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An update on my journey to EU citizenship through Portugal’s Golden Visa program

Oct. 24, 2021
9 min read
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Update: I’m officially an EU resident.

Earlier this year I shared that I applied for European Union citizenship through Portugal’s Golden Visa program — a program offered by several European countries that provides a path to residency, and eventually citizenship, through different types of investments.

This week, I’m excited to share that I’ve received my residency card, the first step to gaining Portuguese citizenship. With my resident status, I can travel freely throughout the European Union as long as I maintain certain residency standards (more details on that below).

Ever since I studied in the Madrid suburb of Alcalá de Henares in 2005, I’ve been enchanted by the European lifestyle. While it does vary by country, in general, I feel Europeans have a better work and life balance and enjoy family and community more than we do in the U.S.

I’ve long thought about having two passports. Not U.S. passports — I already have two of those — but rather passports from two countries. Residency or citizenship in another country would allow for greater extended stay and work capabilities, especially in a diverse bloc like the European Union.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the U.S. and will always have roots here, but as I look to the future and think about starting a family, the option of being able to work and live in Europe, if even for part of the year, is an enticing proposition.

So, a couple of years ago, I began researching ways to get EU citizenship for myself, and realized that countries make it easy through what’s known as a “Golden Visa” program. Portugal, specifically, had the plan that best suited my needs.

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Brian Kelly at the TWA Hotel. (Photo courtesy of The Points Guy)

(Note: If you have family members who were born abroad, you may be able to apply for second citizenship directly — rules vary by country. But since all of my grandparents were born in the U.S., my chances of claiming Irish citizenship were very low.)

The Golden Visa

The term “Golden Visa” refers to a program, offered by numerous countries in Europe and elsewhere, that provides a path to residency and eventually citizenship through investment.

Like I mentioned above, I found Portugal to offer the most compelling Golden Visa program for my needs, and I decided to move forward with the process in 2020. In fact, I recently received special clearance arranged by local lawyers to travel to the country in order to set up bank accounts, finalize my investment and tour the property that I now co-own.

I’m investing in the forthcoming Renaissance hotel in the Lapa neighborhood of Porto. According to the terms of my specific agreement, I’ll be able to establish residency within six months or so, ideal for me since I’ll then be able to travel hassle-free to and around Europe.

Once residency is established, there is a process to potentially gain citizenship, including a five-year waiting period and a mandatory Portuguese language test, which shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle since I previously took three Portuguese classes and majored in Spanish in college.

Based on my 350,000-euro ($420,700) investment, the developer, RA Group, will provide a 3% return annually. I’ll also get a free week’s stay at the property each year. Additionally, I asked if I could get Marriott Bonvoy status as an owner — it never hurts to ask! — and they’re looking into it. I won’t have to pay taxes in Portugal on my U.S. income since I pay U.S. taxes. (Before making any decisions based on taxes or financial investments, you should consult a professional.)

I’m okay with a portion of my retirement savings being in a safe 3% return investment as a way to diversify my portfolio in these wild markets.

To participate in the Golden Visa program, your investment in urban real estate must be at least 350,000 euros or you must outright purchase a property for at least 500,000 euros ($601,000).

I’m not giving investment advice, but rather giving you an understanding of my thinking behind the decision I made. In addition to the investment in property, there are additional legal fees associated with this process. I worked with the Canada-based Mercan Group. I can’t recommend them enough — they were so helpful throughout the process.

Upcoming changes to the Golden Visa program

It’s true that changes are coming to Portugal’s Golden Visa program — and I’m glad that I applied when I did — but there’s still time to apply before those changes take place at the beginning of the year.

The real estate investment options for Portugal’s Golden Visa program will be modified in the following ways in 2022:

  • The minimum investment will increase from 350,000 euros to 500,000 euros.
  • Real estate properties will need to be located in the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira or in the interior territories (properties in major cities like Lisbon and Porto, as well as coastal towns of the mainland, are no longer eligible).

In order to apply for the visa under the current requirements, your application will need to receive preapproval from SEF (the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service) by Dec. 31. That means you’ll want to get started on your application soon.

Read more about the power of traveling with dual citizenship here.

It isn’t mandatory that you go through a third party like I did but I had a great experience with the Mercan Group and can’t recommend them highly enough. If you’re considering the hotel rehabilitation investment category, you can get $2,000 off of the Mercan Group’s legal fees by using my personal code GOLD21. (Legal fees are normally 6,000 euros, so with the code you’ll pay just 4,000 euros, or roughly $4,800.)

All proceeds that I earn from my affiliate code will be donated to Rainbow Railroad, an organization that works to help LGBTQ people around the world escape persecution in their home countries, and one that I’m proud to work with throughout the year.

(Photo by Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images)

What's next for me

Now that I have my EU residency card, I’m required to spend a certain amount of time in Portugal over the next five years before I can apply for citizenship:

  • 14 days in Portugal in the first two years of residency (by July 2023).
  • 14 days in the next two years (from July 2023 to July 2025).
  • Seven days in the fifth and final year (from July 2025 to July 2026).

As I look to the future and to starting a family, I’m especially excited that my children will be dual citizens of the EU and U.S. and will be able to get an education and health care in the EU — at a fraction of the cost in the U.S. I also want them to be exposed to different cultures and ways of living and I can’t think of a better way than with dual citizenship.

Frequently asked questions about the Golden Visa

I’ve received a lot of questions on the topic of the Golden Visa. Let’s go over a few of the top ones here.

Q: Are there different amounts you can invest to receive a Golden Visa?

A: There are many ways to invest to receive citizenship, but three avenues are the most popular (note, these amounts will increase in 2022):

  • Buy a finished property for 500,000 euros (rules surrounding this type of investment will change next year)
  • Invest in the rehabilitation of an old building for 350,000 euros (this is what I chose)
  • Invest 280,000 euros ($337,000) in rehabilitating a property in a less-populated area of the country

Q: When you get citizenship, are your kids and family also eligible for citizenship?

A: Yes! This is one of the main reasons I pursued dual citizenship. My children will be able to receive education and health care in the EU at a fraction of the cost thanks to their citizenship. Plus, I want them to be exposed to different cultures and a different way of life.

Q: How much time do you need to spend in Portugal?

A: Just two weeks per year for the first four years, and then just one week for the fifth year. This is a huge selling point for me. Many countries offer similar visas, but they have much stricter requirements for staying within the country — often 183 days or more.

Q: Does the investment have to be paid in cash?

A: Yes.

Q: Is working with a company to liaise for you mandatory?

A: No, but there is a tremendous amount of bureaucracy involved. If you want to complete it on your own, be prepared to put in hours of research and paperwork. Regardless, I’d recommend working with a Portuguese lawyer to help you navigate the process. Mercan Group holds your hand through it all. They helped me open local bank accounts and schedule various appointments, even when none were publicly available.

Featured image by Porto, Portugal skyline from across the Douro River. (Photo by ESB Professional / Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.