Portugal’s golden visa scheme reduces real estate investment for certain locations

The Portuguese government has reduced the minimum required amount for its golden visa for those investing real estate from €500,000 to €350,000 for certain locations.

But the new lower amount only applies to property located in districts designated for urban renewal and is designed to reinvigorate interest in the popular visa scheme and provide a boost to Lisbon's regeneration programme.

The scheme is also getting a boost after it was suspended earlier this year as a result of a legal void created by a piece of new legislation  which did not address certain aspects of the existing golden visa laws.

It is one of several so called golden visa schemes that allows property investors from outside of the European Union to get a visa to live in the country by investing in real estate. Others are available in Spain and Greece.

‘It was already the most popular scheme of its kind in Europe, but the government wants to cast the net wider. Spain and Greece launched similar visa systems in 2013 and have taken some of the market share, so the authorities are using properties in regeneration areas across cities like Lisbon to inject more interest in the scheme,’ said Nicholas Leach at Athena Advisors.

According to the latest figures from the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) 2014 was a record year for Portugal with 1,526 successful golden visa applicants in total. However this year there has been less, with only 398 successful applicants in the first six months of 2015.

‘After the initial surge of investment into the scheme, there was bound to be a let up in demand. The demand of immigration incentives peaks and troughs, and this is why the government has shaken up the terms, to try and keep the rhythm going,’ explained Leach.

Between its launch in October 2012 and the end of June 2015 the Portuguese Golden Visa scheme attracted €1.47 billion of investment, of which €1.33 billion or 90% was through the purchase of real estate, accounting for 2,289 golden visas. By comparison, the Spanish equivalent of the scheme generated around €700 million, granting 530 foreign buyers with a visa between its launch in September 2013 and March 2015.

According to Leach some golden visa investors have looked to the Algarve and Silver Coast north of Lisbon, but Lisbon's city centre has been the main target due to the value and potential uplift.

‘Prime properties in Lisbon are a third of the price of their London and Paris equivalents, and if you look towards central regeneration areas like Mouraria there is even more value,’ added Leach.

Following the recession of 2008, much of Lisbon's city centre fell into disrepair as both businesses and people left the city. Developers have targeted these areas over the last few years, renovating historic properties and even entire districts, upgrading real estate to international standards, thus enticing golden visa investors.

Most of the city centre's sought after districts fall within the boundaries of the urban rehabilitation area. Areas like the prime and central Liberdade, trendy Chiado and Baixa and historic Mouraria will likely see increased interest from overseas due to the new minimum investment amount.

Properties which are over 30 years old also apply to the lower amount, but Leach believes that golden visa investors are unlikely to opt for this route as older properties often require expensive renovations.

In addition to the new €350,000 investment amount for real estate within urban regeneration areas, three other non-property investment categories have also been announced. They include a minimum of €350,000 investment in scientific or technological research activities, €250,000 into artistic production or the maintenance of national cultural heritage or €500,000 into small and medium businesses.

Just like any other holder of a residence permit in Portugal, golden visa holders can apply for family reunification permit, enabling their immediate family to also acquire a golden visa and after five years the investor and immediate family may then apply for a permanent residence permit.