The Portugal HQA visa and Golden Visa are two of Europe’s best routes to residency and EU citizenship. But which one is really best for you?
In this detailed guide, we compare these two popular residency routes in 12 key areas – so you can make an informed decision.
Here’s the bottom line in brief:
- The HQA visa is best if you’re an entrepreneur or experienced professional who can invest €175,000 in a research-driven startup (with full incubator support) but lack sufficient capital for the Golden Visa. Interested? Talk to our HQA specialists now!
- The Golden Visa is best if you want a hands-off approach, have at least €500,000 available to invest, and can place that capital into a qualified Portuguese investment fund. Interested? Read our full Golden Visa funds guide here.
Keep reading for a full breakdown of each residency visa’s unique features and how they compare to each other.
Portugal HQA Visa vs Golden Visa: Full 12 Point Comparison
#1. Minimum Investment Threshold
For the HQA application, you’ll need a minimum investment of €175,000. This goes towards funding the new company, covering incubator support fees, and general business expenses. You can expense the full amount from your existing company.
For the Golden Visa, you’ll need a minimum investment of €500,000. This must come from your personal capital and can’t include any form of loan. After the recent program changes, investing in funds is the best and easiest Golden Visa route.
#2. Potential For Returns
With the HQA, your potential for return on investment depends entirely on whether your startup is successful.
You can decide whether to be hands-on and take it forward to the best of your ability. Or you can take a hands-off approach and treat the €175K as a sunk cost of getting EU citizenship. The choice is yours.
With the Golden Visa, experienced fund managers will manage your investment on your behalf. Aligned incentives (such as performance fees) mean they will do everything they can to maximize the value of your returns.
With the Golden Visa funds route, you get a “set and forget” pathway to citizenship, with the potential for high returns (this varies by fund).
#3. Application Processing Timeline
The HQA is considered a priority permit, so it has a faster processing timeline than the typical Golden Visa. You can expect your application to be approved within a 30 to 60-day window.
In contrast, Golden Visa applications have been experiencing delays in recent months. This is partly due to changes in the agency that handles these applications (SEF/AIMA).
Unfortunately, some Golden Visa applicants have been waiting over six months for a decision on the application. For faster results, we recommend you choose the HQA route instead.
#4. Typical Processing Costs
Your HQA investment includes processing and legal costs for your initial application. When you need to renew your residency permit after three years, you can either hire a lawyer from the incubator, hire your own lawyer, or submit the renewal request yourself.
The Golden Visa processing costs are as follows:
- Processing: €533 for the main applicant + €83.30 per dependent (paid at the start and each renewal)
- Application fee (paid at the start): €5,325 per applicant
- Renewal fee (per renewal): €2,663 per applicant
Lawyers typically charge between €6,000 and €10,000 to handle your application. You should also consider any subscription fees for whichever fund you choose to invest in. Overall, the Golden Visa has higher processing costs than the HQA.
#5. Physical Stay Requirements
The HQA has no physical stay requirements at all. Legislators recognize that foreign entrepreneurs need full flexibility to run their businesses, so there’s an exemption in place for HQA visa holders.
For the Golden Visa, there’s a small minimum stay requirement of seven days in the first year. Then it’s 14 days in subsequent years until you reach the five-year mark when you can apply for citizenship. For most people, this won’t be a deal breaker.
#6. Tax Residency Requirements
Because of its extreme flexibility, the HQA Visa lets you choose whether to become a tax resident of Portugal. You can decide if it makes more sense to pay taxes in Portugal or continue paying them in your current country of residence.
🚨 Pro Tip: As Portugal has now closed its NHR tax program, it may no longer be worth becoming a tax resident. We recommend seeking professional advice on your tax situation before planning any moves.
The Golden Visa offers the same flexibility as the HQA Visa, giving you full control over your tax residency status. It’s not necessary to live in Portugal to maintain your residency rights.
#7. Level of Involvement
You can choose your level of involvement in the business. The process starts when you enter a business incubator, which will match you with a university and help you develop a project.
Keep in mind that any return on your initial investment depends on the success of your startup. There are no performance requirements to maintain your residency status, so it’s entirely possible to just “set and forget” until you reach citizenship.
The Golden Visa funds route is a professionally managed setup, where you place your capital in a qualified investment fund. Experienced fund managers will take care of it on your behalf, with an incentive to maximize your returns.
The Golden Visa funds route is very much a set-and-forget option, which can also generate healthy returns.
#8. Citizenship Timeline
The citizenship timeline is five years for HQA visa holders.
The citizenship timeline is also five years for Golden Visa holders. There’s no difference between the two.
#9. Safety and Security
Thanks to the recent uncertainty around the Golden Visa program, you may feel nervous about investing in Portugal.
With the HQA Visa route, you don’t have to worry. The government has a strong incentive to support investment programs like the HQA that encourage entrepreneurship, support research and development, and create new jobs in the country.
Although the Golden Visa is still operational, it’s more politically controversial than the HQA visa. Portuguese media and politicians have blamed the Golden Visa program for driving up housing costs in the country.
That’s why the program may be subject to further changes on political whims. However, Portugal is typically reliable when it comes to “grandfathering in” those on existing programs.
#10. Bringing Family
As an HQA Visa holder, you can bring your family members to Portugal without making a further investment. Eligible family members include your spouse or legal partner, your dependent children, and dependent parents/those over 65.
Your Golden Visa also allows you to bring family members to Portugal, granting them the same residency rights. Eligible family members are the same as those listed for the HQA route.
#11. Level of Uncertainty
The HQA Visa has a low level of uncertainty because it’s well-regarded politically and economically.
In contrast, the Golden Visa has a higher level of uncertainty, thanks to its status as a political hot potato.
#12. Language Requirements For Citizenship
With the HQA, you’ll need to show proof of having reached level A2 in Portuguese language before applying for citizenship.
The Golden Visa has the same language requirements for citizenship: A2 level. In both cases, you can either sit the CIPLE exam or take a government-approved language course.
Portugal HQA Visa vs Golden Visa: Which One Should You Choose?
The Portugal HQA visa and Golden Visa offer two solid pathways to EU residency and citizenship. But they cater to different types of applicants.
The HQA visa is ideal if you’re an entrepreneur looking to actively participate in a Portuguese startup.
With full incubator support, it offers more flexibility and faster processing times compared to the Golden Visa. And your involvement in an innovative new business helps strengthen Portugal’s strategic priorities.
On the other hand, the Golden Visa remains a wise choice if you simply want to make a hands-off €500K+ investment in a qualified investment fund, run by experienced fund managers.
Despite some political uncertainty, it still provides a straightforward route to residency and citizenship within 5 years. And you may also see good returns, depending on the fund’s performance.
So in deciding between these two options, first examine your personal circumstances and priorities. Are you willing and able to commit to an active business venture? Or would you prefer a more passive investment route?
If you have the capital available, the Golden Visa route may be easiest due to its turnkey, set-it-and-forget nature. But more hands-on entrepreneurs with a lower budget can thrive on the HQA visa by participating in Portugal’s startup ecosystem.
Either way, both the HQA visa and Golden Visa provide excellent pathways to residency and citizenship in business-friendly Portugal.