LISBON Portugal's Golden Ticket

Of all the European governments offering residence permits to wealthy non-European investors, Portugal has been the most successful. But will the scheme last?

LISBON

Portugal's Golden Ticket

Of all the European governments offering residence permits to wealthy non-European investors, Portugal has been the most successful. But will the scheme last?

Thanks to Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s golden visa scheme, non-EU citizens can now earn the right to live in Portugal for five years by investing as little as €350,000 in real estate. Previously the minimum was €500,000, but the visa’s continued success led the government to widen the net.

The right to life in a new country, a new continent, by means of an investment in real estate is a wonderfully liberating concept. And in Portugal the scheme has lured Brazilians with colonial ties, Russians with education opportunities and Chinese as an escape route from unrest at home.

Clients may apply for permanent residency after five years and Portuguese citizenship after six. The scheme includes free education, health and countless other social benefits. It provides a strategic base from which to conduct global business and allows residents to roam freely around the 25 other countries in the European Schengen area

“Portugal’s foreign residence programme has been voted the best in the world,” says Manuel Bento Nogueira of Legal Square, a Portuguese law firm currently dealing with 250 golden visa clients. “Why? Because the scheme itself, and living costs, are cheap.   Clients may apply for permanent residency after five years and Portuguese citizenship after six. The scheme includes free education, health and countless other social benefits. It provides a strategic base from which to conduct global business and allows residents to roam freely around the 25 other countries in the European Schengen area.” And as Portugal saw €23.6 billion in foreign real estate investment last year, of which €1.5 billion was from golden visas, the programme is going some way to help revitalise the economy.

But while the ultra-flexible scheme only requires foreigners to be in Portugal for a handful of days per year, are new residents really adopting the country as their home, or merely using it as a safe place to funnel away cash? “My experience has given me an investor’s eye,” explains Nogueira, “and I believe that, in terms of lifestyle, Portugal’s offerings are among the richest in the world. In 2012, new legislation came in to revamp Lisbon’s historical centre, bringing exquisite period buildings that are several hundred years old back on to the market. Our clients, especially the Chinese ones, are buying these properties as heirlooms. Money is something they already have. But Portugal allows them to buy into beauty, culture, centuries of history.”

Since the scheme started, investors are certainly becoming more sophisticated. They are appreciating Portugal’s history, mellow pace of life, golf courses, fine wine, delicious cuisine and extraordinary diversity of landscapes – from sandy, southern Atlantic beaches to the forested mountains of Serra da Estrela National Park. But for how much longer will these things be attainable? “Nothing lasts forever”, says Nogueira. “New EU budget discussions, beginning next year, may well result in pressure to close the scheme or somehow lessen its credibility.” The time to invest, then, is now.

';