What is an EU residence permit?
A residence permit is an authorisation of the national authority allowing a foreigner to stay in the country. Third-country nationals should apply for a residence permit to stay in any of the EU countries legally.
You must be physically in the country to apply for an EU residence permit. If you don’t have a visa to enter, you must first apply for it at the nearest consulate.
Residency can be temporary or permanent:
- temporary — the permit lasts for up to 1 or 5 years, depending on the country;
- permanent — the status is granted for a long or indefinite time. The cards are usually renewed every five years, and the procedure may be easier than getting a new temporary residence permit.
Temporary residence. In most cases, you will first get a temporary resident permit that you will need to renew every 1—5 years, depending on the country. For example, in Malta, the first residence permit card is usually issued for a year, and in Greece, residency-by-investment program participants get a 5-year permit.
Your spouse and children may accompany you, but each jurisdiction can have different requirements for official or common-law marriage and children — usually, they must be unmarried, principally dependent and under a certain age. Investors may include their relatives in residency applications, and other foreigners may use the opportunity for family reunification.
Residence permit holders must follow many rules: for example, to live in the country and continue to do business or work. It may be easier for permanent residence holders. After getting the status, there are fewer requirements for them, and they do not need to re-apply for residency approval when changing documents.
Permanent residence is a status one may obtain after a few years of residing in a country with a temporary residence permit. Most EU countries require one to live there legally for 5+ years to get PR.
There could be precise requirements about your physical presence in the country, e.g., spending at least six months each year. There are usually other requirements to qualify for permanent residence:
- having a place to stay,
- having the money to support yourself and your family,
- buying health insurance,
- being free of any criminal offences, and
- pass a language test.
Once you have the permanent residence permit, you can stay as long as you want in the country. The card needs to be renewed, and sometimes you must show that you have fulfilled certain conditions.
Moving to Europe
The main reason for relocation to Europe is living in a safer country. For instance, Portugal is in the top 10 of the 2022 Global Peace Index, ranking 6th of the safest countries in the world.
More than 400,000 British nationals live in Spain. They choose this country for an opportunity to live in a warm Mediterranean climate.
Malta is politically and socially stable, with few prominent security concerns and low levels of non-violent crime. Also, Malta has been considered the safest destination for people from the LGBTQI+ community.
The EU countries’ common immigration and visa rules apply to the following individuals looking to move to an EU country for longer than 90 days:
- highly qualified workers;
- non-EU nationals with job contracts in the EU countries’ companies and foreign businesses’ branches in their territory;
- seasonal workers;
- trainees and volunteers.
The rules also allow residents to bring family members to the country that granted them the status and apply for permanent residency after 5+ years of living there.
Foreigners who apply for residence permits by investment are not obligated to move to the country to maintain their status.
Among the best EU countries to move to:
- Malta boasts a mild climate, picturesque beaches and an expat‑friendly environment. The country’s law provides attractive tax incentives to yachts and superyachts’ owners alongside a 2—3 days registration process;
- Greece is considered the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, literature, major scientific and mathematical principles, theatre and the Olympic Games. It is also attractive because of its warm climate and the opportunity to live by the sea;
- Cyprus. Limassol is characterised as Cyprus’ investment magnet, especially in the property sector, as one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in Cyprus. The region has the fastest-growing property market and offers a very strong renting and selling power;
- Portugal offers affordable living, high quality of life, access to public healthcare, and an excellent climate. Portugal ranks sixth in the 2022 Global Peace Index, marking the country as a safe place to live.
Visa-free travelling with an EU residence permit
You do not need a visa to a particular country if you have its national residence permit. With an EU residence permit card, you can come to the country where you have residency status, even when borders are closed.
Residence permits in the Schengen states allow their holders to travel to other member countries for 90 days in 180 without visas.
Some countries are members of the European Union and not included in the Schengen Area. For example, if you have Cyprus residency, you need a Schengen visa to enter Malta, Greece, Portugal or Spain. There are 22 countries which are members of the EU and Schengen Area.
