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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Spain the second EU country that grants most residency permits to foreigners

More than 370,000 third-country nationals were granted the right to reside in Spain for the first time in 2021, according to new Eurostat data.

Spain the second EU country that grants most residency permits to foreigners
As of January 1st 2022, there were 5.4 million foreigners living in Spain according to the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE). (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

In 2021, Spain issued more than 370,000 first-time residency permits to non-EU nationals, a 31 percent rise compared to 2020 figures.

This figure represented 13 percent of the total number of residency visas issued across the EU, putting Spain only behind Poland, which granted 967,300 residency permits to non-EU nationals in 2021, around a third of the total across the EU’s 27 Member States last year.

Spain was top of the leaderboard in terms of residency permits issued for family reasons – 159,200 – 5 percent of the EU total.

As of January 1st 2022, there were 5.4 million foreigners living in Spain according to the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE). 

That means that foreign nationals now represent 11.4 percent of Spain’s population of 47.4 million.

Spain gained 49,612 foreign residents in 2021 whereas the number of Spanish nationals living in the country was reduced by 15,502.

In terms of the nationality of foreigners who live in Spain, Moroccans make up the biggest group (776,223), followed by Romanians (632,859), UK nationals in third (316,529), Colombians (315,885) and Italians (298,817). 

Spain’s foreign population stats often vary given the fact that sometimes it’s the calculations of the country’s migration offices (extranjería) that are used, whereas on other occasions it’s the tally used by town halls through the padrón census.

Other insightful data from Eurostat’s latest study include the fact that the residency permits issued on a yearly basis across the EU have roughly doubled from 1.5 million in 2011 to just under 3 million in 2021.

The huge rise in residence permits issued by Poland in 2021 can be explained by the fact that most of them are work permits for neighbouring Ukranians (790,100 of the 967,300 total). 

France was third in terms of the total number of residency permits issued in 2021 (285,200) and the Gallic nation is the EU country which issued the most residency visas for study purposes last year (90,600).

Whereas Italy was the country which saw the biggest rise in residency permits (159 percent rise from 105,700 in 2020 to 274,100 in 2021), Germany issued 41 percent fewer residency permits in 2021.

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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Spain vs Portugal: Which Golden Visa is better for you?

Iberian neighbours Spain and Portugal both offer the highly sought-after 'golden visa' for non-EU nationals who want to move to Europe. But what are the differences between them and which one is best suited to you?

Spain vs Portugal: Which Golden Visa is better for you?

Getting a visa or residency in a European country can feel near impossible if you’re a third-party national.

The EU’s ‘golden visa’ – sometimes known as as an investor visa – gives non-EU citizens the right to live in Europe, enjoy borderless travel within the Schengen zone, and even begin the process to gaining European citizenship if they meet several criteria.

This special visa is of particular interest to Britons searching for a way to move to the EU in the aftermath of Brexit, and has also proven popular with Americans, Russians, Chinese and Indian citizens who can afford it.

READ MORE: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s Golden Visa 

What is a ‘Golden Visa?’

The golden visa is an EU immigration programme that awards residence permits in foreign countries in return for investment. It varies between countries (not all EU nations offer it), but often it involves purchasing a property of a certain value, creating a company or job opportunities, or in some instances contributing to a national development fund or investing in stocks and shares.

Two of the most popular European countries for golden visas (and for tourists and retirees in general) are Spain and Portugal. 

Since the scheme was launched back in 2013, the number of third country nationals applying has risen every year. In 2019, Spain issued this visa to a record 8,000 non-EU nationals.

Both countries are famed for their temperate climate, beaches, culture and relaxed lifestyle, but which of the golden visas is better: Spain’s or Portugal’s?

See below for the minimum investment needed; the type of investments you can make; how long it takes to get citizenship; whether the golden visa gives you free travel around the Schengen area; how long the application takes; the rules on residency, and how long you must spend in the country; and whether family members are included.

The facts

  Spain Portugal
Minimum investment required €500,000 €250,000
Type of investment Property over €500,000; €1 million in a Spanish company; €1 million in a Spanish bank account; at least €2 million in Spanish public debt securities. Property over €500,000 or urban renovation of €350,000; business startup creating at least 10 jobs; capital transfer of €1.5 million; research and development investment of €500,000; €250,000 contribution in the arts. 
Citizenship timeline 10 years 5 years
Schengen Travel? Yes Yes
Application time 20 business days processing once documentation is received; 2/3 months in total. 3-6 months
Residency rules Must visit Spain once a year. 1 week for the first year; 14 days every 2 years after.
Family included? Partner, dependents and children (under 18). Partner, dependents, children, parents of the main applicant if over the age of 65 years old (under 18 or dependent and unmarried children who are under 26 and in full-time education).

