How to get your SA family EU permanent residency rights — without having to move to Europe.

I have never been much of an afro pessimist or doom prophet, but I think we need to level on a few things about SA’s immediate future before we kick this off:

When I started studying at Rhodes in 1999, Zimbabwe was a functioning country. By 2003, they were printing 10,000 dollar bills due to hyperinflation. Things were bad, but nobody really believed that the wheels could come off. By 2009, Zimbos said hello to Z$1 trillion notes, worth only US $30 / £20 a pop. Then came the dollar, and then came the Chinese Yuan.

While all of this was happening, the world watched as rampant government corruption, food shortages and mass scale human rights violations butchered the Zimbabwean dream. I have Zimbo friends whose parents once had thriving businesses in the country. They came to South Africa with the clothes on their back only.

But Zim’s a failing African state, you tell me. Sure it is. And so are we.

Our country is run by a Dubai based mafia chapter. Government guaranteed debt incurred by state owned enterprises stands at over R400 billion. Our education system is shot, and we have over 9 million people without jobs. Over 67% of youths under the age of 25 are unemployed — that’s nearly 7 in 10 people. Angry people with no prospects and absolutely nothing to lose. That’s a powder keg right there; they’re the fodder for the next revolution.

We’re also about to go unaffordably nuclear, and Commander-In-Thief Jacob Zuma is wanting to sign us up for free-education-for-all plan with a price tag of R40 billion, just to see if he can break our economy before he moves to Dubai himself. And that’s of course not forgetting the fact that Cape Town is likely to run out of water and into civil unrest somewhere in Q1 2018.

Socio-economic stability is a weird thing. It’s there, and solid, until the day it’s not. And then the world you’ve always known looks a whole lot different overnight.

I, for one, don’t intend to sit around and wait ’til the water reaches the Titanic’s deck before I start working on my back-up plan.

Make no mistake — I love this country and have every intention of living here until I’m old and grey. But every single material indicator is negative in terms of the outlook for South Africa, and if you honestly believe that everything is going to work out fine down here, you’re probably on Valium. My sister has emigrated to Canada, and we’re likely moving my parents there in April 2018 as well.

And so it came to be, in August 2017, that I started looking into Golden Visa programmes in Europe as a kind of insurance policy against what’s going down in good old SA.

Here’s what I found:

The type of second residency solution you’re looking for is going to depend in large part on your personal and financial situation, as well as your own nationality and those of your children.

Key areas you’ll need to consider are residency rights, international banking, company registration, property or other investments, cross-border tax obligations as well as the areas you’ll need to travel to freely.

South Africans and dual passport holders have several options in terms of moving abroad or becoming eligible for permanent residency, but in most cases, you’ll need to actually move abroad and stay there to qualify.

I did find an exception to this, through which one could get PR status without actually having to go settle in the host country for a period of 2 to 5 years or longer.

It is important to familiarise yourself with the key differences between long stay visas (such as the type you’d get through most Golden Visa Programmes or Thailand’s Elite Residency product), Permanent Residency Programmes, and Citizenship Through Investment Programmes. It is also crucial to note that in many instances, the latter option does not guarantee you a path to becoming a full citizen.

Permanent residency programmes / second citizenship through investment is quite a complex field. As a rule of thumb, you should get prepared for your journey to second citizenship being a process spanning up to 5 years or longer. There are some countries in which the process is shorter, for example the Dominican Republic (2 years) and Paraguay (3 years), but there are of course a number of key investment and eligibility requirements associated with such short routes to naturalisation.

If you’re after permanent residence (PR), on the other hand, the process can be a lot shorter. But more on that later.