Education in European schools and universities
Higher education facilities in Europe offer world-class education with high-quality Master’s programmes in basically any field. Europe is home to nearly 5,000 higher education institutions, 17.5 million tertiary education students, 1.35 million people teaching in tertiary education and 1.17 million researchers.
To get a residence permit, a student must prove that they have sufficient means of subsistence, travel insurance and a return ticket. Also, documents from the school or university are required.
A temporary residence permit for higher education is usually valid for one year. It is renewable for further periods of one year or the duration of the study if it is less than a year. Also, you can work during the semester for up to 20 hours a week.
Business expansion to Europe
The EU is one of the most stable regions in the world in terms of the economy; this makes it an attractive place for businesses to invest. Business people may access several financial instruments, such as loans and venture capital, which can help enterprises launch and grow.
Malta has one of the most favourable conditions for European entrepreneurs and provides numerous benefits. There are government programs in operation that are designed to help develop entrepreneurship.
Portugal and Spain are among the European countries with the opportunity to open a company and get residency according to state investment programs. Also, one can buy shares in a Cypriot company for €300,000 and participate in a permanent residence permit application.
One of the possible ways to get residency in Portugal as an entrepreneur is by participating in the Startup Visa Program.
Azeeb has been managing a language school in Pakistan for seven years. In 2021 he came up with a digital platform that would run an online school, an application for self-study of languages, and a translator with artificial intelligence.
He decided to do business internationally and open a company in Europe. Azeeb contacted Immigrant Invest for advice. With the help of the company’s lawyers, Azeeb and four team members got Startup Visas in five months and Portugal residence permits six months later.
Profitable European real estate
Investors from all over the world buy or rent property in Europe. They use it as a second home and for renting out. It may be a profitable investment. For example, real estate in Malta has increased in price by 1.5 times over the past ten years. A 100 m² apartment that cost €192,000 in 2012 is now worth almost €300,000.
Investors buy property in Malta to save capital and, at the same time, obtain a residence permit in an EU country.
The Department of Lands and Research of Cyprus registered 10,781 sales contracts from January to October 2022. It is a third more than last year and the highest since 2008. Foreign buyers account for about 43% of transactions: they bought 4,640 objects out of 10,781. Most often, foreigners invested in real estate in Paphos and Limassol.
Sales of resort properties in Portugal increased by 20% in the first quarter of 2022. Such data are provided by the Portuguese statistical company Confidencial Imobiliário. Property prices have remained roughly the same, rising just 1.5% from January to March 2022, but year-on-year growth remains strong at +14.6%.
Tax incentives and benefits
Many non-EU nationals are attracted to Cyprus. There is no tax on global income and inheritance in Cyprus, and property and income tax rates are pretty low. The corporate tax rate is one of the lowest in Europe — 12.5%.
New Portuguese tax residents can obtain a 10-year special status of a Non-Habitual Resident and don’t pay taxes on global income in the country.
New Portuguese tax residents can obtain a 10-year tax status of a Non-Habitual Resident. Its holders:
- don’t pay taxes on global income, e.g. dividends and capital gains, if there’s a double taxation agreement in force between Portugal and the country where the income is generated;
- pay taxes on pensions from other jurisdictions under the flat rate of 10%;
- pay taxes on income earned in Portugal under the flat rate of 20%.
About 70 countries have double taxation agreements with Portugal, which benefits those who get income abroad.
Other EU countries also provide investors with special tax regimes. For example, in Malta, foreigners can pay 15% of the income earned outside Malta and received in the country and 0% on other foreign income if they participate in the Global Residence Programme.
How to get a European residence permit
European residency-by-investment programs may be a more comfortable way for HNWIs to obtain residency in Europe than the other paths.
Investors receive Golden Visas in EU countries if they purchase a property or invest in the state economy in another way. Golden Visas are issued as temporary residence permits, which can be renewed continuously for as long as you maintain your investment or until you become eligible for permanent residency.
