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November 2, 2020

Could Portugal’s recent record number of Residency by Investment programme applicants be attributed to the country’s quick handling of the pandemic? Or is it Portugal’s EU membership and powerful passport making it so popular? Or could it be the country’s first-class medical and educational offerings, relaxed pace of life, ideal climate, and affordable and speedy route to citizenship, that has garnered it so much pulling power.

According to residency and citizenship advisory firm, Global Citizen Solutions, the onset of the pandemic back in March led to a surge in foreigners applying for Portugal’s renowned residency by investment programme.

Of course, Portugal wasn’t the only country to experience this pandemic-driven surge for residency/citizenship. Montenegro saw a 142% spike in CBI applications in Q1 of 2020, while Turkey approved twice as many second passports (1,333) as its previous highest in the first three months of Covid. Not surprising, since at times of crises, people re-evaluate their lives and priorities and a second (and strong) passport is the ultimate insurance policy.

For Portugal, this surge for residency/citizenship, which has been taking place since March 2020, and which reached record numbers in May 2020 with 270 applicants spending €146.2 million on securing a Portuguese passport, marked a lockdown period that for Global Citizen Solutions “was abnormally busy”, says Patricia Casaburi, CEO.

However, Portugal’s programme, titled the Golden Resident Permit Programme (aka Golden Visa), has been a popular choice for economic citizenship since its debut in 2012, because while it’s not officially a citizenship by investment programme (rather a residency by investment programme leading to citizenship), it is widely considered to be one of the easiest, fastest and cheapest ways to obtaining a Portuguese (and therefore, EU) passport.

The programme has been so popular, and especially its real estate investment route, that the government are changing the citizenship rules come 2021. So many investors have made use of the programme to invest in property in Portugal’s most popular locations – Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve region (due to the high profits that can be achieved from renting properties to tourists all year round) that these locations are now being from the programme. From 2021, investors will still be able to invest in property via the programme, but only in other, less tourist-heavy areas.

So, what exactly has made Portugal such a persuasive pull and why more so in 2020?

Capable handling of the Covid-19 crisis
Well, firstly, there’s its quick and efficient response to the Covid crises. Compared to many of its larger European counterparts, including close neighbour Spain, which has seen 35,878 deaths (as of October 19), Portugal has witnessed a relatively low number of deaths, at 2,544, having been quick to respond.

Dominic Valek, managing partner of global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners, points out that when it comes to choosing economic citizenship today, people are most “concerned about healthcare and pandemic preparedness because, of course, this may not be the only pandemic in our lifetime”.

Not only would having citizenship of such a country make you feel safer, more secure, and more confident, but securing the passport of a country that has excelled at pandemic preparedness, could mean beating future travel bans. So, while Spain, the UK, Italy and the US have all suffered a multitude of Covid-related travel bans, thereby limiting the global mobility of their citizens, Portugal has remained relatively mobile, maintaining the power of its passport.

And a powerful passport it is too. With a location in the heart of Europe and as a member state of the EU, Portugal’s passport ranks 6th in the world, according to the latest 2020 Henley Passport Index and Global Mobility Report, meaning citizens can travel visa-free to 186 countries and can travel, live, work and study anywhere in the EU.

While other EU member countries offering residency/citizenship programmes, such as Malta and Austria, also pack a punch on the passport front (ranked 8th and 7th, respectively), they don’t quite offer the affordability Portugal does (a minimum outlay cost of €350,000 for Portugal compared to more than €1m for Malta and €10m for Austria).


The Brexit factor
And then there’s the Brexit factor, because Covid is not the only thing that’s dominated 2020, not for Brits anyway. With the UK set to leave the EU on December 31, and with no deal looking likely, British citizens will soon lose their rights to freedom of movement across the EU and freedom to do business without borders within Europe. Enter EU member state Portugal.

Henley & Partners has seen a 15% increase (YOY) in the number of requests on investment immigration for Portugal since July 1, and according to Konstantin Kaminsky, associate director of Astons, it’s the low cost of investing, the quick timeframe to securing residency, and the overall stability of Portugal that’s the driving factor behind it becoming very popular from a migration point of view and “we expect this will continue to be the case as Britain approaches it final exit from the EU”.

Excellence in healthcare and education
The pandemic has also changed priorities and as people re-evaluate their circumstances, with many realising they can now work remotely, the reasons for acquiring economic citizenship are less about tax benefits per se and more about choosing somewhere they want to reside. And with that comes the search for excellent healthcare and education, amazing quality of life, a good lifestyle, education, clean air, a safe and secure environment, reliable air links. To name but a few.

And Portugal certainly delivers. As a popular tourist destination, travelling to and from Portugal is both easy and convenient thanks to Portugal’s four international airports – Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Beja – which deliver direct and regular flights to most cities and countries worldwide.

Healthcare in the country is also top-notch, and mainly free. Not only does Portugal have high life expectancy of 82 years, suggesting both a healthy lifestyle and good healthcare offerings, but the country is ranked 12th worldwide in healthcare, meaning it is both world-class and has one of the top systems in Europe.

Its excellence in healthcare is matched by its excellence in education. With a literacy rate of 99.4%, the average 15-year-old student in Portugal is placed significantly above the OECD’s average, and at a similar level to students from Norway and Denmark where is education is world-renowned. Portugal’s higher education system is ranked 35th in the world, according to the first edition of the QS Higher Education System Strength rankings.

Quality of life and lifestyle
Not only is Portugal considered to have a climate that is the best in Europe, and is famed for its long stretch of Atlantic coastline, but it offers an equally lovely lifestyle, and is known for its warm hospitality, relaxed pace of life, and rich mix of lifestyle offerings within such a compact space.

There’s the obvious of course, like the breath-taking beaches and crystal-clear waters of the stunning Algarve coastline, the lush tropical landscape of the Azores, the rich cultural heritage (think vintage trams and gothic architecture) and finest of dining in the capital Lisbon, and the charm and retro seaside town of Porto.

Then there’s the less obvious. Some of the world’s biggest and best waves for surfing in Nazare (the silver coast); unspoilt and rustic countryside of the Serra da Penada-Geres mountains (think castle ruins, waterfalls) and the mountainous lush Costa Azul coastline with its clifftop monasteries and vineyards.

Family life is important in Portugal and the Portuguese are highly sociable participating in regular cultural and social gatherings. Many of these take place within communities, many of which come together around a national network of river beaches, peppered throughout Portugal.

In fact, the Internations Expat Insider Survey ranked Portugal 1st for quality of life in 2019, with the country scoring especially high on climate, safety, security and quality of environment.

Affordable and simple route to citizenship
Then there’s the programme itself. While only offering an indirect route to citizenship (you must invest in property for five years and spend a certain amount of weeks in the country for five years), it is a speedy route to residency (2-3 months) and a very affordable route to Portuguese and EU citizenship, requiring a minimum of €350,000. Investors need to renew the residency permit every two years and spend two weeks in the country every two years.

And when it comes to investing in property, while the main cities of Porto and Lisbon and the popular Algarve coast may not be available for investment come 2021 (they still are in 2020, though), the options for investment are still wide and affordable with the country offering many older, solidly built and charming properties at affordable prices and in beautiful areas. The cost of living in the country is also low, from property to food, offering one of the best value locations in Europe.

Applicants can now also do a lot of the application process online, due to Covid-19. While previously applicants had to travel to Portugal to meet with a consultant for help in applying for the Golden Visa, the process in 2020 is now digitised (including provision of your Portuguese tax and ID number) and you can apply from the comfort of your home wherever you are in the world.

To find out more, read our Portugal country profile by clicking here