  • The Golden Visa / Residency Through Investment route: Portugal, Malta and Spain are some of the most prominent countries offering Golden Visa type programmes, but there are many others, including the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus, Mauritius, Switzerland, Hungary, Latvia, Bulgaria, Greece, Monaco, Andorra, Italy, Serbia, France, Canada, the USA and Turkey, to name but a few. The US EB5 Visa Programme, in particular, has recently received a lot of press coverage in SA, as it is expected that the investment requirement may soon double. If you want a back-up plan without actually moving to a new country under a Golden Visa or Residency Through Investment programme, you’ll most likely start with permanent residency status, with the potential option to apply for full citizenship in time — although it is vital to note that there are many countries in which you will likely never be eligible to become a citizen. Costs wise, you’re in for an eligible investment of anywhere between €250,000 and €500,000 in Europe, though you could also look at some Caribbean options starting from $100,000. The other alternative is to register a company and start a business in a foreign jurisdiction offering a Residence Through Investment programme, however the trade-based turnover requirements are typically quite substantial. Tax residencies, such as the ones offered by Italy and Portugal, offer a variation on the above, each with its own unique set of requirements. But given recent noises made by the South African government, it’s likely you’ll end up paying tax in two jurisdictions.
  • The Citizenship Through Investment route: While there are some foreign jurisdictions, such as Cyprus, where you can buy citizenship outright, these tend to be very costly. A Cypriot (EU) passport, for example, will set you back an eye-watering €2 million property investment. So unless you’ve got some serious money looking for a new home, this is probably not the option for you.
  • The ancestral residency/passport route: I come from local Afrikaans stock, so these options are regrettably a no-go for me. (If you hold an EU passport, but your spouse and kids don’t, there’s a pretty attractive permanent residency option available — keep reading.)

A lot of people have burnt their fingers in jurisdictions such as Portugal, in particular, due to the fact that the benefits offered under this property investment based residency programme have been significantly over-stated and over-hyped. By whom? Respected South African real estate companies selling those very investment properties in Portugal.

You don’t need to google too far to stumble on a Portugal property investment seminar hosted by a company named after a person whose name is synonymous with real estate in SA.

Getting your residency rights through investment in property is far more complex a process than just buying a cottage by the beach in Algarve, and real estate agents are focused on selling you a property that is eligible, price and location wise, for a golden visa application — NOT on helping you obtain permanent residence.

Moreover, in many countries including Portugal, your long-stay visa or permanent residency does not necessarily guarantee you a route to eventual full citizenship, making this a poor — and expensive — long term option.

What I did stumble on are some specialists facilitating a process by which existing EU citizens can obtain residency rights for their spouses and dependent children, valid for 5 years straight off the bat, within as little as 3 months.

What makes this option particularly appealing is the fact that your family can qualify for EU residency without the need to actually go settle in Europe, and at a fraction of the cost of your typical Golden Visa investment requirement.

Going this route, South African nationals can get away with spending only around 8% — 10% of what you’d spend on a Portuguese Golden Visa (minimum investment €250,000), and around 4% — 5% of what you’d spend on a Spanish Golden Visa (minimum investment €500,000) — without the need for such a hefty property investment. They also have a blended solution that comes in substantially more affordably, with an investment requirement of only €100,000 to €150,000 excluding professional service fees.

If this is your situation, you’re in luck. You can obtain permanent residency rights for your spouse and dependent children under the age of 25 without the need for a costly property investment. This also brings the overall pricing on this option down radically.

And if you got started today, your family could be travelling to and within Europe, visa-free, by mid-February 2018. You’ll also have the option to go reside anywhere in Schengen Europe at the drop of a hat if the political or socio-economic situation in South Africa becomes inclement. There are, however, several criteria you’ll need to be able to meet substantially in terms of economic self-sufficiency and proof of income.

The application process and how it’s structured is proprietary information, so I’m not at liberty to disclose the information shared with me in this regard. It would also appear that there are frequently annual intake limits to how many applicants can get processed and accepted, so if you need your family’s back-up plan in place in the near future, it’s advisable to get on with it soon.

The rest of us, on the other hand, will need to either get a foreign work visa, marry foreign, or start saving more diligently.

If the wheels were to come off South Africa in a big way though, the queues of people wanting to leave will become be far longer, and one would undoubtedly need to contend with increasingly stringent emigration criteria. So if you’re serious about giving you and your family some alternative options, now is probably the operative time to get started.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Golden Visa programmes or citizenship by investment solutions. Treat this article as general information only. Contact a second residency expert for tailor-made professional advice.

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Andre Bothma

Andre Bothma

Free Thinker and Marketing Manager at Sovereign Man. I write about Golden Visas, CBI Programs, Independent Means Visas, the Portuguese D7 Visa and more.