Portugal HQA Visa: Faster, Cheaper Golden Visa Alternative [August 2023]

portugal hqa visa

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In this article, we’ll discuss the Portugal HQA visa – one of Portugal’s best pathways to citizenship for entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals (especially in light of recent Golden Visa changes)

We’ll look at the major 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. 

You may also hear this visa referred to as the Portugal tech visa, entrepreneur visa, or the D3 visa.

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

NOT affected by changes to the Golden Visa program

Portugal’s government is planning major changes to its popular Golden Visa program, including a proposal to remove the most popular real estate investment routes (although nothing has changed at the time of writing, August 2023).

The good news is – the HQA Visa is controlled under entirely different legislation, so it’s nothing to do with the Golden Visa.

Faster application timeline 

The HQA visa is considered a ‘high priority permit’, so it has a much faster decision timeline than either the D7 visa or the Portugal Golden Visa. In fact, according to Portuguese legislation, the authorities are required to make a decision on every HQA visa application within a 30 day window.

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 €250,000 for investment in cultural production.

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. 

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.

Need more info on the HQA visa?

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. However, real estate related investment routes have now been completely removed from the program.

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.

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 investment through building a successful startup.

Even if you don’t manage to do that, you can still get an easy and fast start on your Portuguese citizenship pathway, at a far 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.

Need more info on the HQA visa?

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!).

Renewing your Portugal HQA Visa

Your HQA Visa can be renewed on the basis of two justifications:

  1. Renewal #1 – based on the R&D project 
  2. Renewal #2 – based on business continuation

For the first three years, your HQA residency permit renewals will be handled by the concierge team as part of the investment fee.

After three years, you can engage the same team to handle your renewals for an additional fee. Alternatively, you can hire your own lawyer, or handle the renewal process on your own.

Once you reach the five-year mark of residency, you can apply for either Portuguese permanent residency or Portuguese citizenship.

Most of the documents listed below are the standard ones required for renewal of any type of residency.

You’ll also need to include several specific ones about your business activity and tax filings.

All HQA renewals are submitted online.

Documents for renewal #1 (based on the R&D project)

  • Two recent, identical photographs, in color with blank background, and easily identifiable (only for appointments at Odivelas, Aveiro or Braga SEF bureau)
  • Residence Title valid, or expired in the previous 6 months
  • Passport or any other valid travel document
  • Evidence of sufficient means of subsistence, as per the provisions of Order Number 1563/2007, of 11/12
  • Evidence that the applicant has adequate accommodation
  • Permission for SEF to check Portuguese criminal record
  • Document proving the applicant’s tax situation
  • Evidence of the regular situation within social security (self-employed persons/service providers, when exempted, must also present a certificate proving the exemption)
  • Contract for services; OR
  • Declaration of the research centre, teaching or vocational training institution or other public or private entity, namely companies, confirming the continuity of services rendered

Source: SEF

Documents for renewal #2 (based on business continuation)

  • Two recent, identical photographs, in color with blank background, and easily identifiable (only for appointments at Odivelas, Aveiro or Braga SEF bureau)
  • Residence Title valid, or expired in the previous 6 months
  • Passport or any other valid travel document
  • Evidence of sufficient means of subsistence, as per the provisions of Order number 1563/2007, of 11/12, usually by the submission of the income statement/IRS notice statement
  • Evidence that the applicant has adequate accommodation
  • Permission for SEF to check Portuguese criminal record
  • Document proving the applicant’s tax situation
  • Evidence of the regular situation within social security
  • For employed workers: Declaration issued by the employer confirming the existence of an employment relationship or new labour contract
  • For self-employed workers: Income statement, service rendering contract or signed form for checking the Income Tax Declaration with the Inland Revenue Authorities, in order to produce evidence of business continuation

Source: SEF

FAQs: Portugal HQA Visa

Is the Portugal HQA visa a pathway to Portuguese citizenship?

Yes, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship after being resident in Portugal for five years with the HQA visa.

Do I need to become Portugal tax resident with the HQA visa?

No, but you can if you want 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?

No, you don’t need a PhD to get the HQA visa. The minimum requirement is a college degree/bachelors degree along with 5 years experience in the field.

Does the business need to succeed?

No, this is not a requirement to maintain your residency status. The Portuguese government won’t check on the performance of your business. Whether or not it succeeds and brings you a return on your investment is entirely up to you.

How do I renew my HQA Visa status?

Visa renewals are handled as part of the initial fee for the first three years. For the remaining two years until you become eligible for citizenship, you can engage a lawyer or HQA concierge service to assist you, or handle the renewal yourself.

Can I bring my family to Portugal with the HQA Visa

Yes, your family members are included in the HQA visa investment fee. You can bring your spouse or long-term partner, dependent children and parents (as long as they are financially dependent and/or over 65 years of age).

Can I get the HQA Visa in Madeira?

Yes, it’s possible to get the HQA visa in Madeira. The research project can be based at any university, but you could choose to incorporate the company in Madeira to access the tax benefits of the special economic zone (subject to meeting specific requirements). Once you have residency, you could choose to live in Madeira if you wish.

What happens if my HQA Visa application is rejected?

In the event that your HQA Visa is rejected, you will receive a full refund of the entire €175,000 fee. This makes the HQA Visa an extremely safe option.


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.

You also have the added security of a guaranteed refund of your whole investment if your HQA visa application is unsuccessful.

However, achieving any returns on your investment depends on your own efforts to create a successful business.

In contrast, with the Golden Visa, especially the investment funds route, you have a higher chance of achieving returns. You can simply “set and forget” your investment while counting up the years towards Portuguese citizenship.

Whichever pathway you choose, we’re here to help.

Need more info on the HQA visa?

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