In this article, we’ll discuss the Portugal HQA visa – an interesting pathway to Portuguese citizenship for entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals.
We’ll look at the key benefits of the HQA visa, how it compares to other popular Portugal residency options, and the requirements and process involved in getting it.
What is the Portugal HQA Visa?
Introduced in 2019, the Portugal HQA visa is aimed at entrepreneurial HNWIs ready to undertake a “Highly Qualified Activity” within Portugal.
The HQA program combines two key components: 1) setting up a business in Portugal, and 2) making an investment in high-value research and development activities at one of Portugal’s universities.
Key benefits of the Portugal HQA Visa
Faster application timeline
The HQA visa typically has a faster processing timeline than either the D7 visa or the Portugal Golden Visa. Some applicants have been approved in only 30 days. That means you can get your residency permit in your hand sooner, and start the clock ticking towards citizenship.
Faster journey to citizenship
The date of your first residency permit is the date your five-year citizenship timeline begins. So any delay in issuing that residency permit means that your citizenship timeline becomes even longer. That’s why the HQA visa is a great choice for those who want to fast-track their journey to a Portuguese passport.
Access to the Schengen zone
As a Portugal residency permit holder, you’ll be entitled to travel freely as a tourist around the Schengen zone countries.
Lower overall cost
The Portugal HQA visa costs only €175,000, while the cheapest (viable) Golden Visa option is a minimum of €280,000 for the low-density rehabilitation real estate investment route. Suitable properties in these rural areas of Portugal can take a lot of time to locate, which holds up your application and subsequent timeline to citizenship.
What’s more, real estate purchase in Portugal involves added costs, such as transfer tax, municipal tax, capital gains tax when you eventually sell, and tax on any rental income that you make along the way.
Low minimum stay
By getting Portugal residency via an HQA visa, you can enjoy low minimum stay requirements comparable to those of the Golden Visa (average of 7 days per year) – great if you need to maintain a life outside of Portugal, or just haven’t yet made up your mind about relocating.
Flexible program requirements
Although the HQA visa is technically a start-up visa, it doesn’t have the same performance and job creation criteria as similar entrepreneur visas. There’s no actual requirement to succeed with your start-up, although we recommend aiming to do so if you want to see return on your HQA visa investment. But the option is also there for the HQA visa to function as a largely passive residency-by-investment route.
No-risk refund policy
The final major benefit of the HQA visa is its reassuring no risk refund policy. Many people ask us, “what happens to my investment if the visa is refused?” That’s no longer a concern with the HQA. Your entire investment will be refunded in the (unlikely) event your visa application is rejected.
Establish an EU business presence
The HQA Visa incubation program gives you the opportunity to establish a track record of doing business in the EU. If your business idea generates intellectual property, this can be patented and will become a valuable asset. Having a genuine business will also be invaluable for proving ‘ties to Portugal’, when applying for citizenship.
How does the Portugal HQA Visa compare to other options?
We see the Portugal HQA visa as a middle ground between the Golden Visa and the D7 visa. Let’s take a look at why.
Portugal HQA Visa vs D7 Visa
The D7 visa is an excellent fit for anyone who wants to move full-time to Portugal. For many people, especially retirees, relocating to Portugal is an easy decision to make.
What’s more, the D7 visa’s low passive income requirements make it an accessible option for a wide range of people.
Because you’re living in full time in Portugal, maintaining your residency status with the D7 visa requires you to become a Portugal tax resident.
That means you’ll need to declare your worldwide income each year to Portugal. However, you may be eligible for Portugal’s non-habitual residency (NHR) scheme, meaning you don’t necessarily need to pay Portuguese taxes.
Maintaining tax residency also means spending a significant number of days per year in Portugal. We typically recommend that D7 residents avoid being out of the country more than six months consecutively, or eight months non-consecutively. For those wishing to make Portugal their main home, this typically won’t be a problem. But if you need more flexibility, the D7 visa may not suit you.
In contrast, the Portugal HQA visa allows individuals a lot more flexibility than the D7. In fact, the minimum stay requirements of the HQA Visa are comparable to those of the Golden Visa – just 7 days per year.
So if you haven’t yet decided whether to relocate to Portugal, but still want to start the clock ticking toward citizenship, then the HQA visa allows you to get your foot in the door fast and decide later.
