Home Alternatives to the Golden Visa for expats in Spain

Alternatives to the Golden Visa for expats in Spain

Posted by on May 7th, 2024.

As Spain’s government begins the process of eliminating the popular golden visa, what are the options for expats looking to relocate there? This article will consider the best ways to obtain residency in the desirable European country, with advice on how to navigate Spain’s immigration system.

Eleven years of the Golden Visa

Golden visas were first introduced by Spain in 2013, in an attempt to boost the country’s economy. The visa scheme stipulated that foreign investors who spent €500,000 on real estate were entitled to Spanish residency, incentivizing Britons and other international citizens craving sunny beaches and a laid-back lifestyle.

However, the golden visa has faced criticism in recent years as the European Commission has raised concerns of money laundering and tax evasion. Moreover, foreign investment has been accused of forcing house prices to exclusionary heights. Iñigo Errejón, leader of the Spanish left-wing political party Más País told News and Online Radio Cadena SER:

‘How easy it is for some gentlemen to come and request a residence permit and buy a house with half a million euros. It looks almost colonial…. This class advantage that is given to some [is] bad for transparency and for containing housing prices.’

Such sentiment, alongside rising property prices in Barcelona, Málaga, Alicante, Valencia, Madrid and Palma de Mallorca is putting pressure upon Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Earlier this month, Sánchez announced that his cabinet would take the first steps towards scrapping the visas, adding: ‘We will take the necessary measures to ensure that housing is a right and not just a speculative business.’ There are hopes that this action will assuage city resident’s anger over inflated housing costs.

What does it mean?

According to the official Schengen visa news page, only 136 golden visas were issued in Spain in 2022: 72% lower than the number issued the previous year. Declining demand for the golden visa is evident and supports the case for prioritising alternative visa options.

Complicating matters, however, is the breadth of residency alternatives available: the Citizens Advice Bureau (Spain) cites 40 types of residency authorisation options. Given the current overlap in criteria and outcome for a variety of different permits, the Spanish government is working to streamline the immigration process as part of a reform to be initiated this year.

In the interim, however, residency options can be categorised according to whether applicants are working, whether employment is based out of necessity in Spain, whether they have family connections in the country, whether they intend to invest in the Spanish economy and whether they’re seeking full citizenship status.

Popular residency alternatives

An important distinction to be clarified is that as it stands, the residency options differ for EU and non-EU citizens.

The termination of the golden visa is unlikely to affect those from another EU country looking to move to Spain, as EU citizens do not require a visa. Instead, such applicants should apply for a ‘certificado de registro de la Unión Europea’, or European Union residence permit, which does not expire and will allow the holder to reside in Spain indefinitely.

For non-EU citizens, however, a visa is the most common option – unless citizenship is the end goal. The naturalisation process provides many advantages, but generally required applicants to renounce citizenship elsewhere.

The most popular – and most appropriate – visas for expats include the student visa, the business visa, the non-lucrative visa; the family member of an EU citizen visa, the family regrouping visa, and the digital nomad or remote worker visa.

Student visa

As is implied by the title, a student visa may be granted to anyone studying or conducting research in Spain. Application criteria apply, including enrolment on an educational programme and proof of funds; however, this visa is not age restricted and could be a consideration for retiree expats wanting to return to education.

Business visa

Under the umbrella of the business visa are the entrepreneur visa and the tourist visa. Both are suitable for the purpose of conducting business in Spain, although the entrepreneur visa has limited eligibility criteria, and the business tourist visa only allows holders to reside in Spain for up to 90 days.

Given these restrictions, a more suitable solution for expats seeking something more permanent may be a regular or self-employed work permit. Another alternative is the digital nomad or remote worker visa, which allows holders to live and work remotely in Spain for up to three years while benefitting from a special tax regime.

Non-lucrative residency visa

The non-lucrative visa is the ideal option for retirees, or anyone else not intending to work. It grants a year’s residency to successful applicants, after which time it can be renewed provided the holder has lived in Spain for 183 days of the previous 365.

Once renewed, the non-lucrative residency visa affords holders another two years’ residency.

Family-related visas

The family member and family regrouping visas are ideal for anyone who is either the relative of a European Union citizen, or a relative of someone who has obtained Spanish residency and stayed for a minimum of 1 year.

Successful applicants for the family member of an EU citizen visa will not need to renew their residency application for five years. Meanwhile, those who obtain the family regrouping visa will be eligible to live and work in Spain for up to a year before renewing.

Picking the right visa

For those still unsure of which is the most appropriate visa for their circumstances, the best course of action is to speak with a lawyer or advisor. In the midst of changing regulations, there’s the risk of wasting time and energy ahead of the launch of a potentially more suitable product.

In addition, it’s advisable to conduct individual research and if possible, speak with someone else who’s gone through the same process. To find your nearest Spanish consulate, visit the official Spanish embassy website.

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