Greece Sold Foreigners 1,684 Golden Visas for Residency, Citizenship

Photo: AP/EU

ATHENS – Frantic for money from almost any source, Greece has in the last four years sold 1,684 so-called “Golden Visa” granting five-year residency, and even citizenship in some cases, to foreigners who buy properties for more than 250,000 euros ($280,000).

While the program is offered in a number of European countries, Greece has the easiest requirements offered to people of means who want the ability to travel without passports in the European Union Schengen area.

It has also brought in almost one billion euros ($1.12 billion) to the cash-strapped economy, the government said.

Deputy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas, an un-elected member of the Cabinet who heads the program after running the country’s privatization fund, said the program has proved a boon for Greece during a critical time.

In its inaugural year, 2013, only 20 residence visas were issued but then they began soaring to 455 in 2014; 968 in 2015 and 1,550 in 2016.

Purchased property can be located anywhere on the Greek mainland or the islands, can be either residential or commercial and can either be a single or multiple buy as long as it surpasses the 250,000 euro threshold.

The application process takes approximately 40 days from the time of investment until the Residency Permit is issued. Meanwhile, even Greek-Americans with family in the country find it can take several years to get a residency permit, which sometimes comes at the cost of bribing an official to speed the process.

In addition to the real estate investment applicants will need a clear criminal record and medical insurance to cover any stay in Greece. There is no minimum stay requirement and the residency visa can be renewed after five years providing the investment is maintained.

Government, notary and lawyer fees for the property purchase and visa application will amount to around €15,000, about $16,800. There is also a Value Added Tax of 24 percent on new property purchases so a purchase of 250,000 euros means another 60,000 euros ($67,717) in taxes.

Qualifying family members include spouse and all children under 18. Children 18 and over can qualify if studying and dependent. The Greek residency program was recently extended to the parents of both investor and spouse.

Non-residents in Greece will pay tax on their income derived in Greece but not on income from outside of the country. Income tax starts at a rate of 22%. Rental income from property in Greece is taxed at rates, from 11% to 33%. Certain expenses are deductible from the gross income. Capital gains tax (CGT) is charged at 15% on property sales.

The residence permit allows the applicant to live in Greece but not to work. However the applicant can set up business in Greece.

Once granted the Greek residence permit allows freedom of travel throughout the EU Schengen zone.

Applicants who live in Greece can apply for citizenship and a passport after seven years. Once applicants have citizenship then they are free to dispose of their investment as further visa renewals are not necessary.

Because of the need to reside in the country the Greek golden visa program is considered a residency investment program rather than citizenship by investment. However the option for citizenship is there for those committed to living in Greece.

Applicants gain the right to live in Greece although there is no requirement to do this. With the residency card all family members will have freedom to travel to and throughout the EU Schengen visa zone with ease and without further visa applications. If the resident sells the property to another non-EU citizen, the Greek residency becomes transferable to the new investor.