Home Business Portugal just killed the most popular ‘golden visa’ in Europe. Here’s where wealthy Americans are flocking instead

Portugal just killed the most popular ‘golden visa’ in Europe. Here’s where wealthy Americans are flocking instead

Portugal just killed the most popular ‘golden visa’ in Europe. Here’s where wealthy Americans are flocking instead


For wealthy Americans looking for an expat lifestyle, Portugal—with its pristine beaches, low cost-of-living, and easy access to the U.S.—has long been the top destination. The southern European country has also been enticing because of rules that made it relatively easy to buy residency and and gain citizenship: For 500,000 euros, Americans could nab a so-called golden visa, and with it one of the most desirable status symbols for the world’s ultra rich. Lately, though, Portugal’s golden visa has lost some luster.

In 2024, a growing backlash from locals prompted the Portuguese government to narrow its visa program. That backlash came as the influx of wealthy foreigners contributed to a housing crisis, pricing locals out of not just buying, but renting as well. Foreign nationals can still invest and receive a visa, but doing so through residential real estate—previously the most popular avenue for gaining the visa—is no more.

“You had the perfect cocktail for people wanting to move there,” says Alex Ingrim, a financial advisor with global financial services firm Chase Buchanan who helps Americans move abroad, noting Portugal has long been a destination for wealthy Europeans. It’s also popular among South Americans and Chinese nationals: In the 10 years leading up to 2023, the number of foreign residents in Portugal grew 40%, to well over half a million people, with around 30,000 benefitting from the golden visa program since its inception. In total, the country has a population of around 10.3 million.

“During Covid, Americans found out. It’s such a small country, they don’t have the resources to cope with another 10,000 Americans a year coming in,” Ingrim says.

Now, wealthy Americans are expanding their scope beyond Portugal for other still-golden pastures. Here’s how the citizenship by investment landscape has changed in 2024.

Where the wealthy are moving

Some countries are, of course, more desirable than others. Citizenship anywhere in the European Union, for example, can get an individual easy access to other member state, one of the many benefits of investing in a visa for Portugal.

Available public data on golden visa applicants and investments is “scarce, scattered, and limited,” note Laure Brillaud and Maíra Martini of Transparency International EU, an anti-corruption agency. Some governments don’t publish investment migration statistics, or, if they do, the data is not uniform. Complicating matters further, investors use many different routes to secure their residence by investment status, and it’s also still early in the year—too soon for advisors and other immigration organizations to say with certainty where people will go instead of Portugal.

But Ingrim says more American clients are inquiring about France and Spain this year. Italy and Greece also have popular programs, according to investment migration consultancy Henley & Partner’s 2023 Wealth Report.

Spain is particularly attractive, Ingrim says, because it still offers a residency investment option via real estate, and many of the other benefits of Portugal. It’s also been a popular choice for years: Spain’s government recently reported that the number of Americans living in in the country grew by 13% from 2019 to 2021. Henley & Partners also reports that while Portugal was the top program for U.S. nationals last year, “since dropping the real-estate linked investment option, it has been surpassed so far in 2024 by the Spain program.”

“Classical countries have really high levels of consistent demand,” says Ingrim. “The culture, the cuisine, the fashion, the famous cities—there are people who really really love those places.”

Those countries aside, Malta has one of the most famous and long-standing golden passport programs globally. Buying citizenship in the tiny country off the coast of Italy means the investor (and their family, for an additional fee) can now work, travel, and study throughout the rest of the EU. That’s good for business prospects, as well as ease of travel.

That said, Malta’s program is one of the pricier options. It currently takes a minimum contribution of 600,000 euros to a development fund and 36 months of residency (an expedited route costs 750,000 euros and 12 months of residency), plus an additional 700,000 euro-real estate investment and 10,000 euro donation.

Countries like Turkey and Hungary are also becoming increasingly popular, though not necessarily for Americans. Chinese nationals are the biggest group of investors worldwide, and Turkey is one of the few places that will still naturalize wealthy Russians, according to Kristin Surak, an associate professor of political sociology at the London School of Economics, in The Golden Passport.

In the Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia, which offer citizenship by investment for far less than Malta, remain popular. For those investors, typically billionaires, ease of travel or a new market to start a business aren’t the biggest draws of gaining a second passport. Instead, the ultra-wealthy are looking to renounce their U.S. citizenship to save on taxes. As the Biden administration considers new wealth taxes, that trend will only continue, says David Lesperance, an international tax and immigration advisor who helps the elite move abroad.

“You’re spending a sunk cost of $150,000 to save millions in tax,” says Lesperance. “The benefits are substantial.”

How the wealthy buy citizenship

For almost all of the world’s population, citizenship is a legal status assigned at birth and held for a lifetime. Gaining citizenship in a different country is rare, typically gained through immigration, marriage, military service, or ancestry.

But that’s for most people. For the wealthy, different rules apply. Opportunities for naturalization abound—for the right price. You don’t even need step foot in some of the countries to take advantage, writes Surak.

Take Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel, who famously spent 12 days in New Zealand over the course of five years and came away with a massive property fit for the end of the world and naturalization papers. Thiel bypassed the typical immigration program, which typically takes years, as Surak writes. “As long as one has enough money and the right connections, it is possible to negotiate citizenship in many places.”

For the elite who don’t hail from Silicon Valley (or who have net worths in the millions rather than billions), there are citizenship by investment programs. Through these, a couple of years and a few hundred thousand dollars or so can yield citizenship in a new country, allowing the recipients to skirt taxes in the U.S. or simply have a place to flee should something apocalyptic transpire, says Lesperance. Political turmoil in the U.S. in recent years has made dual citizenship or at least dual residency even more appealing, Lesperance says.

Though only around 50,000 people are naturalized through these programs each year, according to Surak’s research, they have changed the economies of countries, shaking up housing markets and contributing, at times, sizable portions of GDP.

Each government lays out the rules for applicants, including a timeframe, investment options, and due diligence expectations, Surak writes. The individual will make a donation to an approved government development fund or another type of investment, often real estate. Then, the application will be reviewed by the government and a background check run, all within a few weeks, in some cases, to around a year.

Officially, these programs are a way for countries without many other avenues to riches (such as oil or gas) to enhance economic development and tap into foreign capital. But there are plenty of policies off the books, depending on the country. Though there might not be an official program established, sovereigns may grant residency or citizenship on a case-by-case basis for those who know the right people, as in the case of Thiel.

Citizenship by investment has existed since the 1980s, according to Surak, and it used to be primarily driven by island microstates like Malta or St. Kitts and Nevis. But it’s really taken off since the global financial crisis in 2008 and, more recently, been supercharged by the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly for Americans: Henley & Partners says applications from U.S. saw a “massive spike” of over 400% in 2020). Larger countries with larger economies—Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates—have been getting in the game.

While some countries look to expand their programs, Portugal is far from the only country that’s found not all that glitters is gold. Last year, Ireland also announced it would restrict its visa-by-investment arrangement, and the EU is pushing back against the programs generally, particularly in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as golden visas are particularly popular among the country’s oligarchs. That said, many EU countries offer other roads to naturalization, like citizenship by descent programs.

Are you an American living abroad? Fortune senior writer Alicia Adamczyk would like to interview you about your decision for a story. Email her at alicia.adamczyk@fortune.com to be included


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