Portugal HQA Visa vs Golden Visa
The Portugal Golden Visa is well known for providing its holders with maximum flexibility, in return for their significant investment in Portugal.
With the Golden Visa, you only need to spend a minimum of seven days per year physically in Portugal. You can also choose whether or not to become tax resident, allowing you to take advantage of the NHR scheme if it works for your worldwide income situation.
Golden Visa investments can still provide healthy returns – particularly with the investment funds route, or strategic property investment in prime locations such as Madeira.
Some people believe that it’s now harder to generate healthy returns on real estate investments, due to the 2022 removal of Lisbon, Porto, and much of the Algarve from the Golden Visa scheme. But that’s not necessarily the case if you know where to invest.
Getting your Golden Visa by investing in a Portuguese fund is a smooth and hands-off option. It’s also quick to get started because you don’t need to have a property deed in hand in order to apply for the visa. Your investment will be managed by professional fund managers, allowing you to move on with life without worry.
The biggest downside to getting residency via the Portugal Golden Visa program is the high minimum thresholds involved. What’s more, the Portuguese government has now increased the thresholds of several Golden Visa routes, as of January 2022.
The investment funds route in particular has seen an increase from €350,000 to €500,000. In real estate, there are still several affordable options (€280,000 and €350,000), but these are either in restricted low-density locations or with more complicated eligibility criteria involving renovation.
In contrast, the Portugal HQA visa beats the Golden Visa on costs. It’s a one time fee of €175,000, with the potential to make returns on your money through building a successful startup. Even if you don’t manage to do that, you can still get an easy start on the citizenship pathway, at a lower overall cost than the Golden Visa.
What are the downsides?
The major downside of the HQA Visa is that it’s not an easy route to generate a return on investment.
If your start-up doesn’t make money, then you won’t make any returns. Your initial €175,000 fee will end up being a sunk cost.
In contrast, both Golden Visa investment funds and real estate, chosen wisely, still have the potential to generate healthy returns.
Would you rather have your investment managed by a professional? Or would you rather take the traditional route of renting out real estate?
Or, would you rather put your faith in your ability to grow a successful startup? With all that said, perhaps you just want a route to Portuguese citizenship that balances cost with convenience.
In that latter case, the HQA visa would be very interesting.
Who is the Portugal HQA visa a good fit for?
Portugal’s HQA visa is an excellent option for high net worth individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Perhaps you’ve already got a successful business and want to expand into Europe. The Portugal HQA visa program offers the perfect opportunity to do that, while also building up the years required to be eligible for an EU passport.
It’s also great for anyone who wants to launch a research-focused start-up in one of Europe’s hottest markets, full of affordable talent.
I could also envisage the Portugal HQA visa being appealing for someone from an academic background with the desire to move into entrepreneurship, for example to commercialise their academic research.
The Portugal HQA visa incubation process
Step 1 – Sign a service agreement with the business incubator.
Step 2 – Deposit the incubator fee (€175,000) into a Portuguese bank account.
Step 3 – Get matched with a Portuguese university that’s ready to take on your proposed research project. Your fee will be used to fund the project.
Step 4 – Get an endorsement from the university, necessary to apply for the Portugal HQA visa.
Step 5 – Get your visa approved and collect your residency permit
Step 6 – Begin your research project with a three-year business incubation period.
Step 7 – Renew your residency permit after the first two years.
Step 8 – Continue work on the research project until you reach the five year mark.
Step 9 – At the five year mark, submit your application for Portuguese citizenship (don’t forget to take the Portuguese language exam along the way!).
Frequently asked questions about the Portugal HQA Visa
Is the Portugal HQA visa a pathway to citizenship?
Do I need to become Portugal tax resident with the HQA visa?
No, but you can choose to.
Can I access the NHR program with the HQA visa?
Yes, but only if you first become a Portugal tax resident. That means having a Portuguese address and spending the majority of your time in-country.
Do I need a PhD to get the HQA visa?
The Portugal HQA visa is a compelling way to start your journey to Portuguese citizenship, offering the same flexibility as a Golden Visa at a much lower investment threshold. However, achieving any returns on your investment depends on your own efforts to create a successful business. With the Golden Visa, especially the investment funds option, you can simply “set and forget” your investment while still counting up the years towards citizenship.
Check out our detailed Portugal Golden Visa guide.