Investors usually do not have to live in an EU state permanently to keep renewing their residence permits. However, most states will require moving there to apply for permanent residence or citizenship in future.
Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, and Malta are among the EU members with popular residency-by-investment programs.
Residency-by-investment programs in EU countries
|Investment program and status obtaining time||Conditions with minimal investment amount and fees|
|Portugal Golden Visa|
|Real estate purchase:|
€280,000+ or €400,000+ depending on the country’s region and the property’s age
Purchase of investment fund units:
Supporting arts and restoring cultural heritage
Investments in research activities
Opening a company and creating at least 10 jobs
|Spain Golden Visa|
|Real estate purchase|
Opening a deposit in a Spanish bank
Purchase of shares of Spanish companies
Purchase of units in investment funds
Purchase of government bonds
Business investmentsWithout a minimum investment amount
|Greece Golden Visa|
|Real estate purchase|
Renting a hotel or tourist residence for 10 years
Purchase of land plots for construction or agriculture
Timeshare for 10 years
Inheriting real estate or receiving it as a gift
Purchase of securities or opening a bank deposit
|Cyprus Permanent Residence|
|Purchase of residential or commercial property|
Shares of Cypriot companies
Purchase of securities
|Malta Permanent Residence Programme |
4—6 months for application processing
|Property rental for 5 years:|
Buying a property (alternative to renting):
€40,000 administration fee.
Having a capital of at least €500,000. Of these, €150,000 are liquid financial assets.
|Malta Global Residence Programme |
|Renting a property:|
Buying a property (alternative to renting):
The minimum annual tax is €15,000.
To receive citizenship in a particular EU state after participating in a residency-by-investment program, you must spend a specific amount of time living there. Requirements for citizenship by investment depend on each country’s legislation, but you usually look at about five to ten years of continuous residency.
Citizenship is granted for life. In the case of a residence permit, one should submit an application on time and get approval to extend the status.
An important EU citizenship benefit is that a person gains all the rights and freedoms like those of a natural-born citizen. They can travel abroad without risk of losing status and visit more than 170 countries visa-free.
Being an EU resident is beneficial due to several reasons
- The opportunity to move to Europe and have a plan B in case of an unstable situation in your home country.
- Freedom of movement through the EU — visa-free travel to the Schengen states for up to 90 days in 180.
- The opportunity to start a business and open accounts in international banks with a high level of financial security.
- Investors can make a profit from their investments. For example, renting out real estate earns at least 5% per annum.
- Tax incentives are accessible in some European jurisdictions.
- British and American schools and universities branches are situated in Europe. Residents can get an education in local universities without getting a student visa in advance.
- EU residents can get a passport after 5—10 years of living in the country of residency.
- If you obtain a European residence permit by investment, there is no requirement to live in the country. Spouses or partners, children, parents and sometimes even siblings can join the investor in the application process.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can apply for a residence permit in an EU country for different purposes, like studying or working. In such cases people need to enter a European university or sign a contract with an employer.
Investors can apply for an EU residence permit for real estate purchases or starting businesses. Family members can join them in the application process.
After 5+ years of residence, one may apply for a permanent residence permit.
No, a Schengen visa is an entry permit allowing a person to travel legally to the Schengen states. It’s the first step before submitting documents for a residence permit in Europe.
With EU permanent residence you can move to Europe and, in most cases, travel without visas to the Schengen states. Also, studying, running a business and working in the chosen country are usually possible.
You can travel without a visa only to Schangen states, if your country of residence is a part of it. If your country of residence is not a member of the Schengen Area, you need to apply for a visa before travelling.
€250,000 is the minimum investment amount under Portugal Golden Visa Program. This amount is for supporting cultural projects. The minimum investment in real estate is €280,000, and it is higher for other popular options.
The difference between citizenship and residency is that citizenship is granted for life. In the case of a residence permit, the failure to submit documents to maintain status or non-compliance with the conditions is fraught with status deprivation. Also, EU countries’ citizens have more rights than residents in the country of citizenship and abroad.