Residence- and citizenship-by-investment (RBI and CBI) programmes have become very familiar over the past few years to South Africans who don’t have ancestral ties to other countries but are keen to gain residency or citizenship in a European country, and access to visa-free travel anywhere in the EU.
“These ‘golden visa’ schemes are, however, beyond the means of most South Africans, which is why we are excited about the other, much more affordable residency options that are now opening up around the world,” said Leana Nel, head of international sales and relocations for the Chas Everitt group.
The most popular are those generally termed ‘retirement visas’, which are aimed at people who have a certified monthly pension or annuity income sufficient to live on in the country of their choice.
They allow applicants to continue to work remotely and, unlike the current RBI and CBI schemes, they do not require applicants to buy real estate.
“This makes them accessible to many more people, and the timing couldn’t be better, because the European Union Commission on Citizenship is determined to ensure that all CBI programmes are completely phased out by 2025, and that stringent new rules are put in place for countries that continue to offer the RBI schemes,” said Nel.
“The Commission has become increasingly worried about the opportunities that visa-free travel around the EU creates for money laundering, tax fraud and various other serious crimes.”
Nel said the top three choices currently for South Africans who want to obtain permanent residency by applying for a ‘retirement visa’ are Mauritius, Portugal and Panama, and that the basic requirements for obtaining permanent residence in these countries are as follows:
Mauritius offers a 10-year occupation or residence permit to ‘retired non-citizens’ over the age of 50 who are able to open a Mauritian bank account and make an initial deposit of $1,500 (R23,618), followed by $1,500 a month or $18,000 (R283,358) a year for the duration of the permit. Evidence of these deposits has to be presented to the authorities every year.
After three years, those who hold one of these occupation or residence permits can apply for a 20-year permanent residence permit. No purchase of property is necessary to obtain the initial retired non-resident occupation permit, and the spouse, parents and dependent children under-24 of permit holders can be included.
Retired non-citizen permit holders can also invest in a business in Mauritius although they cannot manage the business, be employed by it, or draw a salary. There is no restriction on remote work.
Portugal offers the D7 residency visa to retirees or income holders who want to live in Portugal and have sufficient passive foreign income to qualify.
Applicants need to open a Portuguese bank account and be able to deposit a minimum of €8,460 (R142,085) a year per individual or €12,690 a year per couple to qualify for the visa. They can buy property in Portugal if they wish but this is not necessary initially as long as they also have a rental agreement for at least 12 months.
After this, their application will need to be considered by the Portuguese Consulate before they are granted a four-month visa to visit Portugal and finalise the residency process with the immigration authorities.
The D7 visa confers non-habitual resident status, which includes exemption from tax on certain foreign income, and access to Portugal’s public health system. In addition, those with a D7 visa can after five years apply for citizenship or a Portuguese permanent residency permit valid for 10 years.
Family reunification can be carried out in terms of this visa, but requires an additional application and approval by the immigration authorities in Portugal.
Panama offers the ‘pensionado visa’ to applicants who have a guaranteed income for life of at least $1,000 (R15,735) a month, to be deposited into a Panama bank account.
This can be a state pension, or a certified annuity from a bank, business or insurance company that has been accepted by the Panama Consulate.
Spouses and dependent children can be included in this visa, at an additional monthly income requirement of $250 per person. Children aged 18 to 25, however, need to be full-time students to qualify as dependents.
Once approved for a pensionado visa, applicants will immediately be issued with a temporary residence card and then, four to six months later, a permanent residence card that is valid for life and gives them access to Panama’s public health system, as well as many other pensioners’ benefits and discounts.