering citizenship by investment, the fastest way to get an EU passport is through the Malta Citizenship by Investment Program.
You can obtain a Maltese passport in just one year and four months if you meet the following criteria:
- Contribute €750,000 to the national development fund set up by the government;
- Live in Malta for at least two weeks within a 12-month period;
- Contribute €50,000 per each additional dependent included in your application;
- Invest a further €700,000 into a property, or rent a property for at least €16,000 per year;
- Make a donation of €10,000 to a registered philanthropic, cultural, sport, scientific, animal welfare, or artistic non-governmental approved organization or society.
EU Golden Visa Programs – summary
Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, and Malta are the most popular countries for Golden Visa. It’s not surprising, considering their favorable climate and lower cost of living.
As you can see, there are plenty of countries that offer relevant residency programs. Juggling the costs and benefits of each will help you decide the best country for your budget and lifestyle choices.
You might find useful:
- Spain Residency, Registration On A Padron, NIE And Other Paperwork – all about Spain residency options and how to register as a resident.
- Living In Spain Expat Guide – A complete guide covering every aspect of moving to and settling down in Spain.
- Living In Itlay As An Expat – an ultimate relocation guide that includes your visa and residency options.
- Living In Malta As An Expat – find out about your Malta visa and residency options in the residency section of the guide.
- Didn’t find what you were looking for or need further advice? Contact us or comment with your question below, and we will do our best to help.