Changes to Portuguese Golden Visa

New visa rules came into effect in Portugal from January 1st 2022. These have mainly increased some of the minimum investment thresholds (but not the arts investment, which at €250,000 remains the cheapest route to a golden visa for either Portugal or Spain) and have changed some of the geographic requirements for property investment.

Keen to stimulate investment in the less touristy parts of Portugal, buying a residential property in big urban centres such as Lisbon or Porto or in the popular coastal regions such as the Algarve are no longer sufficient to qualify for a golden visa.

As of 2022, property investments must be in Madeira, Azores, or Portuguese inland regions and rural or low-density areas. In such areas, a 20 percent discount on the investment is offered.

You can find the full geographical breakdown of investment areas here, although be warned the text is in Portuguese. 

In Spain you can buy several properties which add up to €500,000

One option for the visa is to buy a property for €500,000 or more, but you are not required to spend it all on one property. You will still be eligible for the visa if you buy multiple properties, as long as the total amount adds up to more than €500,000.

The extra costs

Besides parting ways with half a million Euros to get a visa, both Spain and Portugal require some hefty application fees for the scheme.

Fee Spain Portugal
Application €70 per applicant €80 per applicant
Approval €5,000 per applicant €5,857 per applicant
Renewals €3,000 per visa holder €3,195 per visa holder
     

Tax benefits

One advantage of the Portuguese Golden Visa scheme is its tax rules.

Portugal’s Golden Visa program offers the ultimate tax advantage. Golden Visa holders are eligible for Portugal’s NHR Tax Scheme, a system that grants tax-exemptions for up to ten years.

Exemptions include income obtained from pensions, capital, income from property and capital gains, intellectual property and industrial property. The property tax transfer system means that Golden Visa holders pay the same rates as local residents.

In Spain, all foreign residents are taxed on their ‘worldwide income’ if they are in Spain for more than 183 days a year. For non-residents, tax is charged at 24.75 percent on income earned in Spain.

Getting the golden visa, however, doesn’t mean you have to reside in Spain or spend a certain amount of time here in order to renew it. This means that you don’t have become a tax resident. The only requirement is to visit once a year to renew your permit.

READ MORE: Property in Spain: Is now a good time to buy a home? 

The golden visa is retroactive in Spain

This means that if you already bought a property in Spain worth over €500,000 after 2014, but didn’t apply for a golden visa at the time, it’s still possible to do it now.

The property can be sold once you have obtained permanent residency in Spain. Once you have lived in Spain for more than five years and have obtained permanent residency, you are able to sell the property without forfeiting your right to reside in Spain.

You cannot, however, use a mortgage loan or financing for your investments. This cannot be done through a mortgage company or a loan, and must be from your own pocket.

Conclusion

Portugal and Spain’s golden visa schemes offer fantastic opportunities to relocate to an EU member state.

Both offer you the chance to enjoy borderless travel in EU member states, but they both also require you to have a significant amount of money saved up in order to invest it in property, renovation, shares, capital transfers, or debit securities.

If you’re concerned about taxes, perhaps the benefits of the Portuguese visa might entice you. It is worth remembering, though, that the recent changes to the Portuguese system now mean there are geographical limits on property investments meaning you can’t buy in popular areas. 

If you’re overly concerned about location, the Spanish golden visa gives you more freedom to choose where you live.

The sums for property investment are broadly similar, sitting at €500,000 in both countries, although in Portugal there are discounts for taking on renovation projects and purchasing property in sparsely populated areas which could reduce the amount of your investment quite significantly.

In Spain, the property threshold, regardless of where it is or what type of property it is, is a flat €500,000.

Both golden visas have very little in terms of residency requirements, although in Portugal the time to gaining citizenship is just 5 years, half of Spain’s 10-year wait. With the golden visa, in Spain you can obtain permanent residency after five years.

If you’re still undecided, the article below may help you pick between Portugal and Spain.

READ MORE: Portugal vs Spain – Which country is better to move to?

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