Lee-Wang’s story is not unusual these days. He and his family have been living in Asia for more than 25 years. But as his business expands globally, he spends more and more time shuttling between countries.
The globetrotting businessman is in the process of getting his citizenship through a Portuguese golden visa programme that offers a real estate investment route to gaining residency and potential citizenship in the country and hence European citizenship.
A big driver is for his two children to have the ease of travel a European passport offers in the future. The golden visa programme in Portugal is the most popular in Europe.
Portugal Golden Visa Programme
It was launched by the Portuguese government in 2012 to stimulate investment into Portugal and has since encouraged several billion Euros in real estate investment and over 2,000 family applications each year.
An investment of €500,000 is required in real estate in Portugal. The property, either residential or commercial, can be rented for income. Any number of properties can combine to make up the €500,000 minimum investment.
Joint buyers can pool investments into one property. The property can be mortgaged for any investment exceeding the minimum.
Portugal has a very favourable tax regime for anyone considering living in the country. No taxes are charged on overseas income for the first 10 years.
For those non-resident individuals, tax is charged at 28% on income derived in the country. This can be reduced with expenses for rental income.
Capital gains tax is 28% and there are allowances for costs and depreciation. There is no inheritance tax in Portugal. Applicants can apply for permanent residency after five years and Portuguese citizenship after six years.
Global residency and citizenship programmes have been in existence since the 1980s. The demand for the benefits of such programmes expanded rapidly in recent years. The new golden visa programmes in Europe and the Caribbean have wide appeal across many countries.
However, not every country and programme are the same. There are significant differences relating to investment level, family qualification, permanent residency, minimum stay, citizenship and passports, and not to mention, the differing economic states and real estate investment prospects in each country.
The EU Context
A number of European countries offer golden visas through investment in real estate, government bonds and donations. A citizen of any EU country is a citizen of the EU. Citizenship and a passport from any EU country allow the holder to live, work, study or travel visa free to any EU country because they are a European citizen.
A resident of any Schengen countries can travel freely throughout the Schengen zone without border controls even though they may not have a European passport.
The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
Based on experiences, some of the motivations behind global residency and citizenship planning are:
Most programmes offer real estate investment as the route to gaining a golden visa from that country. Long, medium and often short-term investment horizons lead to significant capital gains for real estate.
Safe Haven Investment
The USA and Europe remain safe havens for investment with clear property ownership laws, democratically elected governments and established taxation rules.
The laws of the Caribbean countries offering citizenship programmes are based on UK law with democratically elected governments.
Legacy for Family
Once the investment is made and the visas, residency cards and citizenship are granted then the ties and contacts with that country begin to increase.
Children can be included, they eventually move on perhaps for an education, eventual jobs, eventual citizenship and the next generations have firm roots which they have either put down or have the option to do so.
Education for Children
Once permanent residency is established by living full time in the country, children can be educated under either the state or private education system.
Looking to the future, as European citizens, children can gain access to universities in English speaking countries such as the UK at European and not international rates (a substantial saving).
Some Caribbean countries offer higher education offering ease of access to universities in the USA.
Ease of Travel
A golden visa will lead to a residency card or eventually citizenship and a second passport. In all cases this can significantly improve an applicant’s ease of travelling throughout the world.
A European passport allows the holder to live, work and travel anywhere in the EU including countries outside the Schengen Zone, such as Switzerland, the UK and Ireland.
The second passport and citizenship option arise from all the Caribbean programmes and several golden visa programs in Europe.
Taxation is a big concern for most wealthy investors. This is an area where more detailed planning will be needed. The Caribbean countries offer low or no taxation on overseas income.
In Europe, some countries such as Portugal impose no further taxation on overseas income for the first 10 years of residency.
No doubt, there are changing times ahead, with residency and citizenship planning or getting a Plan B already becoming an essential part of an offshore wealth management strategy for high net-worth individuals.
On a final note, beware of fraud. The demand for second citizenships has created opportunities for fraud and misrepresentation.
Be sure to perform the necessary due diligence or hire a qualified advisor or consultant specialising in such programmes. Get the right advice that is balanced and independent.
About the author
YH Wong has over two decades of experience in the financial services industry. His clients include high net worth investors and boutique institutions such as family offices and investment partnerships in the region. He is currently a senior partner with Satori Consultancy Ltd, a financial services company regulated by the Mauritian Financial Services Commission. He can be reached at email@example.com.