Several hundred thousand UK citizens own homes in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Most of them don’t hold residence permits in those countries, but many of them invested enough to qualify for golden visas, retroactively.
Where retroactive qualification is possible
What are the rules on qualifying for a golden visa years after having made the investment in Spain, Portugal, or Greece?
In Spain, according to Spanish Property Insight, those who bought properties with a purchase value (at the time, not now) of EUR 500,000 or more after September 28th, 2013 (the day on which the golden visa took effect) qualify for the golden visa retroactively.
The main applicant must have invested at least EUR 500,000 alone. That means that if, for example, a married couple jointly (and in equal measure) bought a EUR 800,000 home, neither husband nor wife would qualify. If, however, more than EUR 500,000 of that EUR 800,000 is in the name of either the husband or the wife, one would qualify for the golden visa as a main applicant while the other could be included as a dependent.
Someone who bought a home with a value below EUR 500,000, may still qualify for the golden visa if they make a supplementary investment to bring the total investment above the half-million mark. If you bought a house for EUR 400,000 in 2014, for example, you could buy an additional property for EUR 200,000 and qualify.
In Portugal, confirms Patricia Valadas Coriel of Lisbon-based Valadas Coriel & Associados, the rules are much the same; British citizens would qualify retroactively as long as they bought properties at or above the golden visa minimums after the introduction of the program, i.e., from December 2012 onwards.
The Greek golden visa, meanwhile, offers yet more flexibility; even if you bought your property before the golden visa program opened, says Panos Rozakis of Prime Synergy Greek Residency, you’ll still qualify as long as the property meets current golden visa minimums.
How big is the retroactive golden visa market?
The Spanish government estimates that between 800,000 and one million UK citizens own property in Spain but that only about a third of these were registered as residents by early 2020. That estimate doesn’t square with that of the Spanish Association of Registrars, which indicates UK citizens have bought some 70,000 properties in the country in the last eight years.
Including the figures for Portugal and Greece (where, remember, it doesn’t matter when the property was bought), the overall number of British citizens who acquired properties in golden visa countries within the timeframe is likely at least 200,000. Some of those, no doubt, are already registered, habitual residents and will, therefore, not need a golden visa.
But a non-negligible proportion, perhaps as many as half, tick both boxes; they bought a vacation property worth more than required minimum (or could “top off” their investment for a minor sum) and weren’t already registered residents before Brexit.
It would not be unreasonable to estimate that more than 100,000 British citizens already qualify for a golden visa in either Spain, Portugal, or Greece. If we assume that the average immigration lawyer charges EUR 10,000 for the service of processing a golden visa application for a family, that makes for a billion-euro market, before accounting for the “top-up” investments on which enterprising advisors might earn a commission.
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.