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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?

golden visa spain or portugal
Barcelona or Porto? Spain or Portugal? Compare the pros and cons of each country's golden visa for non-EU applicants to find out which one is right for you. Photos: Erwan Hesry/Unsplash, Ramon Perucho/Pixabay

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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MOVING TO SPAIN

How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive

One of the most common questions people moving to Spain ask is where they can rent temporary accommodation while looking for somewhere more permanent. This can be particularly tricky, but we've found some of the best places to look.

How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive

So you’ve sorted out your visas, you’ve done all your packing and have either sold or moved out of your home, but when you arrive in Spain you’re not exactly sure where you’re going to stay.  

Of course, it’s not the best idea to sign a contract ahead of time for a more permanent place before you’ve actually seen it in person. Photos don’t always accurately represent what the house or apartment looks like in reality and you won’t really be able to get a feel for the neighbourhood without being there. 

On top of this, rental scams are rife in some places in Spain, particularly in the bigger more popular cities like Barcelona. Often people will place an ad (which usually looks too good to be true) and get you to wire over a deposit to secure it in advance, but here’s the catch – the place doesn’t usually exist.

This is why it’s important to never hand over money to secure a place to live in Spain before you’ve actually seen it in person and you can get the keys as soon as you sign the contract.

But, finding a place to live in a new country can be difficult and it can take time, so while you look for somewhere, you’re going to need temporary accommodation for a couple of months. This can be tricky too because often temporary accommodation is geared towards tourists and you’ll be paying tourist prices too.

While Idealista and Fotocasa are two of the most popular sites to look for accommodation in Spain, when you only want somewhere for a couple of months, there’s no point looking there, as most places will have yearly contracts.

Keep in mind with short-term rentals for a couple of months, you’re going to be paying higher than the average monthly rent, however, for this, the apartments are usually fully furnished, including kitchen utensils, wi-fi already connected and offer you the flexibility of shorter contracts.

Short-term rental agencies

Specialised short-term rental agencies are the best way to go, which will allow you to sign contacts for less than the typical one year. These types of agencies are usually found in Spain’s big cities that are popular with foreigners, such as Madrid and Barcelona.

Trying searching in Spanish too by typing alquiler de temporada or alquiler temporal plus the name of the city or town you’re looking in. This way you may be able to find places that offer better value. 

Barcelona

In Barcelona, check out aTemporal an agency that started up precisely to fix the problem of trying to find accommodation in-between tourist accommodation and long-term rentals. They rent out apartments for anywhere from 32 days to 11 months.

ShBarcelona is another agency that specialises in these types of rentals and have properties all over the city.

READ ALSO – Moving to Barcelona: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in

Madrid

In Madrid, try DFLAT, which was created by two professionals from the Instituto de Empresa University after discovering the difficulties professionals and foreigners found when looking for an apartment in Madrid. Sh also has a good branch in Madrid.  

Valencia

In Valencia, Dasha Living Space has both short and long-term fully furnished flats available and  Valenvi Flats also offers rentals for between three and six months.

READ ALSO – Moving to Valencia: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in

Airbnb

While the nightly rate of Airbnb apartments is typically too expensive to rent for a couple of months, you may be able to find some deals. Often when you input dates for a month into Airbnb, you’ll find that several places have a monthly discount offered. Also, some owners will do a deal for a couple of months. If it’s winter for example and they know they’re not going to get many tourists anyway, they may be willing to negotiate.

Vrbo

Like Airbnb, the properties on Vrbo are rented out directly by the owners. While the site is also mainly focused on tourists, some owners may negotiate outside of the tourist season.

Housesitting

If you’re willing to try something a little bit different, then housesitting could be the way to go. This is where you live in somebody’s house for free, in exchange for looking after their pets and their property.

Often people only need someone for a few days, but sometimes you’ll see house sits available for a month or longer. This is perhaps a better option for those who are flexible on where they might want to live and are trying out a few different places. It’s also better for those wanting to live in smaller towns or villages rather than the bigger cities, as there are fewer postings for these popular locations. Trusted Housesitters and Mind My House are good options. 

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