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Portugal is Calling Entrepreneurs

Just last month, I wrote an article asking the question: Is Portugal Becoming Anti-Expat?

My take, at that time, was that Portugal still had many visa options available and was definitely still open to expats. But, with the removal of the Golden Visa real estate investment option and elimination of the NHR tax regime, they were no longer offering the same sweetheart deal as before.

The reason for these changes were two-fold:

  • These programs had been so successful at drawing investment into the country that the government felt they were no longer required in order to attract it, and
  • The government and many native Portuguese people felt that the real estate investment option was contributing to housing inflation and lack of housing supply.

Fair enough on both counts. But the absence of these programs left somewhat of a vacuum. The discontinuation of the NHR tax regime made a move to Portugal substantially less tax-friendly for expats and, by axing the popular real estate investment option, the Golden Visa was now more expensive and ultimately less attractive for expats.

Thankfully, Portugal did not choose to rest on its laurels and do nothing. Rather, they’ve come up with some new strategies to attract expat investment, specifically aimed at professionals and entrepreneurs. They include the HQA Visa, the “NHR 2.0” tax regime, and an expedited countdown to citizenship.

HQA Visa – An Expedited Pathway for Entrepreneurs

Portugal is Calling Entrepreneurs

The HQA Visa for Highly Qualified Activities is a fast-track visa option for business professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and SMEs. It’s also a much lower-cost option than the Golden Visa and is aimed at professionals who are willing to invest in a startup business concept. It’s been around since 2019, but is seeing some renewed (and well-deserved!) interest since the Golden Visa changes of 2023. Here are all the pertinent details:

Active and Passive Options

As an Active participant, you will be involved in a business incubation program, where you work in partnership with a local Portuguese university and set up a company in Portugal. What’s really crazy about this program is that you don’t have to come in with a business idea. They are looking at the quality of the applicant themselves, and the expertise they bring to the table to provide strategic direction and contribute to business growth.

If you aren’t wanting to be involved in the day-to-day operations but are still wanting to take part, you have the option to invest in eligible projects to qualify for the HQA Visa. Keep in mind that the HQA Visa is not meant to be just a cheap way to get residency in Portugal. You need to be entrepreneurially-minded, have a professional background and, obviously, be willing to invest in a startup business Portugal.

Required Investment

The required investment in this program comes in at US$175,000. This is significantly cheaper than all Golden Visa options.

Fast-Track Timelines

By law, the government is required to either approve or deny your application within 30 days. If everything goes smoothly, you could have your residence permit within 3 months.

Your first residency permit is for two years, which you can extend for another three years. After five years, you have the option to apply for permanent residency and citizenship.

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  • Cost-effective
  • Family-inclusive
  • Visa-free European travel
  • Low physical presence requirement
  • Quick application decision within 30-days
  • Fully refundable fees if visa application is declined
  • Reduced tax rates under the new NHR regime (see next section)

The HQA Visa strikes a nice balance between Portugal’s other visa options. If you are looking for many of the benefits of the Golden Visa with a smaller investment, definitely check this one out. Want to learn more about the HQA Visa option? Here are some helpful resources you can check out:

New NHR 2.0 Tax Regime

Portugal is Calling Entrepreneurs

While the old NHR tax regime may have retired, Portugal’s new NHR tax regime (which some refer to as NHR 2.0) will still allow you to enjoy some pretty great tax benefits, including:

  • 20% flat tax rate on all Portuguese-sourced income for up to 10 years
  • Tax exemption on other foreign-sourced income for up to 10 years
  • 50% of professional income earnings exempt from tax for up to five years

In addition to higher (although still favorable) tax rates, the criteria to qualify for the new NHR tax regime has also been changed. Only individuals with the following qualifications are eligible NHR 2.0:

  • Teaching in higher education and scientific research, including scientific employment in entities, structures, and networks within the Portuguese science and technology system, as well as positions on the governing bodies of entities recognised as technology and innovation centres;
  • Qualified jobs within the scope of ‘contractual benefits towards productive investment’, as defined in Chapter II of the Portuguese Investment Tax Code;
  • Qualified jobs recognised by AICEP Portugal Global – Trade & Investment Agency or by IAPMEI – Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation as being relevant to the national economy, particularly in the context of attracting productive investment;
  • Research and development personnel whose costs are eligible for the purposes of the tax incentive system for research and business development, as defined in the Investment Tax Code;
  • Employment in entities certified as start-ups under the Portuguese Start-Up Law;
  • Activities carried out by tax residents in the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira, as specified by regional decree.

It is clear that the new NHR 2.0 tax regime, alongside the HQA Visa, is very much geared towards fulfilling Portugal’s goal of specifically attracting entrepreneurs and professionals.

Citizenship Countdown Starts from Application Date

Portugal is Calling Entrepreneurs

Bureaucracy can often get in the way when it comes to completing residency and citizenship processes in a timely fashion. It can add months and even years on to your timeline depending on how backed up or just plain inefficient government is at processing applications.

That is why I love this recent move Portugal made to allow residents to start counting down their five years to citizenship from the date they apply for residency, rather than the date they receive approval.

Why did they do this? Because they got so backed up, the time between residence application and approval had stretched to two or more years! The government, recognizing this was massively extending the time to citizenship, through no fault of the applicant, amended the law this month with a new rule making this change.

It is refreshing to see a government recognize where it’s coming up short and making the appropriate changes to make things right. This is a massive win for expats considering Portugal as they get to enjoy a condensed timeline to citizenship, as well as for the Portuguese government, as it will definitely attract more investment to the region with this change.

Keep Portugal on Your Radar!

Portugal is Calling Entrepreneurs

While the changes made to Portugal’s Golden Visa and NHR tax regimes in 2023 looked to be a severe blow to the country’s competitiveness for expats, I think it is pretty clear that the government is still working hard to attract foreign investment and high-quality immigration to Portugal.

With the HQA Visa, the Golden Visa, and the many other available visa programs, there is truly something available for everyone. And, if you are able to qualify under the new NHR 2.0 tax regime, you can still get some excellent tax benefits. The cherry on top of the sundae is the expedited countdown to citizenship. Who knew there could be benefits to government incompetence? Perhaps they should get on the phone with the Canadian government and teach them a few things!

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LisaLisa is an aspiring expat from Canada who is working to put together her Plan B with a young family in tow. She is excited to pair her lifelong love of writing with her passion for offshore strategies and outside-the box investments in her weekly articles for Escape Artist readers. Follow this “rebel with a cause” as she walks the path less traveled and shares her experiences along the way.
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